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  • What's in a Mattress?

     What is a mattress? What kinds of things do I need to look for in a mattress? What separates this white rectangle from the 40 others sitting on the floor? When first taking the plunge on acquiring a new mattress set, there are many factors to consider. Between different springs, different foams, traditional beds, foam beds, hybrid beds, and many combinations in between, trying to decide which mattress is the right one for you can become a daunting task. In order to help cut through the myriad of options out there, it helps to know, what exactly is a mattress and how are they constructed. Over the next few articles, we will discuss what a mattress is and how they are constructed from the bottom up to create a complete sleep system.

     The basic construction of a mattress has not changed for hundreds of years. There are 3 layers to a mattress: base layer, support layer, and comfort layer. Fairly simple right? But, what those layers are made up of and how they affect sleep differs between what is used. Let's start with the base layer.

     “A Rock Solid Foundation”

    The base layer is what the mattress sits on. These can be huge sleigh beds with wooden slats that has drawers underneath with ball bearing slides. Or, it can be as simple as laying the mattress on the floor. Either way, the end goal remains the same: provide a solid flat foundation for the mattress. Without a solid flat foundation, the mattress cannot do it's job: giving you a good night's sleep. The foundation of the mattress consists of 2 parts: the frame and the box.

    The main goal of the frame is to give something as flat as the floor; but higher to reduce “flopping” down on the ground. Frames are traditionally made from metal or wood. Both are designed to give a good solid base layer to the mattress system. Solid metal frames are created to allow a headboard to be attached and/or a footboard depending on the frame. These can be connected with a bolt. In the past, only King frames had a center support running down the center (in order to make room for the 2 Twin XL Boxes needed). In the modern market, Queen frames will also come with a center support. This is important because mattresses have gotten heavier as more materials have been added to it. If you have a new Queen mattress on an old frame without the center support, then your mattress may start to dip in the center. Luckily, many manufacturers have metal center support legs readily available that can attach to your existing frame.

    Wood bed frames have a similar construction with 2 key differences. Headboard and footboards are generally hooked on to the frame of a wooden bed. The other difference with wood beds is that they sometimes come as platform beds. Platform beds are unique in that they have wooden slats that stretch across the sides of the frame. They are interspaced slightly throughout. The benefit of this is twofold. One, most platform beds come with drawers underneath for extra storage. Second, the mattress can go directly onto the bed without having a box spring underneath. The wooden slats provide the same layer of support that the box does. If you do not have a platform bed, then you will need a box.

    The box spring or foundation is the second part of the base layer. The goal of the box is the same as the frame: a solid flat foundation to the mattress. Traditionally, the box spring was composed of springs. The coils generally were thicker and tried to give stability to the mattress. However, as the mattress industry has grown, most do not use springs any longer. This is due to the fact that the coils in the box, just like any other coil/spring, do break down over time. Therefore the longer you had them, the less effective they became, and they hurt the life of the mattress. Worse yet, many consumers would purchase a new mattress and place it on an old box spring. That is akin to building a new house on an old foundation... it does not work well. The new mattress will conform to the dips and valleys in the old boxes. A better box, called a foundation, is comprised entirely of wood. They work as a “portable” version of the platform beds discussed earlier. These foundations do not dip overtime and provide the exact type of support needed for any mattress.

    The base layer of the mattress's purpose is to provide a “rock solid” foundation to the mattress. Without this the mattress will dip, sag, and break down much faster than intended. When looking for a new mattress set, make sure to check what type of frame and box you currently have. If they do not provide the support your mattress needs, then you should look at replacing them with something that will. Next up, we will look at what is inside a mattress and what type of mattress is right for you.


    Adam Swift
    Long's Furniture World and Mattress

    P.S. For more information about mattresses and getting a better night's sleep, check out the following articles and sites: