How to Choose the Best Mattress For You


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person lying on multiple mattresses
Illustrations by Wenzdai Figueroa

How does your mattress feel these days?

Maybe the springs creak when you turn over, or, worse yet, they poke into you and completely prevent you from finding a comfortable sleeping position.

Perhaps it feels too bouncy, too soft, or too hard and keeps you lying awake. Maybe it even sags when you get into bed — a sure sign a mattress is on its last legs (or springs, as it were).

You might wake in the morning feeling tired and stiff. You could also start to notice back, neck, and joint pain, along with irritability, fatigue, and other effects of poor sleep.

Without a good-quality mattress, your sleep eventually suffers. If you’re experiencing any of the above, it’s probably time for a new mattress. Still, the prospect of mattress shopping might seem daunting enough to make you delay your search.

Picking up a secondhand mattress on Craigslist or accepting a hand-me-down from a friend or family member might seem like a quick solution, but you’ll sleep much better on a mattress that’s right for you.

Yes, you’ll need to spend some time considering different factors, but our guide can simplify the process. Keep reading for more details on what to consider when shopping for a new mattress.

Before you start shopping for a mattress

Ready to start shopping? Maybe you already have a few specific mattress traits in mind. Don’t head to your local retailer or search engine just yet. Start your search by considering a few more personal characteristics:

Sleeping position

illustrations of sleeping positions

Your preferred sleeping position can play a part in choosing the right mattress. Sleeping on a mattress that doesn’t offer the right support for your usual position can contribute to pain and poor sleep.

Back sleepers

If you mostly sleep on your back, softer mattresses probably won’t provide enough support to keep your spine properly aligned as you sleep. A firmer foam or hybrid mattress, which combines coils and foam, may help you get better rest.

Side sleepers

Sleeping on your side puts pressure on your shoulders and hips, so you’ll want to look for a softer mattress that cushions your body and helps relieve pressure at these key points. Many side sleepers find that memory foam or pillow-top mattresses provide an ideal blend of comfort and support.

Stomach sleepers

Healthcare providers generally recommend stomach sleepers switch to a sleeping position that offers better health benefits. According to Michael J. A. Longo, DC, a chiropractor at Renaissance Chiropractic Center in Washington, stomach sleeping puts stress on your spine. As time goes on, this can lead to back and neck pain.

That said, if you can only get a good night’s sleep by sleeping on your stomach, you’ll want to make sure you sleep on the right mattress.

An ideal mattress for stomach sleepers should firmly support the spine. If your mattress is soft enough to sink into, you might find yourself waking up with pain and stiffness. A firm hybrid or foam mattress usually works best.

Combination sleepers

People who change positions throughout the night are considered combination sleepers. If you turn over frequently, you’ll want to make sure you can get comfortable on your mattress in any position. A medium-firm mattress may offer just the right blend of comfort and support.

You might want to skip memory foam mattresses, since the body contouring benefits that work so well for side sleepers can make it difficult to change positions and leave you feeling stuck.

Alternatives to consider include latex and other types of foam that respond well to movement. Hybrids also tend to make more responsive beds, since they combine innerspring support with foam comfort layers.

Body Type

Your body type can also affect the level of support you need from your mattress. “Every body is shaped differently, which can impact loading on your spine as you try to get to sleep,” Longo says.

Sleepers with lower body weight, or people who weigh less than around 130 pounds, will most likely find a medium-firm mattress firmer than someone who weighs more. It’s fine if you prefer a firmer bed, but if you sleep on your side or need pain and pressure relief, you’ll likely want to look for a softer mattress.

People weighing more than 230 pounds or so will generally need a firmer bed to get enough support. Hybrids, which combine supportive innerspring coils with the comfort of foam, can provide lasting durability. Look for mattresses taller than 12 inches, particularly if you prefer foam beds, since mattresses shorter than 12 inches may not offer enough support.

Don’t forget to consider the size of the mattress. Full mattresses aren’t any longer than twin mattresses, so people over 6 feet tall may have trouble getting comfortable on anything smaller than a queen mattress. Most people find it tough to sleep with their feet hanging off the edge of the bed.

If you have a larger frame, and you’ve been struggling to get comfortable enough to sleep, it may be time to upgrade your bed as well as your mattress.

Pain

If you regularly wake up with lower back or neck pain, your mattress may have lost its ability to support your body and keep your spine in a neutral position, Longo explains. Continuing to sleep on a mattress that doesn’t support you properly usually only makes your pain worse.

Healthcare providers traditionally encourage people with persistent back pain to sleep on very firm mattresses, but research now suggests medium-firm mattresses may be the most beneficial at reducing pain and improving overall sleep quality.

If you experience pain in your muscles, joints, or at key pressure points, like your shoulders and hips, a medium-firm foam mattress may work well for your sleeping needs. According to a 2015 study of 40 older adults experiencing various types of musculoskeletal pain, medium-firm foam mattresses may help relieve pain and reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep.

Price

New mattresses vary widely in price, depending on a number of factors, like:

  • Materials. You’ll pay more for higher quality construction materials, including natural or organic fibers.
  • Construction location. Mattress companies that outsource production to other countries can charge less for their mattresses, but you’ll want to make sure they still meet United States safety standards.
  • Type. Mattresses come in three main types: foam, innerspring, and hybrid. You might have a harder time finding a true innerspring mattress these days, but they tend to be the cheapest option. Foam mattresses tend to be cheaper than hybrids, though you’ll pay more for latex foam. Hybrids generally have a higher price tag since they are constructed with coils and foam, but many shoppers find their durability worth the price.
  • Brand. Certain well-known or luxury brands may come with a higher price tag.

Generally speaking, you can find quality queen mattresses for under $1,000. Price doesn’t always indicate quality, but a good average price to aim for is $600–$1,100. Luxury queen mattresses cost upward of $1,500.

Looking for something a little less expensive? You can still find decent options in the neighborhood of $300–$600. These mattresses tend to not have frills. So if you’re looking for additional features, such as temperature regulation, pillow tops, flippability, or enhanced pressure relief, you may want to consider a slightly higher price point.

You may not necessarily need a luxury mattress, but you probably won’t sleep well on a poorly made mattress. You could also find yourself needing a replacement in just a few years, so it’s often worth investing in the best mattress you can afford. A good mattress should last around 10 years.

How to choose a mattress

Decided how much you want to spend on your new mattress? Understand your essential characteristics, such as body type and sleeping position? Once you check those off, you can start thinking about specific mattress features — and there are, in fact, plenty to consider.

Mattress type

Deciding on a mattress type can help you start narrowing down your search. You have several different options to consider:

Innerspring

Chances are, you may have grown up sleeping on an innerspring mattress. Once a popular and inexpensive option, the innerspring mattress is harder to find these days.

A true innerspring mattress contains steel springs, either in one continuous coil or coils individually pocketed in fabric. A thin layer of padding rests above the coils to prevent them from poking out.

Most newer “innerspring” mattresses have enough comfort layers above the springs to push them into the “hybrid” category. These mattresses usually feel bouncier and harder than foam beds.

Continuous coil systems are generally unable to prevent motion transfer between sleepers since they’re all connected. So if you sleep with a partner, you’ll want to look for a mattress with individually wrapped coils.

Foam

You’ve likely heard of memory foam, but foam mattresses come in other varieties, too.

You’ll often find polyurethane foam used as the bottom layer in many foam mattresses. Some cheaper mattresses are made entirely of this foam, which gives them a firmer feel.

Open-cell foam tends to be more breathable and less dense than memory foam. You might find it cooler and more responsive to the pressure of your body.

Memory foam cushions and contours to your body to relieve pain and pressure. However, it’s known to trap heat, leaving many sleepers uncomfortably hot.

Many mattress companies create their own blends of foam by adding gel or perforations to help improve airflow and regulate mattress temperature.

Latex foam

If you have a latex allergy, you’ll want to avoid latex mattresses. Other sleepers, however, may find them cooler and more responsive than memory foam.

People who sleep hot or change their sleeping position frequently may want to consider latex beds. They’re known to give the comfort of foam without making sleepers feel trapped in one spot.

If you want a foam mattress but prefer to shop organic, you’ll want to search for latex options, since organic memory foam mattresses don’t exist. Many latex mattresses are natural or organic, since they can be made with plant-based materials.

Latex foam is also often more durable than memory foam, a benefit that slightly increases its price.

Hybrid

Hybrid mattresses feature a coil spring base under layers of latex or foam. This creates a blend of firm support and comfort that many people find ideal.

While hybrids may not be the best option for people who need very soft beds, they work well for many body types and sleeping positions. Their construction also allows for more airflow than mattresses made entirely of foam, so hybrid mattresses often maintain a more comfortable sleeping temperature.

The spring coils in hybrid mattress also make them more durable than foam mattresses. They’re also usually more expensive.

Airbed

Sure, you can take an inflatable bed with you when you go camping, but you can also purchase a slightly superior version for regular use. Airbeds intended for nightly use generally have foam or other padding on top for added comfort.

Air mattresses that allow you to customize firmness may work well for people with changing support needs. Adjusting the mattress to your desired level of firmness each night could help improve spinal alignment and lead to reduced pain. Just make sure to seek out a quality option with a good warranty.

Waterbed

In a waterbed, your water-filled “mattress” rests inside a sturdy foam or wooden frame. These beds can allow you to heat or cool the water to your desired temperature, and they feel softer and bouncier than a typical mattress. However, they don’t offer as much support.

Some research suggests waterbeds may have more positive benefits for lower back pain than a hard mattress — but not any more than a foam mattress would.

Also, note that waterbeds do require regular maintenance and occasional patching since they can easily spring a leak.

Firmness

Mattress firmness describes how a mattress feels under your body. Firmness typically ranges on a scale from 1 to 10, with a 10 being the firmest bed you can find.

In general, medium-firm mattresses (which are often between 5 and 7 on the scale) provide a good blend of support and comfort for most sleepers. A small 2010 study suggests sleeping on a medium-firm mattress may help relieve pain and improve sleep quality.

Of course, firmness is a subjective measurement. A mattress that feels hard to one person may feel too soft to someone else.

Firmness can also vary depending on mattress construction and brand. One brand’s 6 may feel like another brand’s 5, and a medium-firm hybrid might feel harder than a medium-firm foam mattress. That’s why it’s always important to try out your new mattress and make sure it provides the right support.

Longo recommends choosing the firmest possible mattress that still allows you to get quality sleep. If you’re lying awake or tossing and turning to get comfortable, your mattress isn’t the right firmness level.

Note, however, that your body may need some time to get used to a new mattress, particularly if it’s firmer than your old one. This breaking-in period can take 3–4 weeks, so give it time.

Support

People with lower body weight can generally get good support from a foam mattress. But people with higher body weight may prefer the added sturdiness of coils underneath foam.

Support also refers to whether or not you sink into the bed. Some people want to feel cushioned by the bed, while others want to rest firmly on top. Mattresses with coil systems generally provide sturdier support, keeping you on the mattress, not in it.

You may not think much about the edges of your bed if you sleep alone, but good edge support can make all the difference if you share your bed with a partner, move around a lot, or sit on the edge of your bed to get dressed.

If your bed has weak edges, you might feel like the bed gives way easily when you sit on it. This can spell bad news at night if your partner rolls you to the edge, and you feel like you’re going to tumble to the floor.

If you want good edge support, look for mattresses with reinforced edges. Customer reviews often give a clearer picture of how much edge support a mattress has.

Pressure relief and body contouring

Generally speaking, foam mattresses provide the best pressure relief and body contouring.

If you desire pain relief at key pressure points, look for a mattress that gently conforms to your body when you lie down. This allows for your hips and shoulders to sink in slightly.

A memory foam mattress offers the most pressure relief, but hybrids with foam layers may also work well.

Mattress height

While some budget mattresses may measure 9 inches (or less), 10 inches is a fairly standard mattress height. Mattresses under 10 inches won’t offer as much support or durability.

You’ll find some mid-range and luxury mattresses measuring 13 or 14 inches in height, but taller isn’t always better. If you have less body weight, you may not need the extra support, so the mattress may feel too firm.

Taller mattresses can also make it harder to get in and out of bed. This is something to consider if you have a limited range of movement or a bed frame that’s already tall.

You may also need new sheets for a tall mattress. Most standard sheets only fit beds up to about 14 inches.

Motion isolation

This is an essential feature for partners sleeping together. Motion isolation refers to the mattress’s ability to keep you from feeling each of your partner’s movements at night.

Good motion isolation means you can turn over, stretch, and even get out of bed without waking the person next to you.

Foam mattresses tend to isolate motion better than other types of mattresses, but if you don’t want an all-foam bed, look for a hybrid with individually wrapped coils.

Temperature regulation and cooling

The temperature of your bed can make a huge difference in the quality of your sleep. If you’re too warm, you might wake up sweating or have trouble staying asleep.

Cooling mattresses have special features designed to help keep you cool as you sleep, including:

  • air cell or open-cell foam
  • gel infusions
  • mattress covers made from phase-changing, moisture-wicking, or stay-cool fabrics

Customer reviews can help provide a more accurate picture of whether the cooling features mentioned in the mattress description really work.

Off-gassing

The mattress-in-a-box industry has taken off in recent years. Many mattresses purchased online arrive compressed and rolled into a box. When you open the package, your mattress quickly inflates, and you might notice it gives off a strange smell.

This odor comes from the various chemicals used to make your mattress flame-retardant. It may be somewhat unpleasant, but it isn’t necessarily harmful.

Mattresses carrying the CertiPUR-US certification often still have an odor, even though this certification means they contain no toxic chemicals or heavy metals. Even some natural or organic mattresses have a strange smell when you first unwrap them.

Customer reviews often mention off-gassing. If you’re particularly sensitive to smells, you may want to check what other people have to say.

Usually, this smell clears up after a few days, especially if you leave the mattress near an open window.

Organic or eco-friendly materials

Many brands prioritize sustainability and natural, renewable materials in their mattresses. They tend to mention this clearly on their website or in product descriptions.

Reputable brands use clear language to describe which parts of their mattress have natural or organic certifications.

If buying organic matters to you, note some brands may describe their mattresses as eco-friendly or all-natural. An organic mattress, however, will have specific certifications for some or all of its materials, such as:

  • Global Organic Latex Standard
  • Global Organic Textile Standard
  • Organic Content Standard 100
  • USDA Organic

Other certifications to look for include:

  • Rainforest Alliance Certification
  • Greenguard Gold Certification
  • Made Safe

Other important considerations when choosing a mattress

A mattress is often a significant investment. Once you find the mattress of your dreams, you might hesitate before committing to the purchase. What if it doesn’t quite measure up to the description, feels uncomfortable, or doesn’t stay cool?

The good news is, most mattress brands understand your dilemma and offer some options to help give you peace of mind.

Whenever possible, consider the following before you click the “Complete Order” button:

Company policies

When shopping online, you’ll want to verify whether a company offers:

  • A trial period. This should be long enough so you can determine whether the mattress really works. 100 nights is a standard trial period, but some companies offer longer than that. A 30-night trial may seem like enough, and sometimes it is. But it may take more time for you to get used to your new mattress. In fact, some brands require you to sleep on the mattress for at least 30 nights before sending it back.
  • Free shipping. Most mattress brands offer free shipping, but you’ll want to double-check before you purchase.
  • Free returns. While many brands cover the cost of your return, some may charge a processing fee or restocking fee. You’ll also want to check how returns work. If you don’t like the mattress, will you need to arrange for disposal or pickup, or will the company handle it? Proceed with caution if you notice a large number of customer reviews reporting difficulties with returns.
  • A good warranty. Just about every mattress will come with a warranty. A 10-year warranty is fairly standard, but remember that warranties don’t cover everything. You may want to read through it before purchasing to make sure you know what it covers. Also, note that setting your mattress on the wrong kind of frame or leaving it on the floor could void the warranty.

Company reputation and transparency

At Healthline, we look at the following criteria to determine a company’s reputation and commitment to transparency:

  • Does the company make unproven claims about health benefits the mattress offers?
  • Have they been involved in any lawsuits in the past 3 years?
  • Have they recalled any products in the past 3 years?
  • Do they have a C rating or better from the Better Business Bureau?
  • Does the mattress meet United States federal flammability standards?

Along with the company’s business reputation, we also consider whether they provide clear, easy-to-find information about the materials they use in their mattresses and where they’re made. You’ll typically find this information in the FAQ section of the company’s website, if not directly on the product page.

If you like the mattress and the price, you may want to go for it regardless of what you find about the mattress company’s reputation. But at the very least, it’s always best to check whether the mattress meets flammability requirements.

Customer reviews

If you’ve spent any time reading product reviews, you might already know to take them with a grain of salt. Reviews can offer a lot of insight about a product, yes. But you’ll also find that some customers leave 1-star reviews for issues beyond a company’s control.

You’re generally safe to purchase a mattress that earns mostly positive reviews. Still, specific patterns in the reviews can give you a better idea of how the mattress holds up over time.

You may notice a lot of customers mention things like sagging, loss of support after a few years, cooling features that don’t actually cool, weak edges, or low motion transfer.

Where to shop for a mattress

You can make a trip to a local retailer to purchase a new mattress, but you can also shop online.

Shopping for a mattress in person offers a completely different experience from browsing online. Here’s what to know to prepare.

In-store

While lying down on the mattress in-store can absolutely give you an idea of how firm or soft it feels, don’t be fooled. A mere 5 or 10 minutes can’t compare to a full night of sleep — not to mention it’s a floor model that plenty of other people have already tested. You’ll still want to look for a mattress that comes with a trial period.

Make sure to ask the salesperson plenty of questions about the mattress and its warranty:

  • What materials are used?
  • Does the mattress offer any special features?
  • What kind of frame do I need? Will I need a box spring?
  • What does the warranty cover?
  • Do you offer free delivery, setup, and old mattress removal?
  • Do you charge return fees?

Brick-and-mortar mattress stores often charge more than online retailers that sell the same mattress. Doing some research before you buy can help you make sure you’re getting the best price. You might find the same mattress at another store, or online, for much cheaper.

Just keep in mind that different stores often call the same mattress by different names. You may be able to talk the price down a bit, but not everyone feels comfortable negotiating for a better bargain.

If the mattress doesn’t feel right to you, keep looking! Your sleep is worth it.

Online

Many people find online mattress shopping a much more appealing option. One benefit of online shopping? You won’t have to do much digging to get your questions answered. You’ll often find most of the answers on the product page.

Many websites also offer live chats with customer support staff, just in case you can’t find answers to more specific questions.

It’s always a good idea to read through customer reviews before making a decision. Reviews often provide honest, detailed information about products and policies. Things to look for include:

  • Was it easy to purchase and return the mattress?
  • Did the mattress live up to its description?
  • Does the company honor their sleep trial and warranty?
  • Does the company offer free returns?

You’ll often save a lot just by shopping online, but many brands also offer sales and other discounts throughout the year.

If you know you’ll have trouble setting up the mattress yourself and you don’t have anyone to help, check to see if the company offers delivery, setup, and old mattress removal. Not every online company offers this service, and many brands charge an additional fee.

Start your search for the perfect mattress

Ready to start your search for the right mattress? This quiz can give you a head start on finding the perfect fit.

The bottom line

Mattresses aren’t meant to last forever. You’ll want to start considering a new one once your sleep quality starts to decline or when your current mattress is more than 8 years old.

Choosing the right mattress requires some time and effort, but this effort is usually well worth it.

After all, as Longo notes, “We cannot maintain health without quality sleep.”


Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.


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