The Mattress King: An Interview with Scott Smalling
“Before the Cross, sleep only pointed to our impending death. However, this side of the Cross, sleep is a hopeful treasure. It is a foretaste of the eternal rest we will one day enjoy with Jesus Christ.” -Chad Ashby
Scott Smalling is a living paradox. His mind spins with ideas about how to change the world, and he works tirelessly to see his innovations come to life. His energy, charisma, and passion beg the question: does this man ever sleep? The irony is that Scott’s work reforms how the world rests—specifically, the weariest among us. He won’t relent until the estimated one-fifth of the world’s population who currently sleep on the ground have access to a good night’s rest.
Sleep deprivation might be one of the most overlooked agents in the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Low-income employees sacrifice sleep by working multiple jobs at odd hours to make ends meet. Those without stable housing forego the luxury of a safe, comfortable place to rest.
The physical implications of sleep deprivation are dramatic: tired people suffer higher levels of anxiety and depression, impaired cognition, and increased risk of stroke. For these reasons and more, lack of sleep has been linked to mental illness, drug abuse, violence, and aggression.
To put it simply, sleep is essential to our physical and emotional wellbeing. But sleep is also a spiritual imperative. Besides damaging us physically, exhaustion robs us of a call to honor rest, to “keep the Sabbath and make it holy” (Exodus 20:8). God designed rest as a gift, a way to reclaim our human limitations and relinquish control to the One who watches over us in our unconscious hours. When we close our eyes for the night, we—consciously or not—surrender ourselves to God’s care.
Ecclesiastes 5:12 calls the sleep of the laborer “sweet.” Brother Lawrence goes so far as to assert that spiritual growth happens during the rhythms of rest. “Those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep,” he writes. That is, the work that the Spirit begins in our waking hours continues as we rest without our manipulation or effort.
Given our dependence on rest, it’s worth asking: What if sound sleep could bring us closer to God? And for those who can’t afford a comfortable bed or a safe place to lie down, could a good night’s sleep be a missing piece in the larger puzzle that is the cycle of poverty? Scott Smalling thinks so. In fact, he believes that a good night’s sleep could change the world.
After a lucrative 30-year career in the mattress industry—during which he invented
ComforPedic™—Scott felt a downward tug on his life. Relief Bed was his answer to that call. In 2015 he left his well-paying position behind so that the weary could sleep the way only the wealthy could afford.
So what is a Relief Bed? Using Thermarest™ technology, Scott created a self-inflating, rollable foam mattress built to withstand the elements. Relief Beds are waterproof, durable, and portable, designed with outdoor rest in mind. Scott’s company partners with homeless shelters around the U.S. as well as disaster relief organizations to provide high-quality, comfortable mattresses to those who need rest most. We asked Scott what propelled him into this line of work and how he plans to “change the way the world sleeps.”
How do you envision Relief Bed reforming how the world sleeps?
I am designing beds that address specific humanitarian problems. Nationally we focus on homeless shelters. [Relief Beds] are useful for inclement weather, when shelters use multi-purpose rooms to sleep numerous people. These tri-folds are made out of materials normally only found in high-end mattresses.
Our international solution is the original Relief Bed. We utilize a self-inflating technology which allows it to roll up very small for shipping and transport, but can then self-inflate with the use of the foam inside to become an ample bed for an adult. Relief Bed is extremely durable and can function in any and all weather which makes it ideal for disaster relief and impoverished areas. My heart was to dignify the traditional sleeping pad, so I attached an inflatable pillow to make it more of a portable bed.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I want to matter. That’s it. I want to make a difference. I feel there’s a major metamorphosis going on within me spiritually. [My motivation] is becoming much more about the mission and the people and less about “look what I’m doing.” Helping is definitely an obsession. The days of 10-15 years ago of wanting the business success has turned into wanting the types of successes that matter.
What do you fear?
My biggest fear is that we will continue to think of people [without homes] as panhandlers or criminals or purely drug addicts and not look at them as the human beings they are and the things they’ve gone through in their life. Why would you expect them to be a phenomenal, contributing member of society and take care of themselves if they’ve never had a break [in their life]? I fear that I won’t do a good job communicating the need to help these people because they’re quietly crying out for it.
What message would you share with young entrepreneurs who have great ideas about reforming the world’s brokenness?
Understand what your gifts are and what you love and pair that with a mission. If you try to swim upstream and do something positive, you will potentially run out of energy. But if you’re [using] your gifts, and you’re lending those to society as a whole, then you will continue to be engaged and find multiple paths to go down. The main thing is to do something. If you’re not living outside of yourself, you’re missing the biggest part of life that can possibly be offered while you’re here. From that standpoint, number one, do something outside of yourself, small or big. And the second thing is, if you really want to make sure you stay engaged and have a level of success at it, do something you’re gifted in. But that is superseded by [number one]: “do something.” It will alleviate a tremendous amount of stress and inward-looking.
In what ways would you like to see the church get involved with the issues you care most about?
By engaging people. I believe that service above all else is an act of Christ’s compassion [for] people. If you [serve], it will embolden your faith and desire to be a witness. The church should be inspiring people more to be out doing things for others. There’s that old saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” The church needs to embrace organizations more and teach their congregations to be out helping people as a way to introduce them to Christ. You will get a lot further down the road living by example than if you’re preaching at them.
What advice would you give someone who feels they have a world-changing idea? How do you get that idea or item to market?
Pray and proceed with reckless abandon. Because if it is a world-changing idea, it’ll happen. Look for incredible mentors who have done it in their own space. Follow your internal passions, but look for good advice to navigate simple things. Ask a lot of questions. It’s really about having an incredible amount of determination. There is hardly a world-changing success that doesn’t have an outstanding story that goes with it, and it usually is just about being determined, not letting people get in your way or talk you out of it.
For more information, visit reliefbed.com.
Since 2005, Joel has served as founder and CEO of Nations Media. Joel’s passion is to advocate for those working to bring hope to the world’s darkest places.