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Bedding Overview

Dec 11, 2007
Though our ancestors may have slept on leaf, straw, feather, or even horsehair mattresses, modern technology offers the foam mattresses as an option to the more contemporary cotton mattress with coil springs. But, how did we ever get to using foam as a bedding material?

The foam used in modern mattresses and many packaging and insulating materials is polyurethane foam, a discovery of German scientist Otto Bayer in 1937. Although Mr Bayer has no family association with the Bayer Group, he joined their research team in 1934, and later pioneered polyurethane chemistry and continued to develop that and other chemical technologies with for many years.

In time, researchers William Hanford and Donald Holmes teamed up at the Labs of E I du Pont in the United States, and created a multipurpose polyurethane manufacturing process that was patented in 1942. Their process continues to be used in the manufacturing industry to this day, though significant advances in both polyurethane chemistry and manufacturing have refined both the process and the resultant products.

In the 1970s, NASA researchers at the Ames Research Center in California, searching for cushioning materials that would help astronauts deal with the massive g-forces and other concerns of space flight, discovered a modified version of this now-popular foam. They called it 'viscoelastic foam', later popularized as 'memory foam'. This revolutionary technology proved extremely useful to the space industry, but was not without its own problematic issues, such as durability and economical manufacturing cost.

Upon its release to the world at large, this basic material and its formulation caught the attention of Swedish company Fagerdala World Foams in the early 1980s. They thought the further development of this type of open-celled and temperature-sensitive foam might prove worth investigating as a potential bedding material, particularly for those requiring relief from sleep-surface pressures. Research and development took over 10 years before the company was able to turn out a retail grade product. Now available worldwide, these memory foam mattresses are now advertised heavily for their many benefits, associated mostly with the foam's unique ability to conform to body impressions and 'remember' them for awhile. Another unique property of memory foam is its inherent ability to adjust according to the body's localized temperature and distributed weight.

Known nowadays simply as 'memory foam', and produced by numerous reputable companies, it is used in many brands and styles of commercial bedding, and has become the latest craze in the bedding industry. This may be due to both the extensive marketing campaigns unleashed on consumers worldwide, and the high incidence of sleep discomfort and sleep disorders plaguing the population at large. Whatever the case, major foam producing companies around the world have developed their own popular versions of memory foam - each touting its own unique qualities and features.

There is yet another foam bedding product that has been around since about 1929, known as the latex mattress. Natural latex rubber comes from the sap of a tree, and is 'foamed' into a porous and semi-soft bedding material through the Talalay process. Because natural latex rubber is as-nature-made-it, the finished product is naturally hypoallergenic, anti-microbial, pest resistant, and nearly odor-free. Latex products tend to feel a little more firm than memory foam, and are characterized by a springy feel and a durability that far surpasses both standard polyurethane foams and viscoelastic memory foams. At the same time, latex mattresses tend to be quite heavy and more expensive than their counterparts.

The continuous exploration of more advanced and effective sleep surfaces comes as no surprise to us, as we all lie down on something to sleep each night, and spend many hours in bed. A good night's sleep is actually quite important for maintaining good health, and keeping a clear mind and comprehensive vision of the world that sometimes seems to be incessantly zooming by.
About the Author
Chris is marketing director for Ultimate Sleep who specializes in 100% natural latex and other comfort products to help customers find relief from fatigue, back and joint pain, and sleep disorders.
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