The New York Times’ Attack on the Mattress Industry

The New York Times recently published this article about sleep and the role of the mattress in getting a quality night’s rest. The author, Alina Tugend, starts it out talking about her son wanting a new mattress as a gift and seems annoyed he wants a Tempur-Pedic (pause on that for a moment and let’s pat the people at Tempur-Pedic on the back for  The New York Times’ Attack on the Mattress Industrythis accomplishment!). Tugend realizes she is going to have to spend some money on this bar mitzvah gift so it feels a little like she sets out to discredit mattresses in general with what she reports next, which focuses on the solutions to a bad night of sleep.

Yes, there are many solutions to bad sleep, such as pills, masks, and sound machines, but it all seems a little squishy to the writer so she  The New York Times’ Attack on the Mattress Industrytalks to James Wyatt, director of the Sleep Disorders Center. Tugend asks Mr. Wyatt if a mattress can overcome bad sleep. “There’s not a lot of science in the mattress area,” Mr. Wyatt said. “I’ve treated people for insomnia for 20 years and if a patient asks me what mattress he should buy, I can’t tell him. If you spend $20,000 on a mattress, it’s not necessarily better than a $500 mattress.” Give me a break, Mr. Wyatt. You can get a more comfortable bed by spending more money because you get better quality materials in the product. If we can agree this is true, then isn’t it also fair to assume that if you are more comfortable in your bed, you are going to sleep better? Mr. Wyatt, would you also say that “driving a 2012 Audi R8 does not necessarily give you a better chance of attracting the opposite sex versus driving a 1971 Ford Pinto?” Do we really need clinical testing to verify that you are going to have a better shot in the R8? I would agree that there could be some point of diminishing returns on the cost of the mattress, but to say what you said is ridiculous. The good people at Select Comfort say 89% of the people sleeping on their products report improved sleep quality. (And these guys are not selling many $500 mattress sets.) Doesn’t this data mean anything? 

Later in the article, Tugend starts talking about people who sleep better as a result of staying in a hotel. This means their bed at home is so bad that when they have some perspective from sleeping on a different mattress, they all of a sudden realize their current sleep surface isn’t getting it done. “There are plenty of testimonials out there from people who swear that high-priced mattresses have changed their lives — and maybe they have. Or maybe they need to justify the expense, which can work just as well. I’m all for a robust placebo effect,” said Wyatt. “If they convince themselves that by buying a mattress, they sleep better, fine.” Are you kidding?

There are millions of people buying new, quality sleep systems every year and for good reason. BECAUSE THEY WORK! If a new high-end mattress was in fact some kind of top-secret gimmick that didn’t actually work (and the entire industry was in on it), don’t you think the word-of-mouth factor on this ruse would have exposed us by now? The Tempur-Pedic website provides one data point (which is where this story began): you’ll see that 92% of the owners are satisfied with the quality of their sleep and on average, Tempur-Pedic owners tell 14 people about their mattress. Does that sound like a placebo effect?

Don’t you think articles like this should include a quote from a mattress producer? How about giving one of us in the bedding industry the chance to at least defend our honor prior to condemning our entire way of life? Maybe you could have referenced this survey from The Better Sleep Council that talks about how a new mattress leads to a more active lifestyle. Or point out that according to Dr. Jacobson’s study in the Journal of Applied Ergonomics, sleeping on a new mattress can significantly improve sleep quality during the night and reduce physical pain during the day.

I am tired of people writing articles that talk about sleep as a problem without ever mentioning the mattress as a possible solution. At least Ms. Tugend talked about the mattress in her piece, even if she got it wrong. Do yourself a favor and celebrate your son’s special day and get him that mattress he wants. I have money that says you start stealing naps in his room when nobody is looking. Next time call us so we can help you uncover the truth about incredible sleep.

About Q

Mark Quinn is a 20-year mattress industry veteran with a passion for presenting business in the best possible light. He works hard on strategy and culture, and has a business focus on leadership and marketing. Quinn believes every company is a media company and works hard in the digital space to bring products and stories to the right audience. Family comes first, and FAITH is a verb.
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One Response to The New York Times’ Attack on the Mattress Industry

  1. Barrie Brown says:

    Mark,

    Amen, amen, amen. Through the years I have tried, unsuccessfully, to educate “sleep doctors” on the important role a proper mattress and pillow combination plays in a great night’s sleep. A great mattress is not a “placebo effect” it plays an integral role in quality sleep. The right mattress for an individual has the same role that proper health, diet, exercise, sleeping environment play in quality sleep. We have a health system that values sleeping pills, cpap machines, and voodoo over a quality mattress and pillow.
    Your comments are spot on. Well written, well done.

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