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. 1 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. [paragraph] 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 voila: "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.
How to shop for memory foam
1. Try to test it in a store
* If you've never tried this type of mattress before, head to a local brick-and-mortar store to find out how they feel compared with innersprings. Although you can get a less expensive foam mattress shipped to your door for free, It's good to get an idea of the differences.
2. Don't go soft in the bed
* "If you quickly lie on a store mattress, especially If you're tired from shopping, you may go too soft," says Ben Trapskin of the blog sleepsherpa.com. It takes about 30 days to tell if a mattress suits you, so if you want to buy right then, go harder than you think--and check the return policy!
3. Avoid getting high(not like that)
* Check the density of the memory foam. "High density" is more durable and firmer and conforms to your body the best, but it can also give you that "stuck" feeling and make your sleep hotter. You want a mattress with a majority of "medium density" foam, which will give you the best feel.
For more hot mattress-buying tips, visit mensfitness.com/goodfoam
How does memory foam provide such a spine-tingly restful sleep? It's all in the layers.
* The top of most new foam mattresses is gel-infused or holey for cool sleeping, with memory foam below "to come up and meet your body, giving your ligaments, blood vessels, and nerves the best chance to recover overnight," says Scott Bautch, D.C., of the American Chiropractic Association. Denser foam fills the bottom layers for a solid feel.
Time to go to the mattresses!
The best sites for buying a foam bed
* The Alexander Signature Select from Nest beats all, says Sleep Sherpa's Ben Trapskin. "It has 'convoluted' [think an egg crate] foam layers for max airflow and breathability, and it isolates movement the best."
Queen, $1,199; nestbedding.com
* Leesa's top layer of long-lasting, patented Avena foam has Swiss-cheese-like holes, so it cools better than most, Trapskin says. It also cradles your body but still has bounce.
Queen, $890; leesa.com
* "Bear beds are made with athletic recovery In mind," says Trapskin. The fibers in the fabric cover-shown in studies to reduce aches and pains--are touted to reflect infrared energy back to your body.
Queen, $850; be armattress.com
* Two springy layers of latex (a foam even more durable than memory) create a full four Inches of foam, which typically costs twice as much. "It's a very high-quality bed with lasting value," Trapskin says.
Queen, $750; brooklynbedding.com
* "This hits the sweet spot between comfort and support; It keeps your back aligned but still hugs your body for pressure relief," Trapskin says. The second layer has YogaGel, which can cool seven times better than memory foam.
Queen with 2 pillows, $849; yogabed.com
Caption: If something's going to pop up in the bedroom, it shouldn't be a mattress spring.
Please note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.