Consumer Reports Sheds Light—and Dark—on Mattresses

When Consumer Reports talks, people listen. So while we usually don’t write about other magazine stories in this column, we felt the publication’s February cover story, “Secrets to a Great Night’s Sleep,” warrants review.

BY MARY BEST & BARBARA T. NELLES

sleep relax consumer reportThe 14-page feature opens with the results of a survey of 62,000 Consumer Reports subscribers, nearly 20,000 of whom had purchased a new bed in the previous three years. The findings are peppered throughout a story, which provides seven steps for shoppers to buy “a mattress you’ll love, and that loves you back.”

There is sound advice here, much of which is promoted by the Better Sleep Council, the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association:

  • Replace your bed every 8 to 10 years—or when you aren’t sleeping as well as you once did.
  • Give your body several weeks to adjust to a new mattress.
  • Avoid bright lights, blue screens and heavy meals close to bedtime; practice relaxation techniques like listening to music.

The survey also confirms the BSC’s rest-test advice. Seventy-seven percent of Consumer Reports respondents who tested their beds for at least 15 minutes in the store were very happy with their purchase.

The mattress industry can get behind messages like those.

But then there are the cringe-worthy comments in “Step 4: Never Pay Full Price” about the retail store experience, recommending shoppers always “negotiate with gusto”—even online. And it harps on the discomfort of trying beds in a “fluorescent lit” mattress showroom. (Simple solution? Wear a sleep mask and listen to music on your smartphone.)

Also disturbing are “Step 5: “Make Good Use of the Trial Period” and “Step 6: Have Many Happy Returns.” Promises of easy returns have a big downside. Not only are mattress returns a losing proposition for manufacturers and retailers, but too many of those beds go to landfills.

Mary Best headshot
Mary Best
Editorial Director

The article concludes with ratings of 74 mattress brands, broken down by adjustable air, memory foam and innerspring. Among the memory foam products assessed, less expensive e-commerce and big-box players came out on top—Casper, Novaform and Tuft & Needle. In innersprings, a Charles P. Rogers bed got No. 1, followed by two Sealy Posturepedics and a Denver Mattress Co. model.

That most important ranking factor was comfort, and that was determined by evaluating the spinal alignment of different body types and different sleep positions on each model—a rather narrow comfort assessment, in our opinion. Plus, how meaningful can any mattress rankings of major mattress manufacturers be when each has a collection of umbrella brands that represent dozens of constructions and an enormous price range?

Barbara headshot
Barbara T. Nelles
Content and Digital Editor

The point here is not that we expect—or even suggest—Consumer Reports write a 100% glowing story about mattress buying. We all know we can improve the process and the product. But we wish there were less of this—“because manufacturers’ descriptions of firmness are so fanciful and sometimes fact-free, we suggest ignoring them altogether”—and more of this—“mattress makers are experimenting with new methods of construction, rearranging the layers of foam as well as the placement of coils in innerspring models in a bid to improve comfort.” 

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