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 overall health. There are several types of mattresses, each with a particular set of advantages and disadvantages. Traditional innerspring models remain the most common, but newer alternatives -- including memory foam, latex foam, air mattresses and organic mattresses -- have gained favor with owners.
Innerspring mattresses have been the most popular type of bed 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 mattresses, innerspring types tend to retain less body heat and come in a wider range of firmness levels. Yet they 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 mattresses. Most experts say innerspring models 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, but the sinking feeling it provides can take getting used to. 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 constructed from natural or synthetic rubber, are springier than memory foam ones 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 permanent-use air mattress is one of the newest mattress types. Don't confuse them with inflatable models like the AeroBed; those aren't considered suitable for long-term use. Permanent air mattresses have air chambers that can be adjusted to provide customized support, and are topped with padding. Some, like Select Comfort's Sleep Number bed, allow each side of the mattress to be adjusted independently. Air mattresses can be expensive, running at least $1,000 for a queen set. One problem is that they rely on mechanical parts that can fail, although these can be replaced.
The most important quality of any mattress is comfort, but this can be difficult to measure since each person has different preferences for firmness, temperature, bounciness and so forth. What can be assessed, however, is support. Lab tests at ConsumerReports.org and its U.K. equivalent, Which? magazine, measure the alignment of testers' spines as they lie on mattresses and compare that to the spine's normal shape when standing. Both sources also test durability, another key consideration when purchasing a mattress.
Mattresses are occasionally recalled, often because they pose fire hazards. Since 2005, nearly 25 such recalls have occurred, according to the website WeMakeItSafer.com. You can get more information about mattress recalls by visiting the Consumer Product Safety Commission website.
To determine our Best Reviewed mattress picks, we draw on consumer-satisfaction surveys, owner reviews and a meta-analysis of 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. Although we don't recommend individual mattress models because retailers often use different names for very similar mattresses, we can name the brands within each mattress type that perform the best in both the test lab and the real world.