By far the most important hours of your life are those you spend in bed—for a lot of reasons. A good night’s rest can keep you fit, sharpen your brain, and boost your sex drive, while losing sleep can depress you, boost your risk of heart disease, and even, according to a brand-new study, make you four times more likely to catch a cold. In other words—you don’t snooze, you lose.
When it comes to your Fortress of Z’s, your mattress is the foundation. The type you probably grew up sleeping on—a slab of metal coils under some cotton batting and fabric—has been around for more than a century. Often stiff and uncomfortable, innerspring mattresses were, for most of their history, a moribund industry with little innovation and virtually no competition.
Then NASA went and developed an all-new foam.
The mattress from outer space
Called “temper foam” and able to absorb up to 36 G’s (!) of force, NASA’s foam was created as seat cushioning and crash protection for test planes and spacecraft. But in the ’90s, the mattress industry modified it and voilà: “Memory foam” was born.
It created a sensation. The thick, air-filled foam conformed to the body, relieving pressure points, so sleep was vastly more restful. It also isolated movement well, so a sleeper wouldn’t feel a partner’s every toss and turn.
Alas, memory foam also had some drawbacks. For one, it could be hot to sleep on. “Cool is key,” says NYU sleep researcher Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., author of Sleep for Success! Sleepers could also sink in so far they felt “stuck.” And to cap it all off, though foam tended to last longer than springs, it could also cost twice as much.
Soon, the only thing most people remembered about memory foam was the infomercial in which a lady jumped on a bed and didn’t spill her red wine.