The New Breed of Sleeper Sofas

Manufacturers of sleeper sofas and air mattresses now use materials that transformed traditional mattresses, but the added costs that you’ll pay for some of these features might give you nightmares.

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Ligne Roset

When it comes to the latest alternative beds, it’s what’s inside that counts. If you shop for a sleeper sofa, a futon, a click convertible or an air mattress, you’ll discover that manufacturers are more focused than ever before on improving the mattresses that are used for those products.

In the past 4 years, manufacturers have added features that previously were available only on traditional beds, such as memory foam and built-in air pumps. The first sleeper sofas that have gel-infused-foam mattresses arrived in March 2012. Based on our hands-on evaluations and interviews with independent experts, we believe that these changes will deliver better comfort and performance than what you’d get from other alternative-bed mattresses.

Of course, there’s a price to pay for the added comfort. For example, the inclusion of memory foam can add as much as 50 percent to the retail cost of a queen-size sleeper sofa.

FOAMING OVER. Despite the extra cost, we believe that adding a memory-foam mattress to a sleeper sofa is a game-changer. Many traditional innerspring mattresses that are in sleeper sofas can be uncomfortable, because you can feel the individual springs in your back and because the sleeping surface can be uneven and noisy when you move. The constraints of sleeper sofas mean that less room for padding exists above the springs. The memory-foam mattress solves those problems.

Memory foam, or viscoelastic foam, conforms to the body, and we found that it delivers more comfort than do traditional sleeper sofa mattresses. Memory-foam mattresses that are used in sleeper sofas are the same thickness as traditional sleeper sofa mattresses are but typically are about 6 inches thinner than are the memory-foam mattresses that are used in traditional bedding. However, we found that the memory-foam mattresses that are used for sleeper sofas deliver similar comfort when compared with the memory-foam mattresses that are used in beds.

Since 2009, four sleeper sofa manufacturers introduced models that have memory-foam mattresses. Others are likely to follow.

American Leather is the only manufacturer that has a sleeper sofa that uses a memory-foam mattress that’s made of Tempur-Pedic’s Tempur material. We believe that Tempur-Pedic’s foam provides more support than does the memory foam of other mattresses. Nevertheless, sleeper sofas that have memory-foam mattresses that are made by Flexsteel, Norwalk Furniture and Rowe Furniture represent a vast improvement over conventional sleeper sofas that have traditional innerspring mattresses when it comes to comfort.

Sleeper sofas that have memory-foam mattresses will cost at least $75 more than do sleeper sofas that have a traditional innerspring mattress, and they range in price from $1,275 to $4,174.

Two other foam-mattress options that were introduced in 2012 infuse the foam with gel in an attempt to make the foam sleep cooler. LaCrosse Furniture’s sleeper sofa mattress has an innerspring base that’s topped by a 1-1/2-inch layer of gel-infused memory foam; Lane Furniture’s sleeper sofa has a gel-infused polyurethane-foam mattress. LaCrosse models arrived in stores in March 2012, and Lane models were scheduled to arrive in late 2012, so the jury’s still out on whether gel foam is a good fit for sleeper sofas. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to evaluate either model at press time. 

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Gel-infused memory foam has been used in traditional mattresses since 2011, and we found that the sleeping surface on those mattresses doesn’t feel significantly cooler than the surface of plain memory-foam mattresses is. No traditional mattress has a gel-foam layer on top of an innerspring base, as LaCrosse does, and no traditional mattress uses gel-infused polyurethane foam, as Lane does.

Two sleeper sofa manufacturers whom we interviewed say they are reluctant to use a gel-infused memory-foam mattress, because the gel causes the mattress foam to stick together, so when the mattress is unfolded, the gel-infused memory foam will be compressed in some areas. Lane says it opted to use polyurethane foam instead of memory foam because of those concerns. LaCrosse says the stickiness of gel-infused memory foam that’s in a sleeper sofa might be an issue only if the entire mattress is made of gel-infused memory foam.

The LaCrosse sleeper sofas cost $1,399, which is $600 more than what you’d pay for a similar LaCrosse model that has only a traditional innerspring mattress. Prices for the Lane gel-foam mattress start at $799. No upcharge exists, because, unlike memory foam, polyurethane foam doesn’t increase the cost of a mattress in relation to innerspring models.

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