We researched 15 of the top online mattress companies, surveyed hundreds of Wirecutter readers to ask about their own mattresses, interviewed experts on sleeping and mattress design, and spent over 40 hours researching foam mattresses. Then we slept on six models every night for a week. All of that leads us to recommend the Leesa as a mattress that will work well for most people who sleep on their side or stomach.
The Leesa offers support at the body’s pressure points as well as a contouring “hug” that feels comfortable rather than hot or muddy. It breathes to promote cool sleeping, it fared well in eight-year durability tests, and it’s just a bit more firm at the edges than the competition. It isn’t the best choice for everyone, but it is a good fit for many people. If you buy via Amazon there’s a 30-day return policy, not the 100 days when you buy direct.
If you switch between back-sleeping and side-sleeping, or if one of two people sharing a bed tends toward back-sleeping or prefers a firmer mattress, the newest Casper mattress is a more middle-of-the-road pick. Its “hug” was not as comfortable for our testers, and side-sleepers will likely find the Casper less pliable and accommodating than the Leesa. But the Casper’s mix of four foams may work better for people who switch positions often, especially onto their back, or for couples that include back-sleepers.
For dedicated back-sleepers who prefer a firm mattress but don’t want to spend a lot on a spring model, we think the Tuft & Needle works well. At its notably lower price—currently $600 for a queen mattress—the Tuft makes a good guest-room mattress. As a primary mattress, it likely won’t fly for anyone who dislikes a particularly firm sleep surface.
For this first guide to mattresses, we focused on an increasingly popular subset of mattresses: those that come in only one model, cost less than $1,000, arrive within a week in a vacuum-packed roll inside a box, and come with a free trial of at least 100 days (as well as an offer to take any rejected mattresses away for free). This is a fast-growing category, and for good reason: The average mattress-buying experience is fairly terrible, with high markups, car-dealer-like showrooms, and a litany of models that are near-replicas but renamed for every store and pricing tier.
To find the mattresses people wanted, we spoke to a number of experts and read a lot about how mattresses are made and sold. Our research included:
From our discussions and research, we gathered six queen-size mattresses, including two potential budget picks from Amazon and IKEA, in our Los Angeles office. Then we slept and napped on each of those mattresses over the course of a week, taking notes and confirming how they performed with personal sleep trackers. A night of sleep and a nap or two on each mattress does not constitute a full “test”—doctors and mattress companies recommend at least 30 days to let your body adjust when switching—but our experiments gave us far more hands-on time than most mattress shoppers get.
Our initial list of 15 mattresses to consider came from reader surveys, mattress review sites, and our editors’ experiences. We dismissed some models—Keetsa, Saatva, and Loom & Leaf—because their return policies involved fees. Two foam mattresses, Novosbed and Brooklyn Bedding, offered three levels of firmness and couldn’t fit into our first round of testing. The same goes for the user-customized Helix. The Purple, the Yogabed, and the selection of foam mattresses at Brentwood Home were simply not as well-known to us, or to our reader-survey respondents, to make this first round of testing. We ended up testing six mattresses from six manufacturers.
How you feel sleeping on each mattress is obviously the key feature, but we considered other points of comparison. Those factors, in order of importance:
We weighed our observations against what readers told us in our survey about their own online-purchase mattresses, and what they wanted from their next mattress. We then followed up with email conversations with owners of specific mattresses, and we considered the impressions of Wirecutter staffers who owned or tested the mattresses.
Here is the core truth of the mattress market: You’ll find no one mattress that works for everybody. The best any mattress can do, our experts told us, is work great for a small group of people, feel pretty good for some, and do okay for a majority of people. The subjective feelings of “firm” or “soft” complicate the matter further. One “perfect” mattress we tested was described as both “too firm” and “way too squishy” by two different people. Most foam mattresses claim to be “medium-firm” (the “medium-rare” of the mattress industry), but our tests and other reviewers have found a huge range within that middle channel.
We sought mattresses that would work best for the primary sleep positions: side, stomach, and back. Most surveys (and our own quick Twitter poll) show that 60 to 70 percent of people primarily sleep in some kind of side position (“fetus,” “log,” or “yearner”). Side-sleepers put more body weight on their hips and shoulders, and they need to properly maintain the horizontal alignment of their spine; they tend to prefer a “medium” mattress, leaning toward the soft side of “medium.” Stomach-sleepers (15 to 18 percent) need enough firmness to keep their head and neck aligned, but not so much as to cause pressure on their knees or the front of their hips; they tend to prefer a medium to medium-firm mattress. Back-sleepers (12 to 15 percent) distribute their weight more evenly and need to support the spine’s natural curve; a medium-firm to firm mattress often works best.
Ranking the mattresses we tested strictly on firmness, here’s how we would order them, based on our tests, our survey feedback, and outside reviews:
Many factors can alter your firmness preference, including injury, weight, stress, diet, apnea, your pillow, the warmth or coolness of your room, the sheets you put on your bed, how often you switch positions, and whether you sleep with a partner. Or you may just prefer something other than what your sleep style naturally suggests. All of that explains why single-model mattresses you can try out for about 100 days2 are gaining in market share: Finding one perfect mattress is tricky, but making a mistake shouldn’t be a 10-year disappointment.
The Leesa is our top pick among online-purchase mattresses because for side- and stomach-sleepers in our tests, it felt the best overall. It breathed better than other mattresses we tested, allowing for a cooler sleep. The Leesa also handles better at its edges than our other picks, providing acceptable support for entering, exiting, or rolling over on the bed. Consumer Reports’s simulated wear-and-tear testing (subscription required) found the Leesa to be excellent. It has a surface that feels good under thin sheets, and it looks good in gray and white stripes (or in other, limited-edition designs). For the price, it’s a real value that will appeal to many people buying a foam mattress online.
All five of the people we asked to test our mattress candidates preferred the feel of the Leesa to that of the other finalists, both on the spot and during overnight sleep. Compared with other foam beds, it allowed side-sleepers’ shoulders and hips to sink in more comfortably. The Leesa’s “hug”—the way it envelops your body as you lower into the memory-foam layer—did not create heat or a “muddy” feeling but instead felt like an extension of a favorite pillow. Other mattresses felt muddy in how they hugged the body, or pushed back enough that they had no hug at all. The Leesa also felt the best to two stomach-sleepers, who noticed the hug but didn’t think that they sank in too much.
Our panel’s preference matches up with outside praise. Of the 20 readers we surveyed who reported buying a Leesa, 13 said the best thing about their Leesa was its “perfect firmness” (and 17 of 20 said they’d buy a Leesa again). Survey respondent Chris told us that after 11 months his Leesa is still “very comfortable and supportive,” and that his partner, a back- and occasional side-sleeper, also loves the Leesa. Aaron, another survey-taker, said he and his wife, both side-sleepers, would definitely buy another Leesa: It seems much cooler than their previous mattress, Aaron doesn’t feel his wife’s tossing and turning, and their 70-pound goldendoodle loves it, too.
Consumer Reports found that the Leesa was “very good at conforming to various shapes,” and that it “performed good” in both side-support and back-support tests. The owner of The Mattress Underground, who spoke with the Leesa’s designers and tested the mattress, writes that the Leesa occupies the “‘sweet spot’ that most people would find comfortable.”
The Leesa felt cooler than other mattresses we slept on, particularly more so than the Tuft & Needle and BedInABox mattresses. It may feel cooler due to the egg-crate-style top layer of Avena foam (a type of synthetic latex), combined with a breathable cover. Among the mattresses we tested, the Leesa provided the least amount of foam-insulating heat (if only by a slim margin over the Casper). Both Derek Hales at Sleepopolis and Consumer Reports also found the Leesa more breathable than other foam mattresses.
Foam-built mattresses, on the whole, do not provide anything like the edge support of a traditional spring-based mattress. The Leesa has a slightly better edge than the other foam mattresses we tested (with the exception of the otherwise uncomfortable IKEA mattress). The Leesa was also excellent at preventing motion transfer from one side of the bed to the other—not quite as good as the Tuft & Needle mattress, but enough so that neither partner should feel bumping or sinking due to movement.
As far as warranties go, none of the direct-order mattress makers, save BedInABox, have been in business long enough for anyone to run out their products’ 10-year warranties. Leesa claims that the custom Avena foam on top of its mattress provides greater durability than standard latex foam. Consumer Reports’s simulated eight-year testing of firmness, sag, and damage bears out this claim, as the Leesa “performed excellent, showing no signs of changes in performance.” We will watch this mattress as more people come to own it over time, but it shows promise for a long life. Leesa also claims that its mattress supports 800 pounds total. That’s much more than Casper’s 250-pound individual and 450-pound total weight limit, but slightly less than Tuft & Needle’s 1,000-pound limit.
The Leesa is easily the best-looking mattress among those we’ve tested and seen. Its cover is cut from a single piece of polyester-Lycra fabric, akin to the moisture-wicking material you typically find in sports gear. You won’t see it after you put your sheets on it, but it has a subtle, pleasurable texture. It’s also less likely to develop a tear than the bare fabric covers on the Tuft & Needle and the Casper.
Among mattresses you can order online, the Leesa ranks fourth at Consumer Reports (subscription required) as of this writing. Consumer Reports puts the Leesa behind our other picks, the Casper and the Tuft & Needle, in how the bed feels for a “larger/taller” side- or back-sleeper, but the Leesa mostly matches up with those models in other categories. Mattress meta-review site Sleep Like the Dead, weighting 124 reviews, forum posts, and customer interviews from 29 sources, currently lists an 80 percent owner-satisfaction rate among Leesa buyers. That places the Leesa slightly ahead of the Casper and the Tuft & Needle, which currently have 78 and 79 percent owner-satisfaction rates, respectively, on Sleep Like the Dead.
As of April 28, 2016, Leesa operates a “Dream Gallery” showroom in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood (112 Wooster Street), where you can sleep on Leesa mattresses (and try the company’s blankets) as well as peruse works from ArtLifting artists.
While only subtly referenced on the company’s website and in one blog post, Leesa’s Social Impact Program is notable. In particular, for every 10 mattresses sold, the company donates one mattress to charitable causes; it also plants one tree for every mattress sold.
The biggest potential flaw of a Leesa mattress is the youth of the company behind it. Founded in 2014, Leesa has not sold a mattress that has more than a couple of years of real-world wear and tear. Although the mattress comes with a 10-year warranty, there is no long-term data on how Leesa mattresses hold up, and Leesa is not guaranteed to survive the eventual thinning of the crowded online-mattress market—no company is.
Like other foam mattresses we tested, the Leesa has no handles, and its foam construction makes lifting its 71 pounds, alone or with a partner, tricky. Handles would be a nice addition for rotating it every three months or so as the makers recommend.
Another potential drawback to any foam mattress is the potential damper it can place on certain kinds of sexual activity. Sleep Like the Dead and Sleepopolis both have in-depth notes on foam-mattress sex. The short version: These mattresses are quieter and often more comfortable, but they lack the spring-powered bounce that some people want, and sinking into them means that moving and changing positions takes more effort.
Despite the seeming consensus on the Leesa’s softness, currently Sleep Like the Dead reports that a weighted 12 percent of customers posting a review or comment online, mostly side sleepers, say the Leesa is too firm for side-sleeping, while 3 percent of back- or stomach-sleepers say it’s too soft.
The newest mattress from Casper hits a middle point between sink and support, as the company claims it does. As a result, however, in our tests it ended up feeling less comfortable for side-sleepers. The Casper has “more pushback” than the Leesa, one tester said, and it doesn’t “envelop you with fluffy love.” But it felt good for people who do a lot of switching between side-, stomach-, and back-sleeping, sometimes even better than the Leesa. The Casper’s even mix also accommodates couples where one partner sleeps on their back and the other does not. For those situations—occasional back-sleepers, and shared beds involving back-sleepers—we recommend the new Casper over the Leesa.
Casper, widely considered the leader in the box-and-ship mattress field, generated $100 million in sales in 2015 and has sold more than 100,000 mattresses in nearly two years of operation. The company updated its only mattress model in mid-March 2016. We tested both an older Casper and the new model that you would receive if you were to buy one today. Most objective reviews rate the previous Casper as a medium mattress, but our testers said that the new model felt more medium-firm upon first lying down.
The newest version is made of four layers of foam—one more than the prior version—consisting of 1½ inches of latex comfort foam, 1½ inches of memory contour foam, a new 1½-inch proprietary “transition” foam, and 5 inches of base foam. The result, according to Casper’s head of product Jeff Chapin, should be a mattress that’s essentially medium-firm across most of your body but more supportive where your shoulders, butt, and other pressure points sink in. For side-sleeping, our testers thought that this version of the Casper felt better than the older version but not as good as the Leesa. The real improvement is the mattress’s added support for back- and stomach-sleeping, as well as better edge support.
To our testers examining the mattresses side by side, the newer Casper’s edge support did indeed feel better than that of the previous version, but not as good as that of the Leesa. Its pocketed cover feels more foamlike and can snag more easily than the Leesa’s. Sleeping on the Casper felt a bit more warm than on the Leesa, too. Finally, Casper states its mattress “best supports” people who weigh 250 pounds or less, or a combined weight of 450 pounds for two people. That limitation could be an issue for heavier couples; both our top pick and our dedicated back-sleeper pick support nearly twice that weight.
To clarify: We think the Leesa works best for side- and stomach-sleepers, and we have another pick (just below) for back-sleepers. Generally, the Casper works best for people who switch between back and side, for couples split between dedicated back- and side-sleeping, or for stomach-sleepers who like a firm, but not too firm, mattress.
The Tuft & Needle mattress is firm. It’s as firm as foam can get before it becomes uncomfortable. For back-sleepers, or for people who prefer floating on their mattress instead of sinking into it, the Tuft & Needle works fine. But it isn’t ideal for most side- and stomach-sleepers. At its substantially lower price—$200 to $300 less for a queen than our other picks—it’s an economical pick, at any size, for a guest room or other occasional uses.
Our testers confirmed the findings of Sleep Like the Dead and Sleepopolis: The Tuft & Needle feels too firm for most side-sleepers or for stomach-sleepers who prefer a softer mattress. For example, I bought a Tuft & Needle for my bedroom, months before conducting research for this guide. I found myself waking up in the night when my shoulders or elbow were deep into the mattress, or one arm was asleep. My wife, who mostly sleeps on her stomach and occasionally on her side, liked the Tuft & Needle a bit more, though not as much as the Leesa. As with most mattresses, you don’t feel a huge difference lying on a mattress for a minute or two, but spending hours atop a two-layer mattress (3 inches of polyfoam, 7 inches of support) can put pressure on the points that sink deep during side-sleeping.
As with all mattresses, and all sleeping people, you’ll find disagreements and outliers regarding this model. Some survey respondents who sleep on their side told us that they didn’t just find their Tuft & Needle comfortable―they loved it. We think a side-sleeper is more likely to find a Leesa or a Casper comfortable, but if you sleep on your side and you know that you sleep best on a firm mattress, the Tuft & Needle may work for you. Its stated weight limit is also the most of any mattress we tested, at 1,000 pounds for couples.
The Tuft & Needle has a few drawbacks beyond its particular firmness. For one thing, this mattress offers notably less edge support than the Leesa or the newest Casper. One result is that some fitted sheets will slip up and over the corners of the mattress, as a survey respondent and I both found. Also, Tuft & Needle is the oldest of the newer breed of direct/online mattress companies, having started in 2012, but it’s still young enough that we don’t have any five- or 10-year-old mattresses to compare.
At its discounted price, and considering its easy ordering and delivery, the Tuft & Needle is fine for guest beds. As Nick Robinson of Sleep Like the Dead told us, “Just about any mattress is at least adequate for temporary or occasional use.”
We could only lay on so many mattresses during our first round of testing. Here are a few brands we’d like to test next time around:
Our top pick, Leesa, has created a new line of mattresses called Sapira, which contains internal springs. Like the Leesa, the Sapira is still shipped vacuum-sealed and inside a box. It’s meant to be a more luxurious mattress offering.
Novosbed and Brooklyn Bedding offer three levels of firmness. We felt this introduced too many variables for our first round of testing. But we’re looking into ways to effectively test these brands. Brooklyn Bedding does have a slightly more onerous return/trial policy than others.
If you’ve listened to a podcast lately you’ve probably heard advertisements for Helix Sleep. Helix offers fully customizable foam mattresses, with recommendations based on your height, weight, sleeping position, and how warm you feel while sleeping.
Similar to Helix above, Purple, has flooded the Internet with ads. We stuck with pure foam mattresses our first round (the Purple is topped with a very stretchy polymer) but we’ve received a few comments from readers who would like to see how it compares.
Sleep Number is one of the first big traditional mattress brands to enter the bed-in-a-box game. It won’t be the last. The “It” bed by Sleep Number distinguishes itself from the crown by adding app-based “sleep-tracking technology” to the product. Sealy’s “Cocoon” bed is another big-brand entry to the bed-in-a-box category.
Brentwood Home offers a huge variety of mattresses, shipped to your home. So far the models we’ve seen have been higher-priced and with less of a risk-free trial than our picks. But they do offer some intriguing eco-minded variants.
Luxi offers a flippable mattress for people who are sensitive to any kind of valleys or depressions that happen to mattresses during long-term use. Most foam mattresses are one-side-only; the underside is usually just support foam.That also means you get another side to flip over to in the event of a sizable stain.
IKEA ’s cheaper ($500 and below) mattresses feel like you’re sleeping on a pile of Scandanavian rocks, but it has higher-priced mattresses with more softness options, which might be competitive options.
There are also a few mattresses that we considered for our first round of testing that we did not call in, but may reconsider in the future:
Saatva was just slightly above our $1,000 soft price cap, and also had a $100 return fee, but it’s increasingly popular and a known brand, so we will at least consider it during a new round of testing.
Yogabed was a lesser-known brand when we started research for our initial testing, but it is now in competition with our picks with both its price and features.
Nest Bedding is a reputable mattress brand that didn’t quite make the cut for our first round of testing. Nest positions itself as slightly more eco-conscious than other brands and offers a few “natural” and “vegan” latex options with organic cotton.
Mattress Firm is a straightforward mattress brand with many retail stores. It didn’t quite make the cut the first go-round, but its online boxed-up offerings are an interesting option to consider.
We’ll also consider how best to recommend a mattress foundation. For now, we have some advice in the Care and maintenance section.
We tested the BedInABox PacBed Original GEL Memory Foam Mattress due to the company’s relatively long history (founded in 2004) and best-in-class company reviews on Sleep Like the Dead. The PacBed Original puts 3 inches of gel-infused memory foam on top of 6 inches of core/support foam. The pitch is that gel foam breathes and stays cool (although Consumer Reports finds such claims questionable) and “snaps back” more quickly than traditional memory foam, a characteristic that might appeal to people who move around often in their sleep. Our back- and stomach-sleepers told us that this bed sank in too much, saying it was “too huggy” and had a “muddy feel.” A side-sleeper who prefers a very soft feel may like this mattress, but the Leesa and the Casper generally felt good for our side-sleepers and were better able to accommodate couples and rotating sleepers. The PacBed is well-packaged and solidly built, and the company’s reputation is sound, but in our tests its peculiar feel didn’t accommodate any style of sleeping better than our picks did.
Hoping to find a discount foam mattress, we tested IKEA’s Matrand mattress. The medium-firm version is a 7-inch mattress, with 2 inches of memory foam on top of 5 inches of support. The medium-firm version was harder than anything we had tested or maybe ever slept on; the idea of a more “firm” version boggles the mind. One Wirecutter tester, who said he could “sleep on the floor,” still found the MATRAND uncomfortable. The transition from other foam mattresses to this kind of foam was jarring; I woke up in the middle of the night while sleeping on it, feeling confused as to whether I was still in a bed. A survey respondent noted that their Tuft & Needle, still a fairly firm mattress, felt “miles better” than their “cheap version” IKEA mattress. The IKEA model’s cotton-blend cover caught and wrinkled sheets, and while the mattress didn’t sink and create heat, the cover felt warm to sleep against when humidity was present. At $400 as of this writing, this mattress is not any better than a cheaper foam or hybrid spring/foam mattress that you can buy online.
The Signature Sleep Contour 8 Mattress is a $200 (in queen size) foam-topped spring mattress. It’s the top seller on Amazon, with free Prime shipping. Encasing the Contour’s 7 inches of coils is a total of 1 inch of memory foam on the top and bottom. Sleep on your side, and you feel those springs pushing against your body weight in a way that can put your arm to sleep. It’s a slightly better experience on your back or stomach, but one tester woke up with a cramped feeling in his neck from the contrast between the soft pillows and the buoyant sleep surface. With only a one-year warranty (and a 30-day Amazon return policy), this mattress seems best suited for occasional use, for people who primarily sleep on their stomach or back, and for people who weigh 200 pounds or less (so as not to tax the coils).
All of the mattresses we tested contain synthetic, petroleum-based foams, which will release some gases (and related odors) for the first couple of days. Five of the six mattresses we tested are certified by third-party testing firm CertiPUR-US, which confirms that they release relatively low amounts of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and are free from known harmful chemicals, carcinogens, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), heavy metals, phthalates, and formaldehyde. We contacted IKEA to confirm the certification of its mattresses’ foam; in the meantime, the Mattress Underground forum and some Web results suggest that IKEA mattresses’ latex meets OEKO-TEX certification. For more on foam mattresses and their off-gassing, see our blog post on what is coming out of your new mattress.
If you’re buying a new mattress, you might also consider a new pillow. How a pillow supports your head can affect how your body aligns with, and adapts to, your mattress. Your best bet is to bring your favorite pillow along when you try out a mattress. Since doing so is tricky with a direct-order mattress, consider some summarized advice from our forthcoming guide to the best pillow: Side-sleepers need the most support (4 to 6 inches), back-sleepers less so, and stomach-sleepers need the least, because the mattress already supports them. As with mattresses, choosing a pillow involves accounting for body size and softness preference, so try out sizes and buy with an eye toward return policies.
For all of our mattress picks, be sure not to flip them over—their support and memory foam are at the top. But you should rotate them every three to six months, especially if you sleep alone on one side of the bed or if partners have a notable weight difference.
Most direct-order mattress companies suggest a flat foundation or a slatted base (slats no more than 3 inches apart), but the mattress could work on the floor, too. If you have a box spring with actual springs in the structure, and it has already seen years of regular use under a mattress, you should probably get a new foundation. Online mattress companies, like Casper, are beginning to offer home delivery on mattress foundations as well. Once there’s a few available, we’ll figure out how to approach testing to make a recommendation.
Our mattress picks each come with a zippered cover, but you should not remove it for cleaning except for serious bed-wide stains. None of our pick manufacturers openly sells a replacement cover, but you should contact the maker if a cover rips or pulls under normal use.
Originally published: April 14, 2016