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A good mattress can mean the difference between hearty sleep and hardly sleeping. But trying to choose among the array of new styles and innovations is enough to make a weary consumer fall onto her lumpy bed in despair.
"Ideally, you want a mattress that allows the spine to assume a position of comfort, without any stress or strain," says Scott D. Boden, MD, director of the Emory Spine Center, in Atlanta. Popular wisdom had long held that this called for a firm mattress. But one study shows that those who sleep on medium-firm surfaces report less back pain than those who sleep on the firmest mattresses.
So how do you choose a mattress that's right for you? "Consumers should be sure to lie down on the mattress in their typical sleep position," says Nancy Blatt, executive director of the Better Sleep Council. "You can't judge a mattress by sitting on the edge of the bed." And because lying on a mattress in a store for 10 minutes may not be the best way to choose something you'll be in intimate contact with for the next 10 years, you might want to, well, sleep on it. Some mattress companies let you test their product at home.
Many mattress innovations have hit the market recently, promising improved sleep and fewer aches and pains. Here are a few popular options and their claims:Pillowtops
Brands: Simmons, Sealy, Serta, and others Price: $700 to $3,600* The claim: Because pillowtop mattresses feature an extra pillow-like layer sewn into the top of the mattress, they are said to provide extra cushioning and comfort while maintaining the natural support and firmness of the mattress. Manufacturers say the pillowtops don't lose their resiliency, and you don't have to flip them, either. 800-628-8737 (www.mattress.com)Memory Foam
Brands: Tempur-Pedic, Dormia Price: $900 to $2,800 The claim: Developed by NASA in the 1970s, memory foam temporarily takes the shape of impressed objects but springs back when they are removed. Manufacturers say memory foam allows air to breathe through it, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. Moreover, it distributes pressure evenly throughout the spine and joints. The top layer is soft, while the resilient base layer makes the mattress more responsive to a sleeper's movements without disturbing the partner. 800-721-5152 (www.tempurpedic.com) 800-273-0573 (www.dormia.com)Air Mattresses
Brands: Select Comfort, Nautilus Price: $800 to $3,100 The claim: Because you can adjust their firmness or softness to your comfort level by pumping air into a sealed chamber, air beds are claimed to provide even pressure, whereas innerspring mattresses may create uncomfortable pressure points or areas with less support. The bed's edges are supported by high-density foam. Dual-chamber models allow you to adjust each side of the bed separately to suit both you and your partner. 800-548-7231 (www.selectcomfort.com) 800-656-6629 (www.fitrest.com)High-Tech Sleep System
Brand: Dux Price: $4,150 to $7,000 The claim: The Swedish-designed sleep system's main boast is an innerspring system of 3,600 springs compared with 900 in a conventional mattress. More springs means the mattress contours to the body's curves better, allowing the spine to rest in its most natural position, Dux says. The optional pads can be customized so two people can select separate support zones for torso, shoulders, and legs. 866-389-4262 (www.duxbed.com)Ultimate Luxury
Brand: Hypnos Price: $8,000 to $10,000 The claim: If you're looking to indulge your inner princess, there's always the choice of the Queen of England. The handcrafted Hypnos features 2,000 springs, while layers of wool, silk, cashmere, and cotton create an incredibly soft and breathable surface, the manufacturer says, guaranteeing a deeply comfortable sleep. 800-628-8737 (www.mattress.com)
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, October 2004.