How to Choose a Mattress – The Ultimate Guide for Buying the Perfect Mattress

Finding the right mattress made easy

Sleeping is a necessity, designed by nature to restore, revitalize, and rejuvenate. I think we can all agree that it’s something we love doing. It’s what keeps our bodies happy and our minds safe and sound, allowing us to take a long break from life. A recent study by Harvard Medical School concluded that the lack of appropriate sleep can affect judgement, mood and our ability to learned or retain information. In the long term, poor sleep can lead to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality. While sleep is a bit of a mystery, there are some basic constants that can help ensure a peaceful night’s rest. Let’s start with one of the easiest fixes…a good mattress.

How to Choose a Mattress: A Dreamer’s Guide

Because choosing a mattress is just as complex of an issue as sleeping itself, let’s start with a brief introduction. This is where we compile the ultimate mattress checklist – an overview of all things to consider and a step-by-step guide for getting the best possible cushion for your bedtime needs. Find out what they are first, and the rest comes easy. Here’s how to shop for a mattress:

Bookmark This Guide. Consider it your “go-to” tool. Whenever you need a new mattress, this guide can serve as your manual. It also has many useful links like Amazon’s Top Rated Mattresses.

Learn Your Lesson. When it’s time to replace your old mattress, think about what is was you liked about it. What didn’t you like? Did the side collapse when you sat on the edge? Did it develop a valley where you normally slept? Identify what your “must haves” are in your new mattress before shopping. See the list below for more suggestions.

Track Your Sleep Cycle. Determine what kind of a sleeper you are. Do you toss and turn, or do you sink into a dreamless void as soon as you hit the sack? What are your special needs and requirements? If I don’t have a body pillow, the type of mattress I sleep on makes little difference. I’m a cuddler…what can I say.

Browse Mattress Shops. High-quality mattresses can be bought in sleep specialty shops, though most furniture stores sell them as well. You can test them in-person and order them from online shops. This, oftentimes, will save you money, and the mattress will be delivered right to your door.

Check Online Reviews. Whatever you decide, don’t rely on sales pitches and product descriptions alone. Go online to check out what real people are saying. This includes websites, such as Amazon.com and other community forums.

Consider this:

  • How old is your old mattress?
  • What’s your ideal type of mattress?
  • What kind of support do you need?
  • What are your sleeping habits?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • How much can you afford?

Think about it…you’ll spend almost 1/3 of your life sleeping. That’s almost 230,000 hours. So purchasing a new mattress is a big deal. So let’s answer these questions and get you prepared to hit the hay.

1. How Old Is Your Old Mattress? Do You Even Need a New One?

How Old Is Your Old Mattress

If your old mattress is over eight years old, you probably need a new one. Most mattresses aren’t designed to last forever. Ultimately, it comes down to a simple quality and endurance test – a test you can do yourself, at home, right now.

Depending on its design and structure, a mattress can be over ten years old and still provide amazing support. However, the easiest way to find out whether or not your old mattress falls under this category is to analyze your sleep. Do you wake up at night sore? Are you experiencing back problems or joint pains? A lot of times, these are signs that your need a new mattress.

Go to your bedroom, remove everything from your bed, and examine the mattress closely. If there’s sagging anywhere, the mattress needs to go. The same applies to mattresses with noticeable signs of wear and tear. These are signs the structural integrity has started to degrade, which means you’re not getting the best sleep possible.

In fact, the National Bed Federation finds that every mattress older than seven years is a good candidate for retirement, even if it doesn’t show any signs of degradation. And I don’t want to gross your out, but studies have also shown that we can sweat up to 1 liter of fluid a night and up to a pound of dead skin cells each year. Give me a second…I just threw up a little in my mouth. So after 7 years…you do the math.

2. What’s the Ideal Type of Mattress for Your Sleeping Needs?

There are a few main types of mattresses, and there’s at least one perfectly suited for your sleeping needs. Maybe you’ve been to a hotel that had firm mattresses, and you slept like a baby. Or maybe your body type requires something softer. You are the best judge. If you have no idea what your needs are, visit a local mattress store. But here is a great guide to the different types of mattress construction to get you started before you make a purchase.

  • Pocket Sprung

The most discernible characteristic of a pocket sprung mattress is, you guessed it right, a spring sewn into each individual fabric pocket. Responsible for both endurance and support, these springs come in different levels of tension, so they vary in how they mold to your body while you sleep.

Regardless of the material, this type of mattress is bouncy and breathable. The springs will adjust to how you sleep, but will also cater to your partner’s needs. The pocket spring mattress is good for all weights and habits.

  • Open Spring  

A far less luxurious version of a pocket sprung mattress, open spring mattresses rely on a single piece of metal wire coiled into numerous springs and one additional border rod which provides structure and maintains shape. Because of that, it’s also called a continuous coil or an open coil mattress.

This is a budget-friendly option for heavy sleepers, given that comfort is not actually this mattress’s strongest suit. Open spring will serve you reasonably well for only a few years before it starts to show signs of wear.

  • Latex

If you’re a light sleeper, then latex is an obvious choice. Filled with latex foam, which is extremely breathable and pleasantly bouncy, this type of mattress provides not only amazing support and comfort, but also cooling and anti-allergen properties.

It can feel a bit firm at first, but it will get softer over time. Regardless of that, a quality latex mattress is very durable and can last for longer than a decade. Choose natural over synthetic, and you’ll sleep mold and mite-free for years to come.

  • Memory Foam

Memory foam and latex are great alternatives to each other, as both take the cake when it comes to body support. Though slight, the difference between them is apparent to people with painful joints or bad backs, given that moldable memory foam provides body contouring and great pressure relief.

Its no-spring structure will maintain your posture however you sleep, but it may feel a bit too snuggly (as if that could be a bad thing). To avoid “sleeping hot”, choose memory foam with cooling.

  • Hybrids

Then again, why limit yourself to a single mattress type when you can have the best of all worlds? Each and every one of them comes with a list of pros and cons, thus giving you only certain benefits. Not hybrids.

This combination of coils, latex, memory foam, and other materials is perfect for every kind of sleeper, since it allows a highly customized version of a mattress that best suits you. For instance, you can choose a hybrid with a moldable latex top layer and a pocket spring core.

3. What Kind of Support Do You Need? Is Firm Better Than Soft?

What Kind of Support Do You Need

The age old question…firm or soft? This choice is as individual as the people that sleep on the mattress. It comes down to personal preference. Mattress firmness is a subjective experience and should not be confused with support. The first refers to how hard the mattress feels while the second serves to comfort your spine.

Mattresses traditionally come in soft and firm versions with a range of options in between. You probably won’t know which one you like the best until you’ve tried them all. 

  • Medium

On a scale from one to ten, one being extremely soft and ten being very firm, the average mattress firmness falls between four and seven. This is sort of a “universal” design that allows two partners with different firmness preferences to sleep like babies on the same mattress.

Universal comfort design thus combines medium soft with medium firm constructions and materials. The first is ideal for tossers and turners, as it provides great body contouring, even if you tend to change your sleeping positions. The second is intended for back sleepers, and it comes with excellent support for the lower back.

  • Soft

When you switch sides while you sleep, your spine, joints, and the rest of your body experience the same amount of pressure. Your weight is evenly divided, so it reduces strain felt by your body. Because of this, you can treat yourself with a soft, moldable mattress that feels like a big bundle of feathery clouds.

  • Firm

If you’re suffering from back pain, then you can’t give yourself the same bouncy treatment as people who regularly switch sides. You need a sturdy base to support your spine throughout the night, which calls for a firm mattress. It’ll keep your back in a stable position, preventing you from sinking into the bed.

4. What Are Your Unique Sleeping Habits, Needs and Preferences?

Though we’ve already covered different sleeping positions while we were discussing mattress firmness and support, bedtime habits can vary from person to person, regardless of whether they sleep on their side, back, or stomach. So let’s go deeper and examine ideal matches for various preferences.

Side. For reasons already explained (see soft mattresses above), side sleepers can treat themselves with a cushion that’s both comfy and bouncy. On a scale from one to ten, that falls in between three and six and gets medium soft to soft. As for mattress type, you can’t go wrong with memory foam.

Back. If you sleep on your back, go for a mattress with a firmness level in between four and seven. Your spine needs extra support, whether you have pain or not. The more back soreness you have, the firmer your mattress should be. Opt for latex or pocket spring to add just the right amount of softness to get rid of the pressure.

Stomach. Medium firm mattresses are the best choice for stomach sleepers – not only do they provide enough support, but they also divide it equally across the entire body. The general rule of thumb here is more or less the same as with mattresses for back sleepers, so stay within the five to seven range.

  • How to Choose a Mattress If You’re Struggling with Allergies

Choosing a mattress that will soothe your body and reduce the affects of your allergies can be tricky, especially if you’re suffering from both back pain and sinus problems. Latex and memory foam are antimicrobial and resistant to dust mites and mold, so go for either of them or include them in your hybrid mix.

  • How to Choose a Mattress for Your Painful Back and Joints

Firm, firm, and nothing but firm. Though it may feel uncomfortable in the beginning, you’ll notice the difference after a few nights. Whatever position you usually sleep in, your body needs a mattress that provides sturdy support and pressure relief, and that’s either memory foam or latex.

  • How to Choose a Mattress If You Tend to Sleep Hot  

This may be the only category where foam and latex can’t beat out a spring coil mattress – at least not if they are of average quality. Modern versions of both mattress types come with cooling properties, but they do cost a bit more than traditional variants. If you tend to sleep hot, choose pocket sprung or hybrid.

  • How to Choose a Mattress to Suit Your Pregnant Partner

Just like people with back problems, pregnant ladies need a mattress that will eliminate any additional pressure from their spine and joints. But unlike back pain sufferers, women who are expecting are side sleepers by default, especially when the bump starts to show. They need a softer mattress made of latex or foam.

5. What About Weight? Should That Affect Your Choice?

How Much Do You Weigh?

As you’ve probably figured out by now, there are many factors that affect your quality of sleep. Your body type is certainly among the most important ones, since support, firmness and cooling all depend on how much you weigh. Ultimately, your weight is a major factor in determining how much pressure you need to support.

With 200 pounds or less, you can choose virtually any type of mattress that fits your sleeping habits and needs. You’ll hardly ever sink into any of them, which means that any kind of cushioning will give you the desired amount of support. Most mattresses are designed for average sleepers, so be picky.

With 200 pounds or more, you should look for mattresses with greater compression support. This is especially true for people who like softer cushioning but tend to sleep hot and sink right into the mattress. A hybrid may be your best option by far, since it allows you to adjust the firmness to your needs.

6. How Much Should You Pay for a Good Mattress?

This is fairly subjective. Simply because a mattress is more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for you. While you can expect to pay around $1,000 for a quality queen/king size mattress, there are numerous on the market for far less. Here are some good tips to think about when considering price

Read Product Reviews – Some reviews are updated several years after a purchase. If people are still saying good things 2 to 3 years later, this indicates a good quality mattress that you should consider.

Visit stores – While laying on mattresses to see what feels most comfortable, ask about product warranties. A longer warranty often protects you if the mattress should develop valleys or sagging spots. This is a good sign of a mattress that will probably hold up over time.

Ask Around – Talk to friends and co-workers. See what they are sleeping on. Ask about how well the mattress is holding up. Do they have likes/dislikes? Firsthand experience is always a good indicator.

This Is an Investment – A mattress is no place to try to save money. You spend so much time in bed sleeping. If your ideal mattress costs a few hundred more than you’d like to spend, consider the fact that the perfect mattress will help you to feel refreshed and ready for whatever life throws at you each day. You can’t put a price on that.

It’s not just about better sleep. It’s about being better awake.

These are just some general guidelines for choosing your next mattress. There are no absolutes. So choose the mattress that provides you with the most comfort and the best night’s sleep. Much like buying a car, there are so many variables to consider, but take comfort in knowing that there is a perfect mattress out there just for you.

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Michael Yarnell

Sleep Position: I toss and turn. Mattress type: Old school, firm with a box spring Pillow type: Soft, but not too soft. But not too hard. Medium? Is that a type? Average hours sleep/night: 6-7 Sleep in: shorts and a t-shirt I’m pretty much your average mid-western transplant. I came to California about 10 years ago to make it big in show biz. Apparently, I’m not much of an actor, but I fell in love with the beauty of the Southern California. Usually you’ll find me at the beach or in the mountains. Waking up to an awesome sunrise coming over the mountains is the perfect medicine for your soul.

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