Kingsdown’s Sleep To Live Institute: Real Science, Real Solutions

March 08, 2024

For nearly a decade, The Sleep To Live Institute has been dedicated to advancing the science of sleep. Though officially serving as the research arm of Kingsdown Inc., this state-of-the-art research center goes beyond basic R&D and product testing by bringing together comprehensive scientific studies and unparalleled diagnostic resources. With leading sleep expert Dr. Robert Oexman at the helm as director, the Sleep To Live Institute aims to extend its expertise to the broader industry at large—helping retailers better serve their customers by tirelessly investigating effective solutions for consumers’ individual needs.

The topic of sleep health has become increasingly ubiquitous over the past few years, within both the bedding industry and popular culture as a whole. As the true ramifications of our current “sleep epidemic” are finally getting the attention they deserve, there is more coverage than ever before on how nightly habits affect major aspects of waking life, from weight management to job performance to emotional problem solving. Media heavyweights have become vocal “sleep champions,” further amplifying the conversation on a larger scale.

The growing interest in sleep is part of a much larger trend towards general wellness. From wearable tracking tools to “eating clean,” average people are taking a more proactive approach to monitoring and maintaining their own healthy lifestyles. Advances in technology have allowed them to do this on a completely personalized level, using comprehensive data to drive customized solutions. Throughout every industry, consumers are looking for answers that are tailored to their specific needs, while the Internet has made product research and comparison-shopping easier than ever before. This increased access to information and reviews has created a much more discerning consumer base. Today’s customers expect transparency; they want hard facts to back up marketing claims—and they’re willing to invest in quality solutions that fit their expectations. Despite all of these shifts consumer trends and interests, though, much of the bedding industry has set its sights on prioritizing convenience over quality. With retail consolidation and slashed price points becoming the norm, the mattress market has become increasingly commoditized.

Since the beginning, The Sleep To Live Institute has set itself apart from the rest with a prescient mission that remains in-line with the current consumer climate. Officially founded in 2007, the Institute was developed by Kingsdown leadership as a way to get a better understanding of the “full sleep environment.” Rather than simply bolstering its current product line-up, the Sleep To Live Institute remains focused on using scientific data to help solve the core consumer problem of how to wake up feeling refreshed and pain-free.

“It was a gamble initially,” says Kingsdown president Frank Hood, “but only because we didn’t want it to be just a ‘marketing strategy.’ Rather, we wanted it to be a business strategy.”

“Small changes in support have a major impact on the quality of your sleep and the pain you feel in the morning.”

In order to integrate this new research mission into the overall structure of the business, they began with a basic question: when it comes to sleep, does the mattress even matter? Though it may seem simple, the implication it presents is paramount to the bedding industry: if the average person can achieve quality sleep no matter what they’re lying on, then why bother investing in more advanced mattress technologies? To find out, the Sleep To Live Institute partnered with two doctors from Duke University on the largest study ever performed on “normal” sleep—focusing on people who have not been diagnosed with a sleep disorder. The results were definitive: mattresses do matter.

“We learned that small changes in support have a major impact on the quality of your sleep and the pain you feel in the morning,” Oexman explains.

Since then, the Sleep To Live Institute has been devoted to better understanding all of the many different factors that can influence sleep quality. While support continues to play a significant role, the research also extends beyond the mattress itself to explore what other “small changes” can affect sleep health. When discussing the Institute’s work, Oexman often refers to the three points of the ‘sleep triangle’—behavior, equipment and environment—and how each one contributes to the kind of sleep you achieve every night.

“We do the research to discover what impacts sleep,” says Oexman. “We’re not only looking at the sleep studies, but at the bedroom environment as a whole—at the mattress, sheets, light, pillows, temperature to see how they all influence sleep. Then we develop products that benefit those conclusions.”

Before those solutions ever reach the retail floor, they must first pass through the Sleep To Live Institute’s rigorous testing. Using advanced, patented technologies, the organization is able to measure and quantify the kind of support that you can’t necessarily feel, but nevertheless has a major impact on how the body recovers and reacts during the night.

First, a tool called the X Factor Machine is used to test the support capabilities of each mattress model. By mimicking a variety of different body types and weights, over a dozen differently-shaped platens press down into the mattress to determine exactly how the product will respond to a wide range of consumers. Through this process, the Sleep To Live Institute is able to assign the model a specific “support level” that can be easily communicated to the consumer. Before any finished mattress heads to the retail store, its comfort and support levels are tested again— this time with the patented Inline Comfort Support Analysis Machine. If this test does not match its intended “support level”, the mattress is sent back to the factory to be remade. This ensures that the bed a customer brings home feels and functions exactly like the one they tried in-store. Only the mattresses that pass ICSA testing receive Sleep To Live Institute Certification.

The X Factor Machine tests the support capabilities of each Kingsdown mattress.

While most manufacturers partner with research and testing facilities when developing new products and collections, the Sleep To Live Institute’s in-house capabilities lends Kingsdown a more circular business model. The research informs product development and then, in turn, the product testing informs additional research. This approach is not only productive and efficient, it is also unmatched in the industry; no other company or organization is able to do all of this under one roof.

Over the past nine years, the scope of the Sleep To Live Institute has evolved—moving beyond a broad focus on the “sleep environment” to expand into more in-depth diagnostics. It is home to the largest data warehouse of anthropomorphic responses to bedding, with information from thousands of sleep studies at its disposal. Coupled with its on-going research, this is what makes the Sleep To Live Institute a true authority in the industry.

“It’s simple,” says Kevin Damewood, Kingsdown’s Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, “we’re using scientific research to develop beds that will help people achieve better alignment and better sleep. Through real science and real solutions, the Sleep To Live Institute allows Kingsdown to bring products into stores that have a higher level of legitimacy.”

But credibility is about more than just the product itself; it’s about helping consumers find the right mattress for their needs and body type. When it comes to sleep, there is no one-size-fits-all solution—and yet it can be difficult for retailers to reassure their customers that they’re getting exactly what they need. While rest testing is still an important part of the buying process, it remains an inexact method. This is because a body reacts differently when it is at complete rest than when it is awake; to truly understand how a particular mattress will affect you, you need to actually get REM sleep on it. While multi-day in-home trial periods have become more prevalent, some customers can be turned off by the hassle of installing a product that may be returned just 100 days later. For the consumers, investing in the wrong kind of mattress support can exacerbate existing aches and pains and decrease sleep quality. For the retailer, relying on rest-testing alone can potentially result in a higher number of “comfort returns” or dissatisfied customers.

One way the Sleep To Live Institute works to combat this problem is through education. Oexman spends much of his time on the road, consulting RSAs on how to communicate with consumers about the different factors that impact sleep. By supplying specific data and concrete facts about the full sleep environment, he aims to help retailers provide more personalized solutions.

“People understand that sleep is important but most are not sure how to get it,” Oexman explains. “Consumers don’t necessarily understand our industry’s technical terminology. When they go into a store and the RSA only talks about coil count or type, they’re likely going to fall back on comfort and price when making a decision.”

He works on educating the sales force about the importance of mattress support, in addition to helping them address specific pain and behavioral disturbances like snoring or room temperature. Expert Sleep To Live Institute retail training specialists further support these goals, visiting retail stores to help RSAs understand how to better answer the questions customers may have. The Institute’s research has shown that by simply focusing the sales conversation on the science of support, stores see comfort returns decrease by an average of two points.

For retailers looking for a more advanced sales approach, there is bedMATCH®—a hightech diagnostic system that eliminates the guesswork from the rest-testing process. In a traditional retail space, most consumers buy on comfort alone. While a mattress may feel comfortable in store, that does not guarantee that it is providing the right kind of support for your body type and sleep behavior. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find the right level of support just by feel alone—and yet it’s the most important aspect to getting the best night sleep.

“It’s not about soft, medium or firm,” Oexman explains. “It’s about the right support for your body type and pain.”

This is where bedMATCH comes in. It more effectively “tests” the product for the consumer, using sensors to take their exact measurements and matching them to a similar “sleep profile” from an extensive database of study results to determine the correct type of support the person needs. From there, bedMATCH recommends different models that the customer can rest test to find the one that provides the feel and pressure relief they prefer. This process helps them select a mattress that not only feels great in the showroom—but will actually facilitate quality, rejuvenating sleep in the long-term.

“When completely incorporated into a business model, bedMATCH can elevate the mean size of the retail ticket by $300.”

The story of bedMATCH begins decades ago, as Oexman worked with Director of Research Dave Scott to develop and patent some of the individual components that would go on to become this fully comprehensive diagnostic system. Using airbed technology to measure weight, heart rate, respiration, movement, sleep quality and more, the two men were the first to develop a product that ergonomically determined the exact type of pressure and support an individual needed to achieve optimum sleep.

Since then the technology has been updated and refined, taking into account not just ergonomics but a wealth of information from REM sleep research. Today, the system uses data from more than 16,000 nights of regular sleep. Notably, bedMATCH has also been updated to include brand-agnostic information and suggestions—making it a true diagnostic system that will point consumers to competitors’ mattress offerings.

“The goal is to find the ways to measure physical needs and solutions in order to put people on the right bed for them,” says Damewood. “When you’re selling on support and pressure relief, rather than the newest trend or the flashiest look, you’re selling a product that is entirely personalized to each consumer.”

Today more than 1,000 retail stores carry bedMATCH, with 10 million consumers using the diagnostic system to find the right mattress. For retailers looking to incorporate the technology into their stores, The Sleep To Live Institute works closely with them to provide thorough training that ensures maximum success.

“When it comes to bedMATCH partners, we take a lot of time to understand their specific retail culture. We need to know their structure, how their commission model works, in order to effectively teach them about the science and the capabilities,” Damewood explains. “It’s not just about installing the product and that’s it, we invest our time into education and training so that they can get the most out of the technology.”

With this dedicated training, a retail store can establish a fully functional bedMATCH program within eight months, at which point it has been proven to be a staggeringly effective sales tool. When bedMATCH is completely incorporated into a store’s business model, it is proven to increase close rates by an average of 10 points and elevate the mean size of the retail ticket by $300. All in all, when it’s done right, bedMATCH has helped retailers increase their mattress department profit by 50% or more.

The latest update to the bedMATCH program was designed to once again enhance these retail capabilities. The system now offers a full back-end analytics package that allows retailers to access data on their own stores’ sales. This gives them a unique opportunity to more effectively track key metrics: units sold, close rate, average ticket and how much each RSA is selling. By integrating sales management monitoring with real-time diagnostic data, bedMATCH offers unparalleled reporting capabilities—allowing retailers a much greater understanding of their own sales practices.

For many retailers, this is the sort of “lightening in a bottle” technology that yields real results throughout their entire business. bedMATCH not only helps retailers increase their bottom line, it helps them differentiate their stores from the competition by tapping into the growing interest in data-driven solutions.

“With bedMATCH, the RSA is selling something with integrity, something that is backed by real science,” Damewood continues. “It’s for the common good of the industry as a whole, but ultimately the consumer is the main beneficiary.”

“Consumers have a deserved want for better sleep and better health. People want solutions.”

This consumer-first mentality ultimately means taking a brand-agnostic approach to research, testing and training. The Sleep To Live Institute is proud of the fact that both its diagnostic system and team of retail training specialists will readily point customers to non-Kingsdown products if they’re more well-suited to their specific needs. Beyond helping each individual store more effectively reach their own sales goals, this is part of a much larger mission to support the greater good of the bedding industry as a whole.

As the consumer interest in health and wellness continues to grow more influential at retail, it runs the risk of falling prey to the often-cyclical pattern of many bedding trends. Innovative concepts enter into the market at premium prices but as they become successful, they are soon repackaged at a lower cost—transforming real solutions into little more than “marketing nonsense.” The difference here is that integrity is the very basis of the trend; consumers aren’t looking for flash-in-the-pan claims, but rather credible research and tested results.

“More than anything I’m surprised how much sleep has caught on with the masses,” Oexman says. “Consumers have a deserved want for better sleep and better health. People want solutions.”

While commodity-driven strategies leave core issues unresolved, the Sleep To Live Institute is dedicated to helping people find these real, quality solutions. Through comprehensive research and education, it aims to de-commoditize the market—placing greater emphasis on the importance of sleep and how to achieve it. With a pragmatic approach and proven results, the Sleep To Live Institute stands as an authoritative resource and devoted champion of the bedding industry.