I have enjoyed the nest I make on my mattress with a down comforter between the mattress cover and the mattress, and it seems mattress manufacturers understand the joy of sleeping in a nest. The pillow top mattress is the answer to the manufacturer’s question of how to provide a nest for the people buying their mattresses.
The pillow top mattress consists of a firm mattress piled high with layers of ultra-soft, luxurious cushioning which is sewn firmly to the mattress. A pillow top mattress literally looks like it’s had a layer of thick soft pillows added to it. Sales of pillow top mattresses have grown more than average in recent years, as consumers have learned that not everyone needs a rock-hard mattress to get a good night’s sleep.
A soft mattress can actually be better for some people than a medium to extra firm mattress. Electromyographic studies of persons resting on mattresses of different firmness found that extra firmness helped relieve joint stress in patients with osteoporosis, while softer mattresses were more relaxing for patients with muscle disorders. The stresses of a firm mattress pressing against sensitive muscles caused them to contract and relax more vigorously in the latter group, contributing to biomechanical stress. For such persons, a gently cradling soft mattress is a better choice.
But that does not mean a pillow top mattress is a good buy. Indeed, ePinions.com consumer reviews of pillow top mattresses are rather poor overall, with every pillow top mattress brand that received more than one review earning only 2 to 3 stars out of a possible five.
The source of consumer dissatisfaction with pillow top mattresses is the dreaded “body hole”, a permanent depression in the ultra-plush pillow top mattress surface made by a sleeping body after as little as one week. Anyone who has ever had to fluff up a pillow knows what this depression can do to a good night’s sleep. Pillow top mattress buyers bitterly describe the body hole as a valley, a ditch, a pothole, an imprisoning cocoon, or a torture as rough on the body as driving on uneven pavement is on a car.
How disappointing can a pillow top mattress be? Well, over on Amazon.com you’ll find full-size the American Pride brand pillow top mattress by Rainbow Furniture, which lists for $1,000, on sale for $299. That does not usually happen with popular products.
Compounding the body hole problem is the obvious but often overlooked fact that you cannot flip a pillow top mattress. There is only one “sleep side”. The best that one can do is to turn the mattress so that one’s head is in the “feet hole” and one’s feet are in the “head hole”.
Manufacturers’ warranties on pillow top mattresses are notoriously stingy. Some manufacturers will send an inspector to your home, and if he finds a body hole less than one-and-one-half inches deep you are out of luck. Steep re-stocking fees also discourage unhappy buyers from returning a pillow top mattress.
Various “new, improved” technologies are touted as “body impression resistant”. But all of them essentially make the mattress firmer, steering further away from the pillow top mattress paradigm.
The bottom line on pillow top mattresses is, don’t overdo it. The thinner the pillow top layer, the less of a bad body impression you will make. Consider a regular firm mattress with a zip-off pillow top cover. That way, you can remove the pillow top and fluff it by dry cleaning or grandma’s way take it out in the back yard and whale on it with a stick for half an hour.