It’s no secret that sleep is critical for our overall health and that it can be especially important for children. As their brains and bodies develop, kids benefit tremendously from getting the proper amount of sleep. In addition to being vital for medium- and long-term development, sleep can also play a central role in how children feel and act the next day.
Choosing a good mattress is one key way that you can help your kids get the sleep they need. In this guide, we’ll review why sleep is so important, what kids need in a mattress, and tips for how to choose the right one.
Keep reading to make sense of the importance of choosing the right mattress for your child, or click here to jump straight to our top choices for the best mattresses for kids.
Why Sleep is So Important for Growing Kids
Research has consistently pointed to sleep having a crucial role for growing children. Even though the exact mechanisms behind the benefits of sleep are not fully understood, there is a consensus that kids need lots of high-quality sleep.
Sleep deprivation, or lack of sleep, can have a number of negative effects for children. Some of the consequences of this include:
- Hyperactivity: even though it may seem counterintuitive, a lack of sleep can cause hyperactivity and attention issues in children, especially if they are regularly not getting enough sleep.
- Tantrums: lack of sleep can also affect a child’s mood, making them more irritable and prone to tantrums or outbursts.
- Diminished academic performance: not surprisingly, these issues — such as inattention and irritability — make it harder for a child to stay focused and do well in school.
Sleep Needs for Children
The amount of sleep that a child needs depends in large part on his or her age. Newborns and infants often need to sleep more than half the day, and while the hours of sleep needed for children who are toddlers and older is not quite as high, it is still significant. The following table outlines the general sleep needs for children of different ages.
Nighttime Sleep: 11-12 hours
Daytime Sleep (Naps): 2-3 hours
- Enforce nap time, but try not to have it too late in the day.
- Work on building a regular routine to reinforce good sleep habits.
Nighttime Sleep: 11-12 hours
Daytime Sleep (Naps): 2-3 hours
- If your child is starting to climb out of a crib and crib mattress, consider upgrading to a bed for bigger kids.
- Continue reinforcing good sleep habits with regular bedtimes and limited screen time before bed.
Nighttime Sleep: 10-11 hours
Daytime Sleep (Naps): 0-1 hours
- Naps are less critical, but it is still important to build in relaxing quiet time even if your child doesn't actually fall asleep.
Nighttime Sleep: 10-11 hours
Daytime Sleep (Naps): N/A
- Work on building solid bedtime routines, and try not to let school or extracurricular obligations interfere with those good sleep habits.
- A consistent time for waking up in the morning can also help strengthen good sleep hygiene at this age.
If you’d like a deeper look at the sleep needs for children of different ages, you can check out this research paper published by the National Sleep Foundation.
What Kids Need in a Mattress
Given the clear benefits to children that come from getting proper sleep, the next pressing topic is determining how to best promote that sleep. An important aspect of this is making sure that your kid’s bed has a mattress that meets key needs. Below you can read more about what is needed in a bed for kids.
- Durability: any mattress is an investment, and it’s natural to want to get as much use out of your investment as possible. Even though they don’t weigh as much as adults, kids can still put a lot of wear-and-tear on a mattress, especially if they jump or play on the mattress (which, let’s face it, is going to happen a little bit even if you discourage it). The single biggest issue that affects the durability of a mattress is the quality of the materials that are used to construct it. Look for well-designed components with no weak layers or instances of poor craftsmanship (such as in the seams or seals on the mattress).
- Support: support is a way of describing how well a mattress works in promoting proper spinal alignment. A supportive mattress gives cushioning in the right places to prevent an unnatural bending of the spine in any direction. A high level of support is important because spinal misalignment is a primary issue causing back discomfort and lower-quality sleep.
- Comfort: comfort refers specifically to how a mattress feels. Firmness is a central part of comfort, and of course, this can be subjective as different people have markedly different perceptions of what a comfortable firmness level is. While comfort may not sound as important as support, it is still critical because it is hard for anyone, children included, to fall asleep if they are uncomfortable. Creating a consistent bedtime routine with good sleep hygiene includes making their bed a welcoming, inviting place, and comfort is central to that.
- Room to Grow: kids develop at different rates, and no one knows for sure how much or how quickly their child will grow. It generally makes sense to select a mattress that offers your child plenty of room to still be comfortable and stretch out even as they get bigger. This also helps you get the most value out of your mattress as you will be less likely to have to replace it for a bigger one.
How to Choose the Right Kids Mattress
While most people have experience shopping for an adult-sized mattress for themselves, they usually do not have the same experience in finding a mattress for their child. It can feel overwhelming to find the best kids mattress. The key characteristics to look for in a mattress for kids are similar in many ways to those for adults, however, there are some important differences. In general, there are a few main considerations as you start shopping for a mattress for your child:
Age of Your Child
Because of how quickly children can grow, the needs of a 5-year-old child can be quite different from those of a 2-year-old. The age of your child can thus influence the appropriate size of their mattress as well as its optimal levels of support and comfort. As a child gets older, grows, and weighs more, they are likely to need more support in order to promote their spinal alignment. So before buying a mattress for your child, think about their age now and about how long you intend to keep this mattress.
You’ll also want to consider what type of mattress may be the best for your child. Foam mattresses are popular and tend to be well-received by most kids. Foams can be polyfoam, memory foam, and/or latex foams. While the individual characteristics between these are different, in general, these mattresses tend to be highly responsive up to a high body weight, allowing them to offer proportional responsiveness as your child grows.
Innerspring and hybrid mattresses are another popular choice. These mattresses use a base layer of metal coils to give a greater level of spring to the mattress. By layering foams above the coils, these mattresses can supplement this springiness with more responsiveness, supportiveness, and comfort.
If your child is old enough, you can get their feedback on their comfort preference. You can do this by taking them to a mattress store or by having them lie down on other beds (in your home or if you go to a hotel). If your child has a clear firmness preference, you can use this to help select a comfort style that fits them.
It is important to keep in mind, though, that what feels comfortable at first may not actually be the most comfortable to sleep on for hours at a time. For example, a very plush mattress might feel luxurious when you first lie down on it, but the feeling of sinking into the mattress can stop being comfortable after a period of time. For this reason, most kids do best with a mattress that is medium-firm and offers some give without permitting a lot of sinking into the bed.
Supportiveness is all about promoting and maintaining spinal alignment. For smaller children, this tends to be less of an issue as most mattresses can easily accommodate their light weight. However, as a child grows, a more responsive mattress can become increasingly important. As they may develop more pronounced pressure points, a mattress that can accommodate these will play a bigger role in ensuring that they get a restful night’s sleep without pain or stiffness.
Price and Value
Given the sheer number of mattresses that are on the market, you can easily find options that are at cut-rate and at super-premium prices. Usually, at the low-end, you get what you pay for, and it’s unlikely that you’ll find a mattress made with quality materials that can deliver durability and performance. At the higher-end, you often may be paying for features that don’t contribute much to a truly great night’s sleep. As you’ve probably witnessed first-hand on many occasions, most children don’t need a luxe sleeping surface in order to fall asleep. For this reason, you can typically get the best value by looking for a mattress somewhere in between the bargain basement and the ultra-premium. Competition has helped drive down the prices for many mattresses in this range, and often you can also find coupons or discounts to help you get an even better value.
What Size Mattress is Right For my Child?
After your child has stopped sleeping on a crib mattress, you have a few different options for mattress sizes: Twin, Twin XL, and Full, (typically, a Queen (60″ x 80″) is more bed than your child will need, so we do not usually recommend it). A Twin XL is the same width as a twin (38”) but 5” longer (80” as opposed to 75”). A full is much wider than a Twin (54”) but has the same length (75”). There are benefits and downsides to each:
+Smaller size makes it easier to fit in your home
+Lowest cost option
-More quickly outgrown as your child gets older
+Tends to be cheaper than a full-size mattress but offers additional room for growth because of increased length
+Still relatively easy to fit into most rooms because of its narrower design
-More expensive than Twin mattress and may not be available from all mattress brands
-May still be outgrown as your child approaches teenage or young adult years
-Requires sheets that are longer in order to fit the mattress
+Offers room for growth, allowing the mattress to continue to be used until your child is an adult.
-Most expensive of these three options
-Larger size makes it harder to fit into some bedrooms
To determine which of these is the best in your case, think about your child’s current age, size, and about how long you are hoping that they’ll use this mattress. Remember that for most mattresses (except those made with the lowest-quality materials), the typical useful life is 6-12 years.
You may not have the time or patience to dig through hundreds of mattress models and reviews to find a top-notch choice. For this reason, we’ve simplified things and thus present our top picks for the best mattresses for kids.
Nest Bedding Love and Sleep Mattress
This mattress from Nest Bedding, a well-known name in online mattresses, features a combination of foam materials with a cooling cover.
Why: the use of breathable foams and a phase-change cover help to make sure that your child can keep a comfortable temperature. These foams also provide excellent support, and the mattress is offered in both a Medium and Firm model if your child has a specific preference.
Why Not: the density of the primary foam comfort layer is lower than what we would normally look for in an adult mattress. While this is less likely to be an issue for children, lower-density foams do tend to have reduced durability.
The Bottom Line: this mattress offers a solid mix of materials and design at a very affordable price point for Twin, Twin XL, and Full mattresses.
The GhostBed mattress has a combination of foams including a polyfoam support core with latex and memory foam layers working together to form the comfort layer.
Why: the latex and memory foam in the comfort layer are both high-quality and help to provide a great mix of support and bounce. The higher-density foams are likely to make this a mattress that holds up well over many years of use.
Why Not: the GhostBed is only offered in one firmness choice, medium-firm, that may not work for all children. It is also more expensive than the Nest Bedding Love & Sleep mattress.
The Bottom Line: the mixture of different foams layered together gives this mattress a leg-up on many other foam mattresses as it can offer a more robust combination of support, comfort, and resilience.
The Aviya mattress is a hybrid, meaning that it starts with a support core of coils. Above those coils are foams that make up the comfort layer with the goal of trying to capture the best of both innerspring and foam mattresses.
Why: a base of pocketed innerspring coils helps to give this mattress a strong foundation of responsive support while the foam layers above can increase its comfort and its ability to conform to the body in a way to promote spinal alignment.
Why Not: the foams in the Aviya mattress are of a lower-density (1.8 pounds per cubic foot, or PCF) than we normally look for, and this may reduce the overall lifespan of the mattress, especially if you are buying it for an older or heavier child. This mattress is also more expensive than the Nest Love and Sleep mattress and the GhostBed.
The Bottom Line: as a hybrid mattress model, the Aviya is an excellent option, especially for people who are more comfortable with the feel of a traditional innerspring mattress and the bounce and resilience provided by a support core of coils.
If you are the type of parent who wants to get deep into the details and know the real ins-and-outs of any product that you purchase for your child, you can check out the following links. Through this information, you can learn more about key topics include mattress types, getting the best deal, and maintaining a mattress over time.
Sleep Health Resources
If you’d like to learn more about sleep health and check out some of our in-depth guides, we’ve written extensively on many facets of sleep for children and teens. And make sure to take a peak at our bedtime reading list for kids!