After months of shopping, interviews with mattress makers, and evaluations of mattresses by industry experts, Consumer Reports concluded that there is no one best bed for everyone, no single brand is more or less prone to trouble and the most heavily advertised brands may not be the most comfortable.
The magazine enlisted the help of four couples who took mattresses home and slept on them for a month and an additional 59 staffers tried different models in the labs. One conclusion: comfort is relative.
The investigation includes results from an online poll in which 19 percent of innerspring-mattress owners complained about pressure to trade up to a costlier bed, and 15 percent said that the salesperson used a hard-sell approach.
Among some of the myths the investigation dispels:
• Firmer is better. The best bed is the one that is most comfortable for you. Medical experts CR interviewed say there have been no well-controlled studies to indicate the best firmness overall.
• Coil count is critical. Any number above 390 in a queen-size mattress should be plenty. CR consultants concluded that coils in all but the cheapest mattresses -- less than $800 for a queen-size -- are "overdesigned for their function."
• A higher price guarantees a better bed. Anything but the cheapest mattresses can be a fine choice.
• If you move in your sleep, the bed is to blame. Turning around while sleeping is normal; it's a problem only if it disrupts your sleep.
• You must include a box spring, to be protected by the warranty. Despite sales pressure to buy both mattress and foundation, it's not always required.
• Stores sell the same mattress under different names. Retailers often claim that their mattress A is comparable to a competitor's mattress B. Though you may find beds that are truly alike, most "comparables" CR studied had little in common.
How to Choose
Before you shop, the first thing you need to do is determine if you truly need a new mattress. A mattress can last 10 years, as long as your kids don't use it as a trampoline. Think about buying a new mattress if you are waking up tired or achy; tend to sleep better at hotels than at home; your mattress looks saggy or lumpy and if you're over the age of 40 and your mattress is five to seven years old -- bodies tolerate less pressure as they age.
CR also advises you choose the appropriate mattress size, as even healthy sleepers shift positions during the night, and cramped quarters can keep them from moving freely. When you are at the store, keep the following in mind: • Understand the name game. Manufacturers usually modify any innerspring mattress they make for different sellers, changing the color, padding, quilting pattern, and so forth. Consumers are the losers. Since such mattresses are at least somewhat different, and the names vary, you can't comparison shop.
• Choose the right firmness. Don't rely on names: Levels are described differently. If a mattress is too firm, it won't support all body parts evenly and may cause discomfort at the heaviest points (hips and shoulders). If it's too soft, you could sink into the surface and have a hard time moving, which could cause tingling, numbness, or aches.
• Do the 15-minute in-store test. Don't be embarrassed to lie down on lots of mattresses in the store. Salespeople expect it. Wear loose clothes, and shoes that you can slip off. Spend at least five minutes on each side, your back, and your stomach if you use that position.
• Look for a comfort guarantee. Some businesses give you two weeks to several months to return or exchange a bed you don't like.
• Don't count on warranties. They cover defects in materials and workmanship, not comfort or normal wear. They're typically in effect for 10 years; luxury brands like Duxiana, Select Comfort, and Tempur-Pedic are in effect for 20.
• Wait for a sale, and bargain. Specialty mattresses may have a set price, but you can save at least 50 percent off list price for innerspring type. Ads for "blowout" sales make such events seem rare. They are not. If the price is good, buy; if not, wait. However, an advertised "bargain" may not be all it seems, so read the fine print.
Many of the estimated 70 million Americans who complain of sleeplessness are turning their backs on conventional innerspring beds and are buying alternatives such as Duxiana (springs in layers), Select Comfort (air-filled, with adjustable firmness for each partner), and Tempur-Pedic (polyurethane "memory foam").
To assess the beds-which cost $1,500 and up in queen size, CR asked four couples to spend a month using each at home. CR also asked 59 staffers to lie down for about 15 minutes on each bed (hiding the brand names) in one of our labs, the way consumers should try in a store. Finally, CR asked visitors to http://www.ConsumerReports.org about recent mattress-buying experiences. Here are the results:
• Duxiana with Pascal System: Panelists praised its support and comfort. On the whole, long-term testers liked it but thought it wasn't worth the price. Buy only if your budget allows. Have a Duxiana bed? Tell us about your experience.
• Select Comfort Sleep Number 5000 Bed: Some panelists praised its support, but many criticized the model they tried. Six of the eight long-term panelists said they probably wouldn't buy the traditional model under any circumstances, but most users who tried the plusher pillowtop version called it comfortable.
• Tempur-Pedic Classic Swedish Sleep System. Some long-term testers called it "supportive and cushiony," but others used different language: "not enough cushioning," "feels like sleeping on wet or hard sand," "pressure on hips and back." It elicited stronger opinions pro and con, than the other beds.
Bottom line: For each of these beds, our panelists' opinions ran the gamut from "aah" to "ick," which just reinforces the need for an in-store tryout.
Learn more about mattress anatomy and how to get a good night's sleep by going to http://www.ConsumerReports.org. Free from May 10 to July 6 in the "Home & Garden" section.