A Bedding Industry CEO’s Definitive Guide To Comparing Mattresses Without Bowling Balls, Eggs, And Rolling Pins.

Which is worse, shopping for a mattress in a giant showroom with your street clothes on under a bank of fluorescent lights while Chad the mattress guy hovers over you, or trying to find a mattress online and wading through clips of bowling ball tests, giant rolling pins, or Gretel, smashing raw eggs?

Look, we’ve been designing and engineering beds for over 25 years, and one of our CEO contributors, me, pioneered the bed in the box concept long before the big online companies were even conceived. Never once did we use bowling balls and eggs to try to sell a mattress to anyone.

Everyone seems to need some visual demonstration of how comfortable a mattress really is, rather than just taking the advice of real experts who can explain it you in, oh, ten minutes. On this page, we’ll give you a quick, down and dirty explanation of the features and benefits of the five basic mattress types, refer you to our Trusted Dealer page, where you can find a carefully vetted mattress that you’ll love, without using balls, guys in lab coats, or women wearing costumes that look like they belong at Epcot selling strudel.

First of all, most bed in a box mattresses sold online, are pretty similar in their makeup. They all have a block of supportive high density foam on the bottom, to cradle your weight and to properly support you, and generally this kind of foam falls in a narrow range of density. This layer should be firm yet supportive and is the most important element of any good mattress.

Tuft& Needle mattress, showing cutaway and the dense support layer at the bottom of the mattress, which distributes weight and helps to prevent pinpoint gulleys and depressions.

Tuft& Needle mattress, showing cutaway and the dense support layer at the bottom of the mattress, which distributes weight and helps to prevent pinpoint gulleys and depressions.

Most online bed builders that you’ll find online typically source this material from a handful of U.S. suppliers, most of which offer a pretty good product these days, since competition is tight and no manufacturer wants to be dealing with defective product that gets sent back.

Second, most of the upper layers, referred to as “comfort layers” are generally going to be given fanciful and proprietary names to convince you that this magical ingredient is vastly superior to everyone else’s. Again, we’re referring to the “ever changing name scam” that we speak of throughout our site, designed to confuse you and upsell you to unnecessary frills and add-ons.

Ignore the names, and find out what it is. A layer of gel memory foam, a layer of latex, in any order, generally provides pressure point relief and a buoyant, uplifting sensation to almost any person.

In some cases, a layer of pocketed coils might be used. A bit more variation up top, but if you are dealing with foam comfort layers, they are going to be pretty similar as well. Here’s a typical cross section of your average, decent “bed in a box” mattress.

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Don’t think that the big boys whose ads chase us around on social media, buses, subway cars, and airplanes have reinvented the wheel…they haven’t. What they have done is a fantastic job of marketing their hype, creating a brand, and delivering your bed in a slick box. But every mattress isn’t the same, so let’s break them down by category to help you zoom in on the right few candidates.

you know what you like, what feels good to you- stick with that when mattress shopping.

What you’re wearing when you sleep, your bedroom temperature, how much your partner snores, or if you use electronics in bed all impact how well you sleep each night, but the single biggest factor is one that you might not think about – what kind of support your body loves. Soft and squishy, firm and supportive, yielding and giving, bouncy and chatty. The truth is, whether you wake up feeling rested and ready to start the day depends largely on the kind of materials used in your bed, especially up top, that partner up well with your biology.

Breaking up with your old mattress

If your mattress is older than eight years, it’s time to check to be sure it’s still giving you the comfort and support you need for a good night’s sleep. A good mattress should relieve pressure on your joints and your body (and NOT cause pain).

As your mattress ages, it loses the ability to do this and your sleep quality gradually declines. Most foam and most textile materials, especially quilted material, tends to pack down over time.

Very few materials can withstand the effects of gravity (latex is by far the longest lasting component that you can use, btw). This happens so slowly, you may not even realize it. You might have to do a little detective work to put the pieces together.

Maybe your hips are killing you, you can’t get comfortable at night, and you’re waking up exhausted. Add this to the fact that your mattress is eight or more years old and bingo, you’ve figured out that the problem is not your body falling apart, but your mattress telling you it wants to be thrown into a dumpster. An aching back is one of the biggest signs it’s time to break up with your current mattress.

go with your first choice and don’t 2nd guess yourself. mattress shopping, like life, is only as hard as you make it..

When you’re ready to replace your mattress, you might not know what you want or what you should look for. There are a wide variety of mattresses available incorporating different materials and technologies that meet your budget and your needs, like we’ve discussed. But remember, picking a mattress is very subjective. Only you are going to know what kind of mattress feels good to your body.

Explore the different options so that you can begin to narrow down the type of mattress that is best for you. Remember this, though. Regardless of what you ‘ll end up with especially if you are shopping online, the price is likely going to be pretty similar for a typical size..this is because of intense competition, and over the last few years, most mattress e-tailers have tightened up their pricing so much, it’s uncanny how similar the prices are.

Without even looking at every brand, I can tell you that a typical price for a queen is somewhere between $795-995 for a decent mattress with a reputable return and trial period, a pretty good warranty, and lots of reviews (though remember, we believe that about 85% of mattress reviews are completely bogus.

coil or Innerspring mattress- still enormously popular, even with bed in a box options

The oldest and most familiar kind of bedding surface. An innerspring mattress uses a steel coil support system. There are several types of spring systems, including those with springs connected into a single unit and units with individually wrapped pocketed coils.

You may not be aware that coils, including what are known as micro-coil systems (very thin, about an inch or two, sandwiched between support layers in a mattress) are high tech these days, not like the woven steel spring coil units shoved into mattresses of the 60’s.

The spring shapes, designs, coil gauge and number of coils in a mattress can vary. The innerspring is covered by padding or upholstery materials, including various foams, fiber and even additional layers of smaller steel springs. In general, the greater the number of coils, the more points of support and the better the bed can contour and support the sleeper.

We encourage you to consider a pocketed coil component if you find a hybrid foam bed that offers them. Get one if you have severe hip pressure point issues, shoulder problems, have an hourglass shape, since it will conform to your body without swallowing you whole like a burrito.

A typical cross section showing a pocketed coil layer in a bed in a box mattress. Coils are a good option if you have back problems, are curvy, have hip or shoulder pain, and offer more support and lift.

A typical cross section showing a pocketed coil layer in a bed in a box mattress. Coils are a good option if you have back problems, are curvy, have hip or shoulder pain, and offer more support and lift.

Coils in general give a bed more personality, tending to be a tad livelier, and a pocketed coil hybrid is excellent for vigorous sex. Generally, they sleep cooler, too. They do tend to keep you off of the surface a bit, so if you like a sumptuous, nest like feel, keep reading. Remember, hit up our Trusted Dealer page and check out our vetted selection of reputable online dealers who won’t scam you.

Pillow-top mattresses are typically coil hybrid mattresses that have an additional upholstery layer sewn onto the top of the mattress, as if pillows were placed on top of it. This layer can be made from a variety of fiber and foam materials.

foam Hybrid mattresses

The hottest category in the online mattress business, with robust technology, state of the art foam components like gel foam, memory foam, charcoal infused foam for cooling, copper infused foam for antibacterial protection, and usually a combination of 2-3 different kinds of layers, all wrapped up with a high tech material that deflects heat and feels luxurious.

Sometimes, a hybrid mattress combines a steel coil support system with one or more types of foam, such as polyurethane, memory (viscoelastic) or latex, as well as foams that contain gel or other materials. Good for back support, neck support, generally medium firm so you don’t get swallowed, and often with some variation if you like a softer, nest like feel, or a squishy and inviting sensation. Best for side sleepers in our opinion.

These kinds of beds are often referred to as specialty foam mattresses, since they employ one or more types of foam for the middle and top comfort layers of the bed. The foam may be polyurethane, memory (viscoelastic) or latex, and can contain gel or other materials. The foam can be manufactured in a variety of shapes and densities to offer consumers a mattress that has different comfort, feel and heat dissipation features.

Gel foam mattreses

Gel mattresses use foam that contains gel in the product’s support system, upholstery layers or both. The gel is added to the foam using different types of technology. The gel foam can offer consumers different comfort, feel and heat dissipation features.

Typically gel material is jelly like, stretchy, and squishy, and most manufacturers building beds with gel foam added to the mix are injecting it into memory foam material in the form of beads. Thus the term “beaded gel foam” or “beaded gel memory foam”.

Check out our carefully vetted selection of memory foam and gel foam beds on our Trusted Dealer page. You can purchase any of our carefully curated mattresses online. We’ve done the whittling down for you and only offer a few choices that we have carefully researched.

A shot of gel memory foam, where the gelatinous material is blended, just like a milkshake, with memory foam.

A shot of gel memory foam, where the gelatinous material is blended, just like a milkshake, with memory foam.

The benefit is that it makes memory foam more flexible, and tends to provide very effective support by being highly responsive to body movements and offers a more luxurious and sumptuous feel. It also sleeps a little less hot than straight up memory foam, too.

Memory foam (visco-elastic foam) mattresses

We distinguish Memory foam (viscoelastic) mattresses from hybrid foam beds in general especially when memory foam is used exclusively as the only middle or top comfort layers. These beds are technologically designed to do one thing- relieve pressure and distribute weight, and always have a high-density polyurethane foam as the base layer.

Memory foam contours closely to the shape of the sleeper. Excellent if you like a mattress that precisely molds around your body, cradles you, and offers excellent support for rib cage, flank, neck, and lumbar regions, where other foam materials do not.

If you like a mattress that rises up to meet you, is more cradling and offers that melt-in sensation, memory foam is a good option. Despite the popular notion that memory foam sleeps hot, this is really not true. If the mattress you’re considering has a cotton or natural bamboo outer covering, these fabrics breathe and wick away moisture very effectively.

Memory foam was originally developed by NASA for fighter pilots, to help them endure high G-Factors and was eventually discovered by the mattress industry, being widely used today in the industry.

The ubiquitous memory foam handprint shot, which accurately portrays that melt-in sensation the only visco-elastic foam can provide.

The ubiquitous memory foam handprint shot, which accurately portrays that melt-in sensation the only visco-elastic foam can provide.

If you have pressure point issues, especially at hips or shoulders, stick with a memory foam type bed for best results. Restless sleepers, folks with lower back pain, or pain between the shoulder blades also respond well to memory foam, since it behave more like a fluid, being temperature sensitive, and will fill in void areas and provide excellent support.

See who we recommend for memory foam mattress options on our Trusted Dealer page, all available online. We’ve carefully selected just a handful of dealers whose beds will give you the best benefits that memory foam can offer.

Latex mattresses

Latex beds, we will tell you right off, can be more expensive, because natural latex is not a petroleum based product like all other extruded foam materials are. Our CEO and senior editor, Marc Anderson, was an industry pioneer in the online latex mattress business, sold thousands of pure latex beds to a discerning audience, that often came back again and again.

Ask anyone who has ever owned a latex bed and they will tell you that there is nothing that offers the uplifting and super buoyant qualities of latex. It’s almost a gravity defying situation, because instead of being in the mattress, you’re above it, and if you are a restless or light sleeper, it makes turning an effortless motion, and keeps you immersed in deeper, restorative sleep.

In fact, it has naturally antimicrobial and anti dust mite qualities that NO OTHER mattress have. An excellent choice for anyone with allergies, asthma, or respiratory considerations. Latex mattresses use latex foam as the support system, too, often excluding polyurethane foam. Latex may be made from plant- or petroleum-based materials.

Bouncier, livelier, but it’s very amazing stuff. We sold pure latex mattresses for over 15 years and our customers came back again and again. Also, latex beds are great for sex, because of the flexibility and spongy feel, and its great for cuddling as well.

An example of an all natural latex mattress showing various layers designed to create a very specific feel. This is a Plushbeds model.

An example of an all natural latex mattress showing various layers designed to create a very specific feel. This is a Plushbeds model.

A typical latex mattress, and it’s good to be clear here, will be made using only latex, preferably pure, botanical latex, and not synthetic rubber. A latex hybrid mattress is made using a combination of synthetic and natural latex, or some polyurethane foam for the underlying support layer.

You can check out our hand selected list of curated latex mattress vendors on our Trusted Dealer page.

digital Airbed systems

Airbeds use an adjustable air chamber as the support system. Unlike mattresses used for camping, the air chamber of a residential air bed is covered by padding or upholstery materials, which can include various foams and fiber.

Using a digital hand held remote, airbeds allow you to adjust their firmness, and usually allow each side of the bed to be controlled separately in order to meet the individual and changing needs of couples.

Habitat Furnishings, a boutique manufacturer of adjustable digital air beds, offers three unique models with dual remotes to consider.

Habitat Furnishings, a boutique manufacturer of adjustable digital air beds, offers three unique models with dual remotes to consider.

An adjustable air bed system offers independent adjustability using hand held remotes. Don’t opt for the leading brand right out of the gate. If you are looking for a really great Sleep Number style beds, consider our recommendation on our Trusted Dealer page.

Airbeds are designed to look like a conventional bed. Got a partner who likes firm and you like soft? A digital air bed is the likely way to resolve this issue. Get one with memory foam and/or latex too, so you can get the best of all worlds.

Waterbeds

Waterbeds use a water chamber as the support system. There are two types of waterbeds: hard-sided and soft-sided beds. A hard-sided waterbed has a water chamber inside a rectangular wood frame. A soft-sided waterbed has a water chamber inside a rectangular frame of rigid foam, zipped inside a fabric casing.

The water chamber is covered by padding or upholstery materials, which can include foams and fiber. Both types of waterbeds usually rest on top of a platform. Waterbeds are designed to look like a conventional bed and fit existing bedroom furniture. The water chamber can be “free flow” (in which nothing obstructs the flow of water within the mattress) or “waveless” (in which fiber or baffles limit the water’s motion).

turn your bedroom into a sanctuary- Make some subtle adjustments to your sleep

Adjustable beds, which include both the mattress and the base, are the fastest growing category in the mattress world. More and more people are opening their eyes to the incredible benefits an adjustable bed can offer.

  • Get moving. An adjustable bed allows you to bend, elevate or lower various parts of the bed so you can raise your head or feet, angle your back and bend your knees, customizing  your position to create exactly the kind of support and comfort you need.

  • To each their own. Some adjustable beds have dual controls so that you and your sleep partner can adjust the sleep surface to your personal needs — no negotiating necessary!

  • Appearances matter. Today’s adjustable beds are designed to look like conventional beds when they lie flat, so they blend into your bedroom perfectly.

  • Massage features, and anti-snore technology. Many models now offer a host of features and the price on adjustable bases has steadily gone down. Worth adding, but we recommend trying out your mattress for a while.