I’ve reviewed “number” style air beds for many years, and unlike almost any other kind of mattress out there, a digital airbed (as it’s known in the industry) has some great benefits, the main one being that couples can control the softness and firmness of their own side of the bed, making it easy for both users to agree on the same mattress. Plus, they are known for offering many features, including warming options, anti-snore features, and numerous comfort layers like memory foam, gel foam, and specialized layers that reduce pressure and pain.
I’ve always found the big name brand, Sleep Number, to be pricier than other number bed options, although you can buy less expensive models they offer, like their c2 360 Smart Bed, which sells for $899 in queen, but the features are highly limited, with just a skimpy 2” layer of a polyurethane foam on top of the air chambers.
The c2 360 Smart Bed, Sleep Number’s entry level mattress, feels very firm at higher settings when you operate the controller, and at lower settings, feels like you are swimming in the air chambers. To add features like the anti-snore feature, which requires raising the head section of the bed, you can buy an adjustable base as part of the package, but it instantly adds $1200 to the price, putting you over $2,000 for a mattress that just really is not that comfortable.
If you step up to the higher end premium Sleep Number models, like the m7 360 Smart Bed, you’re getting into $2800 in queen before you even add an adjustable base.
An adjustable number style air bed, including Sleep Number and other brands I review, are good for your back, because the air chambers typically contain a series of baffles which create separate little chambers that move air from one area to the next to help compensate for weight differences, pushing back against areas that need added support and lift.
Unlike a camping style air mattress, a modern digital air bed system is pretty complex, providing not only the air chambers and a pump or control unit, but sophisticated remote controls that increase or decrease softness using the internal foam and support layers in harmony with the air chambers.
Actually, air beds originated in hospital and institutional settings, originally designed to relieve bed sores, provide a cushier and more buoyant surface for burn patients, and a variety of other medical applications.
Around 1980, the category of adjustable, air-supported sleep systems was invented by a private company called Comfort-Aire.
An executive of the company named Bob Walker, left Comfortaire and formed a new company in 1987 called Select Comfort. Select Comfort then acquired the Comfortaire Corporation, a major competitor, in January 2013. By March 2017, Select Comfort had created their own proprietary lineup of digital air bed, and pretty much had a corner on the market.
Since that time, many other companies had come and gone who had created their own version of an adjustable air bed, though a few remain, including a company we highly recommend, called Habitat Furnishings.
The company actually started in the water bed business, and being experts in flotation sleep, utlimately creating one of the most popular number bed type air mattresses, called the Habitat Ascend Air Bed system.
They’ve focused on one model for the last 10 years, and have sold thousands of them. It’s priced at just $1799 in queen, and includes not only a layer of memory foam, but also a layer of latex, along with a quilted bamboo top piece.
The concept of the “number bed” is simply based on the use of a numerical system used to measure the level of softness or firmness perceived by the owner. Of the five brands that we are familiar with as reviewers on this site, Sleep Number was probably the first to use a remote control that assigns a number to the amount of air that is forced from the pump into the air chambers situated underneath the comfort layers of foam, the quilted top, and whatever else is between you and the adjustable air chambers.
Explaining What Remote Controls Actually Do On A Number Style Air Bed
The number on the remote control is essentially designed as a reference, and is not generally expressed in psi, mmHg (like a blood pressure cuff), or other empirical units of measurements. You simply find the sweet spot for your side, set the memory setting, typically available on most brands of air beds including Sleep Number beds, and use that number as your ideal “Sleep Number”.
Sleep Number beds use a range of 1-100 to express the level of firmness, while other brands typically use a smaller range, like 0-50. Some pump systems, like Innomax, Rapid-Aire, and other brands, tend to use the smaller range, but again, all of the measurements are purely relative and serve only as a guideline for comfort level. A reading of 75 on a Sleep Number bed may not compare with 75 on another brand, and each brand and pump model will have its own unique display screen and value.
Of course, since Sleep Number mattresses, along with other brands, tend to have moving parts and pieces, and because you are dealing with pressurized air (pneumatic systems), there are a host of problems that can occur if you purchase an air bed, and you happen to get a lemon.
There Are Other Brands Besides Sleep Number That Offer Digital Air Bed Systems
If you are considering purchasing a Sleep Number bed, you should be aware that there are other options available, other manufacturers, and all of the models out there are made to suit a variety of comfort and personal preference needs. There are plushier, more sumptuous mattresses, those made with memory foam, latex, or polyurethane foam laters, all designed to create a variety of comfort levels from soft and plush to firm and resilient.
When you get online and start reviewing Sleep Number complaints, they usually bunch themselves into a small number of very common issues. Some of the most common complaints about Sleep number beds are described below. These typical complaints, or concerns, can be found by evaluating reviews by actual owners online.
Collapse In The Middle. Because Sleep Number builds their air beds with two air chambers, the gap in the middle can be a problem, especially with heavier owners, and separation can cause a space to form resulting in sinking and result in a tendency to collapse in the middle of the mattress, creating a gap or valley. This is primarily due to the fact that Sleep Number doesn’t use any “tensioning” components, such as foam side rails that are connected to by a span of fabric or other mechanical means to keep the two chambers tight up against one another.
Habitat Furnishings, the brand of number style bed we recommend- actually employs a system using the foam side rails that wrap the outer edge of their Ascend Air Bed and incorporated a “tensioning fabric” system that prevents the side rails from being pressed outward by the weight of the user, and keeps the air chambers from separating in the middle.
Comfort Issues. Many reviews about Sleep Number express concern about the comfort of the bed, citing complaints that the beds are “too firm”, and become very rigid at higher settings. With most number style air bed systems, it’s what’s above the air chambers that make the mattress comfortable. The air chambers provide the underlying foundation, which can be made softer or firmer, and creating a range of sensation from soft and cushy, to firm, resilient and rigid. Depending upon whether you are a side, back , or belly sleeper, owning a number style mattress gives you the flexibility of “tweaking” your level of comfort within a much narrower range than a conventional mattress.
Feeling Like A Glorified Camping Air Bed. A common complaint about Sleep Number beds, especially the “Classic” series, which are entry-level Sleep Number beds, tend to revolve around the issue of comparing their mattresses to pump up camping style air beds, which consist of a typically simplistic design with no additional cushioning foam layers or other components above the air mattress. Consumers should be particularly wary of the lower priced entry level models, which often have only a very thin layer of polyurethane foam or memory foam between the air chambers and the user. In the case of the number style air bed we recommend, the Habitat Ascend Digital Air Bed, the company actually uses 4” of comfort layers above the air chambers, including a 2” layer of natural latex for buoyancy and comfort, and a 2” layer of premium memory foam for pressure relief and body conforming.
Some savvy customers will purchase the more basic models of the Sleep Number bed, which include only a 1.5” thick piece of memory foam and actually purchase separate comfort layers like gel foam and other materials to make the bed comfortable enough to sleep on. Here are some comments by a reviewer who did just that:
“Very grateful for Candid Reviewer’s advice. We were interested in the C2 after seeing the excellent rating it received from Consumer Reports, with high marks for durability, side and back sleeping. We went to the sleep number store, stuck to our plan and avoided being up- sold, and bought (on Amazon) both the recommended fiber topper and a gel topper to experiment with once the C2 arrives. We also are using our old metal frame with a queen-size bunkie board ($69), for a nice savings compared to the $300 foundation from sleep number. More $ for new sheets and bedding! “
The problem with a review like this is that the customer was unable to afford a more luxurious Sleep Number bed, but after comparing prices and putting together a lot of their own research and due diligence, managed to cobble together a comfortable bed. But if you are looking for a comfortable and affordable upgraded version of a number style bed, why not just buy a fully loaded number bed in the first place? We recommend the Habitat Furnishings Ascend Digital Air Bed as a solution for this issue.
Check it out, as you will receive not only a top quality mainframe of a number style bed, using fabric backed vulcanized rubber air chambers, a piston style pump system (Sleep Numbers uses a more primitive “flap valve” style air pump), hardwired LED remotes, and reinforced air hoses, at a highly competitive price. For comfort layers, you’ll get both a memory foam layer and a layer of natural latex, as well.
One of the most popular features of the Habitat Ascend Digital Air Bed System is that the mattress includes not only the natural latex comfort layer and the premium memory foam layer, but also includes a channel quilt bamboo fabric top, which adds an additional 2” layer of plush and sumptuous support. While there are 6” of comfort ingredients between you and the underlying air chambers, Habitat’’s concept is to allow for “top of the bed” comfort with a subtle influence by the air chambers below to control a more supportive and “quiet” resilient feel, or a softer, body-embracing, cuddling kind of sensation.
The design and engineering of this mattress has been well researched, as Habitat used to carry three models, and narrowed down their line to a hybridized version of three original models. The Ascend mattress is the proven model the delivers optimized comfort and support.
Because it includes both a layer of natural latex and memory foam, you’ll get pressure relief and a delightfully squishy and immediately responsive feel that you won’t find in any other type of mattress. And you’ll be able to control the degree of softness or firmness at the touch of a finger on your side of the mattress
Mechanical Issues With Pumps, Chambers, And Remote Controls: Because there is a lot of technology with Sleep Number bed product line, as there are with any other brand of digital air bed, common problems including leakage at any connection point can slowly deflate the air chambers. This can happen at the hose connection points, including air chamber and air pump connections. Also, the quality of the air pump itself, as well as the hoses becoming kinked or mashed, can have effects on the system as a whole. Because Sleep Number uses wireless remote controls, other problems such as battery issues, connectivity problems, and misplacement of remote controls can be frustrating.
Pump Replacement Costs Can Surprise You
A common problem with Sleep Number pump issues is that if your pump assembly is out of warranty, you have to replace the entire assembly, which includes air hoses, connectors, along with the pump itself. Here’s some comments of one Sleep Number reviews frustration with replacing pump and connector parts after a failure:
“After a few years, the bed required $600+ in parts (new side and center foam, the mattress cover itself (stitching on the seams separated) and an air pump (the controller died, but you have to buy an “assembly” that includes the pump and controllers)”
Some of the bells and whistles that come along with the more upscale Sleep Number models utilize various technologies to deliver a bette night’s sleep. Keep in mind though, that of the models in their higher end “Performance Series” can be priced in the $4,000 and up range. Let’s take a look at some of the features and benefits of these so-called “Smart Beds”.
Dual Adjustability- this refers to the adjustability of both sides of the mattress and the ability to control the setting on each air chamber, allowing independent flexibility on either side based on the users needs. This feature is available on every other brand of number type bed as well.
Responsive Air Technology– This seems to be a proprietary technology that Sleep Number uses to automatically adjust firmness and softness depending upon your movements and thus your body position. Essentially, the bed pumps more air into the air chamber or reduces the amount of air based on body positioning.
Sleep IQ Technology- Using an app on your smart phone, the mattress gathers insights during the night. This technology uses sensors in yourbedto track yoursleepand connects to Sleep Number’s “SleepIQ”app, so you can view your daily “SleepIQ”score, track your activities, monitor your heart rate, tweak the settings on yourbed, learn your circadian rhythm, and access personalized wellness reports. This feature does bump up the cost of the bed into the $2500 range for a model with decent comfort layer support. The issue with the price is that you may be getting the technology, but you might be sacrificing components that make the mattress super comfortable.
Pressure And Cooling Relief – Sleep number claims to offer “superior pressure relief” by adding thicker layers of various kinds of foam, including memory foam, and polyurethane foams, in their Performance series. They also use “temperature balancing” and something called “Smart 3D” fabric to absorb excess heat and cool the body. Sleep Number states that “83% of couples sleep too hot or too cold.That’s why the NEW Sleep Number 360®smart bed creates your own personal microclimate. First, it gently warms your feet to help you fall asleep†. Then, it balances surface temperature to keep you both blissfully asleep all night.” The idea is that by warming your feet, you will doze off quicker, and that balancing the temperature properly, it accommodates both hot and chilly sleepers.
Worth The Cost?: Again, these are great features, but you have to monitor them on an app, and the question is always the same when you pay for all of the features on a more costly mattress: will you continue to use the technology? Will an electric blanket provide the same benefit? These are choices that a consumer has to make when buying a luxury tiered model that runs as high as $4700. Just FYI, the Habitat Ascend Digital Air Bed system runs $1799 in queen, and $1999 in king size.