Sun, 26 Jan 2003

Quality of mattresses matters to health and comfort

Rikza Abdullah, Contributor, Jakarta

As we spend about one third of our lives in bed, on which we sleep to restore our health after hours of work, choosing mattresses that are most suitable for us individually and do not drive us to toss and turn frequently is very important.

Unsuitable mattresses -- mostly those that are too hard, too soft or lumpy and uneven -- may deprive us of adequate sleep. Psychologists, as quoted by the U.S.-based National Sleep Foundation, say that inadequate sleep increases risks of a number of health conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension.

Furthermore, sleep deprivation also affects cognition, performance and mood. Lack of sleep, for example, may cause people to score badly on performance tests and alertness scales, and there is growing evidence linking inadequate sleep with anger, anxiety and sadness.

Sleep deprivation may stem from our mistakes in choosing mattresses. And guidance on how to choose a mattress before buying, therefore, is very important.

Lim Heng Cheng, general manager of PT Slumberland Indonesia, gave advice on Thursday about the main factors that a consumer should take into account before buying a good mattress were not its physical appearance or its price tag.

Slumberland Indonesia is a mattress producer jointly owned by PT Bumi Raya Utama of Indonesia and Li & Fung Distribution of Hong Kong. The company produces beds under the brand name of the United Kingdom-based bed producer Slumberland.

"Don't be swayed by the physical appearance and color of a mattress although it gives a good first impression. Remember, you will soon put a bed-sheet and spread over it anyway," Lim said.

"Beware of shops that offer additional discounts. You could be lured to buy something that offers a good dealer's incentive to him and not value for the money to you," he said. "Avoid a cheap price and look for the best value."

Bob Nijkrake, marketing manager of PT King Koil International Indonesia, told The Jakarta Post that a consumer should consider four factors -- support, comfort, size as well as quality and durability -- when searching for the right mattress.

He explained that a good mattress should support the spine and help it maintain its proper shape. A very hard mattress could be uncomfortable because it could force the spine to arch or bow instead of relax as a body normally should. It could also create painful pressure at the shoulders and hips where body weight is concentrated during sleep. A very soft mattress, however, lacks support, allowing the spine to sag and placing stress on the muscles and ligaments. This might cause misalignment of the spine over time.

On comfort, "only you can decide what will be the most comfortable bedding combination for you. Put on comfortable clothes and lie down on a mattress for five to 10 minutes before buying," he said.

He said a user should make sure that the mattress was big enough for him to turn completely and, at least, six inches longer than his/her body.

The quality of construction, he said, would determine how long a mattress would last.

Lim commented that a good quality mattress would provide the essential element of resilience or the ability to "come back" so that the good feel of a new mattress continued to feel good for years. When one tossed and turned, shifted one's weight, sat on the edges or did whatever, the surface comfort experienced should be backed by firm, uniform support inside.

Meanwhile, at market places, producers and agents offer various kinds of mattresses, ranging from spring mattresses to latex, air and water beds.

According to Lim, a spring mattress with adequate padding and insulator is able to provide firm support, comfort cushioning and long lasting resilience. The support comes from the quality steel coil springs inside the mattress which resist the load at a uniform rate, while the surface comfort comes from a cushioning layer of cotton, polyurethane, polyester fiber and even natural latex sheets that vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

He said an air mattress would provide for a superior sleeping experience as the sleeper could adjust the volume of the air needed to match his/her desire, comfort level and posture.

"But since it relies solely on the air pressure to provide the support and comfort needed, getting it just right for the intended support and desired comfort with a single filling is rarely an easy task," he said.

A water bed offers even distribution and support of the body weight and is particularly beneficial for disabled people and those with particular back problems. In addition to the standard safety liner, there were options of a water heater to warm up the bed on cold nights and this could be positively beneficial in easing rheumatic and arthritis arches and pains.

"But its high cost, initial installation and the regular maintenance keeps consumers away," he said.

Nijkrake said a standard latex mattress had advantages in confirming to the sleeper's body and reducing the pressure points that caused tossing and turning. But its bad ventilating capacity, due to the standard latex's closed cell structure, was a disadvantage because it did not facilitate good air circulation.

For comparison, a mattress made of Talalay latex, which was developed by a U.S. expert, guarantees better air circulation and moisture control, thereby reducing the chance of fungal and bacterial growth, he said.

Making sure that our mattresses have adequate ventilation is important for our health because beds with poor ventilation will become a prime habitat for dust mites that exacerbate asthma and allergies. As an example, a typical used mattress may have anywhere from 100,000 to 10 million mites inside of it.

Many people blame pollen or animal dander for their asthma and allergy problems when, in reality, dust mites are recognized to be the main cause for asthma, chronic rhinitis and other allergies. When dust mites grow, they shed their skin. The shedded skin and feces are small enough to be easily breathed in by humans, and are what cause the allergic reactions.

Besides asthma, rhinitis and other respiratory ailments, dust mites can be the cause of other serious health problems such as eczema, rashes, itchy skin or eyes, bronchitis and chronic dermatitis.