By far the most important hours of your life are those you spend in bed—for a lot of reasons. A good night’s rest can keep you fit, sharpen your brain, and boost your sex drive, while losing sleep can depress you, boost your risk of heart disease, and even, according to a brand-new study, make you four times more likely to catch a cold. In other words—you don’t snooze, you lose.
When it comes to your Fortress of Z’s, your mattress is the foundation. The type you probably grew up sleeping on—a slab of metal coils under some cotton batting and fabric—has been around for more than a century. Often stiff and uncomfortable, innerspring mattresses were, for most of their history, a moribund industry with little innovation and virtually no competition.
Then NASA went and developed an all-new foam.
The mattress from outer space
Called “temper foam” and able to absorb up to 36 G’s (!) of force, NASA’s foam was created as seat cushioning and crash protection for test planes and spacecraft. But in the ’90s, the mattress industry modified it and voilà: “Memory foam” was born.
It created a sensation. The thick, air-filled foam conformed to the body, relieving pressure points, so sleep was vastly more restful. It also isolated movement well, so a sleeper wouldn’t feel a partner’s every toss and turn.
Alas, memory foam also had some drawbacks. For one, it could be hot to sleep on. “Cool is key,” says NYU sleep researcher Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., author of Sleep for Success! Sleepers could also sink in so far they felt “stuck.” And to cap it all off, though foam tended to last longer than springs, it could also cost twice as much.
Soon, the only thing most people remembered about memory foam was the infomercial in which a lady jumped on a bed and didn’t spill her red wine.
And that’s where the story would’ve ended if the mattress industry hadn’t gotten its ass in gear and created the innovative new memory-foam bedding we have now.
Talk about worlds apart: Today’s new and improved foam mattresses are still dense enough to conform to your body and create the perfect neutral spine position for ideal sleep, but the new high-tech foam (blends, gel, mixed layers) suck heat more efficiently from your body so you sleep supported but cool and without sinking in like you’re in a bowl of marshmallow fluff.
In fact, memory foam is now the mattress to get whether you’re active—so your body needs some cradling support to spur recovery and gains—or you simply want a restful, comfortable but supportive sleep.
Prices you won’t lose sleep over
As for price, there’s good news there, too: The entire foam-mattress industry has changed, and it’s you, the buyer, who reaps the benefits.
Sure, the big brick-and-mortar guys, Serta, Simmons, and Tempur Sealy (formed when Tempur-Pedic bought Sealy in 2012), still control about 60% of the market, and if you buy from them, your foam mattress—while still comfy and a good investment—will set you back a bundle.
But go online and what will you find? A memory-foam gold mine.
Started by mattress-industry veterans and insiders who broke from the big boys to go out on their own, the Internet foam-mattress industry is innovation at its best. Companies like Nest, Leesa, Casper, Bear, and Tuft & Needle have cut out the middlemen (like stores and distribution centers) and instead source their own (mostly U.S.-made) materials.
These smaller, less encumbered companies are also agile enough to respond to customer feedback quickly and make design changes that would take the brick-and-mortar-based behemoths eons.
And if you’re (understandably) worried about not being able to try before you buy (though some online sellers do operate showrooms), most companies offer at least a 100-day trial, with a full refund and free pickup if you aren’t satisfied.
Start getting a good night’s sleep and there’s no telling what else might go better between the sheets.