How to Select the Best Mattress for Your Needs

Purchasing a new mattress requires a significant investment, of both time and money. These guidelines can help you make the best return on that investment.

There are two occasions that make buying a new mattress a necessity. One: you don’t have a mattress at all. Two: your current mattress needs to be replaced. For either of these occasions, this guide will be helpful to you as you make your mattress purchase.

When to Buy a New Mattress

How do you know when it is time to replace your current mattress? There is not one easy answer to that question. Here are some things to consider.

If you wake up with aches and pains, numbness or stiffness that goes away as the day progresses, it is time to shop for a new mattress.

If your mattress shows signs of overuse, if it sags or has lumps, or if it is more than 8 years old, it should be replaced with a new one.

If you wake up as tired, or more tired, than when you went to bed, it might be your mattress. Getting a less restful sleep, even if you don’t wake with aches and pains, is a sign that your mattress is worn out.

If you had a better night’s sleep in your friend’s guest room or at a hotel, it is probably because you need a new mattress.

How Much to Spend on a Mattress

Budgeting for a mattress purchase can seem complicated. Mattresses range in price from $200 at the local discount mart to $30,000 (yes, that’s thirty thousand) for a specialized luxury model. A mattress can affect your health and well-being, so don’t hesitate to spend for it.

Most people spend between $500 and $1800 for a new mattress. A reasonable starting budget is around $1000. A mattress that is less than $500 will probably not last long enough to make it worth buying. One recommended budgeting tip is to multiply one of your day’s pay by eight day’s work. So, if you make $125 a day, multiply that by eight, for a mattress budget of, no surprise, $1000.

Remember, your mattress is a long term investment; it should last you for at least seven years. Here are a couple additional tips

  • Look for sales; most stores hold seasonal sales and salespeople are willing to negotiate
  • Ask for a lower price or for “throw-ins,” like mattress protectors or pillows
  • Most online mattress sales sites do not have sales or negotiable prices
  • You will get what you pay for, but just because it is expensive doesn’t mean it is better
  • Skip paying for extended warranties–they only cover manufacturer defects, which you will discover within the first year

Firmness and Comfort

Note: Testing by Consumer Reports has proven that the labels don’t always match up with the actual firmness of the mattress, so test it out before you buy.

For the best results, pick the firmest mattress that is still comfortable for you. Firmness is not about support. Any mattress you buy should support your body and keep your spine in the same alignment as if you were standing. Firmness is about the comfort of the mattress. It’s about how the mattress feels when you lay down on it.

Firmness on a Scale of 1 to 10

Many mattress manufacturers will identify the firmness of their mattresses on a scale of one to ten, with one being the softest and ten the firmest.

Soft: A soft mattress will fall at 1-3 on the scale. It is recommended that side sleepers use a mattress in the soft level of firmness.

Medium soft: The medium soft mattress ranges between 4 and 5 on the scale. These mattresses are preferred by sleepers who change positions throughout the night.

Medium firm: A medium firm mattress is at – 5-7 on the scale. Back sleepers should choose a medium firm mattress.

Firm: The firmest mattresses are at 8-10 on the scale. People who sleep on their stomachs prefer the firm mattress. It is also recommended that heavier people choose the firmest mattress to help keep their backs stable.

Most sleepers prefer a firmness level of 4-7. Mattress manufacturers sometimes call this the “universal” firmness level. Again, the labels do not always reflect the actual firmness.

It should be noted that the softest mattresses tend to contour most easily to the shape of the sleeper. A level 1 mattress is rarely recommended, and you would likely have to special order it. Also to be noted, a mattress with the firmness level of 10 is equivalent to sleeping on the floor.

Size Does Matter

When selecting your new mattress, size does matter. The mattress should always be longer than the person sleeping on it is tall. A mattress that is too short can keep you from getting a good and restful sleep.

The width of the mattress is important too. Even if you like to cuddle with your sleeping partner, you need your own space to sleep. Check the width of the mattress by lying on your back with your hands behind your head; your elbows should be on the bed and not touching your partner.

Most people turn or roll over 40 -60 times a night. Make sure your mattress allows room for you to wiggle without falling out—or pushing your partner out.

Standard Mattress Sizes

Twin mattresses, also called “singles,” measure 39” by 75” and are best for children or small individuals. The length is really not designed for comfortable sleep for any person taller than 5’5”. Twin mattresses are often made with less quality and durability than their larger counterparts.

The Twin XL is 80” long by 39” wide, and is better for a tall person or a teenager.

The Full mattress, also known as the “double,” is 54” by 75” and is the best size for a single adult. When two people share a full mattress, they have about as much space in width as a crib mattress, a mere 27 inches each.

Queen mattresses are the most popular size mattress today. They measure 60” by 80” and are ideal for couples who like to cuddle. The width allows room to move, without taking up as much space in the bedroom.

King mattresses are 76” by 80”. The width is the equivalent of two twin mattresses. A king is the best choice for couples who like to have their own sleeping space while still sharing a bed.

California King mattresses sacrifice some of that width for length. They measure 72” by 84” and are the most common size for adjustable beds.

Of course, you will want to be sure to choose a mattress that fits both your sleeping style and your living space. A California King might seem less comfortable if you have to climb over the dresser to get into it.

Support

Support is determined by the mattress type. The type is determined by the core of the mattress. Support is related to, but not equal to, firmness. Any mattress, whether firm or soft, should support your body and spine.

There are generally four types of mattresses, which are described below. Essentially the choice for most shoppers will come down to coil/spring mattress or foam mattress. Each type has its benefits and its drawbacks.

The coil or innerspring mattress is the most common mattress choice for many shoppers. They range in price from $300 to $1500. Innerspring mattresses are good for side and back sleepers who are not experiencing any back pain. The springs, or coils, are made from steel and these mattresses tend to be the bounciest.

Innerspring mattresses can come in a variety of styles of springs, each offering its own twist on comfort and support. Some brands of innerspring mattresses come with individually wrapped, or pocketed, coils to reduce mattress-wide bounce. Pocketed coils will make the sleeping movements of your partner less disturbing to your own sleep.

Innerspring mattresses are also available as pillow tops, with either foam or fiberfill making up the top. Pillow top mattresses provide solid support with squishy comfortable softness.

Some manufacturers are now making hybrids, coils with foam layers to provide the support and softness desired by some sleepers.

Memory foam mattresses are becoming more popular as their price has declined over the last decade. They are still more expensive than the coil mattress, ringing in at $650-$3000. Memory foams are good for those who sleep primarily on their back and for those with body pain. These mattresses can be purchased with for dual firmness for partners who want or need different levels.

The benefits of these mattresses are that they conform to the sleeper’s body, providing that cushion or hugging feeling; they isolate movement, so one partner’s restlessness doesn’t bother the other, and they are far less likely to contain allergens.

Drawbacks to the memory foam are that they can be hard to move around on, with that body-hugging conformity; they are made from synthetic materials that require airing out before use and may have a lingering chemical or plastic smell, and they have a reputation for retaining heat. Some manufacturers are now adding a cool gel layer to the memory foam to counter the heat retention.

Latex foam mattresses are comparable in price with memory foam mattresses. They are more breathable than memory foam, so they are less likely to retain heat. They are heavy and hard to turn but are firmer than memory foam. They are extremely durable, although cheap brands will develop lumps. In addition, they are antimicrobial and less likely to contain allergens, which is great for allergy sufferers.

Air-filled or adjustable air mattresses run from $700 to $4000. These mattresses are great for both back and side sleepers. They are especially beneficial for people who suffer from back or neck pain and arthritis. The dually adjustable sides offer flexibility and control, but some owners complain that adjusting the bed at night disturbs their partners. Also, the foam supports the divide the adjustable sides can become uncomfortable over time.

Recently, in response to complaints about chemicals in mattresses and in an effort to support the green environmental conservation movement, some manufacturers are offering natural or organic mattresses. These mattresses are among the highest priced non-custom mattresses with a price tag of up to twenty thousand. They offer an organic alternative to memory foam and latex foam. They have no chemical smells and are better for the environment.

Not all natural mattresses are equally organic. Since the word natural isn’t regulated, anyone can use it. Some mattresses will be labeled organic, even if only some of the materials are certified organic. If you are seeking a truly organic mattress, look for certification from GOTS or GOLS. To meet the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) at least 95% of the materials must be certified organic.

GOTS also prohibits the use of harmful ingredients like dyes and some chemicals. GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) requires that any latex must come from a certified, organic source. Prices for certified mattresses start at about $2000.

Thickness

The thickness of your mattress really is a matter of preference, although there are differences for people of different weights.

Heavier people prefer a thicker mattress, at about 11-15 inches. Mattresses of this thickness tend to be medium firm to firm. They are preferred for heavier people because body weight tends to force mattress to conform to the shape of the body. Heavy people also benefit from higher density foam or a higher coil count mattress. Choosing a thinner mattress for a heavy person may lead to the need to replace the mattress more frequently or bottoming out.

Lighter people will do well with a mattress that is eight to ten inches thick; with this thickness, you’ll find a medium to soft firmness. Smaller people can use a lower density foam or lower count coil mattress as well.

Mattress Life and Durability

A mattress is a big expense for most of us, so we want to make sure we get one that will last. High quality mattresses should last up to ten years, depending on care. Average quality mattresses will last about five years. Choose the highest quality you can afford.

A Note about Warranties

All mattresses will come with a warranty. Do not assume that the length of the warranty is an indicator of the durability and lifetime of the mattress. Warranties are subject to stipulations regarding normal wear and tear, stains, and whether or not you comply with manufacturer recommendations. Most warranties only cover manufacturing defects, which are usually discovered in the first year of ownership.

Consider Your Lifestyle

The way you live and sleep will have an impact on your mattress selections. Sleeping style, body weight, allergies, and whether or not you sleep alone will all contribute to your decision.

Sleeping style

Side sleepers need a mattress that will disperse and support their body weight. Very firm mattresses are the least desirable if you sleep on your side. Choose a plush memory foam mattress or a fluffy mattress topper for comfort. Side sleepers usually prefer a soft mattress, a 3 to 6 on the ten point scale.

If you sleep on your stomach, you probably don’t want a cushy mattress that will allow you to sink down and make you feel like you are being smothered. Tummy sleepers should select a semi-firm or medium-firm mattress, probably not memory foam, and a 5 to 7 on the 1-10 scale.

Back sleepers need a mattress that provides support with some give for the spine to stay aligned. Almost any type of mattress can provide the support, but try them on for firmness and comfort. Sleeping on your back will be best with a mattress in the 4 to 7 range on the ten point scale.

Do You Get Hot When You Sleep?

Old school Memory foam tends to hold heat, making it uncomfortable for those of us who generate heat in our sleep. Manufacturers are now making foam mattresses with a cooling gel layer or gel infused, but reviews are mixed as to whether or not they work. I find that they do sleep cooler than regular memory foam for sure.

Do You or Your Partner Move Around A Lot?

If you or your sleeping partner are light sleepers, or if you move around more than the typical forty times a night, you might want to purchase a pocketed or wrapped coil spring mattress. These mattresses are designed to isolate motion and reduce movement across the surface of the mattress.  All foam mattresses are perhaps the best for motion isolation.  But if you like a coil mattress a hybrid coil will perform better than an inner-connected coil unit you find on traditional or “old School” or inexpensive entry level mattresses.

Another choice to avoid being jostled by your restless sleeping partner is an air adjustable bed. These beds have distinct sides, separated by a foam barrier. The separator keeps the movement on one side of the bed from becoming a movement on both sides.

If you sleep with a partner, you should also consider the width of your mattress. Will your partner’s movements encroach on your sleeping space? Better to buy a larger mattress than to have his or her elbow in your face every night.

Do You Have Allergies?

Latex and memory foam are best choices for people who suffer from allergies. While both of these mattresses do contain chemicals that may be irritating, they are generally antimicrobial and allergen free. If you prefer the comfort and support of an innerspring mattress, you should encase it with an allergen resistant mattress protector.

Body Weight

Body weight can affect the wellness of your rest. If you have the wrong mattress for your body weight, you may suffer from back, neck, or joint pain.

Your body weight should be taken into account when you are considering the firmness you desire.

In general, the heavier you are, the more your body will sink into the mattress. That being said, the heavier you are, the more important it is that your mattress has a quality support system. If you want a softer feel, and are a heavier person, you should consider a pillow top innerspring mattress to provide both support and cushion.

Consumer Rating

Consumer ratings can be helpful as you make your mattress buying decision. Keep in mind, though, that everyone sleeps differently and has different likes and dislikes. Just because 62% of those surveyed love this mattress does not mean that you will. Try out a variety of selections before you buy; see what fits you and what you love.

Test Drive the Mattress

You wouldn’t purchase a car without a test drive, or shoes without trying them on. The same should apply to purchasing a mattress. Try it out before buying.

Brick and mortar mattress stores expect customers to test drive their product. Online stores regularly offer thirty to one hundred day trials for just this reason—although one night of restless sleep will be enough to tell you if the mattress is a bad fit.

Make a plan for your shopping venture. Wear loose comfortable clothing, clothes that are most like your pajamas. Wear shoes that slip off easily and a hairstyle that will allow you the freedom to move about on the bed.

Start your trials with some idea of what you like. Think back to a time you had a good night’s rest at a hotel or a friend’s house. What kind of bed was it? Sample mattresses most like those first.

Lie on the bed for at least 15 to 20 minutes. The longer you can test the mattress, the more likely you are to be satisfied with the purchase. While mattress salespeople should be accustomed to shoppers laying on their displays, you may have to insist that the salesperson leave you alone. An experienced salesperson will actually encourage you to get comfortable on the display.

After you’ve been relaxed on the bed, in your regular sleep position, for at least 15 minutes, assess your body. Are you feeling any pressure, pain, numbness? Pain at heavy places means the mattress is too firm. Tingling or numbness means the mattress is too soft. Feeling pressure in your hips or shoulders, if you are a side sleeper, means the mattress is too firm for your sleeping style. If you are feeling any pain or pressure at all, try a different bed.

If you are still feeling good after 20 minutes or so, try moving around. Roll over. Toss about, mimicking your sleep pattern. Assess the ease of your movements. Is it hard to roll over? This mattress may not be firm enough.

If you sleep with a partner, they should try the bed with you. Have your partner move around and determine if your side of the mattress is disturbed by their movement. Do the same for them. If your partner isn’t able to be with you while you shop, don’t hesitate to ask the salesperson to help you out.

If you can, bring your pillow with you. Your regular and familiar pillow will help you relax and will contribute to your assessment of comfort. If you don’t have a favorite pillow, consider asking the salesperson to include one in your purchase.

To sum up: the Better Sleep Council suggests using The S.L.E.E.P Test for your test drive.

  • Select a mattress.
  • Lie down in your typical sleep position.
  • Evaluate the level of comfort and support.
  • Educate yourself about each selection.
  • Partners should test beds together

Caring for Your Mattress Will Extend Its Life

Caring for your mattress begins as soon as it enters your home. Be sure that the installation is done correctly. If your mattress is being delivered by store personnel, examine it before it is installed. Reject a mattress that has been torn or scratched during transport.

Purchase a mattress cover or protector. Frequently, you can buy these at the same time and place that you buy the mattress. Ask your salesperson to include it in the price. A mattress cover protects your mattress from stains and friction wear. A mattress encasement can protect your mattress from allergens, mites, and bed bugs.

Consider a mattress topper for more than just comfort. A mattress topper is an additional layer of protection for your mattress. Toppers can be made from foam, fiberfill, feathers, and cotton.

Air out your mattress regularly; weekly airings are recommended. When you change your sheets, allow your mattress to be open and uncovered for a few hours. This airing will freshen the scent of the mattress as well as allow the fibers to expand.

To avoid uneven wear and tear on your mattress, flip, rotate or turn it regularly. Martha Stewart recommends rotating and flipping your mattress four times per year. If you have a pillow top or other mattress not designed to be flipped, the rotation is still recommended to avoid wear in the most slept upon spots.

Creating a Pleasant Sleeping Arrangement

Once you have your new mattress, properly installed and protected, be sure to make your sleeping pace as pleasant and comfortable as possible.

Buy new sheets. Nothing can spoil the joy of a new mattress like sleeping on those same old sheets. Treat yourself to a new set of sheets with your mattress purchase. Perhaps you can get them “thrown in” with your mattress purchase.

Unless you are really attached to your current pillow, consider getting new pillows, too. Your pillow provides support for your head and neck. But it can also cause pain when it becomes worn. Allergens, mites, and dust can build up inside your pillow. Wash your pillows every few months with hot water. If you haven’t replaced your pillow in a couple years, do it now. Again, consider getting new pillows at the mattress store, especially if you used one of their for your test drive.

Think about your hardware. The foundation, or box spring, is a necessary part of your mattress purchase. Most manufacturer warranties become void if you do not use the foundation specific to that mattress. While it may not always be necessary to get a new foundation when you get a new mattress, it is generally recommended that you do so. A weak or broken foundation will significantly shorten the lifespan of your mattress.

What about space? If space is an issue in your sleeping space, remember that head and foot boards take up more space than a frame without them. Consider a box frame or a low profile platform frame. These frames are shorter, making it easier for some people to get in and out of bed. If under the bed storage is needed, you might want a raised platform frame.

A Note about Mattress Disposal

Always discard and properly dispose of your used mattress. If it is worn enough to need replacing, it is too worn to give to someone else. While the landfill is generally the place for your used mattress, there are recycling options available to you. The landfill is not an option in three states. California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have already mandated mattress recycling. Locate your nearest mattress recycling center and give them a call. Many offer free pick up of your old mattress.

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