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Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Selling Sleep

Furniture World Magazine


Where does sleep science fit into a sales narrative that emphasizes mattress comfort and restful sleep?

Every day, it seems we hear some new horror story about the effects of sleep deprivation. More and more studies tell us in vivid language something most of us have known all along. Most people need to get more sleep and better sleep.

What does this mean to Retail Sales Associates (RSAs) who sell bedding for a living? Well, it should mean everything; but do most RSAs sell sleep, or do they sell mattresses? Remember the old saying about selling benefits, not features? A mattress is a feature, sleep is the benefit.

You might ask, “Where does sleep deprivation fit into a sales narrative that emphasizes comfort and good, restful sleep?” I’m not saying that the RSA should make the fear of sleep deprivation the centerpiece of his sales pitch. I am saying that every RSA who sells bedding should understand something about the science of sleep. Part of the science of sleep is sleep deprivation, which is now in epidemic proportions across our great country, and around the world. The RSA can do his customer a great service by not just selling a set of quality bedding, but also making his customer aware of this growing and dangerous problem in our society.

In this article, we will try to accomplish two things. First, we will talk about the science of sleep. This will include a few paragraphs about the normal sleep cycle followed by a brief discussion of sleep disorders which can cause sleep deprivation. Second, we will talk about how the RSA can invoke his knowledge of sleep science to help customers make a more informed decision about a new bedding purchase.

Allow me to proceed with one important caveat. I am NOT a sleep expert. What you read here will not make you a sleep expert. For any reader that would like to confirm my data, I have included some sources at the end of the article. My point is that the RSA can educate customers as a layman and with a layman’s interpretation of scientific data. No RSA should purport to be a sleep expert; unless he or she has studied sleep physiology at the university level or worked in a sleep lab.

The Stages Of Sleep

According to WebMD, there are two types of sleeping soundness, REM and non-REM sleep. Your body cycles between REM and non-REM stages as you sleep.

REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. It is called this because the eyes move quickly back and forth in different directions during this stage of sleep. Most people dream during REM sleep, but not during non-REM sleep.

There are three phases of non-REM sleep. (Some sources say there are four phases.) Stage One is the lightest sleep phase. Eyes are closed and the sleeper is easy to awaken. This phase lasts from five to ten minutes.

Stage Two non-REM sleep, is also light sleep. The sleeper’s heart rate slows and body temperature drops. This is where the body is preparing to go further into “deep sleep.”

In Stage Three of non-REM sleep, the body is in Deep Sleep. The sleeper is much harder to awaken, and if awakened suddenly, the (former) sleeper probably will feel confused or disoriented for a few minutes. It is in this Deep Sleep phase where the body rehabs itself from the daily destruction of living. Tissues are repaired and grown anew. Muscle, bone and the immune system are toned and reinvigorated. So, obviously, the more Deep Sleep one gets, the better it is for one’s physical health and well being.

Unfortunately, as usual, life offers a regrettable downside. The older one gets, the less Deep Sleep one gets. Older people sleep more lightly and for shorter time periods. I had a ninety year old great aunt tell me one time that she NEVER slept. I didn’t argue with her, although I was skeptical. Studies show that older people need as much sleep as when they were younger, but for some reason, they just don’t get the same quality sleep as before. Older people also wake up more often and have more trouble going back to sleep. For all we know, this diminished quality of sleep might even contribute to the aging process. This statement, however, is uninformed speculation on my part.

Now, what about this REM sleep we hear so much about? According to WebMD, REM sleep begins to happen around ninety minutes after falling asleep. The first stage usually lasts about ten minutes, then the sleeper cycles back to non-REM sleep. The next REM phase typically is longer than the previous one, and again, you cycle back into non-REM sleep. The final phase of REM sleep can last up to one hour. During REM sleep, the sleeper has the most intense dreams, the brain is more active, heart rate and breathing quickens. Interestingly, the body is actually paralyzed during REM sleep. No body movements take place. Some scientists theorize that this temporary paralysis keeps the body from injuring itself when it might try to “act out” the dream.

Infants spend as much as half of their sleep in the REM stage, whereas adults usually spend only about one fifth of their sleep in the REM phase. In a future article, we will talk about children’s sleep and how the RSA employs this information to sell bedding to concerned parents.

What are the benefits of REM sleep? According to MyEssentia.com, during the REM phase of sleep, the brain processes all the information absorbed during the previous day. This process allows the mind to be renewed, refreshed and improves mood when awake. In other words, REM Sleep helps people to think more clearly and be nicer.

Also, the body prioritizes Deep Sleep over REM sleep. Remember, Deep Sleep restores bone, muscle and bodily functions. REM sleep restores the mind. For those sleepers who get less than optimum sleep time, Deep Sleep takes precedence in the sleep cycle. Your metabolism thinks it is more important to fix the body than it is to refresh the mind. Sleep experts suggest sleeping an extra hour or so because the later sleep is usually REM sleep. This could help the mind. So, the lesson I take from this is; if you wake up too early and feel groggy and grumpy, go back to sleep for a while. It might make you feel better.

Sleep Disorders

What, exactly, is a sleep disorder? The Mayo Clinic, and I quote directly from their web-site, says, “Sleep disorders are changes in the way that you sleep.” Somehow, I don’t find this definition scientifically fulfilling, but that’s just my opinion. I guess you could say that a sleep disorder is sleeping any way that deviates from the norm. Sleep disorders cover a lot of territory, perhaps even including experiencing discomfort and loss of sleep from an old, bad mattress.

The site goes on to say that, “signs and symptoms of sleep disorders include excessive daytime sleepiness, irregular breathing or increased movement during sleep and difficulty falling asleep.” So, if you have any of these problems, it looks like you may be suffering a sleep disorder.

They list some of the more common ones including:

  • Insomnia – difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

  • Sleep Apnea – abnormal patterns of breathing while sleeping.

  • Restless Leg Syndrome – a sleep movement disorder.

  • Narcolepsy – suddenly falling asleep during the day.

We will avoid discussion of treatment for any of these conditions. If you want more information, Furniture World’s Editorial Director suggests you purchase “The Stanford Sleep Book” by sleep researcher William C. Dement MD., PhD.,D.Sc., available on Amazon. The book goes in-depth about sleep, sleep disorders, dreaming and the impact this has on our everyday lives.

Sleep Deprivation Dangers

The sleep and health literature is loaded with the ill effects of sleep deprivation. Which are the worst? It depends on who you talk to. Certainly, sudden death from falling asleep at the wheel would rank pretty high in my estimation. Sleep deprivation, both occasional and chronic, has numerous insidious effects on the body, mind and psyche. Let’s go over a few.

Science Editor Sarah Knapton of The Telegraph, dated December 2, 2016 wrote, “Just one night of sleep deprivation is enough to cause strain on the heart...” The study she cites was published by Daniel Kuetting of the University of Bonn, performed on twenty radiologists who had worked a twenty-four hour shift with only three hours of sleep. The workers experienced increased levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and cortisol, a stress related hormone. In addition, their hearts were shown to work ten percent harder than usual (presumably to compensate for the exhaustion). This was after just ONE twenty-four hour shift!
The same article goes on to say, “a major study by the University of Warwick found that people who slept less than six hours each night were twelve percent more likely to die prematurely (before the age of 65.)”
Forbes magazine published an article December 1, 2016 by Niall McCarthy, entitled “Report: Sleep Deprivation costs the U.S. Economy $400 Billion Every Year.” This article cites a study by Rand Europe. To put this number in better perspective, the United States defense budget for 2015 was $598.5 billion. Here’s another way to look at it; it’s about five times more than Bill Gates carries around in his wallet! Of course, it’s only about 2.92 percent of America’s $18 trillion GDP, but it’s still a lot.

The same study encouraged employers to educate workers on the problems of sleep deprivation and also recommended that employers “build nap rooms.” (I thought that’s what desks were for.)

In all seriousness, though, the problems go well beyond listless accountants and torpid computer programmers. The National Sleep Foundation, in their DrowsyDriving.org website, cites the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as saying that conservative estimates suggest that 100,000 police-reported vehicle accidents every year are caused by driver fatigue. The effect of this is 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

Here are a few more items from the same source.

  • Adults between 18 and 29 are much more likely to get sleepy while driving.

  • Men are more likely than women to drive while sleepy.

  • Adults with children at home and shift workers are more likely than the general population to drive while sleepy.

  • Drivers who sleep only six to seven hours are more than twice as likely to have accidents as those who get eight hours of sleep.

So, please DO NOT drive while sleepy. It can have the same result as driving while drunk.

These are some of the short term deficits of sleep deprivation. The long term consequences may be just as devastating. Here’s some information from www.healthline.com, in an article entitled “the Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body”, written by Ann Pietrangelo and medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA, dated August 19, 2014.

  • Inadequate sleep raises your risk of accidental injury and death.
  • The brain is unable to rest and renew.
  • Excessive yawning.
  • Impaired concentration and creativity.
  • Short term memory loss, long term memory impairment.
  • Mood swings, emotional, quick to anger.
  • Extreme exhaustion can lead to hallucinations.
  • Anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide.
  • Narcolepsy. (Falling asleep without knowing it.) Also, micro sleep, when you fall asleep a few seconds or minutes without realizing it, sometimes with fatal consequences. 
  • Weakens immune system and body defenses. The immune system produces protective elements while you sleep. Lack of sleep also causes the body to be more prone to colds and flu, and worse, chronic lung disease. 
  • Increased appetite, and weight gain.
  • Affects insulin release, increasing chance of Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Elevated blood pressure.
  • Chronic sleep loss can lead to chronic cardiovascular problems like hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease.

This same article points out that there is no substitute for proper sleep. Caffeine and other stimulants are only short term remedies.

Does A Good Mattress Help?

Oddly, in all this searching for information about sleep deprivation, very few scholarly articles talk about mattress quality. For example, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, in their website, suggests that to sleep better you should; (1) block out seven to nine hours daily to devote to sleep, (2) establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, (3) exercise only in the morning or early evenings, (4) make your bedroom cool, dark and quiet and “make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable.” This is the only mention I could find about mattresses and pillows. That leaves a lot of room for the well informed Retail Sales Associate, does it not?

What Is The RSA’s Role?

You may be saying about now, “Well, all this is well and good, but how do I insert this information into my sales presentation, and, for that matter, why should I?”

Here’s how to bring up the subject in a tactful and non-intrusive way. RSAs are supposed to ask qualifying questions, are they not? A good series of qualifying questions could go something like this, “How well are you sleeping every night?” The answer frequently is, “Not very well.” The RSA could then follow this question/answer with, “Do you have any idea why you are not sleeping well?” “Is it your mattress?” “Do you suffer from any sleep disorders?” “Have you seen a physician about your sleep deprivation?” “Do you drive while you are sleepy, or do you tend to fall asleep while driving?” There are a number of similar questions that the RSA can ask to draw out responses from the customer.

Remember, part of the RSA’s job is to establish rapport with the customer. Being able to talk about sleep science to a sleep deprived customer can help hold the customer’s interest. It keeps him talking. It keeps him in the store. It keeps him out of your competitor’s store. It builds the customer’s confidence in the RSA. It might even persuade him to consider a better mattress than the $299 advertised special he came in to see.

Again, most RSAs are not sleep experts. They should, however, be mattress experts. They, therefore, should not set out to solve customers’ sleep problems, but should be able to solve customers’ mattress problems which can be a major contributor of poor sleep.

Can a new mattress solve a sleep disorder? I don’t know. It may depend on the sleep disorder. If your customer’s sleep disorder is extreme discomfort caused by an old, bad mattress, then the answer is probably yes. Anyone who has ever slept on a rock hard, but lumpy, cheap hotel mattress, knows the answer to this question is yes.

What Is The Store’s Role?

I am not an advocate of “lifestyle” advertising for selling bedding. A lot of money can be wasted while the store down the street’s “urgency” advertising is drawing in all the paying customers. That is not to say that “lifestyle” messages cannot be included in your regular advertising. You can do both. Lifestyle improvement information can also be very helpful for the RSA, especially when talking to prospective customers. That is the whole point of this article. Once you have the customer’s attention, THEN you can talk about lifestyle enhancements, which include preventing sleep deprivation. Many bedding shoppers already hope that a new mattress will help them to sleep better, longer and more comfortably.

Stores can provide brochures and other handout information for RSAs to give to shoppers. Store websites are a good location for promoting the life enhancing benefits of good sleep, which can be improved by the use of a high quality bedding set. These items obviously include not only mattress set, but pillows, sheets and mattress protectors.

Where To Get More Info.

There is more information about sleep on the world-wide-web than any one person can absorb in a lifetime of reading. For those who would like more information, I suggest the following searches.

First, GOOGLE “sleep.” If the information there won’t solve your insomnia, I don’t know what will.
Second, try a few of these web-sites.

  • WebMd
  • National Sleep Foundation
  • Healthline.com
  • American Academy of Sleep Medicine
  • Better Sleep Council – the education arm of the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA)
  • Sleep Products Safety Council
  • Mayo Clinic
  • Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine
  • National Institutes of Health
  • Sleep Research International (SRI)

There are a lot more than those listed. Also check out, “The Stanford Sleep Book” by sleep researcher William C. Dement MD., PhD.,D.Sc.


Can this information sell bedding? That depends on the customer. Are your competitors talking sleep science? Probably not. So, RSAs should use it, when appropriate, to help them stand out from the crowd, be memorable. It might even help one customer, anonymous to the world, from becoming a tragic statistic.


About David Benbow: David Benbow, a veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company offering mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) He has many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas.

He is the author of  “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual” that systematically presents a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It can be purchased at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.
Questions an comments can be directed to him at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or 361-648-3775.

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