Trouble Sleeping? Your Mattress Might Be To Blame

Photo: Courtesy of Parachute.

Sleep: It’s my favorite activity in the world. If there’s a safe place for me to shut my eyes and drift away, I’ll do it. No questions asked. That’s why when my husband talked me into getting a firm mattress for his back and my sleep was immediately — and rudely — interrupted, I was dismayed. Suddenly, I was tossing and turning during the night. I’d wake up groggy, irritated, and with upper back and neck pain. And, as a young, working mom, getting a good night’s rest is non-negotiable.

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I tried several mattress toppers (down, down alternative, feather, and foam) and nothing worked. I would never, ever have imagined that a mattress could disrupt my life so severely. But Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and a diplomate and fellow at the American Board of Sleep Medicine, sums it up nicely: “Sleeping is a performance sport. I can run a race in flip flops, but I’m not going to get a good time. The same goes for sleep: you need the right equipment and it all starts with a good mattress.”

Enter Parachute. The new-ish home brand that’s best known for its quality linen bedding and super soft Terry robes recently decided to enter the crowded mattress-in-a-box market with a product that promises a “superior sleep experience.” I was instantly intrigued and requested a test unit.

“We’ve received thousands of requests for mattress recommendations over the years,” Ariel Kaye, Parachute’s founder, explains to me in an email. “We recognized there was an opportunity [to make] a premium eco-hybrid mattress.” So this January, Parachute, which has five brick and mortar stores across the county but is primarily an e-commerce operation, starting shipping mattresses ranging in price from $1,299 to $2,199 to the 48 contiguous states.

Mattress shopping, I’ve learned, is complicated. It’s much more than clever subway ads, pushy sales people, and generous return policies. And it’s all personal, the six sleep, mattress, and medical experts I spoke to for this story told me. What works for me probably isn’t going to work for you. Add a partner to the mix and things get tricky quickly. First, there are two main terms you should familiarize yourself with if you’re looking for a new bed: support and comfort. “The right support keeps your spine aligned so that it doesn’t experience dips and curves as you sleep, which can result in back pain,” Dr. Breus explains. The comfort aspect in mattresses is the mild pressure that’s pushed back against your body when you lie on a bed, he continues. The more “comfort” you have, the softer the mattress — at least that’s how I interpreted my experiences with beds.

Both of these elements can be made from almost any material, and popular options include springs or coils, memory foam, and latex. For the comfort level, mattresses come in soft, medium, or firm models mostly. And, if you’re a side sleeper like me who’s 145 lbs, you probably want a medium to soft mattress to provide adequate pressure point relief. If you’re a back sleeper who weighs over 200 lbs, like my husband, you’ll likely want a medium-to-firm mattress. (See why we ran into trouble?) The more you weigh, the more force you exert on your mattress, and the deeper the sink will feel. All of this finally explained to me why my husband and I had completely different experiences on that firm monstrosity he bought.

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Parachute’s mattress is medium firm, and that’s the most universally recommended comfort level by medical professionals. “The spine needs support, and a very soft mattress through and through is not good,” Dr. Ezriel Kornel, a neurosurgeon and assistant clinical professor of neurosurgery at Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York, tells me in an email. Kaye adds, “[medium firm] is the ideal blend of softness and support, whether you tend to sleep on your back, side, stomach, or switch positions over the course of the night.”

For their support layers, Parachute uses coils — 6,000 of them. The first of these are pocketed in order to reduce motion transfer (when my husband turns in the middle of the night, I barely feel it), and also zoned. The zoning works like this: The middle part of the mattress has firmer coils for that all-important spinal alignment, and the top and bottom of the mattress have softer ones to cradle your head, neck, and legs in a super comfy manner. Then there are another three layers of microcoils (tiny, steel, twisted ribbons), which are meant to contour with your body and every movement.

All of these coils also serve another important role: air flow. Becoming overheated by your mattress and waking up in the middle of the night is a real thing. It’s not only annoying, but can also seriously disrupt your sleep. A memory foam or latex mattress will rarely best a spring mattress when it comes to breathability, I learned, simply because the springs have less mass. “The biggest complaint we see from memory foam mattresses are that they sleep hot,” says Bill Fish, the co-founder of Tuck, a popular mattress review and sleep guide website. (Tuck has not reviewed Parachute’s mattress.)

Where comfort is involved, Parachute does something that’s typically reserved for very high-end brands: they use wool. This is a departure from most other bed-in-a-box mattresses, and something that Fish says “isn’t seen a lot.”

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But Parachute opted for wool because it’s “eco-friendly, non-toxic, and sustainable,” says Kaye. Wool is also naturally flame resistant, so no flame retardants or other possibly harmful chemicals were used in the mattress.

And not only do they use wool in the comfort layer, they also use it as the base layer and the layer between the two different types of coils. The springs, the wool, and an organic cotton cover are all that’s in this mattress. And now me.

Right out of the box, the Parachute mattress improved my sleep. I found myself waking up rested again and often in the same position as when I went to sleep. However, the surface still felt too hard for me initially. (God, I thought, have I suddenly turned into the princess from the Princess and the Pea?) But after three weeks, a down alternative topper, and then no down alternative topper, everything softened up and settled in. (This is probably why some mattress companies have mandatory 30-day break in periods.)

My head and neck felt supported with a very light sink that I don’t think would upset Dr. Kornel, and my upper back pain disappeared. The only other issue I experienced was acclimating my body to where the “zones” were in the mattress to make sure my hips hit the firmer coils at just the right angle. It was a learning curve I could have done without, but a very minor one in the end.

Parachute’s offering gave me back a good night’s sleep — even if $1,899 for a queen is on the high end of what’s available today both online and in stores. (A representative for Consumer Reports told me you could absolutely get a reliable mattress in a lower price range.)

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Next to nutrition and exercise, sleep is now considered the third pillar of health and wellness.

When patients go to see Dr. Beuss for difficulty sleeping, one of the first things he does is ask them about their mattress. He even helps patients create mattresses just for them based on their weight, height, and sleeping preferences and habits. It’s hard for me to believe how little I appreciated a mattress’s role in my ability to get quality sleep. And I wonder how many are in a similar situation. “Next to nutrition and exercise, sleep is now considered the third pillar of health and wellness,” says Fish. Everyone wants to sleep well.

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