Air mattresses use adjustable, inflatable air chambers to create support instead of using springs or foam. These mattresses from manufacturers like Select Comfort and Comfortaire give control over the firmness of the mattress to the sleepers, and some allow each partner to control the support on their side of the bed. However, these beds are more expensive than traditional mattresses, and not all who try air mattresses say they're comfortable. Owner complaints include that the bed's foam sides are simply not firm enough to sit on, and that the space between the air chambers in dual-adjustable models makes the bed feel lumpy. There are also numerous reports about mold formation in air mattresses, specifically older models from Select Comfort. But if you prefer a soft bed while your partner wants extra-firm (or vice versa), buying an air bed may be preferable to sleeping separately. Another plus is that the individual components of an air mattress can be replaced as they wear out, prolonging the life of the mattress.
As with most specialty mattresses, air beds aren't discussed as frequently -- or in as much depth -- as innerspring mattresses are. Still, the mattress-buying advice at ConsumerReports.org, Which? and Choice magazines is applicable to air-bed shoppers, and SleepLikeTheDead.com has detailed statistics on owner satisfaction with Select Comfort and Comfortaire mattresses.
According to this article -- which editors say is based on data from roughly 1,600 owners -- about 79 percent of owners find air beds comfortable. The most common complaints for air beds are "trenches" between the air chambers, problems with the pump mechanism and price. Still, one airbed brand, Comfortaire, gets higher overall ratings than any other mattress brand at this site.
Review: Airbed Mattress Reviews and Ratings, Editors of SleepLikeTheDead.com, Updated Sept. 18, 2010
2. What's the Best Mattress
This website focuses on innerspring mattresses, but this page offers a brief discussion of air mattresses. It explains how they work and discusses features to look for in an air mattress.
Review: Air Bed Mattress, Editors of WhatsTheBest-Mattress.com
Charlene Laino interviews several sleep experts, including orthopedic physicians and a physical therapist, about their mattress recommendations. The article notes that dual-chamber air mattresses can be useful for partners who prefer different levels of firmness in a mattress and notes that smaller air chambers result in a more adjustable sleep surface.
Review: The Best Mattress for a Good Night's Sleep, Charlene Laino
4. Better Homes & Gardens
In this brief article, the editors of Better Homes and Gardens discuss the construction and possible benefits of air and foam beds. The advice is quite general, and no specific brands are recommended.
Review: Buying Air and Foam Beds: Sleeping on Air, Editors of Better Homes and Gardens
Of the more than 200 mattresses at Epinions.com, one of the top-rated brands is the Comfortaire Cerulean, an air mattress that's a lower-priced competitor to the leading Select Comfort brand. Interestingly, Select Comfort mattresses themselves get much more mixed reviews; several mattresses in this line receive overall scores of only 2 to 3 stars out of 5.
Review: Mattresses, Contributors to Epinions.com
Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, discusses how mattresses affect spinal health. He cites one study that more male subjects could sleep comfortably on an air mattress than on a harder futon mattress. The article also offers general advice on choosing a mattress.
Review: Mattresses Matter: Ergonomic Guidelines, Alan Hedge, Updated Feb. 10, 2010
This article from United Press International discusses the class-action lawsuit filed in California against Select Comfort, alleging that its Sleep Number beds create an ideal environment for dangerous mold. This was the most recent article we could find on the lawsuit.
Review: Sleep Number Beds Focus of Lawsuit, United Press International, April 20, 2009
This website was created by Select Comfort to counter the charges about mold growth in its Sleep Number beds. Although the site does not mention the class-action lawsuit on this issue, it does assert that Sleep Number beds are no more vulnerable to mold than other mattresses and that the manufacturer will replace any parts of the bed that prove to be defective.
Review: Truth About Select Comfort Mold, Sleep Number Mold Issues, Editors of SleepNumberFacts.com