BY BARBARA T. NELLES
Advances in mattress components can give your customers the cool sleep they crave. To understand these technologies, Sleep Savvy provides this primer on the newest offerings in temperature-regulating products and solutions
There is no denying that foams play a popular and important role in today’s mattresses, whether as support core or as pressure-relieving comfort layers in the quilt panel and cushion. This popularity, however, has been counterbalanced by an undeniable and growing chorus of consumer complaints about “sleeping hot,” especially on memory foam. Look no further than online review sites and even news stories in the consumer press.
Rising to the temperature challenge, mattress manufacturers have rolled out an array of beds with components that mechanically increase airflow—and, thus, help regulate temperature—throughout all-foam and hybrid mattresses.
A typical mattress on your sales floor may offer multiple temperature-regulating solutions. For instance, a mattress might have channeled base foam and surface-modified comfort layers to enable airflow, lofty natural or synthetic fiber padding, a layer of netlike reticulated foam below the quilt panel and a “cooling” gel, perhaps imbued with phase-change material. Beds also may have a knit panel with PCM fiber or a PCM coating and bed borders with 3-D “spacer fabric.”
Talk about cooler foam
The issue of sleeping temperature first arose about a decade ago as memory foam mattresses began to grow in popularity. At the same time, women of the baby boom generation were reaching menopause and experiencing first-time hot flashes and night sweats—a factor not to be ignored. That’s when manufacturers introduced open-cell memory foams. As opposed to closed-cell memory foam, newer formulas were adjusted to produce a finished product as open cell as standard polyurethane foam and latex foam.
But the changes didn’t stop there. Beginning in Europe, all-foam mattress makers began offering engineered cores with next-generation surface modifications. These are foam layers and cores with cuts, contours, channels and pinholing. The goal is to mechanically increase the amount of air flowing through each bed layer, so channels and contours in the bed’s high-density support core act as air ducts or pathways.
Where once only latex was pinhole cored, now vertical and horizontal coring is standard in all foams used in better beds. Foam suppliers to the industry have invested in boring machinery that can core foam components individually or the entire core assembly from top to bottom and laterally.
Today’s contoured and cut cores actually are doing more than helping aerate the bed; they are creating something that is quite interesting to look at and discuss on the sales floor, says Rick Anthony, director of sales for major foam supplier HSM Bedding Solutions, headquartered in Hickory, N.C. “Channels in the foam can allow air to escape, but they are also a very visual point of differentiation and add interest.”
Nathan Elliott, marketing manager for Indianapolis-based foam fabricator Foamcraft, says that foam beds in the United States are intricate and complex. “We are doing so much with foam breathability through CNC (computer numeric control) surface modification technology—an advanced, surface-modified design can be created for every foam layer, each with its own design and its own airflow rating.”
One of the newest foams in today’s beds is netlike, reticulated polyurethane foam. These extremely porous foams lie just beneath the top panel of the bed to improve air circulation. Once reserved for outdoor furniture cushions, air filtration systems, stereo speakers and the like, reticulated foam has skeletal cell walls.
Another advantage of the reticulated layer, Anthony says, is that it “can literally wick the heat from the sleeper.”
Promote improved latex
Although latex typically is pinhole cored and an open-cell foam type, the latex used in many of today’s mattresses also has been retooled, with an eye toward an improved airflow story.
The pinhole coring has become more like ductwork. For instance, natural latex supplier Arpico, a division of Richard Pieris Natural Foams Ltd. in Sri Lanka, offers Latex AirCell cores that are poured in one piece but have very large vertical and lateral channels for maximum airflow. And the company is not alone. Supplier Latex International, based in Shelton, Conn., offers mattress makers latex that is very open cell and poured in a range of flow-through rounded profiles and contours. Another latex supplier, Latexco, with world headquarters in Tielt, Belgium, created an entirely new production process. The Sonocore pouring process yields an even more open-cell product with uniform structure and excellent ventilation and temperature control.
The gel effect
Since 2009, numerous mattress brands, especially those marketed in Canada and the United States, have introduced gel foam or a poured gel component. The first gel foam offering was memory foam infused with gel particles or “beads.” Now, gel offerings include foams with swirled gels, as well as foams layered with poured gel.
How to talk about gel and its properties? Adding gel—which has a higher density than foam and warms more slowly—to the top comfort layer of a bed can provide an initial sensation of coolness to the sleeper. Whether gel offers an overall cooler night’s sleep is a matter of hot debate in the mattress industry. Gel is, however, proven to provide pressure relief and was first used in medical mattresses to help prevent pressure sores.
When gel is combined with phase-change material, there is science behind the cooling claims. Some of the newest offerings in gel beds have comfort layers studded with gel beads that contain microencapsulated phase-change materials.
But what are phase-change materials? They are organic and inorganic compounds that store and release heat as they melt and solidify at certain temperatures. It’s decades-old technology based on centuries-old thermodynamics research into the nature of “latent heat.” Also known as latent heat storage, phase-change material has applications in many industries, from building products to mattresses.
Mattress manufacturers are rapidly adapting components that make use of microencapsulated phase-change materials, and they have lots to choose from.
“From fabrics to foams to gels and fill, the mattress marketplace is experiencing the cooling/warming effects that PCM technology provides, helping to create the ‘perfect sleep experience’ that consumers value,” says Joe Wehrle, director of sales for microencapsulated phase-change material supplier Microtek Laboratories Inc., headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. “Every day, new and inventive products are being introduced in the bedding segment that capitalize on the thermal benefits of phase-change materials.”
The fabrics used to cover mattresses were the first bed component to incorporate phase-change materials. In the 1990s, Golden, Colo.-based Outlast Technologies LLC, a supplier of PCM fibers, fabrics and coatings, introduced mattresses covered in woven, high-end ticking with Outlast, a brand widely recognized at retail. The company’s Thermocule phase-change material technology is based on fabric and fiber research conducted by NASA in the 1980s that led to the development of temperature-controlled spacesuits and gloves for astronauts. Most major ticking suppliers now knit or weave products with phase-change material fibers or coatings, using either Outlast or another PCM technology.
Phase-change material can be found on the surface of foams or blended in.
It can be a topical application on the mattress fabric or intrinsic to the yarns. Expect to see more of it on and in the mattresses you sell. And don’t miss the chance to offer shoppers a side-by-side comparison with some point-of-sale materials, because they will be able to feel the difference.
Don’t forget the ticking
A textile construction available for more than a decade but currently enjoying great popularity on beds, especially on mattress borders, is spacer fabric, which tells a convincing ventilation story. These airy 3-D textiles are available in a range of heights and composed of two layers of fabric separated—and joined—by short vertical fibers that create a pathway for air circulation.
Among myriad inventive mattress covers on beds with temperature-control claims, Holland-based knit producer Innofa introduced something a little different in 2013. It invented a new knit with a pattern that includes little portholes or “air grids” designed to work in tandem with a foam bed’s ventilated core, allowing air to more readily circulate through a bed. O
Despite their reputation for providing cooler sleep, innerspring beds also have gotten tweaks to improve sleep temperature. The popularity of fabric-wrapped coils or pocket springs in better bedding is growing in North America. Although the typical coil wrapper is a breathable, needle-punched nonwoven, some beds now have pockets springs with altered pockets—they may have slits and hole punching to improve airflow. A number of high-end mattress collections use multiple layers of wrapped microcoils in the top comfort layer.
When sleep temperature is a major source of disagreement between sleep partners, there are solutions out there.
Chili Technology LLC, with headquarters in Mooresville, N.C., offers electronic heating and cooling integrated into its ChiliPad and its ChiliBed, which launched in 2012. The technology allows users to adjust sleep surface temperatures from 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The product employs a closed-loop system with water that is heated and cooled as it circulates constantly through the topper or bed.
Coolness is the most desired feature, says Todd Youngblood, Chili Technology president.
“Consumers tell us ‘you can’t make it cold enough for me. I’d sleep in a freezer if I could!’ We’ve gotten testimonials from people going through chemotherapy, menopausal women, couples who can finally sleep together comfortably—there’s so much enthusiasm and energy out there for this product.”
Other beds with electronic heating and cooling use an air system. Airbed manufacturer and retailer Select Comfort introduced the heated and cooled Sleep Number DualTemp topper in 2013, using the Minneapolis-based company’s proprietary Active Air technology.
The YuMe bed, sold exclusively at Mattress Firm, has a solid-state heat pump with integrated convection to blow heated or cooled air through the sleep surface of the foam-core bed.
Barbara Nelles is the digital editor of Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She is based in Greensboro, N.C.