Tag Archives: Informed Consumer

Sleep Number Bed – How It’s Made & Review

Kind of random I know, but that’s my blog.

This post inspired by our battle with our own bed and Sleep Number’s customer non-service department.

Image from Businesswire.com

As you doubtless guessed from my opening and previous post about sleep quality, I have some real gripes here. I’m going to be fair and talk about the pluses we experienced while we owned the bed also. It’s probably easiest to work through things in a chronological order.

We started out looking for a new bed about 5 1/2 years ago when my back was probably at it’s worst, or at least during one of several truly bad points over the years. The advertised fact that the bed could adjust to conform to the needs of a sleeper, and even that sleeper’s changing sleep needs was a powerful selling point for us. You could make it firmer or softer if you had a physically demanding day, etc…

Resting on the bed at the store, it was just as comfortable as a foam mattress like a Tempur-Pedic, but seemed to adapt and support even better as our sleep numbers were dialed in. And that’s the trick; Sleep Number beds are great when you first buy them.

Purchase is where we hit our first snag or grumble though. When you see the commercials and they say “Only X Dollars”, they’re only talking about only the mattress assembly itself. The base costs more, with an adjustable base potentially more than doubling the cost of the bed. Then there’s the topper that goes on top of the air chambers. The more plush or heat dispersing you go, the price goes up, but the topper is disguised as a different model number. “Oh no, the super plush cooling top? That’s our i12 model, not this i8… It’s much more.”

To be fair, the vast majority of manufacturers of numerous products play the “different model” game. Even with other bed manufacturers though, there’s more of a difference in material construction than with a Sleep Number bed. Many of those beds won’t cost you upwards of $3000 out the door either.

Sleep Number Construction:

Let’s get into how the bed is made so that we can actually start talking about where the real problems begin.

Above is our (former) Sleep Number bed. It was a little over 5 years old when we got rid of it. That is about the shelf life for a poor to middle quality inner-coil spring traditional mattress. The reason we bought this bed though is that it came with a 20 year pro-rated warranty. We figured in the end, we’d come out ahead vs buying 3 or 4 supposedly lesser quality beds over that same time period.

If you notice above, the topper or “pillow top” already looks pretty shabby in terms of holding it’s shape, particularly on the right side. The problem is that the topper is primarily just cheap foam:

It’s got the sleep number logo all over it though, so that must make it high end, right? LOL.

Aside from that foam, there’s about 3/4 of an inch (1.9cm) of not very dense or supportive padding in the upper casing. The problem with the foam is that it loses support without you even realizing it IF you’re only judging it’s condition based on it returning to a normal shape after you get off of it.

As a side note, this is an issue I have with Tempur-Pedic; to get warranty replacement of their mattresses, the foam has to show a full 1 inch (2.4cm) of sag or indentation before they’ll replace it, per some internet sources. Foam, even high quality stuff like Tempur-Pedic uses, loses support well before it shows that kind of sag.

Same problem with our topper there. It looked OK if you unzip it, but NO support. Why does that matter? Because the rest of the bed is a glorified air mattress:

Or in the case of our Queen sized bed, two air mattresses connected via a zipper so there’s no gap in the center. This allows each side of the bed to be adjusted to varying firmness levels independent of the other side. If you’re wondering, the construction there is a combination of cloth and some vinyl-like material. Not much different from a decent quality camping air mattress that you’d buy from a department store.

Needless to say, the potential for leaks is there. Unlike those camping air mattresses, these held pressure pretty well up till our move out here from California. More on that in a minute or so.

Oh and of you’re wondering, YES, that IS just a foam block border around the air mattress, on all four sides. The outer fabric shell is primarily what holds the bed together. NOW, for the sake of being complete, here’s what’s under the air chambers:

First, we have about 3/4 of an inch of more foam to act as padding for the air chambers. THEN we have the bottom of the outer shell, secured to the adjustable base via four bolts anchoring wide plastic hold downs:

As you can see, it’s a fairly simple design overall. The air bags provide the firmness level of each side of the bed, and the topper helps the bed conform to your body and feel softer than a basic air mattress would. The hold downs keep the mattress from going anywhere while the adjustable base is in anything other than a flat position.

The air pump’s hoses hook into the head of the air mattress, and keep the mattresses at the desired setting, at least in theory.

Our Actual Problems:

Aside from the topper’s foam wearing out without us being fully aware of it (the air chamber softness can make this harder to notice than with an all foam mattress), the big problem was with air pressure. Customer (Non) Service as well, as you’re about to read.

Twice in the last 4 months we’ve had my side of the bed alternate between not holding pressure and just slowly being completely random in what it would be. I might go to bed at my ideal sleep number, wake up 2 hours later and have the pressure maxed out, and the next time I wake up, it could be nearly flat. This played hell with my back and neck as well as my already very poor sleep quality.

The first time, we called Sleep Number’s corporate customer service. We got told that we could throw parts blindly at it, OR have somebody come out and diagnose the bed. That would cost $100 though. Cheaper than just guessing and going through a pile of parts, right? We went that route.

It took a week and a half for them to get somebody out. We were stuck on our old inner spring guest bed during that time.

Two young guys that barely look out of high school show up, unzip the topper from the main body and take a quick look at the mattress, looking lost the entire time. They call the same 800 number we did, and talk to corporate. Perhaps unknown to corporate, we can hear the other end of the conversation, and they tell the kids to just label it the air chambers and get on to the next call. They sounded quite annoyed that the kids seemed to want to actually do the diagnosis we paid for.

Unsure what to do at the moment due to fatigue and not knowing how to check the other parts ourselves, we throw up our hands and say “fine”.

Here’s the kicker for this first call: Not only did we get charged $100 for a diagnosis that was nothing more than a blind guess, our 20 year pro-rated discount price for the new air chambers was another $200! Being pro-rated and only 25% of the way through our warranty, that means the parts should have been 75% off. MEANING, Sleep Number prices their air chambers at $800 MSRP.

The replacement parts order was also botched, and when we called back a day or two later, the order had never even been placed. THEN it took almost two weeks for the new air chambers to arrive. Yes, if you’re doing the math, that’s a month without the high priced bed. We also told them we’d install the new parts ourselves (it’s really pretty simple). Another three or four weeks later, Sleep Number has two new guys knocking on our door at the crack of dawn saying they were here to install the new parts we’d ordered.

SO, if we’d waited for them that would have been almost two months with no bed.

We put everything together though, and for a short while everything seemed OK. We figured that MAYBE the fluctuations in air pressure were caused by the pump trying to compensate (poorly) for a previous leak and we were good.

Three months later, we were back exactly where we were before.

THIS time, I spend a couple of days online researching things. YouTube and other review sites have several irate reviews about the pump systems on these beds being complete crap, and Sleep Number allegedly deliberately making them that way so they can sell a steady stream of replacement parts.

The crappy pump in question

Between the cost of the parts last time, realizing finally that the topper is worn out also, and feeling very burnt over the diagnostic fee, we had enough. We figured we’d be paying the same inflated prices for a replacement pump and topper, AND that we’d have NO idea how long before those parts or something else gave out again. That was when we opted to replace instead of repair.

Sleep IQ and Questions of Privacy:

Another thing to consider with a Sleep Number bed is their “Sleep IQ” phone app. First, the app is going to want access to quite a bit of your phone’s system. It’s also not just tracking your sleep via pressure sensors in the pump, it’s reporting that info back to Sleep Number’s computers. It will also pressure you to allow the app to monitor your wi-fi enabled thermostat, “to help avoid you sleeping hot or cold”.

All in all, there’s a ton of data about your sleep habits, sleep schedule, and home energy usage, along with God only knows what else from the other phone permissions, that the app data-mines and reports back to Sleep Number. I guarantee you that info is getting sold to third party marketers.

Since the app also claims to stop snoring by detecting it and elevating the upper portion of the bed, one can assume that the app is also using your phone as a listening device. How else is it going to detect snoring after all? Tossing and turning might be detectable via minor, brief changes in air pressure, but snoring??

Needless to say, we never installed the app. WAY too “Big Brother” for us.

Final Thoughts:

First, let me be fair: Our Sleep Number bed was pretty comfortable when we got it. It really helped with my back. MY big issue with the bed is the lack of long term quality and the piss-poor customer service with the company at the corporate level. When one pays a premium for a product, it’s naturally expected that performance and longevity will above average, ideally well above average.

Most fair, independent review sites will show that the Sleep Number bed is at the top of the charts for long term cost of ownership with beds. Even the custom fitted sheets designed to stay put on the unusual construction and movable base are around $250 for a queen set. Sleep Number is as much in business to sell you parts as they are an actual bed.

As you can see from the pictures above, the bed is really just an air mattress surrounded by foam as well. Nothing that justifies a nearly $4000 price tag for the newest models. In short, in my opinion, not only is the quality not there to justify the price, it’s long term costs are too high, AND the combination of foam and air mattress also make it hard to recognize when some parts are wearing out.

It’s also pretty lousy for sex as well. Too much give, and neither side is intended to support the weight of two people.

Buy ANYTHING else, but save your money here. It’s not worth the aggravation.

Beware of Ninja Carbohydrates!

Want to know the likely reason you’re having trouble losing weight? It’s because many foods are drowning in hidden carbs. Sometimes they’re NOT so hidden also and food companies depend on people not understanding labels. After seeing the nuclear terror that is my nephew hopped up on sugar, I’ve renewed my personal war on carbs.

First, let’s acknowledge reality. Our bodies need SOME level of Carbs to function. They’re fuel. Everything I’ve read says that an average person with a moderate level of physical activity should have about 50 carbs per meal. If you’ve got a sedentary lifestyle, that could and should go down (actually your activity level should pick up for the sake of your health). If you’re The Rock, and work out 6 hours a day, you’re gonna need an insane amount of carbs.

We’re talking the average person though. Just how easy is it to go over that 50 carb guideline? Well, let’s take a look at the label on a package of BallPark hot dog buns:

40 grams of carbs, just in ONE bun, and that’s before you even add the dog or sausage, and any condiments or cheese. Note also that includes 6 grams of added processed sugar. It’s actually the fourth ingredient!

Carb counts can vary wildly between brands also, so it pays to comparison shop. Case and point; a package of “Bunny” brand hot dog buns from the same store:

Only 21 grams of carbs there. Half of what the Ball Park brand buns have. Also only 2 grams of added sugar (which is still too much IMO).

One of my big pet peeves in this area is nutrition bars and breakfast cereals. Usually the more they’re marketed as healthy, the worse they are. Clif Bars may taste wonderful, but that’s because some flavors skyrocket over 50 carbs for a single bar.

Breakfast Cereals… Here’s a few examples:

One typical “healthy” cereal, that even brags about having beta cerotene right above the nutrition label. Go down to the total carbs row though, and you’ll see 56 carbs before you’ve even added milk or anything else to the cereal. Right off the bat you’re over 10% into your next meal’s allotment of carbs.

Want irony? You know how these folks always market their cereals as a healthier alternative for kids? Take a look at the label for a box of TWINKIES cereal:

Yes, God help us all, there’s a breakfast cereal made to look and taste like Twinkies. That cereal has roughly 40% less carbs than the “Healthy” cereal though and 2 grams LESS added sugar per serving also.

Is that a fluke, you wonder? Take a look at Apple Jacks:

34 Carbs with 13 grams of added sugar. Less added sugar than both the other cereals and 22 carbs less than the “healthy” cereal. You can go through the kids cereal section and see this with Cocoa Pebbles and other cereals too.

It’s Everywhere:

I wish I could say this was confined to cereal and baked goods but it’s everywhere. Food manufacturers put sugar and high fructose corn syrup in almost everything, knowing it’s addictive. Sadly, regulations allow for them to often hide these and other sweeteners or nasty additives under the terms “natural or artificial additives” or something similar in wording. Read the nutrition label and look at those carbs. There’s really NO reason for a can or bottle of pasta sauce to have high carbs (as an example). A medium tomato only has roughly 4 1/2 carbs. Pasta sauce doesn’t need to be anymore than tomatoes, water and seasonings (salt pepper, oregano, basil & garlic).

Even some meats aren’t exempt. Look at the carb counts on sausages, processed sandwich meat, and similar products. It’s one thing if that Brat is loaded with cheese, but if it’s plain and has 50 carbs, guarantee you there’s sugar or HFCS added.

If you really want to know how pervasive this is, I’d HIGHLY recommend picking up the book “The Case Against Sugar” by Gary Taubes. It’s a fascinating investigation into the food industry’s use of sugar to keep people addicted to their products.

Fair Warning; you’re likely to become pretty disgusted by both the practices you’ll learn about and how long it’s been going on.

Portion Sizes and Dietary Fiber:

Two quick last things before I wrap up here. The first is portion sizes to manipulate data. Soft Drink manufacturers used to pull this regularly to hide total calories and carbs. They’d say a single can was three portions and print the data for one third of the can to make it look less unhealthy. Other parts of the food industry have caught on to this trick and use it. Make sure that portion sizes are the same so you’re comparing similar data. If not, you’ll have to do some mental math or bring a calculator to accurately compare.

Dietary fiber is something you’re not likely to know about unless you have at least one diabetic in the family. Between my two marriages, I’ve had four. Long story short, one of the many benefits of dietary fiber is that it helps the body process carbs. SO, for every gram of dietary fiber you see on the nutrition label, you can subtract one gram of carbs from the effective total.

A great example here is a favorite cereal of mine; Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran. It fools you by looking healthy. With all the brown sugar on it though, a 3/4 cup portion has 44 grams of carbs, without milk. HOWEVER, since it has 7 grams of fiber (one of the highest in a major brand cereal), the effective carb count becomes 37, which isn’t too bad. It’s still dangerous though because they taste so good it’s hard to eat just one bowl or avoid snacking on them. 🙂

Conclusion:

Hidden carbs are everywhere. It pays to be an educated consumer and avidly read nutrition labels. Calories wrongly get all the attention. It’s carbs that are the bigger danger to your waist line and long term health.

With so much processed food containing either sugar, high fructose corn syrup or some similarly heinous sweetener, I’d strongly advise my readers to make more of their food from scratch also. It is time consuming, but it’s rewarding and nothing compares to homemade. 😉