We partnered with Real Sleep by Real Simple on this story. Real Simple and Sports Illustrated are owned by the same parent company.
From the addition of nap rooms in various facilities across pro sports leagues to Tom Brady’s infamous “athlete recovery” pajamas that promise a more restful slumber, there’s no denying that sleep is a growing focus for elite athletes.
It's understood that better sleep can lead to fewer injuries, faster recovery and improved performance. Dr. Christopher Winter is a sleep scientist who is an M.D. at the Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Va., and also consults with the Dodgers, Indians, Padres and Pirates, as well as a half-dozen NFL, NBA and NHL teams. He is one of a growing number of sleep doctors who are lending their expertise to athletes and teams.
“When teams are considering sleep or using my services, it means they are really thinking about everything,” says Dr. Winter. “It’s almost sort of a marker more than anything.”
Consultants, including Winter, are brought in to help athletes wind down after games and adjust their sleep schedules on grueling road trips—some teams bring their own mattresses on the road. Can a mattress really change the game that much? Dr. Winter says factors such as bedding, light, temperature, nutrition and bedroom environment can all play a role in sleep quality.
Armed with some expert advice—and with the explosion of the bed-in-a-box business offering mattresses of all kinds—we decided to narrow down the best mattresses for athletes or fitness-minded people who are looking to not only get a good night’s sleep, but also recover from workouts or injuries and repair body soreness or pain.
To buy: $840 for queen size, amazon.com
Recall the aforementioned Tom Brady pajamas? The Patriots’ quarterback endorses Under Armour’s athlete recovery sleepwear line, which is designed with a bioceramic print on the inside of the fabric that reflects far infrared light back into the skin. Undetectable to the human eye but able to penetrate through the skin about 1.5 inches, far infrared radiation is an increasingly popular method of recovery among athletes because of touted benefits such as relaxation, pain relief, improved circulation, reduced inflammation and overall recovery for an overworked body. And it’s popping up in everything from sleepwear to saunas, and now, your mattress.
The Bear mattress is made for those who live an active lifestyle, with infrared technology built right into the mattress through its “Celliant technology,” to promote blood flow, oxygen circulation and temperature regulation throughout the body. The medium-firm memory foam bed is made up of four layers of foam. The top layer is made of graphite gel for cooling, while the others consist of 2.5 inches of “quick response foam” and 6.5 inches of “breathable support foam.” The company says the Bear mattress will relieve pressure and help support the spine to speed up recovery and offer a better night’s sleep.
To buy: $895 for queen size, realsleep.com
Though not specifically engineered for athletes like the Bear bed above, the Real Sleep by Real Simple mattress in a box follows suit in terms of firmness, cooling technology and overall support for body parts in need.
The mattress arrives neatly packed into a medium-sized box—not the kind you’d expect a 10-inch thick memory foam mattress to be in. But once removed from the box and cut out of the plastic packaging, you immediately hear a “hissing” sound, a signal that the mattress is coming to life and expanding into shape.
Made with exclusive FloraFlex memory foam, the medium firm mattress—about 7 on a firmness scale of 1 (soft) to 10 (hard)—actually pulls heat away from the body so you can stay cool throughout the night. The mattress contours and cushions the neck, back and hips, all of which provide natural support of the core muscles. For athletes and active folks, this is a huge benefit since the core is constantly working to support the body during exercise and everyday activities, whether you’re doing a plyometrics and planks or daily tasks. Because of the firmness, this mattress is good choice for back and stomach sleepers, or athletes looking for more support.
To buy: $875 for queen size, amazon.com
A mattress with the world “performance” nearly embedded in its name? For athletes and weekend warriors who struggle with sweating during the night, the PerformaSleep mattress offers two inches of CopperCool gel foam technology on the top layer closest to your skin, which helps the body keep a comfortable temperature as you snuggle under the covers. As Dr. Winter puts it: “We have hot showers and ice baths—how can we manipulate temperature to help athletes sleep better?”
After the cooling foam, bed’s next layer is a material that promises to provide that bounce you need to move around the bed so you don’t have the “stuck-in-a-hole” feeling many experience with memory foam mattresses.
Like the Bear Mattress, the company says that the mattress is specially made for those with an active lifestyle who are looking to recovery quickly from taxing workouts, but anyone can use it. And similar to both of the other mattresses mentioned here, the mattress has medium firmness that contours to the body and offers a gentle softness, but still lends support so you don’t sink in too much.