Unobtrusive, long-term monitoring of cardiac (and respiratory) rhythms using only non-invasive vibration sensors mounted in beds promises to unlock new applications in home and low acuity monitoring. This paper presents a novel concept for such a system based on an array of near infrared (NIR) sensors placed underneath a regular bed mattress. We focus on modeling and analyzing the underlying technical measurement principle with the help of a 2D model of a polyurethane foam mattress and Monte-Carlo simulations of the opto-mechanical interaction responsible for signal genesis. Furthermore, a test rig to automatically and repeatably impress mechanical vibrations onto a mattress is introduced and used to identify the properties of a prototype implementation of the proposed measurement principle. Results show that NIR-based sensing is capable of registering miniscule deformations of the mattress with a high spatial specificity. As a final outlook, proof-of-concept measurements with the sensor array are presented which demonstrate that cardiorespiratory movements of the body can be detected and that automatic heart rate estimation at competitive error levels is feasible with the proposed approach.