You’ve heard it said that we’ll spend somewhere around a third of our lives in bed—And the math works out. While we’re mostly awake for life’s larger portions, taking care of ourselves all the time is essential—Not just the two-thirds we remember best. Learning how to choose a mattress that fits our needs is critical to that self-care.
There are a multitude of online reviews and advertising campaigns telling us what the best mattress is and where to buy one. However, knowing how to pick a mattress isn’t usually part of the sales pitch.
To help, we’ve compiled this guide so you can decide what to look for in a mattress that fits your needs rather than which mattress to blindly purchase and hope for the best.
Why Does a Good Mattress Matter?
The easy answer to a question like, why does a good mattress matter, is to help you sleep better. That’s true. However, there’s far more to it than that. A mattress that fits your body, body type, sleeping situation, sleeping position or positions, and comfort needs not only allows for better sleep but also provides spinal alignment support, pressure point relief, temperature control, and other features.
Getting good sleep is crucial. Health.gov states that getting enough sleep helps you:
- Make good decisions
- Avoid injury
- Get along with others better
- Get sick less frequently
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce your risk of developing diabetes
- Lower your chances for developing heart disease
- Lessen your stress level
- Generally, be in a better mood
When to Buy a New Mattress
The average lifespan for any mattress is between eight and ten years. However, that’s not a hard and fast rule. Here are several questions to answer when determining if you need a new mattress.
- Are you still sleeping well on your current mattress?
- Do you sleep better when away from home?
- Does your mattress make excessive squeaking or other noises when you lay down?
- Is there noticeable sagging happening to your mattress?
- Is your mattress over 10 years old?
- Do you notice lumps or inconsistencies in your mattress
- Does your mattress have physical damage?
- Are you waking up with unexplained aching or soreness? (Contact a physician before determining your bed mattress is to blame.)
If the answer to one or more of those questions is yes, it may be time to investigate whether you need a new mattress or not. If you’ve decided it’s time to purchase a new mattress, here’s everything you need to know.
Types of Mattresses
The first step in choosing a mattress is knowing what types are available. There are five primary mattress types. While each is represented by specific features, many attributes tend to overlap between the various types.
A foam mattress or all-foam mattress is just as it sounds. These are bed mattresses usually comprised of various foam types and densities. There are four general types of foam used in these mattresses, including polyurethane, memory, non-memory, and latex. However, there are several more less common types.
Layers in foam mattresses typically include at least one of each of a top, comfort layer, a support layer, and a more rigid base layer. Our Nectar review revealed its Memory Foam Mattress, for instance, that employs a comfort layer of gel memory foam, a slightly thicker transition layer, and a thick support layer of more dense foam.
Foam mattresses commonly feature a medium-firm feel but are also available in comfort levels ranging from soft or plush to firm.
Innerspring mattresses have been around for a long time. These mattresses use a system of internal steel springs or coils that support a comfort layer where you sleep. The comfort layer can be as simple as a foam or memory foam layer or more lush, like a pillowtop mattress.
These mattresses often require a boxspring placed underneath to keep them from sagging. However, new designs sometimes negate the need for an added boxspring. Innerspring mattresses are typically quite bouncy and can come in any firmness level.
A hybrid mattress combines the best support of an innerspring mattress with the cushiony feel of a foam mattress. These mattresses typically consist of a rigid support and spring system underneath several foam layers, topped by a memory or non-memory foam comfort layer.
Hybrid mattresses offer excellent support and resist sagging without an additional box spring component and are available in any firmness level.
Adjustable Air Mattress
Instead of learning how to pick a mattress and, for various, more important, other reasons, adjustable air mattresses are available from many manufacturers. Adjustable air mattresses or airbeds have at least one, but more commonly up to six, air chambers that users can adjust using electric air pumps.
These mattresses are common for therapeutic use and just for getting good sleep by adjusting the firmness level to your liking.
A Bed-in-a-box mattress is a relatively new term that simply denotes a vacuum-compressed bed, rolled up, and shipped in a box. These mattresses can be all-foam or hybrid models, requiring the owner to unbox the product and allow it to expand for a day or two before using it.
Mattress Comfort Levels
A mattress’s firmness or comfort level can tell you much of what you need to know about how to choose a mattress. However, various mattress manufacturers use different firmness levels to describe their products. While that can confuse the issue, they all generally use a one through ten scale, with 10 being the most firm.
Soft mattresses are also often called plush. Mattresses with a firmness rating of between one and three or four are considered soft. Soft mattresses are usually preferred by people who sleep on their sides or require extra pressure point relief.
You’ll find medium firmness mattresses ranging from three or four to five on the scale. Mattresses with medium firmness are typically excellent for side sleepers who sometimes sleep on their backs or alter between the two during sleeping hours. Medium mattresses can also work well for heavier bodies that prefer a soft feel but need a little more support.
The most popular mattress comfort level is called medium-frim. There’s much debate about what makes a mattress medium-firm, however. Depending on who you ask, these mattresses range from five to eight on the firmness scale. While that’s a wide range, medium-firm mattresses are the most comfortable for most, but not all, people.
A medium-firm mattress will likely accommodate most people with any sleeping position, including side, back, stomach, and combination sleepers.
Firm mattresses are often used for therapeutic beds or for those with mobility issues. However, many stomach sleepers find them quite accommodating as well. Firm mattresses land on the firmness scale above eight.
How to choose a mattress has more to do with type and comfort level. Making sure the mattress fits in your home is essential as well. More commonly, people choose a mattress’s size depending on how many people are in the bed, budget, and personal preference. Here’s how they stack up on size.
|Twin||38 x 75 inches
96.5 x 188 cm
|Twin XL||38 x 80 inches
96.5 x 203.5 cm
|Full or Double||54 x 75 inches
134.5 x 190.5 cm
|Queen||60 x 80 inches
152 x 203.5 cm
|King||76 x 80 inches
193 x 203.5 cm
|California King||72 x 84 inches
183 x 213.5 cm
Other sizes than those are available but fairly uncommon or considered specialty mattresses. Some manufacturers will offer some sizes with different names or different sizes than what’s common.
The primary reason to choose the best mattress for your body and sleeping type is comfort. However, there are several other features to choose from that may or may not add or detract from that comfort.
Motion transfer is the ability to feel movement on one side of the mattress when there’s movement on the other. Older innerspring mattresses often had high motion transfer qualities that allowed one person to feel the slightest movement from another person in the bed.
While today’s innerspring mattresses are better at motion isolation, foam mattresses and high-quality hybrids typically feature very low motion transfer levels.
Bed layers are more detailed than just layer after layer of foam and springs. You can feel the edge support of a mattress by sitting at the edge with your legs over the side. If you feel like you’re sliding off the mattress, it’s said to have little edge support.
Edge support is created within a mattress by varying the density of foam or other material around the edges enough to provide support but not enough to affect the bed’s firmness or comfort attributes.
Tearing the sheets off in the middle of the night because you’re too hot isn’t fun. Modern mattresses often employ factors that effectively reduce or provide the sensation of reduced heat in the bed.
The effect is achieved by allowing air to pass into and through the mattress using various construction techniques and materials. It’s appreciated by anyone who often feels excessively warm when sleeping or trying to sleep.
Mattresses are no longer a bunch of coil springs and some fabric. They’re now made with several types of foams and various spring configurations. Gel foam, memory foam, latex foam, non-memory foam, and a whole collection of different spring types are available. Most quality mattresses contain multiple types of foam and proprietary spring configurations if they contain more than foam.
These combinations provide different mattress attributes, and many foam types are advertised as producing low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), having low off-gassing properties, or being sustainably sourced and environmentally friendly.
Pressure relief is an often misunderstood term. While a mattress’s firmness level can have pressure-relieving qualities, the most essential factor is how well a mattress distributes body weight and varies the pressure the sleeper feels at critical contact points like hips and shoulders. Typically, pressure relief is accomplished mechanically using strategic material placement and distribution.
How to Choose a Mattress
Understanding the features of mattresses means little if your new bed isn’t comfortable overall. Determine the answers to these questions to help you discover which features to look for in your new mattress.
Determining the mattress size to purchase may be a function of how many people share the bed, budget requirements, and personal preference.
- What size bed will fit in my space?
- How many of us are there in the same bed?
- Do I prefer a larger or smaller bed?
- Will a larger bed fit into my budget?
It can be hard to sleep if you’re worried about how much you owe on your new mattress.
- Is it worth spending a large amount of money on a bed?
- What is my price range?
Type of Mattress
Choosing a mattress type often comes down to personal preference and individual mattress features.
- Which type of mattress will most likely provide the features I want or need
- Is the type of mattress I’m considering also good for my partner’s sleeping habits and style?
In our best mattresses review, we chose Leesa as the most versatile mattress brand for its ability to accommodate most sleep styles and habits. However, understanding your sleep position is crucial for determining your best firmness level and, sometimes, what type of mattress is best.
- Do I sleep on my side, back, stomach, or a combination of more than one position?
- What are my partner’s sleeping positions?
It’s not an all-the-time rule, but, in general, larger bodies tend to be more comfortable in firmer mattresses due to the added support. If you weigh over 230 pounds, moving up one or two firmness levels than your current mattress may afford you a better night’s sleep.
- What is my body weight?
- What is my current mattress’s firmness level?
- Am I happy with my current mattress, or will something different be better?
Single or Couple
Providing comfort for one person is one thing. More considerations exist when a couple is involved. Keep in mind firmness and comfort when it comes to engaging in sexual activity on a mattress as well.
- Do my partner and I share sleep habits and styles, or are they different?
- Does one side of the bed need to be firmer or softer than the other?
- Do we have similar body weights?
- Is a comfort level compromise necessary?
Comfort is, of course, a matter of personal preference.
- Do I like to feel like I sink into the bed somewhat, or would I instead feel like I’m on top of it?
- How about my partner?
- Do I have pressure-point relief needs?
- Am I a hot or cold sleeper, and will cooling properties help me sleep better?
While durability may have little to do with comfort or sleeping better, knowing that your new mattress will last a while is a nice feature.
What is the expected lifespan of the new mattress?
How long is the warranty, and what does it cover or not cover?
Reviews won’t help you sleep better but can guide you on where to start looking for particular mattress features. While Casper is our customer service category winner in our annual review, most other manufacturers also understand that the mattress industry is more about customer happiness than a particular product.
- What are the ratings of the company and product?
- What are people saying about the mattress?
- Do the reviewers share similar body features and sleep habits as mine?
- Does the company respond to complaints and concerns promptly and effectively?
Perhaps the most crucial factor to consider is the trial period offered by the mattress manufacturer. Laying on a mattress in a showroom or reading about it online is little to go on for making a significant purchase.
- How long is the trial period once I get the mattress home?
- How difficult will the return or replacement be if I’m unhappy?
- Is there a return fee?
How to Choose a Good Mattress for Back Pain
Knowing how to choose a good mattress for back pain depends on a few variables. While a good mattress can help with some types of back pain, choosing one typically revolves solely around your comfort. A mattress that feels comfortable everywhere else will likely be good for reducing or, at least, not causing back pain.
However, in cases of chronic back pain, consulting a physician to help you choose what type of mattress might work best is highly recommended. From there, you can narrow your search to types known for helping your particular back pain issue.
How to Buy a Mattress Online
Purchasing a mattress online may seem strange to some. After all, laying on a mattress in a showroom can tell you a lot about the initial feel of your new mattress. However, that practice is deceiving.
When in a showroom, you’re fully clothed, possibly tense from your mattress search, possibly under pressure to make a purchase, and you might even be hungry or grumpy or whatever. The truth is that trying a mattress out on a sales floor provides very little insight into how it will perform at home.
Therefore, purchasing a mattress online isn’t much different from buying one in a store. Consider the factors above to determine your best match and make sure the one you order allows enough time in its trial period for you to get a good feel for how it will perform over the long run.
Although it’s a bit of a hassle to return a mattress, doing so if you need to is very much recommended over keeping a new mattress that doesn’t make you happy.