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How to Choose a Mattress

Considering the average person spends one-third of his or her lifetime sleeping or lying in bed, your mattress is a very important investment. A bed that feels comfortable and supportive helps to ensure you wake up every day feeling refreshed, alert, and well-rested. A mattress that does not meet your needs and preferences as a sleeper can lead to fatigue, inattentiveness, mood swings, and other effects of poor sleep quality and duration.

When selecting a new mattress, you should take several factors into account. These include your body type, normal sleep position, firmness and thickness preferences, and shopping budget. If you share your bed with someone else, that person’s considerations should also be taken into account.

Below, we'll explain how to choose a mattress based on your personal criteria, and what you can expect in terms of prices and performance for different mattress types. We'll also discuss bedding accessories that can improve your sleep and some considerations for parents buying a mattress for their child.

How Much Should My Mattress Budget Be?

The sticker price of a mattress often depends on the materials used in its comfort layer(s) and support core. The majority of beds sold today fall into one of five categories based on their construction. Further down, we'll delve into how to choose a mattress type based on specific materials.

Mattress  Type Typical Comfort Layer Materials Typical Support Core Materials Average Lifespan Average Price Range (Queen)
Innerspring Polyfoam Steel coils 5 to 7 years $900 to $1,100
All-Foam Foam High-density polyfoam 6 to 7 years $900 to $1,200
Latex Latex Latex 8+ years $1,600 to $2,200
Hybrid Memory foam, polyfoam, latex, and/or minicoils Pocketed coils 6 to 7 years $1,600 to $2,200
Airbed Polyfoam Adjustable air chambers 8+ years $2,000 to $2,400

Material construction is not the only factor that affects pricing. Other variables may include:

  • Thickness: Mattresses with high profiles (12 inches or higher) tend to cost more than models with medium or low profiles. Thicker models have additional layers of foam, latex, coils, and other materials that represent extra costs for manufacturers.
  • Special Features: Some high-end mattresses offer unique or innovative components you won't find in many – if any – competing models. These include cooling cover fabrics, comfort layers made from specialty materials, and base layers zoned for different support levels. Flippable mattresses with a different firmness on each side and airbeds with adjustable firmness also tend to be more expensive than single-firmness models.
  • Green Certifications: Mattresses with organic latex, cotton, or wool receive certifications from organizations like the Global Organic Latex Standard Global Organic Textile Standard, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These mattress materials are somewhat expensive to process, which can in turn drive up the bed's price-point.
  • Custom Designs and Sizes: Many mattresses offer optional features that will increase the sticker price, such as Euro top covers and additional comfort or support layers. The same is true for non-standard sizes, such as split queen and split king, or beds with different firmness levels on each side of the bed for couples.
  • Accessories: Many brands offer bundles that include mattresses along with foundations, pillows, and other accessories. These bundles can save you money compared to buying the items individually, but you'll still pay more up front than you would for just the mattress.
  • Online vs. In-Store: Buying a new mattress at a brick-and-mortar store will probably cost more than purchasing from an online mattress brand. Store owners must contend with the overhead costs of operating a physical location and paying commissioned sales people. Online brands have much lower overhead – most do not operate any stores – and this allows them to sell their mattresses at cheaper prices.
  • Country of Manufacture: If a mattress is manufactured in the U.S. or Canada, it will probably carry a higher price point than a model produced overseas.
  • Shipping: Online brands usually offer free mattress shipping. If you opt for expedited shipping or White Glove delivery, expect to pay extra. However, some brands offer these services for free, as well. You may also pay additional fees for delivery if you reside outside the lower 48 states – but again, this is not always the case.
  • Return Fees: Most online mattress brands offer free mattress returns during the customer's sleep trial, but some will charge return fees to cover transportation, handling, and disposal costs.

To give you an idea of how much mattresses cost, the table below lists sticker prices and shipping costs for some of today's leading mattress models.

Brand/Model Mattress Type Delivery Notes Price (Queen)
Avocado Green Latex hybrid Free shipping to all 50 states GOLS and GOTS certified materials

Optional pillow-top (+$300-600)

$1,399
Casper Mattress Mixed-foam Free shipping to contiguous U.S. Optional hybrid design for added price $1,095
Layla Mattress Memory foam Free shipping to contiguous U.S. Flippable design $999
Leesa Memory foam Free shipping to all 50 states Can be bundled with pillows, protector, bases, and foundations $999
Nectar Mattress Memory foam Free shipping to contiguous U.S. Overseas production means lower price for consumers $799
Purple Mattress All-foam Free shipping to contiguous U.S. Proprietary comfort layer material (“Purple Grid”) $1,099
Saatva Mixed-foam hybrid Free White Glove delivery to contiguous U.S. $99 return fee $1,199
Tuft & Needle Original Mattress All-foam Free shipping to contiguous U.S. Can be bundled with protector or platform bed $595
The WinkBed Hybrid Free shipping to contiguous U.S. Custom design for people over 230 lbs. (+$200) $1,599

What Are the Best Mattress Types?

Each of the five main mattress types offers distinct benefits and disadvantages. The best mattress type for you depends entirely on which mattress qualities matter most to you. If you're a hot sleeper, for example, then you should seek out a bed with breathable, temperature-regulating components. Those with back pain may need a conforming and pressure-relieving mattress instead.

Since the early 20th century, innersprings have dominated the mattress market. These models still represent the greatest percentage of annual mattress sales in the U.S. Memory foam mattresses that contained high-density foam bases – and no springs – first appeared in the 1980s; airbeds with adjustable air chambers were introduced around the same time.

Over the past decade, online "bed-in-a-box" mattress brands have reshaped how mattresses are bought and sold. These brands represent a more affordable alternative to shopping in a brick-and-mortar mattress store. You can also choose from a wide range of individual bed-in-a-box models that fall into one of the following five categories.

Foam

An all-foam mattress may consist of memory foam or polyfoam comfort layers; those that contain both are known as mixed-foam models. The support core is always made of high-density polyfoam. Foam mattresses offer unparalleled body-contouring, and most excel at pressure relief and motion isolation. However, these beds sleep hot for some people and often lack adequate edge support.

Innerspring

Most innersprings are constructed with polyfoam comfort layers and steel coil systems in their support core. Some innersprings contain comfort or transitional layers of minicoils for extra responsiveness. The coils provide strong support across the sleep surface, and also promote steady airflow to help keep the mattress cool. Innersprings are generally affordable, too. However, they aren't particularly durable and may not provide enough body-conforming or pressure relief for some sleepers.

Hybrid

A hybrid is a specific type of innerspring that is usually constructed with a pocketed coil support core. The comfort layers may consist of memory foam, polyfoam, latex, and/or minicoils. Hybrids are a "best of both worlds" option for many sleepers because they conform to the body and alleviate pressure like all-foam and all-latex beds, but also offer strong support and sleep cool like innersprings. The biggest downside: hybrids tend to be somewhat expensive.

Latex

Latex is a natural material produced from the sap of rubber trees. An all-latex mattress will have softer latex on the comfort layer that contours to the body reinforced with denser latex in the support core. Latex is very durable and breathable, as well as naturally responsive. The material conforms closely, but you won't feel the same deep body sink as you would with memory foam. However, all-latex mattresses tend to be very spendy and most models sink around the edges.

Airbed

Airbeds are constructed with adjustable air chambers in their support cores. You can add or release air from each chamber to change the firmness level in different areas of the mattress. Many sleepers enjoy the customizable feel of airbeds, particularly those who experience frequent aches and pains. However, airbeds are the most expensive mattress type by a landslide. They can also be somewhat noisy due to their motorized components, and breakdowns are common.

Which Mattress Firmness Suits Me?

We use a 1-10 scale to measure how soft or firm a mattress feels, with 1 being the softest and 10 being the firmest. Most mattresses made today fall between 3 and 8. The following table breaks down different firmness levels based on the 1-10 scale.

Firmness Rating (1-10) Qualities May Be Ideal for... May Not Be Ideal for...
1 (Extra Soft) The mattress conforms very closely. Sleepers sink deeply beneath the surface. This firmness level is extremely rare. Side sleepers
who weigh less than 130 lbs.
Back and stomach sleepers

People who weigh 130 lbs. or more

2-3 (Soft) The mattress conforms closely. Sleepers sink to a considerable extent, but still feel somewhat supported. Side sleepers
who weigh less than 130 lbs.
Back and stomach sleepers

People who weigh 130 lbs. or more

4 (Medium Soft) The mattress conforms to a noticeable extent. Side sleepers who weigh 230 lbs. or fewer

Back and stomach sleepers who weigh less than 130 lbs.

Side sleepers who weigh more than 230 lbs.

Back and stomach sleepers who weigh more than 130 lbs.

5 (Medium) The mattress conforms somewhat, but also feels fairly supportive. Sleepers won't sink very much. Side sleepers who weigh 230 lbs. or fewer

Back and stomach sleepers who weigh 130 to 230 lbs.

Side sleepers who weigh more than 230 lbs.

Back and stomach sleepers who weigh less than 130 lbs. or more than 230 lbs.

6 (Medium Firm) Sleepers feel a bit of conforming, but overall the mattress feels fairly supportive and barely sinks at all. Side, back, and stomach sleepers who weigh at least 130 lbs. Side, back, and stomach sleepers who weigh less than 130 lbs.
7-8 (Firm) Sleepers feel very little contouring. The mattress will not sink, and should feel very supportive. Side sleepers who weigh more than 230 lbs.

Back and stomach sleepers who weigh at least 130 lbs.

Side sleepers who weigh 230 lbs. or fewer

Back and stomach sleepers who weigh less than 130 lbs.

9-10 (Extra Firm) Sleepers feel little to no contouring. The mattress will maintain a flat, even surface with no sinkage whatsoever. Like extra soft, this firmness level is very uncommon. Side, back, and stomach sleepers who weigh more than 230 lbs. Side, back, and stomach sleepers who weigh 230 lbs. or fewer

The information in the table above represents the general consensus among sleepers, so there are definitely exceptions. You may weigh less than 130 pounds and prefer a firmer mattress, or weigh more than 230 pounds and prefer a softer mattress. However, the best firmness for you will likely be tied to your body type and sleep position.

If you're planning to order a mattress online, you may not be able to evaluate the firmness until after purchasing the bed. Thankfully, most online brands offer sleep trials for you to test out a mattress for a certain length of time – at least 90 nights, in most cases – and decide whether to return the mattress, keep it, or exchange it for a different model. You can also visit a brick-and-mortar mattress store to try out models with different firmness levels.

If You Have Back Pain

Roughly 8 percent of adults in the U.S. deal with chronic back pain. Whether you experience frequent or sporadic aches and pains, your mattress may alleviate – or contribute to – your discomfort. The best mattresses for back pain relief will cushion the shoulders and hips, align the spine if needed, and provide adequate support throughout the body.

Upper to Mid Back Pain: If you experience back pain above the lumbar (lower) region, you'll probably feel most comfortable on a mattress with enhanced shoulder support. Beds that sink too deeply around the shoulders can cause the spine to become misaligned. You may want to consider a mattress with zoned support layers. These layers are engineered to feel softer around the head and neck, slightly firmer under the shoulders, and even firmer beneath the back and hips.

If you experience upper back pain, you may also want to reconsider your pillow choice. If your pillow is too thick or too thin, you will be more susceptible to neck and shoulder aches. Our recommendation: find a pillow that provides enough cushioning between your head/neck and the mattress. If you sleep on a firm mattress, then a thicker pillow may be needed; if your mattress is softer and you sink beneath the surface, a thin pillow may be sufficient.

Lower Back Pain: Mattresses that offer enhanced hip support may alleviate pain in the lumbar region of the back. We tend to carry a fair amount of weight in our hips, which can cause that area to sink deeper than other areas of the body – especially if your mattress isn't supportive enough. As with upper to mid back pain, mattresses with zoned support layers tend to provide the best relief for people with lower back pain. Extra firmness around the hips ensures less sagging and better support.

Side sleepers are particularly susceptible to lower back pain because this sleep position can throw the spine out of alignment if a mattress isn’t supportive enough.. Without proper support, the hips can sink too low into the mattress. Side sleepers tend to feel most comfortable on mattresses that cushion the shoulders and hips without sagging. For this reason, side sleepers often need slightly softer mattresses than back and stomach sleepers.

Consider Your Sleeping Position

Your normal sleep position is an important consideration when choosing a new mattress. Whether you prefer your back, side, and/or stomach, how you sleep is directly tied to whether or not your bed feels comfortable and supportive enough.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers usually need a mattress that conforms to a sufficient extent without sinking too deeply around the neck, back, and shoulders. Otherwise they will probably experience neck, shoulder, and hip pain. Medium to medium firm mattresses are typically ideal for back sleepers who weigh less than 230 pounds. Those who weigh more may want to consider a medium firm to firm model.

Side Sleepers

Side sleepers are particularly vulnerable to poor spinal alignment with an unsupportive mattress. Their mattresses should provide the right amount of cushioning to the shoulders, lower back, and hips to eliminate pressure points while ensuring optimal alignment. This "right amount" depends how much you weigh. If you sleep on your side, we suggest testing out mattresses with different firmness levels to see how much padding is needed to support your spine.

Stomach Sleepers

For stomach sleepers, many require a mattress with enhanced support to the midsection and hips. People typically carry a fair amount of weight in the stomach. Sleeping face-down can cause our bodies to sink too much, leading to aches and pains in the neck, shoulders, lower back, and elsewhere. A mattress with zoned back and hip support can be very beneficial for stomach sleepers. If not zoned, the bed should at least offer strong support core reinforcement.

Combination Sleepers

Selecting a mattress as a combination sleeper is especially tricky. Our advice: make your decision based on your predominant position. If you sleep on your side most of the time, you'll probably want a mattress that offers good cushioning for the shoulders and hips. If you're mostly a back sleeper, try to find the right balance between body-contouring and even support. Stomach sleepers should look for a mattress that offers enhanced support to the waist and hips.

Different Body Types Need Unique Solutions

As with sleep position, you'll want to consider your weight and body type before selecting a mattress. Each mattress model is constructed to support sleepers in certain weight groups. Firmness, thickness, and material construction all come into play.

If you weigh less than 130 pounds, you'll probably feel most comfortable on a soft to medium soft mattress (2-4). These beds conform the closest to your body to alleviate pressure points in the shoulders, lower back, and hips. A firmer bed may not provide enough contouring, resulting in added pressure and discomfort.

If you weigh 130 to 230 pounds, you're a good candidate for a mattress with a medium soft to medium firm (4-6) feel. The bed will feel firm enough to support your shoulders, lower back, and hips, but soft enough to cushion and conform to your body.

If you weigh more than 230 pounds, you may want to consider a medium firm to firm mattress (6-8). Softer beds will sink more, and you may experience uncomfortable sagging – especially between your shoulders and hips. A firmer, more supportive mattress will keep you on an even plane. You may also need a thicker mattress with extra support layers. Beds with lower profiles often sag too much for people who weigh more than 230 pounds.

Again, these recommendations are based on our findings for most people and may not apply to you. The bottom line: you won't know your ideal mattress type, firmness, or thickness without testing out a few models. Visit a brick-and-mortar mattress store to lie down on some beds and take advantage of sleep trials from online mattress brands.

How Do I Choose a Mattress for My Child?

If you're a parent with a child in need of a mattress, you'll face some unique considerations. Keep the following factors in mind when choosing a bed for your kiddo's bedroom:

  • Price: If your child is a pre-teen or younger, don't spend too much on his or her mattress – there's a good chance it’ll be outgrown by middle or high school. A sturdy yet budget-friendly model should be sufficient.
  • Size: A smaller size will be perfectly adequate for most kids. A twin – which measures 38 inches wide by 75 inches long – will accommodate most children under the age of 13. If your child is taller than average and/or 13 or older, consider a twin XL that measures 80 inches long. A full size is a bit roomier at 53 inches wide and 75 inches long, but keep your child's bedroom size in mind. Some rooms may not be wide enough for a full to comfortably fit.
  • Thickness: Keep in mind that small children will probably need a mattress with a fairly low profile that sits close to the floor. This will make getting in and out of bed much easier.
  • Mattress type: Innersprings and all-foam beds are inexpensive mattress options for parents. An innerspring will be better for kids who prefer more support and a bouncier surface. A foam mattress may be more suitable for children who like softer mattresses that sink a bit.
  • Bed sharing: If two or more of your children sleep in the same bed, then you'll need a wider size. These include queens (60 inches wide), kings (76 inches wide), and California kings (72 inches wide). A full may also be roomy enough for two small kids. An alternative to sharing a mattress is to sleep in a bunk bed. This can be a space-saving option if your children share a particularly small bedroom.
  • Safety: Bunk bed safety is critical. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has specific safety guidelines for bunk beds, including dimensions for guard rails around each bunk, headboards, and footboards. Standalone mattresses tend to be safer, but the CPSC also has strict standards for mattresses, beds, and bedding accessories. Whichever bed you choose for your child, make sure it meets all of the safety criteria.

How Do I Choose a Crib Mattress?

Like children's mattresses, choosing a crib mattress requires careful research and consideration. Here are a few factors to take into account about crib-friendly mattresses, courtesy of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

  • Firmness: Infants should sleep on firm surfaces. Doing so reduces the risk of blocked airways if your baby rolls onto his or her stomach.
  • Back Sleeping: Until they reach one year of age, newborns and infants should sleep completely on their backs; this is known as the supine position. Any other position is considered unsafe. A crib mattress should provide enough width and length for your baby to sleep on his or her back.
  • Water Absorbency: Most crib mattresses are waterproof since accidents are common for newborns and infants, but double-check the specs just in case.
  • Room: Until they reach six months old – and possibly up to one year – your baby should sleep in your bedroom. Make sure the crib will fit, given your bedroom dimensions.
  • Bed Sharing: The AAP advises that the safest place for your baby to sleep is in his or her own crib or bassinet rather than in your bed. If you do happen to fall asleep with your baby, the AAP notes that your bed is still safer than a chair or a couch. Just be sure to move your baby to his or her crib when you wake up.
  • Accessories: Softer bedding items, such as pillows and blankets, can obstruct your baby's nose and mouth if they move around during the night. The AAP recommends only using a fitted sheet and to rely on warmer sleep clothing or wearable blankets instead of regular blankets.

Should I Buy a Mattress Topper?

A topper is an individual layer of cushioning that is placed on the surface of your mattress, either on top or beneath a fitted sheet. Most toppers measure two to five inches thick. Today's toppers are made from a wide range of materials, including memory foam, convoluted (egg-crate) polyfoam, latex, down/feathers, and wool. You might be a good candidate for a topper if:

  • You find your mattress too firm. Most toppers are designed to make the sleep surface feel softer. Toppers often have soft, medium soft, or medium feels for this reason.
  • You find your mattress too soft. Although less common, some toppers are intended to firm up a mattress that feels excessively soft.
  • You want to extend your bed's longevity. Deep sagging and body impressions in the surface are two of the main reasons why people replace their mattress. A topper can preserve the bed's surface and protect it from wear and tear.
  • You experience frequent back pain. Memory foam toppers can be particularly beneficial if you have chronic back pain and your mattress doesn't provide enough relief.
  • Your bed feels too short. Using a topper is essentially adding an extra layer or two to your mattress, which can make getting in and out of bed easier for some.
  • You sleep too hot on your mattress. You should try using a topper if your bed's surface absorbs too much body heat and sleeps warm as a result. Latex and wool toppers are especially breathable.