Finding Your Comfort Zone: Best Buys in Innerspring & Specialty Mattresses

Consumers have plenty of new options when it comes to the latest mattresses. Manufacturers have changed memory-foam formulations, introduced different innerspring designs and added adjustable bases that have more customized controls and features.

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When mattress-makers say their products are cooling down, it has nothing to do with sales. They mean that the latest mattresses are designed to feel cooler when you sleep on them, because gel is being incorporated into the memory-foam cushion. At press time, 13 mattress lines that are in stores or are scheduled to arrive during 2012 use gel-infused memory foam, or gel foam. The gel-foam technology is the same that has been used in pillows and mattress pads in recent years, and independent experts say it represents a promising step toward making mattresses feel more comfortable.

But gel-foam materials aren’t the only changes that you’ll see if you shop for a mattress this year. You’ll find new coil constructions from many innerspring-mattress manufacturers that are designed to deliver better support—particularly to the heaviest part of the body—and reduce motion transfer, so your partner’s movements during the night will have less of an effect on your side of the bed. And the makers of both innerspring and specialty mattresses have introduced adjustable bases that have electronic controls, more aesthetically pleasing designs and even massage features.

COLD COMFORT. By introducing gel-foam mattresses, manufacturers are trying to address one of the most persistent complaints about memory-foam (otherwise known as viscoelastic-foam) mattresses—that they “sleep hot,” or retain the heat that your body gives off while you sleep, which can make you uncomfortable during the night. Three years ago, mattress-makers sought to solve this problem by using open-cell memory foam to create better air flow inside of the mattress. But manufacturers admit to Consumers Digest that they received plenty of consumer feedback that indicates that open-cell memory foam didn’t stop the “sleeps hot” complaints.

Rather than abandon open-cell memory foam, manufacturers are adding gel foam to their mattress-cushion formulations. So we can’t help but wonder whether gel foam delivers only subtle benefits, as open-cell memory foam does, when it comes to making a mattress sleep less hot. The only gel-foam mattress that we evaluated (and the only one that was in stores) at press time—the Serta iComfort Sleep System—didn’t feel significantly cooler than did traditional memory-foam beds. We didn’t spend an entire night on the mattress, so it’s uncertain whether the mattress feels cooler than do those that are made of traditional memory foam over several hours. 

And it isn’t guaranteed that gel-foam models will deliver the same results, because manufacturers incorporate gel into the foam in different ways, says Julie Palm, who is editor in chief of BedTimes, which is a bedding-industry trade magazine.

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In general, you can expect to pay at least $1,300 for a queen-size gel-foam mattress, which is how much that you can expect to shell out for the least expensive of memory-foam beds that don’t use gel.Manufacturers mix gel beads, gel flakes or gel swirls into memory foam. And it’s uncertain which of those methods delivers the best results, in part because manufacturers use different types of variables when they cite the benefits of their gel-foam mattresses. For instance, Serta claims that its gel-infused foam is 12 times more breathable than is regular memory foam. Gerry Borreggine, who is president of mattress manufacturer Therapedic, says the company’s gel-foam mattresses will deliver a sleeping surface that’s about 5 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than traditional memory foam is. As a result, you can’t do an apples-to-apples comparison of gel-foam mattresses.Serta’s iComfort Sleep System, which was the first gel-foam-mattress line, was introduced in March 2011. At press time, Boyd, Classic Brands, Comfort Solutions (previously King Koil), Englander, Kingsdown, Primo International, Restonic, Simmons, Sleep Innovations, Sleep Number, Spring Air and Therapedic had either launched a gel-foam mattress in late 2011 or were preparing to introduce one in 2012. In addition, Sealy tells Consumers Digest that it might introduce a gel-foam mattress as early as 2012.

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