Sweet Dreams: Mattresses Evolve

Plus: Best Buys in Innerspring & Specialty Models

Manufacturers now use the term “hybrid” to describe mattresses that incorporate the existing technology that combines innersprings with some amount of specialty foam. Meanwhile, more types of foam are available, manufacturers are adding layers of microcoils, and sensors track your sleep patterns.

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If you shopped for a mattress recently, you might have heard the term “hybrid.” However, it doesn’t denote a new type of mattress; it’s just a new marketing term for an innerspring mattress that incorporates some amount of specialty foam, such as gel, latex or memory foam. International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) doesn’t classify hybrid mattresses as a distinct category, but we found that most manufacturers use the term in their stores and promotional materials.

Combination mattresses have been around, but manufacturers started referring to them as hybrids only in 2012, experts say. A queen-size hybrid mattress starts at $599, just as it did when the term emerged. (All of the prices in this article refer to queen-size mattresses.) What’s new is that almost every manufacturer now sells a hybrid mattress, compared with roughly half of all manufacturers previously. Even Tempur-Pedic, which once said it never would move away from its memory-foam-only specialty mattresses, introduced a hybrid mattress (starting at $2,299) in January 2015.

Furthermore, all hybrid mattresses used to incorporate gel, latex or memory foam. In 2014, manufacturers added new materials, such as graphite, plant-based polymers and silk, to their hybrid mattresses. We found that the ratio of coils to foam, the thickness of cushioning layers and the type of specialty materials vary among the latest hybrid mattresses. The result is that selecting a mattress is more challenging than ever before.

GEL AND GRAPHITE. Gel created a lot of publicity when manufacturers introduced gel-infused-foam hybrid and specialty mattresses in 2011. The manufacturers said these mattresses would lower sleep temperature and provide better support than a traditional mattress would. Since then, gel has become an industry standard. Almost every manufacturer now has at least one mattress line that incorporates gel-infused foam in the form of gel beads or gel swirls. These mattresses now start at $799, compared with $1,300 before.

In 2014, Therapedic introduced the EcoGel2 collection (starting at $999), which is the first line of mattresses that includes an entire layer of gel. The three models that are in the collection have a 1-to-2-inch layer of gel that sits on top of a gel-infused memory-foam layer. Therapedic says the gel layer allows the mattress to “sleep 30 percent cooler” than any other gel-infused foam mattress does. We slept on an EcoGel2, and we found that it feels cool but not necessarily cooler than other gel-infused foam mattresses that we evaluated. At press time, we haven’t heard of any other manufacturer that plans to introduce a mattress that has a full gel layer.

Pure LatexBLISS and Restonic introduced mattresses (starting at $4,999 and $1,999, respectively) in the past 18 months that include graphite-infused latex. (At press time, those are the only manufacturers that use graphite.) Pure LatexBLISS and Restonic tell us that graphite cools the surface of latex, which is a solid material that typically has a higher surface temperature than gel. Ron Passaglia, who is the president of Restonic, tells us that graphite also adds a layer of comfort.

We tried both mattresses, and they certainly feel cool and soft. However, we didn’t notice that the graphite-infused latex mattresses provide any advantage over latex mattresses that don’t contain graphite.

Gerry Borreggine, who is the president of Therapedic International, believes that the future is in floating foam, which is an air-permeable, plant-based polymer that the company introduced in January 2015 in its new Tommy Bahama line (starting at $1,000). Borreggine says floating foam absorbs movement and “sleeps cooler” better than gel or graphite does. A typical person makes up to 60 adjustments while sleeping for 7 hours, but the floating foam reduces your movement to as few as 10 adjustments, Borreggine says.

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We tried the floating foam, and, again, we didn’t notice a temperature difference compared with gel-infused foam mattresses. However, the mattress seems to absorb our movement better than do other mattresses, and we seemed to move less than usual as we slept.

TRADITIONAL SPRINGS. The coil construction that’s in innerspring mattresses also evolved in the past 2 years. Twenty manufacturers now have at least one innerspring mattress that has wrapped coils—springs that are encased in fabric to minimize motion transfer. That’s twice as many as before. Although they still start at $799, wrapped-coil mattresses typically cost $1,000 now, compared with $1,500 previously.

In addition to wrapped coils, most manufacturers of innerspring mattresses introduced layers of microcoils in the past 2 years in models that start at $1,000. Microcoils, which are smaller than standard innerspring coils are, are designed to conform to body contours and reduce tossing and turning in bed. They typically are 1–2-1/2 inches tall, but some are as tall as 4 inches and as short as three-fourths of an inch. (The latter are called mini microcoils.) Innersprings typically are 6–8 inches tall.

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