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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Mattress Matters – Part 1: The Princess, the Pea and the Search for the Perfect Mattress

While on a business trip to Chicago last month, I woke up in a strange hotel and had the oddest sensation. As I got out of bed, my lower back, which, when I get up, usually feels like someone poured concrete down my vertebral column and it hardened overnight, felt as loose as a licorice rope.

That’s odd, I thought. My back feels great. I checked the date to make sure it was 2019, not 20 years earlier. I must have slept funny, I reasoned. But the second night at the same hotel, it happened again.

Normally, I get that loosened up feeling eventually. The morning wears on, and the stiffness wears off, as if the Tin man found the oil can, but, inevitably, I go to bed again. And we start over, my back and I. (Apparently, if you can believe the statistics, 80 percent of you know what I’m talking about.)

But on this second promising morning of waking up feeling half my age, I tore back the sheets to reveal the label of this miracle mattress: A “Sealy Posturepedic Plush Euro Pillowtop” custom labeled for this hotel. If I could have taken the mattress home in my suitcase, I would have.

Instead, I snapped a picture of the label with my phone.

Back home, I pulled back the covers to see what I’d been sleeping on. Underneath was a mattress I did not recognize, a “Sears-O-Pedic Solace Pillowtop,” circa World War II, judging from its sagging sides. “Where did this come from?” I asked my husband with whom I merged households four years ago. We both knew. (For the record, the Sears-O-Pedic offered a 25-year warranty, said the label, though experts recommend replacing your mattress every eight to 10 years, or whenever your back gives out.)

At this discovery, I needed to sit down, quickly, on something reliable. How was it we blended households and didn’t buy a new mattress? We got a new bed and new bedding, but how in the world? You mean? Well, that settled it. This mattress was officially an ex-mattress. And I knew just the replacement.

I called Tempur Sealy, the world’s largest mattress maker, and sent customer service the picture. The representative said the mattress came from the company’s Fairmont Hotel collection. I didn’t stay at a Fairmont, I said. That didn’t matter. They referred me to Bill Blendick, who handles hotel mattress sales, who explained a few things, then referred me to Michelle Gaffney, retail manager for Fairmont Hotels, one of a growing number of hotel chains that offer ways to purchase the bed you slept on.

“I get three calls like this a week,” said Gaffney, who asked, “Were you on vacation?”

“Strictly business,” I said.

“I ask because customers call and say they had the best sleep ever, and want the mattress, but they were in Maui, with their phones off, and daily housekeeping, fresh sheets, an ocean breeze and the sound of the waves all night.”

“I wish.”

“I don’t want to get their hopes up,” she said.

We both know a mattress can only do so much.

Gaffney found the mattress online.

“You’re sure this is the same one?” I asked.


I placed my order. I will find out in six weeks if this mattress is the fountain of youth, or if I was just dreaming. Meanwhile, here’s what else experts say we can learn from hotel beds.

  • Rest test. While lying on a mattress in a retail store is one way to shop, if you have a great night’s sleep in a hotel or when staying at a friend’s, that’s even better.

  • Age factor. The biggest difference between a hotel and a home mattress is age, said Mary Helen Rogers, spokeswoman for the Better Sleep Council. Hotels replace their mattresses every 7-to-9 years. “They feel great because you won’t ever sleep on a worn-out one.”

  • Label and brand. If you sleep on a mattress you love, take a photo of the label. However, Gaffney can still track down a mattress by calling the hotel and finding out what room the guest stayed in. (Hotels often have more than one type of mattress.)

  • Selection process. “Of the 12 hours guests spend in their rooms, eight of them are on the mattress,” said Blendick. Because mattresses are the most important furnishing in the room, hotels take great care when choosing. “For a chain as selective as Fairmont, we can design and test as many as 30 mattresses.” Guests sleep on trial mattresses and take a short survey at checkout to learn how they liked their night’s sleep. “That goes on until we find the mattress that meets most people’s preferences for comfort and support.”

  • Tough stuff. Just as furnishings made for commercial settings are stronger than those for residential use, hotel mattresses are “designed for more punishment,” said Blendick. “People throw heavy suitcases on them. Kids jump on them because it’s vacation. We know that, and design accordingly.” Manufacturers use commercial grade foam, which is denser and more resilient. Mattress covers, ticking and inner springs will be higher gauge. The foundations, what the rest of us call box springs, are typically solid-wood units, so they provide stronger support.

  • Better edge. In hotels, guests are more likely to perch on the edge of their beds while talking on the phone, eating dinner, and putting on shoes. So, unlike residential mattresses, which have a softer even slightly rounded edge, hotel mattress edges are sturdier and straighter. At home, if you sleep close to the edge of your mattress, you risk rolling off. On a hotel bed, you can sleep up to the edge. Having a larger sleep surface is handy if you have kids or pets crawling in at night.

Join me next week when we ask a doctor if a mattress really can relieve our aches and pains.

CAPTION: The Rest Test -- “Mattresses are like shoes,” said Bill Blendick, spokesman for Tempur Sealy. “You have to try them to know what fits.” Photo courtesy of

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