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:
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.