Do you need a 'fitness' mattress?

The specialty beds are garnering buzz. We asked an expert to weigh in.

If you consider that sleep is the best form of recovery, it’s fair to ponder the importance of slumber’s prime accessory, the mattress. But while we’ve been given ample tools that supply an edge during our (daytime) training sessions (trackers, foam rollers, footwear), experts have been fine-tuning nighttime equipment.

Companies like Bear Mattress, IRONMAN, Reverie, Somnium and ReSTare turning the oft-overlooked mattress industry into a mecca for rejuvenation, offering customized beds coveted by pro athletes; recovery technology integrated into memory foam; and cool, comfortable sleep products all aimed at the athlete.

But do the fit really need “fit beds”? “Athletes need to create a situation where they’re excited to get in bed because their bed is set up for them,” says W. Christopher Winter, M.D., medical director of the Martha Jefferson Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, who consults elite athletes on sleep.

Make sure your sleep chamber is a recovery-boosting sanctuary with these pro tips:

customize for size

“Sometimes with NBA players, their beds are too short, so they wind up sleeping diagonally or their feet stick off the bottom of the bed,” says Winter. In fact, plenty of athletes have beds custom made for size, he says. Southern California-based Custom Comfort Mattress specializes in custom beds of all sizes. “Not every athlete is able to walk into a showroom, jump on bed, and say, ‘This feels OK.’” And that’s OK: Finding something more structured for you might cost you a little more, but the pay off in comfort is worth it.

look for suped-up memory foam

The idea behind memory foam is that it puts your body into a better spinal alignment; because you toss and turn less, you wake up fewer times, so you get better sleep. Memory foam tends to absorb and fill in gaps on the mattress while you move, allowing for a more even sleep, explains Winter.

(but make sure it keeps you cool)

The biggest knock on memory foam was that, while comfortable, it was hot—a big problem for athletes who need to keep their bodies cool due to increased metabolic activity, says Winter. Not anymore, though: High-tech materials like graphite gel-infused memory foam, used in Bear Mattress products, for example, are cooling down classic memory foam, offering better thermal conductivity.

keep allergies at bay

IRONMAN’s mattresses are built with latex—and for good reason: Old-fashioned mattresses can be havens for dust mites (gross, but also a nightmare for the allergy-sufferer who could be kept awake by the bugs), says Winter. “As strange as it sounds, latex often creates a better situation: It’s dust mite-resistant,” he says. Mattresses made from the material are more solid, so dust mites can’t eat into them.

consider a responsive bed

"ReST beds can change pressure based on where you are on the bed,” says Winter. So, if you’re on your back and roll to your side, the bed can sense that and drop pressure in one place while picking it up in another. “Orthopedic support is key to a comfortable bed." Other beds, like those from Reverie, have adjustable foundations so you can easily elevate your legs or heads. Why that matters: Remember that “E” in the R-I-C-E acronym (rest, ice, compression, elevation)? Depending on your sport, you may want to elevate different body parts for better recovery.