The 9th Circle Of Hell Is Called “Mattress Shopping”

Four years ago, we bought a mattress.

We did as everyone suggests: we went to the store, camped out on it for a little while.

The saleslady of course just hovered like a hummingbird, staring at us while we tried out the new bed. I don’t know if she thought were going to try to do the rumpy-pumpy or something, but she just stood there. Staring and frittering. Still, the test totally worked.

It was the most comfortable bed on which I’d ever draped my torpid form.

My wife and I both looked at each other and were like, “Yes. Yes. This is our new bed.”

The bed was a Sealy latex mattress. A “Tranquil Sea” mattress. Which is a silly name, because the last thing I want to do is sleep on the ocean, tranquil or no. The sea moves. It hungers. It has sharks and giant squid and Dagon’s babies hiding down in the watery dark. Sleeping on the ocean will not give me comfort, but that’s how these product names are. (We’re also shopping now for paint colors, and paint colors are named even more hilariously. “Hobo Bindle.” “Regrettable Mist.” “Bedbug Ordure.” “Griefstruck Juniper.” “Peacock Cloaca.”)

We took the mattress home.

It was wonderful.

For a while.

But it wasn’t long before we noticed a slight… give to the material. We were slowly sinking into the mattress. At first, that was kinda nice. “It fits me like a glove!” I said, laughing as I shimmied my body down into the warm embrace of our new bed.

Eventually, however, those slight depressions turned into a pair of inescapable ditches. Which then turns the middle of the bed into a giant hill, like it’s some kind of Anglo-Saxon burial mound. (I’m fairly certain that Oswald killed Kennedy not from within a building but rather from the berm rising up from the center of our shitty mattress.)

Of course, when you’re up off the mattress, the deep furrows are not so plain to see — and despite being only four years into a 10-year-warranty, we’re pretty much fucked because when the Mattress Bastards come to measure the depth of our uncomfortable rifts, they will discover that each trench is odd but not dramatically odd and so, sorry, fuck you, stick a mattress coil up your no-no-hole, please enjoy your latex slumber-condom, nerds.

Point is, now we’re back to shopping for a new mattress.

Which, as you know if you’ve ever done it, is a descent into a realm of lies and madness. Memory foam! Innerspring! Flippable! Not flippable! Latex! Sleep Number! Futon! Koalafur! Foetal leather! Soft! Medium-soft! Medium-firm! Firm! Super-firm! Mild! Medium! Habenero Spice!

One mattress at one store — “This is our Endless Whisperer Pillow-Top model” — is actually different from the same-named mattress at another store. So it’s not like you can price compare on most of these, unless you want to buy a Tempurpedic, which are apparently wonderful but also cost as much as a used car.

Plus, they ask you all those questions. “Are you a back sleeper? Side sleeper? Butt sleeper? Do you have sciatica problems? Spinal disorder? Will you be having ‘the sex’ on this bed? Doggy-style? Missionary? Cincinnati Tugboat-style? Do you sleep eight hours? Nine? Four? Do you like to be stung by bees while you sleep, or not stung by bees? Do you eat in bed? Smoke in bed? Have you ever killed a man? Can you help me dispose of this body?”

Eventually, you answer all the questions and they direct you to what is the most expensive mattress in the store, some Astronaut Bed stuffed with the lavender-scented hair of orphaned children, and you tell them, “But I don’t want to pay $6700 for a new mattress,” and they’re like, “But there’s a 700,000-year warranty,” which sounds great until you realize that the warranty basically only covers incidents where the mattress turns into an actual monster from Hell and tries to eat you. (Our mattress has only turned into a metaphorical monster.)

So they direct you to the cheapest mattress just to be a dick, and it’s basically a pallet of bricks draped in a musty tablecloth, and they’re like, “That’s called our ‘Spinal Shame’ model and it’s $300. It has a 17-minute warranty,” which again, who cares, because the warranties are dogshit.

Then there’s all the upselling — pillows and frame and boxspring and dust ruffle and bondage saddle. Then you have to work on the price to get it down because of course the all-important mattress industry is like the car industry (because surely a mattress is as complex an object as an automobile!) and you’re suddenly haggling over price because this mattress has coils 2mm smaller than that other mattress and blah blah blah.

Then maybe while you’re standing there you Google some reviews and half the reviews talk about how the mattress killed their mother and half of them say it’s the best thing since angel nipples and next thing you know, you’ve panicked and fled the store and continue to sleep on your own crapgasmic mattress until it dissolves beneath you and you buy a fucking sleeping bag because fuck it, that’s why, just fucking fuck it.

So, what I’m saying is:

Hey, what mattress do you have? Do you like it?

We’re thinking about Ikea beds because some folks recommended them. Sleep Number sounds interesting, but I’ve read so many bad reviews (“The air pump stopped working and it filled our bed up with air and we floated off to a magical sky kingdom where giants made us into sex toys”). Tempurpedic is a possibility, but now of course you have a hundred different models of varying costs and questionable difference. HELP ME, INTERNET.


  • This is the second place I’ve read about fetal leather in the past 4 days. (The first was in Lev Grossman’s “Codex.”) As far as I know I’ve never run into the concept before.

  • We bought our mattress 11 years ago. Cost us about £180. We bought the bed a year later…

    Key thing for me is that it be firm. Can’t stand most hotel beds (on the rare occasions I’m in a hotel). I’d have been happy just sleeping on the floor (provided the draught under the door was blocked up) but, well, beds provide storage space for books underneath them. Plus, husband insists we do this thing called “being civilised”. I dunno, still not keen on it…

    So anyway. They probably don’t sell the mattress we have anymore (and it definitely won’t be that price these days 🙁 ) but I’d get a similar one again because it was about 5-6 years before we noticed an appreciable dip where we sleep and, like I say, still using it now.

  • We sleep on a Japanese futon, with an added foam pad underneath. I love it. It’s like being a broke college student, but fancy. And firm. Very firm.

  • Glad to see that my initial thought of images of Wendig in tighty whities sprawling himself on in-store mattresses to the horror of shoppers state-wide is NOT what ended up here.

  • Tempur-Pedic and other memory foams can get very hot, if you get hot while you sleep don’t go for that option…Get whatever mattress you want, I’ve had luck with Sealy….but whatever, get something constructionally sound and cheap (not over 1200 for a King) and then invest $300-500 and get the thickest best pillow top mattress pad with baffle box construction…so then in 4 years when that breaks down your mattress underneath will not only still be great you will just invest a couple hundred dollars for a new mattress pad and not thousands for new bed.

  • Tempurpedic is what I recommend. Fits you like a glove when you’re on it but /springs back into shape/. Even with my elephant-like girth.

    For me it’s also really important to have a mattress that doesn’t move when I or my partner does. I mean, he has this thing that’s got pillow-top or something so you can’t /feel/ the springs, but a week on it and my spine has been played like an accordion and I can’t /move/ anymore. So you know if you have a spinal injury or chronic back problems maybe avoid the springs? or sleeping disorders; if you wake up a lot during the night a spring mattress is /not/ going to help in that area; every time your partner twitches it’ll reverberate through the mattress like a gorramed earthquake and wake you up.

    We’re looking for a new mattress too though it’ll undoubtedly wait until we’re actually cohabiting. Until then he can bitch about my bed and I can bitch about his. Ah, love.

    Where was I?

    Oh, right, mattress suggestions.

    Futons are also good. Firm and doesn’t turn into little valleys of death. Also probably cheaper than a Tempurpedic. And no springs! WOOO.

  • January 23, 2013 at 4:04 PM // Reply

    Like Eliza, only we put the foam on top of the futon (which itself is pretty much like a rock). The spouse had it when we got married 18 1/2 years ago. Somehow never got around to changing it.

  • Maybe come down to Brazil and buy one? We (in Sao Paulo) went to the biggest mattress superstore, and said ‘where are your orthopedic mattresses?’. Dude said ‘those five’ and we tried them, and got the comfy one. Took about 15 minutes. The sales guy didn’t hover, he was concentrating on drinking his coffee.

    Good times.

  • I’ve had three Sleep Number beds. Given my weight, I kill mattresses not unlike certain Pokemon. Their spines shatter and they turn into something that resembles a merge range on an Internet. The Sleep Number survived that (mainly because I can just inflate it again) for better part of fifteen years and I’ve been very happy with it.

    Now, that isn’t to say it is perfect. I’m a side sleeper (mainly because my spouse insists on 99.99999% of the king-size bed and the dog demands his 99.993% and the child wants his 12% (he sleeps at the foot)). This means I’m frequently on the foam ridge around the edge. That’s been compressed into a diamond twice and Sleep Number has replaced it (I think it cost me $30 the first time and $60 the second, but even the $90 was far cheaper than a new king-sized bed). I’ve also replaced the pump unit ($70). Overall, still cheaper than a new bed and it still holds up to my weight.

    The other two are guest beds in the house (well, one was my apartment bed when we had to live in two states for a year). One had a “slow” leak (about 10-20 points a night). They replaced it with a minimum of fuss and less than 30 hours later, I haven’t had a problem since.

    The other guest bed hasn’t had a problem yet. And that is with frequent application of 30 kg bodies at high speed, cats who try to burrow through all objects soft enough to catch their claws, add the occasional 180 kg cannonball jump.

    While I will never say Sleep Number is perfect, the expected cost of replacing my bed every five years (which is what I did before them) is far more expensive than the occasional part replacement. Plus, they’ve been really nice. So, just my opinions. I’ve recommenced Sleep Number to friends and most of them are pretty happy (except for one that “snu-snu” with one side at 5 and the other at 60 is uncomfortable).

  • We got coffee during our mattress hunt! I guess this little country does its business a bit differently.

    The only reason I post here is because your mattress can REALLY last at least 10 years. Also for literal heavy sleepers. We’ve bought new ones in ’12 since the ones we bought last century were getting worn. And me and my sane half actually have enough issues to be very picky. If you skip the cheapest line, it will fine.

    /Sadly, Auping does not seem to be available in the US, which is why I did not originally want to post this.

  • We have a Sleep Number bed and the big hump in the middle you were talking, we have that with our Sleep Number bed. It’s great if you are close to the same number or one side doesn’t start leaking. But if your numbers are to far apart, say goodbye to the wife until the next morning when you are both out of the bed. You won’t see them all night because one of you is sleeping down in a hole while other is high enough to survey the land for invading armies. Or you both sleep in a hole, which makes you think you can see each other, but WRONG! The king size mattresses are actually two twins zipped together with a big bar of foam in the middle. I moved to sleeping on another bed in the house because it was just uncomfortable as well. The bed I do like is an old mattress that I put a 3 inch piece of Tempurpedic material on. I sleep like a baby. Hope that helps 🙂

  • Gawd, feel like a dope posting after all the raves about sleep-numbers and tempur-pedics, but my vote is for a Sealy. You do have to try them out, but I’d recommend getting one a bit more firm than what you’re comfortable with. It’ll break in quickly and will hold up better. They claim to make mattresses that you don’t have to flip or turn, and though we do have small butt-divots in our respective sides of the bed, we haven’t turned or flipped. Mind you, it’s only 2 years old.
    Best of luck.

  • Tempurpedic! Hubby and I treated ourselves to this bit of mattress heaven for our anniversary several years back (yeah, we’ve come to that — practical gifts for the “in desperate need of comfortable sleep” couple.). It is as amazing as the ads claim. I don’t recall what model it is, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the mid-range. Pre-Tempurpedic I creaked into the mornings feeling like a two hundred year old grandpa, now–no lie–I spring to life like a newborn Tigger! Amazing, fabulous! Ten years and counting …

  • When my husband and I went mattress shopping a few years ago, I looked at Tempuredics too, but a lot of my clients said they like to contour to your body as well. We got a Sealy with a medium pillow top, but Hubby complains it’s warm. Next time we’ll avoid the pillow top altogether. We also have the valley thing going on, but no where near as bad as yours, so that’s another reason to avoid the pillow top.

    Before that, he had an old Japanese futon, and THAT had a mountain in the middle higher than Everest.

    I’m throwing my vote into the ring for a Sealy.

  • Get a firm mattress and throw a replaceable foam thing on top. I tried a memory foam mattress but the “ditch affect” was unacceptable. Who wants to wake up in the middle of the night in a ditch? It’s hard to roll over when you’re in a ditch. I now have two layers of that cheap 2 inch foam on top of my mattress. (Two different stores. One looks like a flat waffle, the other like an egg crate.) I suppose I’ll replace the foam some day. That’s a lot cheaper than replacing the entire mattress.

  • I entered a house that had a Sleep Number bed. While it has lasted for many years, one of my first acts as lady of the house was to lug it down the hallway into the kids room. Being queen sized, it was simply two air mattresses separated by foam. Lowering the number lowers the air pressure. The foam in the middle made it impractical for any more than two people to be in the bed at a time, and heaven forbid they want to be in the bed in close proximity. We eventually cracked the case open and moved the foam from the center to the edge, but this only created a black hole in the center that you had to claw your way out of every morning. As far as I’m concerned, the sleep number is one step away from separate beds entirely.

    On the other hand, the kids love it because they can inflate and deflate it, riding the air pressure up and down. I still wonder how they haven’t killed the motor or popped the bed entirely.

  • Suggestion for getting your refund/exchange: Pick up a nice round watermelon. When the store rep stops by to inspect your mattress, place the sphere on the center mound of the mattress and give it a little nudge. When it rolls into the ditches, you’ll get your refund. If not, you can at least crack the watermelon open and spit seeds at the scoundrel as he flees your abode.

  • I got a Tempurpedic in 2005, back when there was only one kind – right now, it’s the low-end basic bare-bones one you can get. I’ve recovered from three surgeries in three years in it; I was basically bed-ridden for nearly a year, so there is a depression on one side, but it never went as far as “ditch”. If you buy one and get bedridden, make sure the nurse not only turns you, but moves you to the other side of the bed each day (I didn’t sleep in the middle, one side of the bed was for the books & laptop & tissues & remote). We did spring for the adjustable frame – DUDE, if you can swing that, I _highly_ recommend it!

  • This article hits pretty close to home for me at the moment because I’ve got a disgustingly springy and narrow mattress right now (I’m told it must be standard size for the fitted sheets to fit, but I swear it’s smaller than it should be). I used to have a memory foam mattress which I loved – it was as solid as a rock and suited me just fine. I don’t think it was actually memory foam, a cheap alternative of some sort that was basically made of stone or something – but a nice solid surface was I wanted really. Now I’ve got this thin soft thing it constantly screws with my shoulders, and I miss that old slab. I need to find it again.

    Or maybe I should just sleep on the floor, I don’t know…

  • My Simmoms Maxipedic II has been wonderful! I’ve had it for about 10 years, and it’s still firm. I prefer the turn-and-flip style (of mattress). The no-flip variety tends to sag. Firmer is ALWAYS better.

  • They’re like the Sleep Number beds but with better parts warranties and cheaper. (The founders of the two companies used to be business partners, but the CA guy didn’t want to open stores in malls and raise their overhead so much.) My husband and I still love our ten-year-old mattress. The motor did go out about two years after we bought it, but warranty replacement was quick and problem-free.

  • The best mattress to buy will be the one your wife wants. Just… just trust me on this. Your opinion only matters in that it should match hers. Good luck with that.

  • I just purchased a Tempurpedic bed last month for our new house my mother and I are living in, but my husband, who lives and works in North Dakota, has yet to sleep on it (hopefully he will be here over Valentine’s week), but I just had to share this link with you from another blogger who did buy a Tempurpedic and you are going to laugh your A$$ off. It just might help make your decision easier.

  • I have a friend who has just the Tempurpedic mattress topper and he swears it makes any bed feel like a comfy, expensive cloud.

  • We had to buy a mattress about a year and a half ago, because we were sleeping on a shitty sleeper sofa and slowly going insane. We were also crazy broke at the time, so we went to a clearance place and weren’t picky. We ended up with a Sealy pillow top of some flavor. So far, not bad, though my weird combination of acid reflux and neck issues means that we’re looking into an adjustable bed sometime in the future, because those angled pillow things don’t cut it.

    Before that, we got an IKEA mattress. We were even more broke at that point than we were when buying our current mattress (I was still in college, and two people in an extra-long twin when one is 6’5″ is not an option), so we got the cheapest latex mattress (because it didn’t need a box spring) and the nicest pillow top, which came to about $180 each for a full, which was all my dorm room would fit. After three years it was getting kind of pitiful, but for that price you could probably replace it every year without too much hardship.

  • We bought a new mattress two years ago. I intend to sleep on it forever, regardless of what it becomes, because I would rather stick shrimp forks in my eyes than shop for a mattress again.

    And yes. You nailed the experience perfectly.

  • I got a fancy store mattress a while ago. It’s called a Sealy Posturepedic Cason Bay Premium Plus, which is a fancy name for a Rectangle of LIES. Avoid at all costs!! I had an Ikea mattress as a bachelor out of college and I want it back. Easily 1/3 of the cost of the Sealy, not including all the Advil I’ve bought to get the inflammation out of my shoulders.

  • European Sleep Works, out of Berkeley. Expensive as hell (husband talked me into it when we still had some money, before Global Financial Collapse + Personal Medical Emergency Clusterfuck), but I love it with all my heart, in the way I love all my expensive things from Before, and then some. And none of that migraine-generating offgassing miasma you get from the Tempurpedic, Sealy/Serta/Simmons, et al. We’ve had it six years and it’s as good as new – should go another 15. Seriously: check it out.

    If I had to buy one today, because I’m broke I’d probably go with the best one Ikea (!) offers – also no offgassing because they’re Swedish, and remarkably comfortable; it was our 2nd choice. That or the Keetsa, which is similarly nontoxic and high-quality and comfy. Plus they ship the Keetsas in giant vacuum-packed tubes, which is admittedly cool and 21st century.

  • For what little help it may be… I don’t know what my mattress is any more. The tags and stickers are long gone. My parents got it as a twofer deal with a bunk bed. It isn’t the most comfortable thing ever. But for three years before this mattress, I slept on an army cot with a sleeping bag, and got my shins pinched all night. SO…

    Whatever you end up with will feel like angel feathers. Just get one that’s big enough, cool enough, and doesn’t eat you. Don’t pay out the wazoo for it if you don’t have to. And don’t get a futon mattress, because those are made of undead army cot frames and WWII cotton socks.

  • We bought a Simmons Beautyrest because the best mattress we’d ever slept on was a Simmons Beautyrest. The problem is, getting the right model number. We both like a firm mattress, and the one at my brother-in-law’s house was the firmest. There was no movement from one side of the bed to the other, so when I got up in the middle of the night, my hubby didn’t wake up because the bed didn’t move on his side. So we thought we were getting the same model, but it turns out each mattress store has different models, and nobody thinks to give the models numbers or any way of telling one from another. So now, a year into sleeping on this mattress, it is much less firm than it was and now has the ditch-effect you talk about in your blog. :/

  • Laughed so hard I cried, thanks for that! We have gone through more than one expensive King mattress and after a vigorous test, measuring the concaves et al, were awarded another under warranty. Just as I expected, the second one has morphed into another set of burial mounds (thank you!) and my husband has again started to agitate for a new mattress.

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