The Best Mattress
- February 19, 2018 - In this update, we tested six new, popular mattresses. Even with the added competition, The Saatva Loom & Leaf still came out on top.
The Best Mattress
The whole ethos of the bed-in-the-box industry is that a universally great mattress exists. And that you can get it into your bedroom with less effort and for less money than traditionally thought. After interviewing sleep experts, researching materials, and digging deep into the mattress industry, we agree. The best mattress is a new mattress and, for most people, a medium-firm memory foam.
We hand-selected ten well-made mattresses answering to that description from exciting, online mattress brands that offer generous shipping and return policies. This allows you to test out a bed the only way you can — by sleeping on it night after night.
The Loom & Leaf mattress earned our top spot the last time we reviewed mattresses. Two years later, it still successfully defends its title after competing against a stronger lineup of contenders. Unlike every other mattress we tested, Loom & Leaf doesn’t arrive in a box. Plush and dense, this exceptionally supportive pillow top boasts four progressive layers of foam plus a cooling gel fabric concentrated at the spine. Tufted cotton covering creates that luxurious, hotel-bed feel that’s missing from the other nine, more simply-constructed models.
Loom & Leaf rings in at $1,099 for a Queen. That’s comparable to the mattresses you find in a traditional mattress store, but somewhat lofty compared to other online brands. Not to mention it’s the only mattress we tested that doesn’t offer free returns — there’s a $99 restocking fee. Still, we’re confident that you’ll love it. Nearly 90% of our testers ranked it among their favorites, the most decisive win enjoyed by any of our mattresses.
If you like the soft, irresistible sink of memory foam, and prefer it to a classic pillow top like Loom & Leaf, we recommend Novosbed. Its responsive, aerated top layer both creates an inviting sink and keeps you cool, alleviating memory foam’s tendency to trap body heat. At $999, a Queen-sized Novosbed costs $100 less than Loom & Leaf. You can try both of them in-home for an ample 120 nights. If you ordered before Halloween, you could still be mulling over the purchase after the new year.
The other eight mattresses in our lineup are exceedingly similar, offering a pure memory foam experience with different degrees of firmness and different price tags. Just one of them received plenty of admiring feedback and saves you a cool $500 compared to our two favorites. At $695, GhostBed combines soft, cradling foam with supportive lower layers. The result: a high-quality bed at an unbeatable price. Testers preferred its dense surface to better-known Casper, a softer mattress. Curious how big names like Casper stack up? We reviewed all of them below.
Our Criteria for the Best Mattress
We wanted to find a universally great mattress, just as easy to buy and try as it is to fall asleep on. We accumulated a list of 65 mattresses made by 29 online mattress brands, everything from BedinABox to Zenhaven. Why online brands? The value is greater. Purchasing, shipping, and returns are simple, and customer service tends to be a lot more responsive and convenient, with multiple channels of communication including handy web chat.
“Return” usually means donate.With most brands, you choose the charity, nab the donation receipt, and get reimbursed. Contact The Salvation Army or use the zip code search on Donation Town to find organizations that will schedule a free at-home pick-up. Note that some do not accept mattresses larger than full or queen.
Starting in the early 2010s, a bevy of direct-to-consumer mattress disruptors have been edging out legacy competitors with multi-media advertising and a streamlined product lineup. What this means for you: A simple buying process. Most companies free shipping, several months’ trial, and easy returns. They’re aware that buying online feels risky, so they make it hassle-free to change your mind, return the bed, and get reimbursed.
If ordering online still feels like a trust fall, consider this: Research and review site Sleep Like the Dead found that consumer satisfaction with new mattresses was just about equal on beds bought sight unseen as first tried in-store.
We wanted all-foam, multi-layer, Certipur-certified mattresses.
The vast majority of online mattress manufacturers opt for memory foam over any other mattress construction, and we found some strong evidence why it’s a great construction choice.
Memory foam cradles your shape, relieves pressure points, and prevents movement transfer better than bouncy innerspring.
“Memory foam has advantages,” Nick Robinson of Sleep Like the Dead told us, “Above average comfort. Conforms to body. Absorbs motion so it’s couple-friendly. It also comes in a wide variety of models and price points.” Owners of memory foam beds rank their satisfaction higher than owners of any other bed type. While innerspring mattresses have been the standard for the last hundred years, foam beds are becoming the new norm, and come in infinite combinations of layered materials.
Multiple layers are key.
The bedding experts at The Mattress Underground suggest that several slabs of quality, smartly layered foam provide a better sleeping surface than fewer.
Rather than a single relationship — between your body weight and the foam — there’s multiple points of interaction as the layers support, respond to, and pull away from each other. A layered technique also allows for better body zoning, which means its better at perfecting that illusive ratio of support versus sink. Nick Robinson confirmed, “There’s a slight correlation between number of foam layers and comfort. Three layers would satisfy the clear majority — a base layer, a transition layer, and a comfort layer.”
And what exactly are these foam layers made of? Since the early 1990s, state tagging laws have required mattresses to identify their contents — whether virgin or recycled — to affirm they’re safe and sanitary. (Contrary to popular belief, you can remove the tags after purchasing.) The same impetus that led to mattress tagging also led to the formation of CertiPur, a third-party organization that tests home furnishing foams.
CertiPUR prevents the distribution of substandard foams, and guarantees the bed you’re getting is made of safe and high-quality materials.
To receive the Certipur label, manufacturers have to submit their product to two initial rounds of testing and then annual random testings. CertiPUR foam is free of ozone depletors, toxic flame retardants, and plasticizers. As a result, it exhibits low VOC — volatile organic compounds. These break down and release the fumes infamously known as “new mattress stink.”
We also wanted to find the perfect medium-firm feel.
You may think that what qualifies as the perfect mattress will be unique to you, but most people find the same window of support to be comfortable, and do well with a medium-firm.
“In the hotel world, we try to provide guests with a mattress that will be the most neutral — not too hard, not too soft, but still have a high-quality feel to it.”
Hoteliers’ assumption that a medium-firm mattress works for most is backed by science. In a 2007 study, sleep scientists had participants swap out their existing mattresses for generic medium-firm, and all experienced better sleep and significant pain relief.
Medium-firm is just the ticket for durability, longevity, and a cooler night’s sleep — the less you sink into the mattress, the less your body heat forms a cocoon. Plus, if you find that you prefer something a little squishier, it’s easy enough to slap on a mattress topper. But if you have a soft mattress and want to go harder, you’d have to start from scratch.
The 10 mattresses we tested:
We culled through our original list of mattresses to find the models hitting all these expectations, then out of those ordered the ten most interesting, well-designed options we could find.
- Bear Mattress
- Casper Sleep Mattress
- GhostBed Matress
- Leesa Mattress
- Nest Bedding Love & Sleep Mattress
- The Novosbed Medium
- The Purple Bed
- Saatva Loom & Leaf Mattress
- Tuft & Needle Mattress
- Yogabed Luxury Memory Foam Mattress
How We Tested Our Finalists
Online mattress companies base their business model on the notion of universal comfort. No surprise, we found all ten of the beds we ordered truly comfortable and yawn-inducing, but they don’t feel the same and aren’t all the same price.
Our testing focused on being able to describe what it feels like to lay on these beds, with an ultimate aim of finding the crossroads of construction quality, comfort, and value. We started off organizing mattresses by feel. We grouped them in twos based on perceived firmness and prominent texture.
Next, we recruited 14 testers to spend quality time on every bed to describe their comfort level and pinpoint outstanding sensorial features. We had them crawl on hands and knees to get a feel for how easy it was to move on and get out of. Does it allow you to sit and roll over without moving the whole bed? If your partner gets out of bed for a midnight snack, will they bounce you awake? We also had testers lay close to the edges to gauge the supportiveness of its extremities. Every part of the bed should make a good sleeping surface.
Finally, we asked testers to switch between the paired mattresses for comparison. How different did each feel and which was their favorite?
The major consensus: Most of the mattresses are very similar.
In many ways, our testing proved the ineffectiveness of the mattress showroom. Trying out a bed for 15 minutes does little to tell you how you’ll like it after 15 months.
While some testers had immediate reactions of love or indifference, these opinions seemed dependent on an environment of direct comparison. When we pressed them about how they would feel if any one of these beds showed up at their home, most reported they would be pleased. Case in point: One tester who loved all the softest mattresses actually sleeps on the firm Tuft & Needle at home. And loves it. She looks forward to climbing into bed every night.
Still, testing helped us devise a scale of firmness and identify the best-loved beds — the ones that ace the medium-firm feel and are therefore truly universal. Our top picks are the beds that landed in the testers’ top picks the greatest number of times, garner high longevity ratings from Consumer Reports, and boast sophisticated construction qualities that rationalize their asking price.
Our Top Picks for the Best Mattress
When we asked our testers about what they love and look for in a great mattress, a lot of people brought up a bed in a fine hotel. The hotel-quality standard: Pillow-top.
Loom & Leaf is unique amongst new-wave memory foam models for preserving this design standard, and it doesn’t skimp on the extra layer of quilted foam, sewing in generous tufts to create a truly plush surface. Testers found it a much more dimensional, supportive bed as a result: “Everything else was an adequate experience. This is actively great.”
Active is the keyword here. While other memory foam beds accept your weight, sinking in wherever you apply the most pressure, Loom & Leaf seems to expand against you. It fills in the curves of the spine, the hollow of the knee, even the back of the neck if you try it out sans pillow like we did. The stability and substantialness of this bed led one tester to comment that, unlike the other squishy, obviously memory foam beds, this one “could have springs.” It still boasts the immediate, effortless comfort that comes from pure foam construction, but has a more classic feel. Most qualified that as providing more even support.
Most memory foam is guilty of creating a hammock effect: It dips with your body weight at the center. By comparison, Loom & Leaf supports every point of the body. It also has the sturdiest edges of all the mattresses we tested: Zero sag even when putting full body weight on the very edge. This tautness means you can move around on the bed with greater ease, and get out without disturbing a sleeping partner. We tried out Loom & Leaf’s “flagship” comfort level — Relaxed Firm — and found it ideal.
The majority of our testers agreed — this is a luxury standard of comfort and support. And filling out Loom & Leaf’s promise of hotel-like luxury, the company offers white-glove delivery. Movers will bring it right into your bedroom and take your old one out for free.
Novosbed, a uniquely constructed memory foam mattress, inspired a lot of commentary from our testers. Incredibly responsive and viscous in feel, the bed proves the diverse range of design in all-foam mattresses. The most notable feature of this one — its top layer.
Memory foam isn’t designed to be flipped.You’ve probably encountered the wisdom that you should flip your bed over every 6 months so it wears evenly. But since memory foam is stacked with intent, you want to keep the proper comfort layers on top. Instead, rotate it head-to-foot.
Two inches of aerated foam, the holes punched through the surface increase sink and air flow. This layer is the reason any isolated points of contact sink quickly and deeply; it’s like being enveloped in quicksand. But after the first few minutes, you hit the support layers. This nesting-then-holding sensation impressed one tester who was used to DIY-ing her perfect sink to support ratio. She recruits different props to make her current bed comfortable — a collection of pillows and wedges — but on the Novosbed, she reported, “I don’t think I even need a pillow.”
The perforated top is also responsible for the active cooling sensation — particularly great if you hate sleeping hot, a common complaint lodged against memory foam.
Both back and side sleepers will appreciate Novosbed’s dense, giving support, but those with back pain may feel uncomfortable with such a thick layer of pure sink. “It feels like I’m being sucked into another dimension” was a surprisingly common sentiment, as plenty of testers felt like they were being pulled inside the bed. Another warning associated with Novsobed’s squishy top: The edges are exceptionally soft. If you curl up near the edge you will slowly but surely slip off as you sink in.
If you love a responsive foam that cradles without compounding your body heat, Novosbed is your best bet. We also tried Purple, a more popular cooling option. But among our testers, Purple proved controversial.
Some waxed poetic, coming up with descriptions of its bouncy, “jelly trampoline” feel and cozy-soft upper layer that presses against the body. Its unique, honeycombed gel layer felt exceptionally good at relieving common pressure points. But other testers didn’t waste time with adjectives, exclaiming “Ah, this is a bummer!” “What a sad sack!” and “Terrible garbage!” The disparity in opinion seemed to boil down to whether you like a viscous sensation or not.
Purple’s gel surface is even more reminiscent of a water bed than Novosbed, and has some of a water bed’s groovy sensuality. If you wouldn’t have bought one of those in the ‘70s, you shouldn’t buy a Purple bed now. While Novosbed and Purple share broad characteristics, Novosbed proved less polarizing and we’d recommend it to the majority of people.
If you can get past the name, which sounds like a shameless Casper knock-off (though the founder claims a different source of inspiration), GhostBed is a substantial, high-value bed. Rated well by testers for comfort and support, its exceptionally slow sink means this bed falls on the firm end of memory foam. While some of squishier memory foams might have a greater “Ah!” factor the moment you plop down, those super soft models are not as good for eight hours as they feel for the first eight minutes.
When we talked to Pete Bils, VP of Sleep Science and Research at Sleep Number, about the effectiveness of trying out a mattress for that length of time, he pointed out that it’s about the same as spending a night on your couch. You might feel cozy falling asleep, but you’ll wake up sore. Same goes for super-soft memory foam — it feels nice at first but it's difficult to judge whether or not it offers the right amount of support.
GhostBed’s robust surface helped us relax from head to toe, since we weren’t just sinking in at our heaviest point. It also ensures that you can move across and off the bed with ease, and sit on the edge without plopping onto the floor. This strength is tempered with enough give that spine curves are filled whether you’re a back or side sleeper. One tester affirmed, “Just the right mix of soft and supportive. I would buy this.”
While it doesn’t have the same luxurious plushness of Loom & Leaf, it is a flawlessly comfortable sleeping surface. If you aren’t sure what kind of “feel” you enjoy in a bed, GhostBed will be a safer choice than the more niche, silky-textured Novosbed.
Comparing GhostBed to Casper is almost mandated. The names and external looks of the two beds are very similar (white top, dark grey sides) though the interiors are slightly different (Casper boasts a zoned transition foam that claims to provide targeted support to pressure points). GhostBed, despite losing a layer of foam, feels firmer than Casper. And it’ll be around long-term: Consumer Report’s gave it one of the highest longevity ratings in their simulated wear tests of all the mattresses we reviewed.
Other Mattresses We Tested
The majority of the memory foam beds we tested are essentially identical. Simple, marshmallow-y slabs that feel somehow spineless — it’s no surprise they come in boxes. Still, if you love the comfort of squishy memory foam, you’ll be in heaven. Here we list six, pure memory foam beds on a spectrum of firmness, providing sensory descriptions of each to help you compare.
A thick layer of airy foam. It topped the charts for one of our testers who can’t get enough softness. If that’s you too, you’ll be rolling around in glee in the Yogabed. And we mean in it — the plushness is so dramatic you feel like you’ve tucked yourself inside the foam.
That said, testers equated this super foaminess to cheapness again and again. They reported feeling “stuck” inside their body impression. “When I sleep in a mattress this squishy,” one tester mused, “I feel achy when I wake up.” The majority of testers suggested they wouldn’t buy this mattress.
Soft in a heavier, more slumberous form, this is a jelly-like memory foam with lots of sink. It’s like falling into warm, sinuous sand. It feels okay when you’re lying down flat, one tester told us, but when you apply any direct pressure — like propping yourself up on an elbow — you sink in weirdly deep.
Both Nest and Yogabed create a hammock sensation, like your heaviest points are laying far below your lightest points. This level of softness can be appealing to lightweight individuals, whose weight can’t adequately impact a firmer bed, as well as side sleepers. But average and above-average sized people, and back sleepers more generally, won’t get enough support.
In 2016, Casper sold $200 million in mattresses and related products and announced in early 2018 plans to open a brick-and-mortar store — so it must be doing something right. Medium-soft and reactive, Casper is compatible with all sleeping positions. It also has a fair amount of sink, making it feel super cushiony. Testers who like a soft, cozy bed complemented Casper’s mellow level of support — “It makes me yawn just laying on it.” But some testers preferred firmer, denser mattresses.
If you love memory foam, but don’t love the idea of couch cushion sink, we’d recommend Bear. It’s on the firmer side of the memory foam spectrum, and less “playful” than some of the bouncier, more reactive mattresses. It perfects the balance between cozy sink and bone-aligning lift. Testers reported that as you lay down, the Bear feels like it’s pushing back: “I feel held.” Another reported, “It has a lot of support, which I like,” going on to suggest that the bed’s firmness would help alleviate his back pain. One tester, who named Loom & Leaf as their favorite, called Bear a close second.
Another classic memory foam, but decidedly on the firm side. The dense resistance makes for a super slow sink, but ultimately that sink may be too extreme. “Firmer than I’d like” was a common refrain. That resistance doesn’t directly correlate to a great firm sleeping surface; one dedicated firm mattress sleeper eloquently described Leesa’s support level as “Meh.”
Leesa also retained its off-gassing reek for the longest time. Multiple testers called attention to the smell, agreeing it was the chemical odor equivalent of a permanent marker.
Only true firm lovers need apply. If you dig a solid sleeping surface, you’ll find Tuft & Needle to have a lot of body and a very slow fall. Tuft & Needle topped the list of just one tester, who found every other bed soft, and therefore cheap, in feel. According to everyone else, this bed is way too firm. There is very little sinkage, so you’re primarily laying on top of the mattress, with natural curves, like low back, unsupported. “My arms may fall asleep,” predicted one dedicated side sleeper. Another complained, “There’s no give, It’s not dimensional — it’s a slab of foam and you lay on top of it.”
The accusation of non-dimensionality actually held up when we revisited Tuft & Needle’s construction stats: It’s the only bed we brought in that dips below Nick Robinson’s recommended three layers of foam. With just two layers (a thin “pressure relief” layer on top of a thick support layer), Tuft & Needle doesn’t put enough comfort material on top of its sturdy foundations to be comfortable for most.
Our Mattress Review: Summed Up
Does your sleep hygiene need some scrubbing up?
Use the Sleep Hygiene Index to measure the health of your sleeping practices. The thirteen questions hit on the comfort and calm of your sleep environment, as well as your typical mental state as you hit the hay. Possible scores range from 13-65; landing in the 30s is average. The higher your score, the more maladaptive your sleep hygiene, but the questions themselves are more insightful than your total. They point out the ways you may be sabotaging your own sleep.
Sleep — good or bad — impacts your quality of life.
Sleep loss has been linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, eating disorders, even strokes. It also weakens the immune system while elevating stress hormone levels — two chemical processes that recoup during restful evening hours.
If you need yet another reason, studies confirm that sleep is necessary for memory and learning. According to Jodi Godfrey, a medical editor and author of the above article, “A person who is 20% sleep deprived has the mental acuity equal to being legally drunk.”
Age is the most important quality of a mattress.
If you’re tossing and turning and waking up tired, your mattress is probably too old and no longer suits your body’s mechanics, if it ever did. The Better Sleep Council recommends swapping it out every five to seven years. If it’s been longer than that, you’re laying on lifeless springs and deflated cushion. What’s more, you’ve fitfully slept your way through the mattress industry’s recent revolution.
Size matters, too.
The size of your new mattress is nearly as big a consideration as its firmness. Opting to stick with your current size means you can retain your bed frame and bedding, but it may not be the best long term option.
- If you’re purchasing for your child, a Twin or Twin XL may be appropriate if the size of the room is a constraint, but a Full (a.k.a., Double) may better see them through growth spurts.
- If you’re a couple, on the other hand, you may have slept on a Full since you got together and think its plenty big. But if you divide the surface area of a Full bed by two, you’ll find that each of you have as much personal sleeping space as you would on a baby’s crib.
- For most people, a Queen bed, about 5 feet wide and 6.5 feet long, is generous enough. Kings add another 16 inches in width. The super luxurious California King loses, surprisingly, 4 inches of a King’s width but tacks it back on in length.
Consider upgrading your pillow.
You want the substance and loft of your pillow (its thickness) to play well with the firmness of your mattress, body metrics, and preferred sleeping position. The more you sink into your mattress, the thinner your pillow should be. If you’re lightweight, or choose an extra-firm mattress, or sleep on your side, your head is going to be farther from the surface and needs a thicker pillow to bridge the gap. If you land on the opposite side of any of those factors, consider a thinner pillow.
Going to the Mattresses: A Deeper Look Inside the Industry
Mattress companies, both traditional and emerging, take aggressive steps to ensure that when you make your once-a-decade purchase, you’re making it with them.
According to a Freakonomics podcast episode on mattress sales, the number of mattress stores in the U.S. is in the same ballpark as the number of Starbucks stores (around 10,000). One rationale for the sheer quantity of mattress stores: the hefty markup percentage.
Every step that brings a mattress from raw materials to curbside delivery jacks up its cost, and the traditional final step — in-store point of sale — is the most costly. Middlemen in other markets may raise the wholesale price by 5% (apparel, for example) and pocket the difference, but mattress stores collect 30 to 50%. Maybe more. Like car salesmen, mattress retailers are free to set arbitrary prices, totaling as much as four times the manufacturing cost. (That’s also the reason that haggling in the showroom is par for the course.)
Referred to as Big Mattress by bedding entrepreneurs, legacy competitors have come under attack in recent years for price inflation, misleading marketing, and phony “innovation” — e.g., selling the same bed with a new name, year after year. Popular newcomers like Casper have staked their business in revealing that the layers of the old guard mattress industry contains more than foam.
New mattress companies build their business models off opposing tactics, with direct-to-consumer pricing and a simple product lineup. Since you’re cutting out the middle-man, purchasing a mattress from one of our picks can help you save money. And thanks to generous trial periods and free return policies, buying a mattress online is no riskier than buying one in-store. Companies like Loom & Leaf, Novosbed, and GhostBed offer 100- to 120-night sleep trials, ensuring the mattress you choose meets your needs for a good night’s rest.