Remember when purchasing shoes or prescription eyeglasses online seemed preposterous—because you couldn't try them on first? A new generation of mattress companies are hoping shoppers are now ready to buy beds online too, without ever lying down on a sample in a store. Leading the way is Casper, whose high-profile investors include Ashton Kutcher, Adam Levine, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Nas. There’s even a photo of Kylie Jenner with her Casper bed-in-a-box on the company’s homepage. With a limited selection (Casper, Saatva, Tuft & Needle, Leesa and Yogabed all offer one model in different sizes) and low prices, these startups are hoping to take the guesswork out of mattress shopping. But will they buy you better sleep?
Step into any mattress store and as you’re playing Goldilocks, a salesperson will likely be lurking nearby. To say you’re in a vulnerable, compromising situation is an understatement. “Buying a mattress these days is like buying a car,” psychologist and clinical sleep disorder specialist Michael Breus, PhD describes in his book Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health. “If you’re not a mattress expert, it’s hard to tell one box of metal, foam, fuzz and fabric from another,” adds Breus, who suggests that shoppers lie down on a mattress for eight minutes before deciding to buy. “People don’t take long enough when they’re testing a bed,” Breus tells LivingHealthy. “When you lie down, the distribution of oxygen to your muscles slows down and your muscles tense up because they’re starved of oxygen. You can’t feel a bed for the first five minutes because your body’s numb.”
Eight minutes can feel like an eternity with a stranger hovering over you, which makes at-home, try-before-you-buy setups that much more attractive. With 100-night trial periods, free delivery and free return shipping, online mattress companies are moving the testing process into the privacy of your bedroom at the price of about $850 for a queen-size mattress. “We never want our customers to feel pressured into buying a bed or worry that they didn’t get the best price,” says Jeff Chapin, Casper co-founder and chief product officer. “Our fair price omits the showroom real-estate rent, salesperson commission and many other costs that add up to an overpriced mattress purchase.”
Most of the online bed options are made of foam, which is easy to compress (making shipping a breeze), and they “almost self-adjust,” according to Breus, a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Foam allows us to more effectively distribute weight and pressure and provide support in a more varied way,” adds Chapin. “Foam mattresses provide consistent all-over support for your back, while spring mattresses often create pressure points that can lead to morning aches and pains.”
Developed by NASA in the 1970s, memory foam has come a long way since the rocket launches it was initially used for. Now foam beds have the high quality of a traditional coil mattress without the heavy weight and fragility that steel faces, says Yogabed co-founder Tim Oakhill. “In the past 10 years, foam technology has advanced to a level of science that’s quite impressive. Tempur-Pedic foam got really hot and felt like you were sitting in a bowl of quicksand,” he adds. “Our foam is open cell so it naturally breathes and isn’t hot—it pushes back and doesn’t sink like memory foam.”
For those who still want to touch and feel before handing over their credit card info, Casper has showrooms in Los Angeles and New York City (they also had SnoozeBar pop-up showrooms in select cities earlier this year) and Leesa invites you to their corporate office in Virginia Beach, VA for a test nap. After trying out the Casper bed at their Hollywood Hills location, which I decided was too soft for my taste, I decided to take the plunge and order a Yogabed online, largely because of the two founders’ 40 years of combined experience in the mattress industry and reviews that it’s slightly firmer than the Casper. According to Breus, buying a bed online is very low-risk. “Those online companies say their bed works for 80% of people and give a great guarantee and trial period,” he says. “If you’re a normal average person with no issues, I bet you they’ll make a great bed. But if you get older, that bed probably won’t work for you.”
Sleeping preferences are entirely subjective, but Breus recommends that people with back issues try a firmer mattress that cradles the bends in your body and feels comfortable. “For pressure relief, you want softness and cradling, but for support you want firmness,” he explains. Another benefit of foam mattresses is they combine different types of foam for the perfect blend. For instance, Yogabed has four layers of CertiPUR-US-approved (low-VOC; ozone depleter-, PBDE flame retardant-, and phthalate-free) foam, with each layer serving a different purpose: cooling, breathability, support, etc.
Before committing to a new mattress, Breus advises taking full advantage of the trial period. “Usually by day 45, you have a good idea if the bed’s right for you,” says Breus, who allots three weeks as an absolute minimum testing period. “There’s weekend sleep versus weekday sleep, different stress levels,” he explains. “For women, you must get through a full menstrual cycle to properly test a bed. Right before you have your period, your body has more progesterone, which makes you sleepier. Then estrogen kicks in, making you more alert—that all affects how you sleep.”
My first night on the Yogabed was a drool-fest, with me sleeping through the night (not a common occurrence). Unlike my previous foam mattress, which was so firm I often woke up achy, the Yogabed feels more cushioned, like when someone hugs you from behind. However, a couple nights in, I woke up feeling stiff, like I was struggling to release myself from the bed in the morning. “With any bed, there is a break-in period of a week or two,” explains Yogabed co-founder Chris Marsh. “You may miss your old bed. But you will adjust.”
Adding an inexpensive IKEA Rosendun mattress protector solved my problem, providing the slightest bit more firmness that made my Yogabed Goldilocks-perfect. Over a month later, I’m steadily sleeping soundly and I still have 60 days to change my mind. “In 2012, online mattress sales added up to about $10 million,” says Marsh, who predicts that number to increase to over $465 million next year. Will you be one of those buyers?