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How to come out on top when buying a mattress

Our performance tests cover innerspring and memory-foam models

Consumer Reports magazine: May 2013

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Our first comprehensive mattress tests show that you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for the back and side support that can help you get a good night’s sleep. Three of our recommended mattresses cost much less than $1,000, while a high-priced model from one big brand scored lowest overall. And if you think buying a memory-foam mattress guarantees better support, think again.

We focused on 12 innerspring and foam models in the best-selling queen size for our tests and measured how well each mattress supports the spine—job No. 1 for any mattress, according to sleep experts.

We gathered top-selling models from Costco, Ikea, Sealy, Serta, Simmons, Stearns & Foster, and Tempur-Pedic. Then we enlisted men, women, and machines to see which does best, whether you sleep mostly on your back or side.

Weeks of pushing and pounding with an arsenal of gadgets and weights showed that the same mattress can provide much less support depending on how you sleep. One innerspring mattress might keep you up if your sleep partner tosses and turns all night. And three memory-foam models could make changing positions a challenge.

Our test results don’t come a moment too soon: About 40 percent of subscribers in our latest survey said they had buyer’s remorse about the last mattress they bought. Those readers, plus a nationwide team of secret shoppers, confirm that relying solely on salespeople could leave you lying awake at night.

Here's some of what's in our new report:

Some models are better for back sleepers. Back strain is one reason you might wake up stiff and sore after a night on the mattress you own. Our body-support tests graph the spine’s natural curves for a range of adults. Then we record how thoroughly each mattress maintains that curve for back sleeping. We also check how well each mattress keeps the spine relatively horizontal when lying on one’s side. The best in those tests provided good or better support for both. That’s important, as sleepers typically change positions several times a night.

The facts on foam. Memory-foam mattresses are designed to mold to the shape of your body and return to their original shape when you get up. Find out how models from Sealy, Serta, and Simmons did in our tests.

Does gel make a difference? Five of our tested mattresses include a layer of foam infused with gel. That’s supposed to help a mattress make you feel cooler, especially with memory foam. But did it work?

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