Under the covers: The Market for a New Mattress

Mattress materials and the impact they’ll have on your body—and wallet.

My first writing job was as a mattress reporter, and, boy, was that tough. Every six months, the manufacturers would parade out new products and, every six months, I’d have to write something exciting. Problem was, the new mattresses were just like the old ones. Springs and padding—ho-hum! What was there to say?

My, how things have changed! These days, bedding stores and websites are filled with diverse choices. Even better, mattress materials and design have improved drastically over the years—which means you don’t have to pay $100,000 for a Hästens, or even $10,000 for a Duxiana, to get a bed that’s made well and feels great. A good mattress provides relief to pressure points—those heavier areas of your body, like hips or shoulders, that need extra support. Without such support, these areas can push into the mattress, causing you to toss and turn, wake up intermittently, and feel achy in the morning. Sounds simple, but, because bodies differ in size and shape, a mattress that supports one person nicely may be neither supportive nor comfortable to another. That’s why it’s essential to try out many models before you lay down, so to speak, any money.

The traditional, and most widely sold, mattress is an innerspring type, which uses steel coils that compress in response to pressure. Generally speaking, more coils and thicker wire mean a firmer bed. To make the surface of an innerspring mattress more comfortable, makers layer on cushioning materials, which can include a pillowtop, or a separate quilted pad stitched to the mattress top. Keep in mind that a healthy dose of cushioning won’t prevent a good innerspring unit from doing its job—so, even if you’re a firmness fan, you can still pick a mattress that’s pleasingly plump. 

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If you sleep with a partner who moves around at night, you may want to choose a mattress with individually wrapped coils. These help prevent activity on one side of the bed from disturbing the other side, and are available from a variety of brands. 

A newer and increasingly popular mattress material is memory foam, which provides support by gently molding to your body. Some people adore this sensation, while others say it’s an unpleasant feeling akin to sinking in quicksand. Many agree that memory foam can take getting used to, which is why it pays to buy from a retailer with a generous return policy, in case you ultimately decide it’s not for you. “Some of our top-end models combine memory foam and innerspring technology for a great balance of comfort and support,” says Pat Judd, senior buyer with furniture retailer Raymour & Flanigan, which has stores in Yonkers and White Plains. 

A related option is gel-infused memory foam, which makers maintain produces a cooler—and, consequently, more comfortable—sleep surface than standard memory foam. This is a hard claim to substantiate, however, since room temperature, blanket weight, and other factors can also affect how warm or cool you feel at night.

By contrast, latex-foam beds provide a slightly bouncier feel that appeals to some people, as does the fact that many brands use natural latex—a plant-based, as opposed to synthetic, material. “And for those who want only natural materials in their bed, we carry a line of latex mattresses that have a layer of wool and an organic-cotton cover,” says Jeff Klein, president of Sleep Etc., with stores in Stamford and Norwalk, Connecticut.

Finally, if you and your significant other have vastly different mattress preferences, an adjustable air bed may be a good compromise. Air-based beds let you customize firmness by choosing how much air is pumped in—and many models have separate controls for each side of the mattress.

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     While there is no hard-and-fast rule regarding when a mattress is past its prime, you probably should think about shopping if you don’t sleep as well as you used to or feel achy in the morning. Industry magazine Bedtimes reports that people generally replace their mattresses every seven to 14 years.

    With all the options now available, mattresses are far more interesting today than they were way back when. Glad to say, my work these days keeps me up nights—instead of putting me to sleep!  

Under the Covers

A rundown of mattress materials and the impact they’ll have on your body—and your wallet.




Memory Foam



Starting Price

Can be $400 or less, although premium-quality mattresses generally start at $600; higher-quality components and features can bring the price to $4,000 or higher.

While you can find memory-foam mattresses for less, Tempur-Pedic mattresses  start at $1,100, and go up to several thousand.

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About $1,000—with a top price of around $4,000.

About $1,000, with prices as high as $4,000.


Sealy, Simmons, and Serta are among the leaders.

Tempur-Pedic is the industry pioneer, although many makers now offer memory-foam models.

Sealy, Serta, Stearns & Foster, and others

Sleep Number is the leader by far, although there are some small, niche companies in this category. 

The Thick and Thin of It

Innerspring units are known for providing good support, but some find the combination of springs and padding not as comfortable as other mattress materials.

Memory foam molds to your body—a sensation that some love immediately, some hate, and some grow to love over time.

Latex gives a slightly bouncy or springy feel that many really like.

Adjustable air beds let you customize firmness, or even change the firmness level whenever you want. Many also allow sleepers on either side of the bed to adjust their firmness independently. 

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn has written literally thousands of articles on mattresses and is grateful to the industry for lately giving her so much news to report!

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