How to Choose a Mattress

Written By: Mallorie Stallings

A new mattress is a significant investment, so it’s important to do thorough research. Today’s market offers a vast assortment of models designed to appeal to every type of sleeper. If you’re not familiar with how to choose a mattress for your sleeping style, the amount of options can feel overwhelming.

Fortunately, familiarizing yourself with a few basic elements of mattress shopping can help you identify the type of mattress most likely to meet your needs. We’ll discuss what to consider when choosing a mattress, including sleeping position, body type, and other key factors.

What Should You Consider When Choosing a Mattress?

The right mattress can make the difference between sleeping soundly and waking up throughout the night with aches and pains. Understanding how sleeping position, body type, and personal needs and preferences influence mattress comfort can help guide you in your search.

Your Sleeping Position

Side sleepers generally require a softer mattress, such as a memory foam model, to reduce pressure points in the hips and shoulders. By contrast, the best mattress for stomach sleepers typically features a firmer surface, such as a latex or hybrid, to prevent sinking in the midsection.

In general, back sleepers benefit most from a medium firm surface that maintains spinal alignment and offers support to the lumbar area. For combination sleepers, it’s important to have a responsive mattress that allows for easy position changes.

Your Body Type

Because sleepers over 230 pounds exert more pressure on the mattress, they generally feel most comfortable on a firmer surface. Additionally, heavier individuals may prefer a latex or hybrid model, as these designs offer more support for spinal alignment.

Those weighing less than 130 pounds usually need a softer model, as mattresses feel subjectively firmer to them. For these sleepers, a mattress with foam or plush latex layers in the comfort section typically offers the most comfort.

Your Budget

Online mattress companies offer models in a variety of price-points, so most buyers should be able to find a mattress that suits their needs. Competitively priced mattresses may be made with lower-quality materials that have a shorter lifespan, whereas those sold at higher price-points may last longer and offer more special features.

Many manufacturers offer free shipping and returns in the lower 48 states, but it’s always a good idea to check these policies before purchasing. If you live in Hawaii, Alaska, or Canada, or if you would like a delivery team to set up the mattress for you, you may need to factor in additional delivery fees when calculating how much a mattress costs.

Your Specific Needs

A multitude of additional factors can influence mattress choice, such as temperature neutrality, motion isolation, and edge support. These factors may be more or less important to you depending on your needs.

Hot sleepers may look for more breathable models, whereas those who sleep with a partner may be more interested in a mattress’ ability to isolate noise and movement. People who live with joint pain may need a mattress with strong edges for getting in and out of bed, and those with back or shoulder pain may prefer a zoned model that offers targeted support.

Which Mattress Size Is Best for You?

There are six standard mattress sizes: twin, twin XL, full, queen, king, and California king. In addition, manufacturers occasionally offer split king mattresses or special sizes made to fit in RVs or accommodate entire families.

Mattress Size Dimensions Best For
Twin 38” x 75” Twin size mattresses can measure 38 or 39 inches wide, depending on the manufacturer. These are designed for one person and are typically used for children or teens.
Twin XL 38” x 80” Like twin size models, twin XL beds can be 38 or 39 inches wide, but they are 5 inches longer than a twin. This size may be attractive for growing teenagers or taller adults.
Full 54” x 75” At 54 by 75 inches, a full size can accommodate one or two sleepers. Single adults or couples working with limited space may be drawn to a full mattress, though sleepers should note that a full is 5 inches shorter than a twin XL mattress.
Queen 60” x 80” The most popular mattress size is the queen, which can comfortably sleep two adults. Queen size mattresses also have a relatively modest footprint that fits well in most average-sized bedrooms.
King 76” x 80” Couples who want to spread out or occasionally welcome children or pets into bed may prefer a king size mattress. This size is sometimes available as a split king, which is equivalent to two twin XL mattresses placed side by side so that each sleeper can customize their half.
California King 72” x 84” The California king is the longest of the standard mattress sizes, but it is slightly narrower than a king. California king beds are often favored by taller couples and those who sleep with children or pets. As with a king size, shoppers can also opt for a split California king consisting of two independent mattresses.

Which Mattress Type Is Best for You?

The five most common mattress types are foam, innerspring, latex, hybrid, and airbed. Although the details may vary from model to model, each mattress type tends to share general characteristics.

Foam Mattresses

Foam mattresses contain layers of memory foam, polyfoam, latex, or textiles over a high-density polyfoam support core. Couples often prefer these models because the mattresses perform well at motion isolation and make little to no noise when bearing weight. Most foam beds also offer strong pressure relief for side sleepers and individuals under 130 pounds.

Shoppers should note that memory foam traps more heat than other mattress materials. Additionally, foam mattresses may not offer sufficient support for sleepers over 230 pounds.

Innerspring Mattresses

Made almost entirely of metal springs, innerspring models offer notable bounce and unrivaled edge support. These features work well for combination sleepers and individuals who like to sit or sleep near the edge of the bed.

Due to their minimal comfort systems, innerspring mattresses also retain little to no heat, making them suitable for warm climates. Innerspring mattresses tend to lack pressure relief, which side sleepers in particular may find uncomfortable.

Hybrid Mattresses

Hybrid mattresses combine a comfort system of latex, polyfoam, memory foam, microcoils, or textiles with a coil support core. Most hybrids use pocketed coils. As these move independently of one another, they help reduce motion isolation while still delivering bounce, edge support, and breathability.

Because they combine pressure-relieving materials with supportive steel coils, hybrids lend themselves well to many sleeping styles, so they may make a good compromise if you and your partner are unable to agree on a mattress type. The exact feel of the mattress can vary depending on the comfort system’s construction.

Latex Mattresses

Latex is a resilient material that can be made naturally from rubber tree sap or synthetically using petrochemicals. Latex can be placed in the comfort system, the support core, or both. Layers of latex are often pierced with multiple holes designed for better airflow.

As it is fairly versatile, latex can be manufactured in different firmness levels to accommodate most sleeper types. The material provides sufficient support for sleepers over 230 pounds, and its responsive feel helps facilitate movement on top of the bed. Shoppers interested in natural materials and those who have a higher budget might enjoy an organic latex mattress.


For people who want the freedom to customize the firmness of their mattress, airbeds offer a unique solution. Airbeds contain layers of pressure-relieving materials set atop an air chamber. Letting air into the chamber makes the mattress firmer, while letting air out makes it softer. High-end airbeds can be adjusted using a remote control or a smartphone app.

Airbeds tend to sleep cool, and their customizable firmness adapts well to sleepers across the board. However, they tend to cost more than other mattress types. Airbeds are sometimes confused with inflatable air mattresses, which are inexpensive products designed for temporary use.

Which Mattress Firmness Is Best for You?

The best mattress firmness supplies adequate levels of both pressure relief and support, which vary depending on the individual. While personal preference plays a role, knowing the details of mattress firmness can help you narrow down your choice.

Our Firmness Scale

To make it easier to compare and contrast mattresses, we describe firmness on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the firmest. The majority of mattresses sold today fall in the midrange between medium soft (4) and medium firm (6). Mattresses within this range can accommodate most sleeper types.

For the average back sleeper between 130 and 230 pounds, the most appropriate firmness is often medium firm, or 6 out of 10. This firmness level helps relieve pressure points without letting the sleeper sink too far into the mattress. Side sleepers and individuals under 130 pounds may prefer a mattress on the softer side, while stomach sleepers and those over 230 pounds usually require a firmer bed.

Firm Mattresses

Firm mattresses with a rating of 7 or higher keep sleepers mostly on top of the bed, rather than allowing them to sink in. This can be beneficial for stomach sleepers, who need to prevent sinking in the midsection to keep the spine on an even plane. Firm mattresses can also feel more supportive for individuals over 230 pounds.

Medium Mattresses

Medium soft (4) to medium firm (6) mattresses provide moderate contouring that helps ease pressure points while maintaining healthy spinal alignment. Since these mattresses offer a balanced feel, they are often appropriate for people between 130 and 230 pounds and couples with differing firmness preferences.

Soft Mattresses

Sleepers who like the feel of sinking into their mattress may prefer a plusher bed with a firmness rating of 3 or less. These models hug the sleeper more closely and are often preferred by side sleepers and people under 130 pounds for their contouring pressure relief. Soft mattresses generally aren’t appropriate for stomach sleepers or individuals over 230 pounds, who may find they lack sufficient support.

Related Reading:

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  • California King vs. King

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  • RV Mattress Sizes

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