Do You Need a Smart Bed?

Today’s smart beds could have a higher IQ than the people sleeping on them. Use these tips to bone up on mattress shopping.

Move over, iPad and Galaxy — the latest entry in the smart technology market is your bed.

The Sleep Number X12, a mattress introduced at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show, promises to revolutionize sleep. The mattress responds to voice-activated commands to adjust firmness and elevation settings, can give you massage, and uses a non-invasive technology called SleepIQ to track your sleep experience and suggest support adjustments. There’s a journal function to input information that might impact sleep, like your daily exercise stats and caffeine consumption. The X12 is so plugged in that you can access its reports on the Sleep Number remote, your computer, or though the app.

The bells and whistles are impressive, but they come at a price — the mattress starts at $7,999. If a smart bed is out of your budget, here’s how to shop for a mattress that won’t break your bank account.

Zero In on Key Features

Having the right mattress may seem frivolous, but it really matters, according to a 2012 study published in Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation. The right combination of bedding materials for your sleep needs could improve your overall comfort, and result in better sleep quality and how rested you feel. Foam and latex layers, for instance, can help those with both back and shoulder pain, according to a study in the journal Applied Ergonomics in 2010.

But do you really need a specialty mattress to consistently have a good night’s sleep? Not necessarily, said Terry Cralle, RN, MS, CPHQ, a certified clinical sleep educator and lecturer based in Virginia. Do keep in mind, though, that you spend about a third of your life on your mattress. “It is worthwhile to find an appropriate mattress due to the fact that sleep is critically important to our physical and psychological health and well-being,” Cralle said. “An investment in a mattress is an investment in your health.”

Get the best mattress you can afford, suggested Michael J. Cooney, DC, clinical director of Rutherford Allied Medical Group, in Rutherford, N.J. Mattresses last for a number of years, so factor that in when examining cost. You probably don’t have to buy the most expensive mattress, but Dr. Cooney advised against buying the cheapest one because it probably won’t offer needed support. He also warned against a used mattress. Not only is there the risk for bedbugs, but a mattress needs to be replaced after 10 years, so it may no longer have the support you need.

Shop Around

Once you determine your shopping budget, make a list of manufacturers and stores to visit. If you enjoyed a bed at a particular hotel, call the manager and ask for the brand and model and then locate stores that carry it. If a friends rave about a new mattress, find out where they got it. And don’t discount a certain retailer because you’re afraid of sticker shock. Many specialty bed stores have a wide range of price points. For example, Sleep Number stores will soon offer beds starting at $1,000 that include the X12’s SleepIQ technology, according to Pete Bils, the company’s vice-president of sleep innovation and clinical research.

Get comfy for at least 15 minutes when testing a mattress, Bils suggested. It takes 10 minutes just for a mattress to begin conforming to your body, so pressing down with your hand or lying down for a brief moment won’t tell you how the bed is going to feel during sleep. And don’t lie still during the test drive — you don’t stay in one position all night, so move around. Pay attention to how easy it is to maneuver from one position to the next and to get into and out of the bed, he added. Even chimpanzees have preferences when it comes to mattress firmness, according to a recent study. You probably do too — take the time to figure it out.

Sleep Position Matters

There are benefits in choosing a mattress based on your favored sleep position, the Applied Ergonomics study found. Sleep experts also say:

  • Side sleeping increases the pressure on hips and shoulders, so a soft, plush mattress may be most comfortable, said Cralle. A too-firm mattress might lead to discomfort in those areas.
  • A medium-firm mattress will support the lumbar region and spine for back sleepers. “I recommend to my patients that they train themselves to sleep on the back,” said Cooney, calling it the ideal sleeping position for preventing neck and back pain, minimizing acid reflux, and even helping to prevent wrinkles.
  • A firm mattress helps prevent lower back pain for tummy sleepers.
  • When sleep partners have different sleep styles, an adjustable mattress lets each person customize his or her side.

Mikel Theobald