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Sleeper Sofas: How to Buy the Best One

Consider these four key factors to help your guests sleep soundly—even on an air mattress.

Like pull-out sofas, air mattresses have a tendency to get a bad reputation. (And choosing between one or the other can be a difficult decision.) But with modern upgrades, air mattresses can provide a comfy night’s sleep for your guests (or even for you) for as little as the cost of a single night in a hotel room. Prices tend to range from as little as $10 to as much as $200. It’s just a matter of knowing what to buy to suit your style. Consider these factors when picking your next air mattress.

Think About: Size. Air mattresses follow the same sizing rules as traditional mattresses. However, variations in firmness based on their level of inflation can make them feel smaller. If you have the space and the budget, and especially if you plan to have two people sleep on the mattress together, consider stepping up the size from a twin to a full, queen, or king. Just remember that not only will you need space for the fully inflated bed in the room that your guests will sleep in, but you’ll also need the space to store it when it’s deflated and not in use. Luckily, most air mattresses fold down into a pretty compact area, about the size of a carry-on suitcase, if not smaller.

Think About: Your Guests. If you’ll be hosting kids or young people who are simply grateful not to be sleeping on the floor or on a couch, a basic air mattress that sits low on the ground may be sufficient. Older guests who have a harder time getting down onto the floor (and back up again), or those who demand more of a “real bed” experience will appreciate a thicker, more deluxe air mattress that is raised. Some fancy air mattresses even come with an attached bed frame. Again, keep in mind that these perks may make the mattress heavier to move and bulkier to store.

Think About: Blowing It Up. When was the last time that you blew up a bunch of balloons? A beach ball? An inflatable raft? It’s not easy, is it? You can certainly save money by buying an air mattress that requires using lung power or a hand pump to inflate, but make sure you’ll be game for doing that difficult and time-consuming work—along with all the other tidying up—when your guests are on their way over. Pricier models plug into an outlet in order to inflate (and later deflate) by themselves in minutes.

Think About: Features. Some air mattresses have fun features that aren’t absolutely necessary, but are definitely cool if you have a little extra change to spend. For instance, some models have a blue LED light at the bottom of the bed, so if a guest needs to use the bathroom during the night, it serves as a built-in nightlight. Others have a USB port, so a guest can charge a phone, tablet, or laptop overnight. Some even have sensors that look for drops in pressure during the night and automatically pump more air into the mattress if it gets too low, so there is no change in the mattress’s firmness while your guest is sleeping.

Think About: The Bedding. Sure, a high-quality air mattress can be far more comfortable today than the flimsy one you might remember sleeping on at Grandma’s house years ago. But unlike a traditional mattress, it’s still vinyl- (or PVC- or nylon-) encased air. Choosing one that’s topped with a softer velveteen material can help by taking away the telltale slippery feel (and sound) of sheets on rubber. But if you really want to make the air mattress cozy, wrap it in comfortable bedding. Consider adding a down or memory foam mattress topper, as well as high-quality sheets and fluffy blankets that will help guests feel like they’re staying in a five-star hotel. Now that’s a good night’s sleep!