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Tempur-Tantrum

We received an email at The SGU yesterday about a topic close to my head and heart; Tempur-Pedic mattresses.

Listener Jennifer from West Palm Beach Florida asked:

“… my question is about Tempur-Pedic beds.  Don’t laugh, I know its trivial compared to all the other topics out there … Are they actually helpful for the back or is just in our heads that they are good.  I have slept on one before and I really liked it compared to another bed but since I’ve been listening now I’m worried that maybe it’s just in my head that its a better bed.  Please help so that I do not spend a large sum of money on something that isn’t really helpful.”

One of the things I LOVE about skepticism is when skepticism is utilized in real-world, every-day instances. Consumer behavior is a prime example. Consumer behavior effects just about everyone (we are all, after all, consumers) so when it comes to making decisions about purchasing items, we exercise our skeptical muscles (albeit to varying degrees.)  You don’t even have to be a “Skeptic” with a capital-S. Average people want good products at affordable prices – a very reasonable goal, and with a modicum of skepticism built-in to our purchase making decisions, more often then not, we get what we want. Chalk one up for the practicality of skepticism!

Because I happen to own Tempur-Pedic products, I replied to Jennifer as such:

Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for writing, and for listening.  As the owner of three Tempur-Pedic mattresses, I’ll offer my opinion.  

But first, the folks at Tempur-Pedic offer this in their FAQ’s:

Q: Is there any research to prove that Tempur-Pedic® is effective? 
A: There have been multiple scientific studies done to document the “miracle like” results of sleeping on the Tempur-Pedic® mattress, including studies by the Institution for Clinical & Physiological Research at Lillhagen Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden and the University of Maine. Clinical studies indicate that the Tempur-Pedic® mattress cuts the average nighttime tossing and turning by more than 70%! 

They offer no links to the studies, and a quick first glance through Google does not immediately reveal the link either, but there are tons of articles, blog posts, and sales sites parroting Tempur-Pedic’s claim.  Same goes for the Univeristy of Maine reference.  I’ll continue to look for the study online and let you know if/when I find it ….

Well, 24 hours later and I am STILL trying to find the studies to which they allude. In my searching around, I found some variations on the numbers being touted. For example, on the Tempur UK Facebook page, they claim the average nighttime tossing and turining is reduced to 83% (instead of “more than 70%”) and at the same time they make no mention of the University of Maine.

Also, I eventually realized the above Tempur-Pedic FAQ only appears on retail websites.  When I went looking for the FAQ’s on the actual Tempur-Pedic website, it turned out that their FAQ section is different. So there seems to be 2 sets of Tempur-Pedic FAQ’s out there – the official customer FAQ’s on the Tempur-Pedic website, and then a different FAQ for all the resale sites such as this one or this one. Perhaps this is benign, but it sure doesn’t help a skeptic get to the bottom of  the matter.

Quite the contrary.  The folks at this website appear to have actually seen the University of Maine results, and state:

“Test (sic) conducted at the University of Maine recorded a significant increase in periods of deep sleep, REM stage, in children between the ages of 6 and 11 years. Those test indicated the average REM sleep experience on the Tempur-Pedic mattress was more efficient and restful than REM sleep on conventional mattresses.”

A lead, that’s great!

Well, not so great. A search of the University of Maine website revealed nothing, press releases on the Tempur-Pedic website revealed nothing, and I spoke via phone to Tempur-Pedic headquarters in Kentucky as well.  Very nice people down there, but the representatives (sales rep and customer service rep) seemed to have no clue that these claims about the studies even existed. 

PubMed revealed a 2005 Tempur-Pedic related study about heel ulcers, but nothing about the Lillhagen Hospital or University of Maine studies.

By this point, a reasonable consumer has just about exhausted their efforts to find out what science has to say (if anything) about the mattress. I suppose I could try to reach the folks at the Institute for Lillhagen Hospital in Sweden, but they don’t seem to have a website or a Facebook page. I could try to knock down the front door of the University of Maine and go blindly looking for this “Test” with practically no information about who conducted the research or when it happened, but you would think a study with these stated results would be much easier to find.

Getting back to my email response to Jennifer, I did say that I would offer my opinions, and here they were:

But even if we assume the Lillhagen study exists and is a well designed study, it is still just one study.  The bottom line is that it seems as though there is limited data on the matter to make a decision based on scientific evidence.

Which leaves us with anecdotes and testimonials … my wife and I bought the first mattress 10 years ago because my wife suffers from chronic back pain due to trauma.  After testing a dozen or so mattresses, we chose Tempur-Pedic because it was the one that hurt her the least. There were not many memory-foam brands to choose from 10 years ago, so we had no choice but to pay the high price.  Today, I see commercials for several other brands at lower rates. If we had to buy one today, we would certainly check out the less expensive options.

 

To be fair, there are some advocacy groups that have put their seals of approval on Tempur-Pedic products, such as The Arthritis Foundation, Good Housekeeping, and Consumer’s Digest.  But one has to wonder how they are basing their recommendations.  It would seem that it is chiefly comprised of anecdotes and testimonials, which we know as good skeptics, are not reliable forms of evidence.  

One hopes that the folks at Tempur-Pedic are not taking unfair advantage of people’s subjective levels of pain and discomfort in order to sell more product without any science to back it up.  Getting hold of those studies that they are advertising would be a good step towards believing them.

5 comments to Tempur-Tantrum

  • rlquinn1980

    Just anecdotes and testimonials, huh? How about mine:

    My husband bought one for us to help with his back, which it did, at first. After about eighteen months, the foam and had gotten soft, and my husband woke up with worse back trouble, as he could now feel the platform underneath the mattress by the morning! Apparently—he did this research, not I—the softening of the cells is the one thing NOT covered on the warranty. We weren’t the only ones running into this, though I have no idea how common a problem it may be or what factors are feeding into it. In our case it may have been the weather: we live in a very humid and warm area of the country.

    Our Tempurpedic was very comfortable, but we’ve found suitable replacements which are much cheaper to exchange should we need to. I’m open to looking at other mattresses, but I don’t think I could justify that price again.

    Well, maybe I could if they showed me their studies.

  • vrulg

    I’d suggest an alternate method of investigation would be to see if there are any studies that show the qualities a mattress must have in general to promote a good night’s sleep(as opposed to looking at specific brands). My understanding is that this subject isn’t exactly clear, it being more of a “whatever works for you” situation. If my understanding is correct, then it seems very unlikely that a study that showed mattress brand X provides a better sleep would exist/be a good study.

  • Mr Shark

    Being a swede I did a quick search to find out more about Lillhagen hospital, and found this on Swedish wikipedia http://goo.gl/0olC4 (the google translate seems quite good http://goo.gl/m34sT ). In short it seem to be specialised in Forensic psychiatry but having some sports medicine and research facilities. They have a tiny homepage here: http://goo.gl/VjbEH and is a part of Sahlgrenska sjukhuset whos research have this http://goo.gl/3KVju homepage.

    A quick search revealed two sleep related articles that might contain something:

    Björkelund C, Bondyr-Carlsson D, Lapidus L, Lissner L, Mansson J, Skoog I, Bengtsson C. Sleep Disturbances in Midlife Unrelated to 32-Year Diabetes Incidence: The prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg. Diabetes Care 2005;28:2739-44.

    Skoog I, Steen B, Persson G, Nilsson L, Aevarsson O, Larsson L, Östling S. A 15-year longitudinal cross-sectional population study on sleep in the elderly. Facts and research in gerontology 1993;7:137-146.

    There were some more references but they seems more unlikely.

  • hankwinner

    Being from Sweden I decided to try to find some sort of direct information on the Lillhagen study but to no avail. I did however manage to find a bit of indirect information.

    Torbjön Åkerström, a professor of behavioral physiology in the department for clinical neuroscience at Karolinska institutet, did outright dismiss the study at Lillhagen saying it was a “study” that did not make it into the medical litterature. According to the study, conducted at a mental hospital (?), you only turn about 17-20 times a night in a tempur bed compared to 80 times in a “regular” bed.

    I do wonder, what is it that makes less turning in bed an automatic ticket to better sleep? I don’t see this absolute connection.

  • madadder

    I work in a university library. Part of my job is to help students find this kind of research, and I like to think that I’m rather adept at finding obscure references. I looked for about a half-hour, and all I could find that referred to Tempur-Pedic at all in the thousands of journals that I have access to were Economics studies.

    I didn’t, unfortunately find the studies that were mentioned, but I did find an article in Technovation:

    Urethanes Technology (December 2001/January 2002) published an article based on wide industry expert input entitled: “Viscoelastic foam mattresses: marketing hype or molecular miracle?”. UT concludes that “the claims for the materials are not just marketing hype … it had benefits as well as a story … in health features”. previous Tempur-Pedic branded previous TEMPUR® foam material and other viscoelastic knock-offs, continually adjust and mold to the weight, shape, and temperature of your body over time, dramatically minimizing pressure points. Hence, visco reduces tossing and turning, significantly improves circulation, and noticeably reduces stiffness, pain, and discomfort associated with erratic sleep.

    [...]

    Viscoelastic foam technology was originally developed by NASA in the 1970s to help relieve the intense liftoff pressures on astronauts, and for crash protection for airplane pilots and passengers. Visco foam was inducted into the US Space Foundation Space Technology Hall of Fame, and has been used in commercial products such as orthopedic support cushions, operating-table pads, ear plugs, football helmets, and furniture cushions including orchestral chairs. NASA formally certified previous termTempurnext term-Pedic’s bedding foam material as official “Space Technology”, and granted exclusive use of their logo to them. According to NASA, visco is non-flammable, non-toxic, and inexpensive ( [NASA, 1998] and [46] ).

    (I hope I wrote that tag right ;) )

    Hope this helps.

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