If, in the last six months, you have done any of the following—scrolled through Facebook or Instagram, commuted via subway, listened to a podcast, or just opened your eyes and been mildly aware of your surroundings—you have probably seen an ad for a mattress startup. They are everywhere.
In a 2008 piece for the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell discussed the phenomenon of multiple people coming up with the same idea at the same time. Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray filed patent notices for the invention of the telephone on the same day. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace are both credited with discovering evolution. Something similar seems to be afoot with foam mattresses that can be vacuum sealed and shrunk down to fit into a box slightly taller than an outdoor garbage can.
Over the last couple years, a handful of companies have launched with similar products. They all offer mattresses direct to consumers, thus eliminating the need to deal with sleazy mattress salesmen whom even used car salesmen think are sketchy. The approach removes some of the middlemen costs that are built into the price of a typical store-bought mattress allowing the companies to sell their products cheaper. All of these startup mattresses are made from a combination of memory, latex, and support foams as opposed to the traditional mattress coils.
With all of those similarities, how do you tell them apart (aside from those ubiquitous ads)? Well, you sleep on them. I had sweet dreams on mattresses from Helix, Casper, Leesa, and Cocoon. Here’s what I found.
$900 (queen), helixsleep.com
Helix differentiates itself by offering highly personalized mattresses. You fill out a questionnaire before placing your order that asks for basic info about body type and sleep position and then uses that data to create a customized mattress for you. You can have a blended design that combines the preferences of your and your sleep partner or, for $100 more, a dual design where each half of the mattress is customized for the person who will be sleeping on it. At first, I thought the questionnaire was a gimmick akin to a BuzzFeed quiz about which 90s sitcom character I was, but my skepticism was quickly rebuffed. Lying in it I had the sensation that I was floating, but also that I was being supported. It had the not-too-soft, not-too-hard feel I was looking for. My one knock on the Helix is the octagonal-shaped box that it arrived in. It is designed to be rolled easily, which is great, but carrying it upstairs proved to be a pain.
$890 (queen), leesa.com
One of the things that first that attracted me to the Leesa mattress is the cover. Sure, it doesn’t really matter much because it will be covered by sheets, but details—like the gray with white stripes cover—matter. It made the mattress feel both inviting and classy. Unboxing the mattress was also the most enjoyable of all the ones I tested. Removing the plastic wrapping felt like unspooling a yo-yo. The mattress itself consists of a bottom layer of a support foam beneath a middle layer of memory foam. A third layer of proprietary foam sits on top to keep things cool, since memory foam can run hot. Sleeping on the Leesa was most comfortable when I was on my back, where that floating feeling was maximized. On my side, it sometimes felt like the mattress bottomed out.
$850 (queen), casper.com
Launched in 2014, Casper was one of the first entries into the mattress-in-a-box category and brought in $100 million in revenue in 2015, the company’s first full year of existence. Casper prides itself on making “one perfect mattress"—so, aside from size, there aren’t any options for a customer to choose from. Unfortunately, it is tough to come up with a truly "one size fits all” approach. I found the Casper mattress to be a little on the “lumpy” side. I use quotes because the mattress was not actually lumpy. It just didn’t feel exactly uniform. I didn’t get an awful night’s sleep on it; I just didn’t get a perfect one either.
In a completely expected move, the bigger mattress companies are getting in on the upstart mattress-in-a-box trend. Sealy, the people that made Posturepedic a word, launched Cocoon earlier this year. Rather than try to get everything right with just one model, Cocoon mattresses are available in either a soft or firm feel, which is ideal for people that like customization but don’t want to be overwhelmed with options. The firm is really firm, which is great if you prefer to sleep on top of, rather than inside of, your mattress. The soft is nice and cushy, which feels great when you plop down into it, but if you’re the kind of person that moves around a bunch in your sleep, that process can feel a bit more strenuous. The Cocoon box was also the easiest one to move around.