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Challenge: Sleep Confessions

The Memory Foam Incident

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A few months ago, I kept waking up with an achy back and sore hips. My husband Kevin started complaining a little bit about the same thing. It wasn’t us being middle aged, of course. It was our senior citizen mattress – about 10 years old at that point. It still looked in great condition, so we weren’t quite ready to toss it yet. But since we were struggling to get a decent night’s sleep, we decided to invest in a memory foam topper to extend the life of the mattress a bit longer.


Here’s how it all went down:

Being good little consumers, we went online and read some product reviews. People raved about how this high-tech foam helped them sleep better.

Like sleeping in a cloud, they said. Like a full-body hug, they said.

Convinced, we headed to Kohl’s to buy our sleep-changing, body-hugging, heaven-sent memory foam. We opted for a mid-grade foam depth of 3” to ensure a good night’s sleep without actually sinking and smothering in the deeper 5” foam.

We carried the 50-lb. box to the car, doubting how a queen-size, sponge-like pad could fit in this 2-ft. box. We quickly realized the manufacturer compressed the foam like a mammography machine, squishing it to the size of a shrink-wrapped folded sweater. As we opened the box on the bed and cut the plastic wrapping, The Foam sprang free like a jack-in-the-box, nearly knocking down the ceiling fan.

This was the first sign we should have aborted our plan to memory-foam the bed.

With The Foam unwrapped, it now needed to “air out for a few hours” (as per manufacturer instructions) to eliminate trapped odors from the lovely polyurethane inside. Hmmm, did that mean the toxic chemicals will immediately asphyxiate me in my sleep tonight or gradually build a poisonous layer in my lungs and suffocate me over the next 10 years? Great.

I could envision a TV commercial for The Foam, like an ad from a drug company: “Chronic pain? The Foam will heal your aches in just a few nights. But ask your doctor about long-term exposure to the chemical cocktail we use to make The Foam. Common side effects involve the central nervous system and may include headaches, dizziness, nausea, memory loss, numbness and a head-to-toe tingling sensation. Some sleepers report more serious side effects involving the liver, kidney and cardiovascular system. But hey, whatever helps you sleep at night.”

This was the second sign we should have aborted our plan.

So, on a steamy 95-degree Floridian summer day, we opened the bedroom windows to air out The Foam (aka the Chemical Pad). After six hours of letting The Foam “breathe” while it leaked noxious fumes into our bedroom, it now might pass an OSHA emissions test.

Time to put this baby to the test. We positioned The Foam on top of our mattress, hoping the sheets would help mask the not-really-dissipating lethal stench. Surprise! Our sheets no longer fit. Almost, but not quite. The Foam’s extra three inches added just enough height that the sheets could not quite grab hold of the mattress corners. Plus, the manufacturer said it might take 48 hours for The Foam to regain its original shape, so we were expecting a growth spurt at any moment. Great. Now we need bigger sheets.

This was the third sign we should have aborted our plan.

Nevertheless, with high hopes and $175 already invested, we settled in later for a good night’s sleep.

That full-body hug quickly turned into an empty promise, as the foam stuck to us like Velcro. Kevin couldn’t roll over without doing a full-body “jump-and-roll” maneuver. First he launched himself like a dolphin to create some space between his body and The Foam. Then he twisted mid-air like a gymnast before landing into a side-sleep position that he couldn’t escape the rest of the night.

According to Wikipedia, “higher-density memory foam softens in reaction to body heat, allowing it to mold to a warm body in a few minutes.” Oh, it softened and molded, all right.

And then came the heat. Not as “breathable” as the manufacturer claimed, The Foam trapped body heat like a sauna, simmering us in a low-temp foam crockpot all night.

We were asphyxiating, we were stuck, and we were sweating – not exactly that sleeping-in-a-cloud experience we were hoping for.

After a toxic, immobilizing, sweltering sleepless night, we both agreed we needed to return The Foam ASAP. How were we going to haul this giant chemical pad back to the store? We looked at the greatly decompressed, queen-size foam. Then we looked at the 2’x2’ box it came in. Oh boy.

We laid The Foam on the floor and started rolling it like a giant burrito. It began bulging in the middle, so we shifted our body weight and applied more pressure in the center. First the left side of The Foam popped out, then the right side. We took turns laying on it as we rolled it, trying to get it small enough to fit back into the tiny box. Not even close. We wrapped it in packaging tape to at least hold it together a bit and jammed as much as we could back into the box, with the rest hanging out of the top. That worked . . . for about 12 minutes, as the tape gave way and The Foam started bursting through the box. But by then, we were already back in Kohl’s, making a beeline for Customer Service. As The Foam started to unravel, it took on a life of its own. Kevin bailed on me as we neared the cashier, too mortified to return it in this condition and ask for a refund. (Props to Kohl’s for giving us a full refund, by the way.)

But the saddest thing? We did it all over again six months later! Different brand, different store, higher hopes, same results.

The moral of the story: Fool us once, shame on you. Foam us twice, shame on us.

UPDATE: You won’t believe what happened after I published this post on my blog. It got republished on another site and went mini-viral, then caught the eye of a marketing rep from Naturepedic, a company that manufactures organic mattresses. Read the full update here.

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