Choosing the right mattress can help assure a good night's sleep
Considering that most people spend about one-third of their lives in bed, it's hardly surprising that mattresses can have a big impact on your overall health. There are several types of mattresses, each with a particular set of advantages and disadvantages. Traditional innerspring models remain the most popular type, but newer alternatives -- including memory foam, latex foam, air mattresses with adjustable firmness "zones" and organic mattresses made of various materials -- have gained favor with owners.
One of the big issues with buying a new mattress is that it generally requires a fairly significant cash outlay -- in most cases about $500 for a twin; $1000 or more for a queen or king. Some are two or three times as much, depending upon features. And that often does not include the box spring or other foundation. However, with as much time as you spend in bed, and the average length of time you'll own the mattress, it pays to buy the best one you can afford.
Figuring out exactly how much a mattress costs can also be difficult. Most mattress companies have a specific line (or several) of a mattress (Posturepedic by Sealy and Beautyrest by Simmons are good examples of this), and then, within that line, have dozens of different models that are not detailed on the manufacturer's website. So, while several retailers may have the same model, there is little consistency from retailer to retailer. In addition, the same model may be sold under different names at different retailers. Because of that, for the purposes of this report, we don't rate specific mattresses; rather, we rate mattress lines that get the best reviews across the board. As for price, we have quoted the manufacturers retail price, which are usually much higher than the actual prices you'll find in stores. We discuss price in more detail -- as well as how to get the best deal -- on our buying guide page.
Also, if a mattress is just one of several bedroom purchases you're planning, check out our related reports on bed sheets, pillows and mattress toppers.
Type of mattresses
Innerspring mattresses have been the most popular type for decades, and countless styles, features and options are available. Models vary greatly in cost, from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Price differences may depend on the number and size of the coils, the amount and type of padding, and details such as fabric and stitching. Compared with other types, innerspring mattresses tend to retain less body heat and come in a wider range of firmness levels. But they also transfer more motion, which can be a concern if you share your bed with a partner. They're also less durable and more prone to sagging than other types of mattresses. Most experts say innerspring mattresses should be replaced after 10 years at most.
Memory foam mattresses are made from visco-elastic foam, a type of foam that molds itself to the body. While the best-known manufacturer is Tempur-Pedic, several other companies offer less expensive versions. Many owners love sleeping on memory foam, because of how well it conforms to the curves and lines of the body. Memory foam is also a good choice if you have a restless partner as it minimizes movement transfer. Going from innerspring to memory foam can take some getting used to, but most who give it time say it was well worth it. Some people find that memory foam traps heat -- a complaint that makers have addressed with the development of gel-infused memory foam, which is designed to create a cooler sleeping surface.
Latex foam mattresses, which are made from natural or synthetic rubber, are springier than memory foam mattresses and don't retain as much body heat. They are also resistant to mold and dust mites. In addition, mattresses made of natural latex are eco-friendly, since natural latex is a renewable resource. Many latex mattresses go for several thousand dollars for a queen set, although some lower-end brands that incorporate synthetic latex and a less expensive processing method can run as low as $550.
The adjustable, permanent-use air mattress is one of the newest mattress types. Don't confuse them with inflatable, temporary air mattresses, which we cover in a separate report; those aren't considered suitable for long-term use. Permanent air mattresses, the best known brand being Sleep Number Beds, have air chambers that can be adjusted to provide customized support, and are topped with padding. Some even allow each side of the mattress to be adjusted independently. Permanent air mattresses can be expensive, running at least $1,000 for a queen set. They tend to be quite durable because, while they rely on mechanical parts that can fail, those parts are replaceable.
How we found the best mattresses
Although it would seem as if the experiences of mattress owners would be the most crucial aspect of finding the best mattress; in fact, owners reviews are hard to come by for mattresses. This may be because, as noted earlier, there is little consistency between mattress models. So, while we did evaluate a few user reviews, to determine our Best Reviewed mattress picks, we primarily drew on professional testing at ConsumerReports.com and the results of a detailed analysis of consumer satisfaction feedback at SleepLikeTheDead.com -- which has compiled more data about mattress satisfaction than any other site. Factors including comfort, value and durability are included in our analysis. The result of our research is the best mattresses for your best night's sleep.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Innerspring Mattresses | Best Memory Foam Mattresses | Best Latex and Organic Mattresses | Best Permanent Adjustable Air Mattresses | Mattresses for Back Pain | Buying Guide | Our Sources