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So you have a guest swinging by on short notice and you don't want to send him/her off to drive back in the middle of the night. The sofa's not a pull-out bed and the recliner leaves something left to be desired. How can you offer your friend a decent night of sleep? Well, the obvious choice is to invest in an inflatable bed also known as an air mattress.
In this guide, you'll learn all the ins and outs of these floating cushions of air to make an informed buying decision, then wrap up the discussion with five of the best air mattresses for everyday use.
Coleman Airbed Folding Cot
SoundAsleep Dream Series Air Mattress
Insta-Bed Raised Air Mattress
Fox Air Beds Inflatable Bed
Intex Pillow Rest Raised Airbed
An air mattress is an inflatable bed that offers you or a guest a comfortable bed to sleep on for the night. Unlike a standard mattress, the firmness of an inflatable bed can be easily set by adjusting the air volume, giving you complete control over how soft or firm you want it to be. Most air mattresses are designed for easy set-up, storage, and travel.
Air mattresses are available in a full range of colors, sizes, and materials that provide a wide range of sleeping options. Depending on the mattress, it may or may not include the following:
A unique and universal feature of air mattresses is that they stretch during use. This can make the fitting of bedding and setting of adequate air levels a bit tricky at the start. For this reason, it's usually best practice to inflate an air mattress at least several hours before use the first time around and to adjust the air volume as needed for the first few days.
All air mattresses depend on air retention to function properly. While designed to be durable, they need a bit of extra air after several days of use and can occasionally fail to hold air. This makes a warranty and good customer service another distinguishing feature between various models of air mattresses.
One of the most common reasons to own an air mattress is to provide a temporary guest bed as-needed. These portable beds provide a comfortable place to sleep and can be set-up quickly in most any space, making it a great option for homes without a sufficient sleep area.
But even for homes with room to spare, air mattresses serve as a popular guest bed option when such accommodation is only needed infrequently. Not only does an air mattress leave your guest bedroom free to use for other activities, it's also an economical bedding choice.
While permanent bedding options can be pricey and only seem to 'take up space' when not in use, an air mattress provides guests with a comfortable place to sleep without requiring a large commitment of space or money.
Air mattresses are also a popular choice for anyone who moves or travels frequently. When compared to the effort required to disassemble, move, and reassemble a permanent bed frame and mattress, there's no question that simply deflating and re-inflating an air mattress is the more convenient option for those on the go.
Their portability is also what makes air mattresses common while on the road or out camping. Indeed, campers looking for quality sleep while on an outing will often include an air mattress in their list of essential supplies.
While most air mattresses are designed as temporary sleep solutions, they're also being put to long-term use by those who appreciate the comfort of sleeping on air. Uniquely firm but supple, an air mattress can ease pressure points and allow for natural spinal alignment in a way that even some of the most expensive conventional mattresses can't replicate! Thus, some sleepers prefer a durable, high-end air mattress to function as a permanent bedding option (source).
Back pain, in particular, is a topic of interest when it comes to air mattresses. Affecting as many as 80% of the population, this very common condition can be both caused and treated by the type of mattress used.
Whether it's a conventional mattress or an air mattress, you'll want to look for a long-term sleep solution that provides sufficient support to prevent and correct back pain (source). The ability of high-quality air mattresses to alleviate back pain is one of the most common reasons they're often used as everyday mattresses.
Another reason why air mattresses have gained in popularity comes down to price. Whether used as a temporary bedding solution or a treatment for back pain, air mattresses simply can't be beat when it comes to the value they provide.
Even the highest quality air mattresses cost a fraction of a conventional mattress providing equal features. Choosing a great air mattress can feel like you've splurged on a great gift for yourself or your house guests without breaking the bank.
Check the air level regularly – A good night's sleep on an air mattress depends largely on the ability of the mattress to retain its size and shape. Thus, it's best to check the air level in the mattress every few days and top-up with a little air as needed.
Use cotton bedding – To get the most out of an air mattress, it's important the temperature remains comfortable. As air mattresses are made of synthetic materials, be sure to include a layer of cotton bedding between you and the mattress to help maintain an agreeable temperature all year round. For maximum comfort, combine with high-quality linens to give your air mattress a more luxurious feel (source).
Consider using a mattress topper – Some sleepers also like to add a mattress topper to their air mattresses to up the comfort level. If you choose to add a topper, be sure it's able to stay in place. This is most feasible with a flocked topped mattress and when its size is a good match for your mattress.
Consider using a bed box frame and/or headboard – Another way to get the most out of your air mattress is to combine it with a bed box frame and/or headboard. This will help keep pillows in place and provide something for you to lean against at night if you like to read in bed. A bed box or frame can also help adjust the height of your air mattress and keep you at a comfortable distance from the ground. Or, you could opt for an air mattress that comes with a frame or cot stand.
Look for adjustable support – If possible, select an air mattress that provides adjustable support. This will help ensure your specific sleep needs are best met, especially if you have back and neck problems or any other type of chronic pain affected by sleep position.
With so many designs to choose from, it can be hard to know which air mattress to pick for everyday use. Here are some important criteria to consider when making your selection:
To find the best air mattress for you, it's important to have a clear idea of your purpose:
First, try to determine ahead of time whether you plan to inflate and deflate the mattress frequently or leave it set-up in one place for an extended period. Due to differences in materials and ease of use, some mattress models are more suitable than others for frequent set-up and take-down.
Next, consider whether you plan to use the air mattress indoors only or also while camping. Finally, decide how important appearance is to you. Does the air mattress need to have the look and feel of a 'real' bed? If so, a slightly taller model or one that includes a stand may be worth considering.
Arguably the most important feature to look for in an air mattress, a quality model is one where you're able to sleep on the mattress for a single night and expect it to be fully inflated upon waking up.
While some models accomplish this due to the design of the mattress itself, others include features like a second pump that continuously maintain a set mattress pressure throughout the night.
Also, be sure to distinguish air retention capabilities from stretch. While a mattress may retain all its air during the night, the stretch of the material may make sleeping nearly as uncomfortable as a mattress losing air.
After air retention, comfort is perhaps the next most important feature to consider. A couple factors determine the comfort level of a given air mattress:
First, the mattress needs to match your desired level of firmness. Air mattresses often include various types of internal supports to help maintain its firmness while also adding ergonomic support.
Next, you'll want to determine how well the bedding stays in place. Look for features like indented sides and flocked tops to keep sheets from slipping off. You can also opt for a built-in pillow for even more comfort and help hold the pillow in place.
Some air mattress designs come in a variety of sizes so be sure to choose a model that gives you and your sleep partner enough room to fit comfortably. Also, check whether your current bedding fits your selected size or if you'll also need to invest in new sheets and blankets.
Note that the measurements for air mattresses will vary slightly from the actual size of the bed during use due to settling and stretching of the materials. While the difference shouldn't be enough to cause problems fitting the air mattress into a particular sleeping area, it may make it more difficult to get sheets to stay on well or fit the air mattress inside a bed box for transport or storage.
Since most air mattresses are designed to be placed directly on the floor, the height of the mattress determines the height of the bed. The ideal height is one that allows you to move in and out of bed comfortably.
Keep in mind that some air mattresses include cots that act as a kind of 'bed frame,' which raises the air mattress off the floor. In such cases, make sure to read the product specs carefully to clarify the height of the mattress versus the height of the mattress with the frame.
Most high-quality air mattresses include built-in or detachable pumps. Built-in pumps are generally preferred as you don't have to keep track of a separate device during storage; everything needed to inflate the air mattress is available as an all-in-one item.
Built-in pumps are either foot or battery-operated and are powered by a car charger or wall plug. Some air mattresses with built-in pumps also include a valve to use as a detachable backup pump for when no electrical outlet is available.
When used as an everyday mattress, you'll need to use the built-in pump regularly to keep the air mattress at the desired firmness. This is why the quality of the air pump is an important consideration. For models set-up and taken-down frequently, the speed and ease-of-use of the pump can be enough to sway your opinion of an air mattress overall.
Some users prefer a mattress with a separate pump so that if a pump breaks down, only that part needs to be replaced and not the whole mattress. That said, pump failure isn't normally a problem with most high-quality mattresses with built-in pumps and thus not a big concern.
The type and quality of pump included with an air mattress largely determine the inflation and deflation time. While many air mattresses can be inflated in five minutes or less, don't let a few minutes more or less in set-up time override other more significant features. After all, a good night's sleep is worth a few minutes wait!
When used every day, the durability of an air mattress becomes a key feature. You'll want to look for a design made with puncture-resistant materials not prone to excess wear or tear. Generally speaking, thicker materials are better in this respect. The main issue that can limit the life expectancy of an air mattress is seams.
Apart from the quality of the materials and craftsmanship, subtle design features can also determine how far an air mattress will take you for everyday use. Consider models that include non-slip bottoms and cushioned tops as these will help keep the bed and its bedding in-place over the long-term.
The type and quality of the materials used for an air mattress are largely determined by how well it holds air and keeps shape. Remember, thicker, higher-quality material generally holds air better and is more resistant to developing leaks. At the same time, the materials must be puncture resistant and pliable enough for adequate comfort.
Most air mattresses are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC or polyester baffles are often built into mattress interiors to provide a level sleeping surface. Some air mattresses also include laminate along with mesh for extra strength, not to mention extra materials like a skid-proof bottom, cushioned top, or a velvety flocked top to help keep sheets in place or end the need for sheets altogether during travel or short-term use.
Several features described above are important contributing factors to the overall quality of an air mattress. Even if the design and materials used seem to increase air retention and create comfort, the initial excitement of owning a great new air mattress can quickly turn into frustration if it's poorly made.
To this end, restrict your search to durable air mattresses only as these tend to be of highest quality overall. Also, be sure the mattress comes with a warranty or money-back guarantee.
Most air mattresses come with a one-year warranty. Even if you don't intend to use your new mattress immediately after purchase, make sure to inflate and try it out at least once soon afterward. This way, you can use the warranty without problems in case you discover any defects or other unexpected quality issues.
As a word of warning, the warranty for some air mattresses is invalidated if it's used long-term or in place of a standard bed. Thus, make sure you're familiar with the details of your warranty before putting the air mattress to use.
Fortunately, most high-quality air mattresses are available at prices most people can afford. While it may be tempting to focus on the lower end of the cost scale because of tantalizingly low prices, remember that cheaper models may not be as durable as slightly more expensive ones. Given that air mattresses are relatively inexpensive to begin with, it's worth spending a bit more time, effort, and money to select the mattress with the right features for you.
Sporting the look and feel of a 'real' bed, this cot with air mattress is a combination of the best Coleman has to offer. Standing 22 inches high, the cot with mattress is as tall as a standard bed and accommodates two sleepers of up to six feet tall.
It's designed to be used both indoors and out, and as either a single unit or two separate parts to create double the sleeping space. The area below the steel frame cot is tall enough to allow under-bed storage and folds quickly and easily.
What really sets this air mattress apart are the small details. For example, it includes surprisingly sturdy and well-fitted side trays with cup holders. Also, the canvas-like top of the cot includes a thin cotton sleeve to keep the air mattress in place while lying on the cot.
While the mattress stays well inflated, it needs a little topping-off before bed for the first few nights. Even if this 42-pound air mattress cot is a bit heavy for traveling, it's still a five-star option for everyday use.
The SoundAsleep rests at a comfortable 17 inches high and boasts 40 internal air coils to keep you comfy all night long.
It includes a built-in pump that inflates and deflates the bed in four minutes and a 'Sure Grip' bottom that keeps the bed from slipping around. We also appreciate the extra-thick flocked top, giving it the feel of a mattress topper.
The one real drawback of this air mattress is that it's not durable enough for continuous use (daily use shouldn't exceed two months). Should you ever run into problems, the SoundAsleep is backed by friendly customer service that readily stands behind their products.
The Insta-Bed is an 18-inch high mattress that includes a plush, flocked top to keep bedding in place and internal coils that help the bed maintain its shape and add comfort.
What we find most appealing about this air mattress are its built-in pumps. With the primary pump, you can set your own firmness level to either plush, medium, or firm, thus taking the guesswork out of finding just the right fill level for your specific needs. During both inflation and deflation, the pump auto shut-off makes set-up and clean-up as simple as possible.
Where the Insta-Bed really shines is its second pump. This "neverFLAT" technology maintains air pressure overnight by turning on as needed anytime it senses a drop in pressure. Note, however, that while the second pump is designed to run silently, it can still be disruptively loud for some sleepers.
When it comes to comfort, the Fox air mattress is top-notch. All models from Twin to King size include a cushioned top with an 'airflow sleeping surface' that makes the bed surface flat and stable enough to eliminate bounce. This is a nice feature as it allows you to sleep all the way to the edge of the bed without issue.
Tall as a standard bed, we also appreciate that all Fox models are long enough to accommodate people over six feet tall.
A built-in pump inflates the bed fully in four minutes or less. While we wish the pump had an auto shut-off, we love how the bed keeps its shape straight out the box without needing to re-adjust as the material settles and size shifts.
Unfortunately, the Fox mattress has been prone to air leaks and a 'turtle shell' deformation of the sleeping surface for some users. Such manufacturing faults would be less of a concern if the warranty was longer or customer service more impressive.
The Intex airbed is a popular choice among air mattresses due to its comfortable feel at an affordable price. Both the Twin and Queen models are 16.5 inches high, keeping you off the floor but easy enough to climb in and out of the bed.
A built-in pump inflates or deflates the air mattress in four minutes and the internal wave beam construction makes the bed feel sturdy and durable. The built-in pillow is a nice touch that makes the bed seem ready-to-use, especially as a guest bed for visitors.
The biggest downside to speak of is that the Intex often isn't as durable as it seems. With regular use, the airbed can develop a lump that makes it uncomfortable at best and unusable at worst.
Another irksome feature concerns its initial use: the bed ideally needs nine days before it's fully stretched and 'settled' after it's inflated, which may need a bit of handling. While a nice air mattress to have on-hand for occasional use, the Intex isn't the most reliable option for an everyday air mattress.
While each contender has something to offer, the Coleman AirBed Folding Cot wins our affection as the best air mattress for everyday use. This comfortable, high-quality air mattress is actually two beds in one, making it versatile enough to suit anyone's needs, indoors and out. Above all, we particularly appreciate that it achieves excellent air retention while providing a 'real bed' feel.
What are your thoughts about our air mattress choices? Do you have any questions that we haven't addressed? Leave your comments below!
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