How to Choose a Mattress

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Buying a new mattress is a big financial investment, and the seemingly never-ending list of mattress types and brands can be overwhelming. With so many options to choose from, it can be challenging to find the best mattress that fits your preferences and budget.

At the same time, having a good mattress directly affects how well you sleep at night and how you feel during the day. Healthy sleep enables your mind and body to function at their best, which supports your mental, physical, and emotional wellness. Accordingly, choosing the right mattress may help you get better rest and even improve some types of pain.

Having the right information can help you shop wisely. We show you how to select a mattress for optimal sleep quality, including how to pick a mattress that is the right size and that suits your comfort preferences, body type, and sleeping position.

What Types of Mattresses Are There?

Most mattresses fall into one of five categories: foam, innerspring, hybrid, latex, or airbed.

No single type of mattress is the best for everyone. Each variety comes with different features and unique benefits and drawbacks. As a result, some types of mattresses are better suited to certain sleeping positions, support needs, body sizes, and lifestyles.

Foam

Foam mattresses consist of multiple layers of polyfoam, memory foam, and/or latex on top of a dense polyfoam support core. They tend to be softer and more affordable than many other mattress types.

All-foam mattresses are usually quiet and isolate motion, making them particularly suitable for couples who want to prevent sleep disruptions from one person moving a lot in their sleep.

While many side sleepers appreciate foam mattresses for their pressure-relieving properties, people who need a firm sleep surface may want a different kind of mattress. Foam can also trap heat, making it a less desirable choice for people who sleep hot.

Innerspring

Innerspring mattresses rely on metal coils for their support core. Their comfort layers are usually minimal, which can reduce the pressure relief that these beds provide. Movement of the coils can also cause innerspring mattresses to be noisy.

Coils usually retain their strength across the full surface of the mattress, so innersprings are a solid choice for people who frequently sleep on the edge of the bed. The coils also let air circulate throughout the mattress, which can be beneficial for hot sleepers and people who live in warm climates. Innerspring mattresses tend to be firmer, which may make them a match for people who want a harder sleeping surface.

Hybrid

Hybrid mattresses combine a pocketed coil support system with comfort layers made from polyfoam, memory foam, cloth, latex, and/or microcoils. This allows hybrids to deliver performance that capitalizes on the advantages offered by different types of materials.

Hybrid mattresses are versatile, making them a good option for couples with different comfort preferences and for individuals who frequently change sleeping positions throughout the night.

Hybrid mattress models can vary in construction and feel, providing for considerable diversity of product offerings in this category. Depending on their design, some hybrid mattresses may not work with adjustable bed bases.

Latex

Made from natural rubber tree sap or synthetic chemicals, latex provides bouncy support and durable performance. Latex mattresses may be made exclusively of latex or combine a latex support core with a comfort system made from other materials.

Hot sleepers often gravitate toward latex mattresses because latex normally retains less heat than foam. On top of that, many latex materials are manufactured with tiny holes to encourage additional airflow.

Latex mattresses may be a good choice for sleepers over 230 pounds, anyone seeking pressure relief without an extremely plush feel, and people who prefer natural materials. Although organic latex models can be expensive, they can be an appealing alternative to synthetic foams for some shoppers.

Airbed

Airbeds provide a solution for hot sleepers, couples who like different mattress firmness levels, and anyone looking for a customizable sleep surface. These mattresses contain one or more inflatable air chambers beneath pressure-relieving comfort layers. Using a remote control or smartphone app, sleepers can change the firmness level of the mattress by inflating or deflating the air chambers on either side of the bed.

With this flexibility, sleepers can adjust the feel of their mattress to suit their needs at any given moment. People who share a bed can set a separate firmness level for their own side. In addition, air chambers retain very little heat, so airbeds typically maintain temperature neutrality.

Because airbeds are so versatile and customizable, they are suitable for most sleeping positions and body types. However, they are generally more expensive than other types of mattresses.

Mattress Firmness

Firmness is a term used to describe the way a mattress feels when you lie on it, including how much you sink into it. Although mattress firmness levels can be subjective, most fall into the categories of soft, medium, or firm.

Manufacturers and retailers often refine these categories even further by using a mattress firmness scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the firmest. Knowing what firmness level you prefer can make it easier to choose the right mattress.

  • Soft: Soft mattresses have a plush feel and let you sink into the bed.
  • Medium: Medium mattresses retain some plushness but do not allow as much sink. As a middle of the road option, mattresses with medium firmness are popular among many types of sleepers.
  • Firm: Firm mattresses offer a noticeably harder sleeping surface. On a firm mattress, you tend to sleep on top of the bed instead of sinking into it.

In some cases, a mattress may be described as falling somewhere between these categories, such as medium soft or medium firm.

Some firmness levels are a better match for certain body types based on the nature of the support and pressure relief that the mattress provides. For example, a firmer mattress that is a 7 out of 10 on the firmness scale might be better for individuals who weigh more than 230 pounds. These sleepers may find that a softer mattress allows too much sink to provide a dependable and supportive sleeping surface. In contrast, sleepers under 130 pounds may need a softer mattress with more sink that can cushion their body’s pressure points.

Most mattresses on the market have medium firmness and fall between 4 and 6 on the firmness scale. This makes them a reasonable compromise for couples and a good fit for most people who weigh between 130 and 230 pounds.

Certain firmness levels meet the needs of different kinds of sleepers.

Firmness Level Firmness Scale Ideal For
Soft 1-3
  • People under 130 pounds
  • Sleepers seeking a plush feel
Medium 4-6
  • People between 130 and 230 pounds
  • Most side sleepers
Firm 7-10
  • People over 230 pounds
  • Stomach sleepers
  • Those who prefer a harder sleep surface

Sleeping Position

The right mattress for you should promote comfort and spinal alignment given your normal sleeping position and body type.

Some mattress firmness levels and materials are better for individuals who sleep on their back, side, or stomach. As you explore your options, consider your usual sleeping position, and if relevant, your bed partner's sleeping position.

Several factors can help you determine what kind of mattress best suits your sleep style.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers need support primarily in the lumbar area of the lower back. A very soft mattress can let this area fall out of alignment with the rest of the spine, while an overly firm bed may fail to support the lower back.

Most back sleepers do best with a mattress that is 5 to 7 on the firmness scale. People who weigh over 230 pounds may feel more comfortable with a firmer option, while back sleepers under 130 pounds might prefer a medium soft or medium firmness level.

Side Sleepers

Side sleepers tend to accumulate pressure at the shoulders and hips. They need notable contouring to relieve this pressure and enable proper spinal alignment. However, too soft of a bed can cause the hips and shoulders to sink excessively and pull the spine out of line.

Mattresses with a firmness level of 4 to 6 tend to offer the pressure relief that side sleepers need. People over 230 pounds may need a firmer model, and people under 130 pounds may want more plushness. Many side sleepers also appreciate mattresses with zoned support that targets major pressure points.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers will sink into a mattress that is too soft or unsupportive. Over time, this can lead to lower back pain and positional spinal misalignment.

Stomach sleepers between 130 and 230 pounds can benefit from a mattress between 6 and 8 on the firmness scale, which combines very light contouring with needed stability. Individuals under 130 pounds may prefer a slightly softer model. Stomach sleepers over 230 pounds require the firmest mattresses, typically a 7 or higher on the firmness scale.

Combination Sleepers

The best type of mattresses for a combination sleeper depends on the individual's most common sleeping position and their weight.

Sleepers under 130 pounds should look for a soft or medium soft model that provides contouring without too much sink. People over 230 pounds should prioritize a mattress that is 7 or higher, unless they frequently sleep on their side. Combination sleepers of all weights who tend to favor side sleeping may prefer a mattress with slightly more contouring.

Mattress Sizes

Many people decide to purchase a new mattress because their current mattress feels too small. When shopping, look for a mattress that fits your bedroom, lifestyle, and budget.

Mattress Size Dimensions Ideal For
Twin 38" x 75"
  • Kids
  • Teens
  • Adults under 6 feet tall
Twin XL 38" x 80"
  • Taller teens
  • Adults over 6 feet tall
Full 54" x 75"
  • Adults under 6 feet tall
  • Some couples
Queen 60" x 80"
  • Most couples
  • Those who share the bed with a pet
King 76" x 80"
  • Couples who want more space
  • Couples who share the bed with children or pets
California King 72" x 84"
  • Couples with taller adults
  • Couples who share the bed with a child or a pet

Other Considerations When Choosing a Mattress

There are many factors to consider when buying a new mattress. As you shop, you can prioritize some features over others depending on your preferences and needs. Considering additional factors can help you narrow down your options and feel confident about making a new mattress purchase.

What is Your Budget?

Buying a mattress is a major investment, and cost is a significant consideration for many shoppers. However, because your mattress receives daily use, it is important to focus on quality. While the most expensive mattresses are not necessarily the best, a low-cost but poorly made model can cost you more money in the long run.

The price of a mattress depends on numerous factors. Mattresses with many features or customizable components, like airbeds, are generally more expensive than other varieties. Organic and natural materials like latex can also be costly.

Start by identifying what is a reasonable amount for you to spend, and then you can begin looking at options around that price point. Depending on what you find, you can modify your budget as necessary. During this process, focus on models with the key characteristics and features you want rather than pricey extras that may not benefit you.

You can also save money by strategically timing your purchase. Many stores and websites offer discounts on holidays like Labor Day, Presidents' Day, and Cyber Monday.

Do You Experience Back Pain?

Back pain is an extremely common problem, affecting 80% of people at some point in their lives. Chronic lower back pain, in particular, has been shown to negatively affect sleep quality and duration.

Choosing a good mattress that fits your needs may help prevent or reduce back pain. Although it might seem as though softer models would be the most comfortable, many plush mattresses fail to properly support the spine. Some sleepers with back problems prefer a firmer mattress, but a research study of adults with chronic lower back pain found that people who slept on medium mattresses experienced the most pain relief.

Finding the right mix of comfort, support, and pressure relief is often easiest with a hybrid mattress, but the best choice for any individual will depend on their preferences, sleeping position, and body weight.

Do You Sleep Hot?

Some mattress materials block airflow and absorb heat, causing hot sleepers to wake up sweaty and uncomfortable. Sleepers who prefer a cool sleep surface or live in a warm climate may want to consider a hybrid, latex, or innerspring mattress. These mattress types tend to resist heat buildup. Airbeds are also a good option for hot sleepers because their air chambers do not collect heat.

Hot sleepers generally want to avoid all-foam mattresses, which retain the most warmth. In addition, mattresses of any type that are very soft may cradle the body and block cooling airflow from reaching the skin.

In some models, specialty materials may help the mattress maintain a comfortable temperature. Looking closely at the construction of a mattress can help determine if it will help keep you from sleeping hot.

Do You Sleep With a Partner?

Many people wonder how to choose a mattress that will suit them and their bed partner alike, especially if they have different sleeping positions, firmness preferences, body types, or medical needs. For example, your partner may need a mattress that helps soothe their back pain, but you might prefer a very soft sleep surface that would leave them aching in the morning.

Customizable options like airbeds make it easier for couples with different needs to share a mattress. Airbeds let bed partners adjust the firmness level on each side of the mattress to suit their individual preferences.

Hybrid models can also be a good compromise for couples because they combine the stability and support of coils with the pressure relief of additional comfort layers.

Another factor that people who share a bed may want to think about is motion isolation. Foam mattresses and hybrids tend to be the best at keeping one partner’s movement from being felt on the other side of the bed.

Some shoppers may want to consider whether a mattress is conducive to sex. Materials with a bouncier feel like latex and coils are often preferred for enabling intimate activities.

In the end, if you and your bed partner are not able to come to an agreement on a mattress, you can consider getting a mattress topper for one half of the mattress. Although this may not be ideal, it can help make sure that each person gets what they need to feel comfortable and sleep soundly.

Do You Prefer Organic Materials?

In recent years, many mattress companies have begun to prioritize sustainability, including by using natural and organic materials and environmentally conscious manufacturing processes.

Natural latex is a popular choice among shoppers who favor organic materials. This springy material comes from the sap of rubber trees and offers both bounce and support. While natural latex options can be expensive, they are also durable and have broad appeal based on their performance.

A number of hybrid and innerspring mattresses include at least one layer made with natural materials such as organic wool and cotton, or recycled metal coils.

Do You Need Edge Support?

If you tend to sleep or sit on the edge of your bed, you may need a mattress with strong edge support. If the edges of a mattress are too weak, it will sag around the perimeter instead of supporting your body. This can make the bed feel unstable and make it difficult to get in and out of bed.

People who weigh over 230 pounds may require more edge support than other sleepers. It is also an important feature for couples since it can be difficult to have sex on a mattress that doesn’t have consistent support across the whole mattress surface.

Edge support varies considerably among types of mattresses, although it is often strongest in innerspring and hybrid models and weakest in foam mattresses. If you need additional edge support, look for a mattress that features a reinforced perimeter.

How to Buy a Mattress

To get the most out of your mattress purchase, there are several aspects of buying a mattress to keep in mind.

  • Common times for sales: Mattress stores and websites alike tend to run sales around holidays and during certain times of the year. You can find particularly good deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday when many retailers offer significant discounts.
  • Sleep trials: Most online mattress companies offer a risk-free trial period. This lets you try out the mattress in your own home and return or exchange it for free if you are not satisfied with it. Many sleep trials are around 100 days, but some may last as long as a year.
  • Warranties: Warranties are guarantees that the manufacturer will provide a replacement, refund, or repair for defective materials or problems due to poor workmanship. While a warranty is nice to have, it’s important to know that it will not cover standard wear and tear.
  • Delivery options: Many mattress stores offer free delivery and setup. Online retailers frequently provide free delivery, but customers may need to set up the mattress on their own. When shopping, consider if you will need help transporting and/or assembling your new mattress.

Online

You’ll usually save money buying a mattress online, and you have more options available online than you will find in any showroom. However, shopping online lacks the advantage of seeing different products in person.

To ensure the best buying experience, stick to reputable retailers with numerous positive reviews and look for a sleep trial that gives you a risk-free opportunity to test out the mattress. When buying online, make sure to closely examine shipping costs and delivery options.

In-Store

One benefit to buying in a store is that you can see mattresses up close. Salespeople are also available to answer questions and guide you to specific models. Although mattress stores often charge higher prices than online retailers, many of them periodically run sales with deep discounts. Stores also commonly offer delivery and setup services that may be included in the purchase price.

Frequently Asked Questions About Choosing a Mattress

When Should I Replace My Mattress?

Generally, you should replace your mattress every six to eight years. You may want to replace it earlier if it begins to show signs of wear that negatively affect your sleep. It may be time for a new mattress if you begin to experience sleep-related aches and pains, especially if you have noticed that your mattress is sinking or sagging in certain places.

You may also think about replacing your mattress if you want a larger mattress because you are moving to a bigger bedroom or are planning to start sharing a bed with a partner.

How Long Should a Mattress Last?

A good mattress lasts about 7 to 10 years, although certain types of mattresses are more prone to wear and tear than others. Some innerspring mattresses may wear out after only five years of use, while latex models tend to last the longest.

Frequency of use plays a significant role in the lifespan of a mattress. As you would expect, the bed in your guest room may last longer than the mattress you sleep on every night.

In addition, the quality of materials and workmanship in almost any type of mattress will affect its durability, which is why it’s important to look at how a mattress is built before making a purchase.

What Is the Best Type of Mattress for a Child’s Bed?

A child's mattress should be able to accommodate their growth over time. A twin or twin XL is an affordable size that works for most kids and teenagers. Some parents opt for a flippable mattress with different firmness levels on each side, which provides the ability to change the bed’s feel if their child’s preferences change. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), infants should sleep on a firm crib mattress.

Depending on your child's age, you may want to consider a mattress with a waterproof cover or purchase a waterproof mattress protector that helps prevent damage or stains from spills and accidents.

References

+ 5 Sources
  1. 1. Accessed March 24, 2022.https://medlineplus.gov/healthysleep.html
  2. 2. Accessed March 24, 2022.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14630439/
  3. 3. Accessed March 24, 2022.https://medlineplus.gov/backpain.html
  4. 4. Accessed on April 4, 2022.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20842008/
  5. 5. Accessed on April 4, 2022.https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx

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