If you havent replaced your mattress in the 10 years often recommended by sleep experts, put on your sensible shopping shoes.
Twin, full, queen or king? Firm or soft? It was difficult enough when those were the major questions to answer when buying a mattress. But now consumers are confronted with a host of mattress types that promise better sleep – and, many times, carry a four-figure price tag.
Mattresses also are difficult items to comparison-shop, says Karin Mahoney, spokeswoman for the Better Sleep Council, a bedding industry group.
Manufacturers make models specific to specific stores, she says, so theres no way to know whether whats in Store A is comparable to whats in Store B, even if theyre the same brand. And terms like firm, plush or deluxe arent standardized or regulated, she adds.
So what determines a better deal? Warranties, delivery fees, payment plans, interest rates, the price of the frame, set-up and take-away costs and service, Mahoney says.
The opportunity to return the bed if its not comfortable – a comfort warranty, different from a warranty from manufacturing defects, is another thing to look for, Mahoney adds. She notes some dealers charge a restocking fee if a mattress is returned.
If youre in the mood to shop, now is a good time, Mahoney says – mattresses often go on sale around summer holidays such as the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
Find a time when you and any sleep partner can lie on the mattress in various positions for at least 15 minutes before ruling it in or out, she recommends. The sleep council doesnt endorse one type of mattress over another because no one bed is right for everyone, she adds.
What it is: Steel coils – springs – in a frame supported by a base called a box spring. Coils are then covered with layers of fabric and/or foam, plus a fabric covering to provide insulation and varying levels of support.
: Simmons, Serta, Sealy, Stearns & Foster
Shopping tips: Pricing is very competitive; sales provide deep discounts. Check coil wire thickness as a measure of firmness and durability; more coils dont make for more comfort, the council says. Individually wrapped coils lessen motion transfer from a sleeping partner. Makers have been adding more padding, which may or may not improve comfort but can up the price and make existing fitted sheets obsolete. Compare prices between individual pieces and sets; you may not need to replace your box spring.
What it is: A mattress with 1 to 6 inches of extra padding sewn on top.
Brands: Most mattress makers have pillowtop models.
Shopping tips: These promise a softer feel. Various types of mattresses come with pillowtops, and the pillowtop can be made with various materials, including foams and gels. But a similar feel can sometimes be achieved with a separate pad that can more easily be replaced when it becomes compacted or worn.
What it is: Memory foam is visco elastic foam, a dense polyurethane foam that reacts to body heat and conforms to body shape. The mattress is placed on a sturdy box spring, spring-less foundation, platform or slats. Some foams are made from latex, which can be natural or synthetic.
: The sleep council advises buyers to lie on the mattress until they know they like the feel or will be bothered if its uncomfortably warm or slow to respond to a change in position. (Foams work more slowly in cold temperatures.) An article in the May 14, 2012, issue of Barrons notes that some find a memory foam mattress affects sex and not in a good way. Latex foam is not as cushy – most latex mattresses are not for people allergic to latex. Prices can top $3,000 for queen-size bed.
What it is: Gel is the latest technological wrinkle in the mattress marketplace and sometimes compared to a squishy comfort insole you put in a shoe. Its often mixed or infused with various types of foam.
Brands: Comfort-Gel, Serta iComfort, intelliBED
Shopping tips: Some people say it works like memory foam but is cooler to sleep on. There are only a few providers and scant information on wear; its possible the gel may shift with time. Prices are comparable to memory foam.
What it is: The core is a flexible, air-filled bag. Air beds can range from simple (and inexpensive) manual or battery-operated blow-up models to ones with multiple air chambers and remote-control customization combined with layers of padding and set into a frame; these can be upwards of $2,000 for queen and king.
Brands: AeroBed, Sleep Number by Select Comfort
Shopping tips: Simple ones cost less than many other sleeping surfaces. Collapsibility or component assembly means a big bed can fit into a tight space such as up stairs or around corners. The quality of the pump and remote control count. Look for tight seams and connections so the mattress doesnt leak.
What it is: A heavy-duty bladder, usually vinyl, filled with water set on a platform or in a wooden or soft-sided frame. Some have compartmentalized interiors to minimize potentially sleep-disturbing wave action.
Brands: Big Sur
Shopping tips: Waterbeds cradle the body but are extremely heavy and could leak, so some landlords and condos dont allow them; check first. Built-in electric heaters, which some sleepers find necessary for comfort, can cost as much as a small refrigerator to run. Expect additional cost because water needs to be treated and/or changed periodically. Waterbeds can require special sheets.