Choosing a mattress seems simple enough, but the fact is that finding the right mattress isn’t always an easy decision. With hundreds of models and options to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed while mattress shopping.
Selecting the right mattress is more important than you might think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says sleep loss has reached epidemic levels in the United States. In terms of return on investment, a consistent good night’s sleep pays high dividends when it comes to overall well-being. Given the reality that we spend a third of our lives in bed, it’s well worth taking the time to choose your next mattress wisely.
Selecting a mattress is about as intimate as purchases get. It is, after all, something you return to night after night, year after year. But in a world where shopping means translating often confusing industry jargon, choosing a mattress can be as technical as it is personal.
Here’s everything you need to know to choose a mattress that’s just right for you.
When Should You Replace Your Mattress?
When it comes to lifespan, the industry wants you to consider replacing your old mattress every five to seven years, but many experts say the timeline is rarely cut and dry. When all is said and done, it depends on the product, how often you use it, and personal preferences. Industry insiders say a well-made, high-quality mattress can last eight to 10 years (or longer).
These are some tell-tale signs that it’s time to go mattress shopping:
- You wake up with aches, pains, and stiffness in your back, shoulders, or neck.
- You uncharacteristically toss and turn during the night and don’t feel as refreshed in the morning.
- Your mattress shows obvious signs of wear and tear, such as a sagging surface or protruding springs
- You find yourself lying on top of peaks, sinking into valleys, or rolling toward the edge of your mattress.
- You hear creaking and other noises when you move around in bed.
- You can’t remember the last time you bought a new mattress.
Invented in 1871 by Heinrich Westphal, traditional innerspring mattresses are constructed from steel coils in a range of configurations that provide a familiar bouncy feel. Innersprings are frequently the least expensive and most widely sold options. Interconnected coils are the most durable while individual pocketed fabric-covered coils provide motion isolation, which prevents the wavelike shift that happens when a sleeping partner moves during the night.
Lifespan: Well-made innersprings can last as long as any mattress (up to 10 years or longer), but within the first few years of sleeping on them, many owners report sagging issues that affect support and comfort.
Construction: Innersprings are made from steel coils with gauges that range from 12 to 18 (18 being the thinnest and most easily compressed and 12 being the thickest and firmest). These coils are often cushioned by a fiberfill or foam outer layer and encased in quilted fabric.
Example of a Saatva innerspring mattress
Price range: Innersprings can be as low as $100 or tens of thousands for shoppers inclined to splurge. The average price for a spring-based queen mattress in stores hovers between $800 and $1,200. While offerings in the popular Simmons Beautyrest line can sell for a premium, Saatva’s comparable but more attractively-priced online luxury mattress can be had for only $899.
Typical firmness: Innersprings firmness can vary widely (from soft to very firm) depending on model among high-profile brands including Serta, Sealy and Simmons. Smaller, lesser-known brands usually offer only medium and firm options.
Who should consider this type? For the most part, innersprings appeal to consumers who appreciate the traditional and familiar springy feel that coil-constructed mattresses provide. They also get high marks from shoppers looking for the added give and bounce that generally makes sexual intimacy more comfortable and satisfying.
Sleeping positions best suited for the mattress: Innerspring mattress can be well-suited for all types of sleepers depending on the firmness of a particular model.
Weight/size: Innersprings, which can range from about 65 to 125 pounds, average about 100 pounds in queen size. Thickness can vary from as little as six inches to more than 14 inches.
Locations: Depending on style and size, innerspring mattress can fit well in almost any home environment, but rigid large conventional box spring foundations may not easily navigate narrow staircases or small doorways (split designs are an option).
Latex mattresses have a firmness similar to memory foam models with additional springiness. Most are made from natural latex derived from the sap of the rubber tree, though some are synthetic. All come with the benefit of being antimicrobial and resistant to both mold and dust mites. Some are made with Dunlop latex, which is heavier and more dense than its lighter counterpart, Talalay latex, which tends to have a softer feel.
Lifespan: Well-constructed, multiple layered latex mattresses can easily last 10 years under heavy use. Some all-natural latex mattresses can last up to 20 years or longer.
Construction: Latex mattresses use either plant-derived (natural) or petroleum-based (synthetic) latex foam as their core support system, with some also relying on the material for the upholstery layers (with or without added memory foam).
Example of a Brooklyn Bedding latex mattress
Price range: Though prices can vary widely, most latex mattresses cost between $850 to $2,400. Brooklyn Bedding’s #BestMattressEver goes for just $750 in queen size.
Typical firmness: Latex firmness varies greatly from soft to medium to firm. Generally, layers can be shifted or replaced to change the level of firmness. Some latex mattresses can be custom-ordered in a split configuration, with a different firmness on each side.
Who should consider this type? Sleepers who are sensitivity to allergens including dust mites, mold, mildew, bacteria, and other organisms. Green-minded consumers concerned about environmental impact and off-gassing often opt for tree sap-based latex beds.
Sleeping positions best suited for the mattress: Latex mattresses can be constructed and configured for side, back, or stomach sleepers.
Weight/size: Latex mattresses in queen size generally weigh in between 100 and 150 pounds, and average about 125 pounds in queen size. Their thickness varies from a thin three inches to a large 15 inches or so.
Locations: The hefty weight of thick and high-density versions of latex mattress means they usually require more than one person to move and are best suited for more spacious bedrooms.
Memory foam mattresses are made from the pressure-sensitive material developed by NASA as a way to cushion astronauts from high G-forces during takeoffs and landings. They tend to have much less bounce-back than innersprings and are appreciated for their ability to offer pressure relief. Memory foam offers enveloping support that conforms or molds your body. When not in use, the mattress springs back to its original shape.
Lifespan: With good durability that exceeds most traditional sleep surfaces, a high-quality memory foam mattress has an average life expectancy of 10 years, with many lasting even longer.
Construction: These mattresses typically have a high-density base (usually conventional foam), which acts as supportive material, with memory foam and sometimes latex or gel foam layered on top.
Example of a Leesa memory foam mattress
Price range: The average bed-in-a-box memory foam in queen size retails in the neighborhood of $155 to more than $4,000. The Tuft & Needle T&H Mattress retails for just $600.
Typical firmness: Memory foam mattresses have varying degrees of firmness depending on the thickness and density of the materials used. Three pound or less density makes for a softer bed, four to five pounds balances softness with support and six-pound-plus density offers long-lasting firmness.
Who should consider this type? Memory foam appeals to anyone who prefers a mattress that conforms to the body, eliminating pressure points. It’s also a great choice for shoppers who like the convenience of buying online and having an efficiently compressed mattress in a box delivered right to their doors.
Sleeping positions best suited for the mattress: Memory foam can provide a good night’s sleep in any position, but is considered the best option for side sleepers.
Weight/size: Queen-sized memory foam mattresses tend to between 100 and 150 pounds and average about 125 pounds with thickness ranging from six to 13 inches-plus.
Locations: The rise of e-commerce bed-in-a-box brands like Leesa, Casper and Tuft & Needle has made modern memory foam mattresses convenient options for almost any type of space.
Hybrid mattresses combine a traditional coiled support system as a foundation with added cushioning from one or more types of foam.
Lifespan: Well-made hybrid mattresses have longevity similar to traditional innersprings, lasting up to 10 years or more. However, they are prone to a similar level of sagging over time.
Construction: Hybrid mattresses often feature a traditional steel coil spring support system topped by varying combinations of memory foam, latex, or gel.
Typical firmness: Like conventional spring-based mattresses, hybrids have a variety of firmness options that run the gamut from soft to very firm.Price range: Hybrid mattress prices can vary a great deal, but the average cost is somewhere around $600 to $4,000 or more. Helix Sleep sells a hybrid, personalized to your specifications for $900.
Who should consider this type? Hybrids are attractive options for consumers drawn to the secure support and bouncy feel of traditional spring sleepers, but also like the contouring comfort of the modern foam sleep experience.
Sleeping positions best suited for the mattress: Depending upon model, hybrids come in configurations that provide suitable comfort for those who sleep on the side, back, or stomach.
Weight/size: The inclusion of foam layers makes most queen hybrids lighter than conventional all-coil innersprings, weighing about 115 pounds with thicknesses averaging 12 inches or more.
Locations: Much like their spring-only cousins, hybrid mattresses can be used in a variety of dwellings, but the stiffness, thickness, and weight of some models can limit their use to roomier environs.
Though designed to look like conventional mattresses, adjustable beds allow sleepers to elevate, lower, or bend various parts of the sleep surface to a position most comfortable at any given time.
Lifespan: Sleep surfaces specifically designed to flex with thousands of adjustments over their lifetime provide good longevity, offering a lifespan on par with their conventional counterparts.
Construction: Many owners of adjustable bed bases use conventional foam or air bed mattresses, but adjustable mattresses feature a hinged articulation system that allows them to naturally bend, providing a smooth, bunch-free sleeping surface.
|Example of a Tempurpedic adjustable mattress. NOTE: The company does not release thickness or specs.|
Price range: Adjustable mattresses in queen size can range in price from a few hundred dollars at entry level to a few thousand on the high end, though they average about $700 to $5,000. Loom & Leaf offers an online-only gel-cooled memory foam in queen for only $999.
Typical firmness: Adjustables’ firmness can vary significantly (soft, medium or firm) depending on construction and model. In queen and king size, they can be split, allowing for partners sharing the bed to have a different level of firmness on each side.
Who should consider this type? Many individuals with medical conditions (chronic back, shoulder, and neck pain or acid reflux) find that adjustables provide superior sleep comfort.
Sleeping positions best suited for the mattress: Since they can lay flat, adjustable beds can be used in all sleep positions, but they are ideal for back and side sleepers.
Weight/size: Adjustable mattresses are slightly heavier than conventional types of the same size, but their substantial frames can often make them heavier than conventional beds.
Locations: Adjustable beds, with their bulky, heavy steel-framed bases, can easily weigh several hundred pounds, limiting their use to larger spaces in many cases.
Pillow top mattresses generally have thick and soft upholstery layers of fiber and foam materials stitched onto the tops of mattresses.
Lifespan: Despite positive owner experiences indicating that pillow top mattresses initially minimize pressure points, relieve pain, and promote better sleep, the benefits tend to only last for a few years at most before sagging (sometimes just for several months). New generation two-sided flippable designs have more longevity.
Construction: Most often built over innerspring and airbed cores, pillow top mattresses are made up of several inches of top padding that can consist of standard, latex or memory foam, fiberfill, cotton, or wool.
|Example of a Sealy Posturepedic pillowtop mattress|
Price range: Pillow top mattresses on average cost about 30 percent more than comparable conventional sleep surfaces. The Serta Fitzpatrick Pillow Top (list price $1,999) is currently discounted to only $475.
Typical firmness: Pillow top firmness can vary from soft to very firm depending on the core they are built on, but the mattresses tend to be softer due to the additional padding on top.
Who should consider this type? Sleepers prone to pain due to pressure points generally appreciate pillow tops’ body-hugging qualities.
Sleeping positions best suited for the mattress: Their ability to disperse and conform make pillow tops beneficial to both side and back sleepers, who have reported high levels of satisfaction with them.
Weight/size: With their added padding, pillow top mattresses generally weigh roughly 20 percent more and are thicker than conventional mattresses of similar construction.
Locations: Mattresses with pillow tops tend to be bulky and heavy, making them better choices in larger settings.
Airbed mattresses can be custom-inflated to a desired firmness using either manual inflation or an integrated electric pump. An integrated pump makes inflation and deflation to the desired firmness fast and simple.
Lifespan: Well-made airbeds can last significantly longer than conventional mattresses, but tend to suffer from mechanical problems that require repair or replacement, including air leaks and pump or controller malfunctions.
Construction: Air mattresses use adjustable vinyl or rubber chambers filled with varying levels of air for primary support and often include a comfort layer consisting of foam, latex, fiber, or a combination of materials. Some models also have dual chambers that allow owners to inflate each individual half of the bed to firmness to suit each person sharing the bed.
|Example of a Sleep Number airbed mattress|
Price range: Airbed costs can span from less than $20 for a bare-bones manual blow-up to thousands for high-tech models by high-profile makers, but the average mattress costs between $500 to $4,000. The Sleep Number c2 model in queen is selling for just $999.98.
Typical firmness: Airbed firmness is adjustable to the needs and wants of the owner. An inherent downside is that air pressure can automatically fluctuate depending on the sleeper’s weight, body position, room temperature, and barometric pressure.
Who should consider this type? Airbeds’ adjustability gives them great appeal to sleepers who want varying degrees of firmness on any given occasion. They are also ideal for couples with significant differences in sleep preference.
Sleeping positions best suited for the mattress: The adjustable nature of airbed mattresses makes them suitable for side, back, or stomach sleepers.
Weight/size: Airbed mattresses are significantly lighter than their conventional counterparts, with weights ranging from next to nothing (a couple pounds) to 40 pounds or more and thicknesses as much as 24 inches.
Locations: Airbeds’ ability to deflate means they can be used in virtually any setting, even the smallest rooms or studio apartments.
Waterbeds, which employ a water chamber support system, are designed to look much like conventional beds. They are built in one of two styles: hard sided and soft sided. Hard-sided beds have a water chamber inside a rectangular wood frame, while soft-sided versions encase chambers with a frame of rigid foam zipped in a fabric casing.
Lifespan: Waterbed sleep surfaces generally have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, but it’s not uncommon for them to last 20 years or more.
Construction: Waterbed mattresses, which rest on top of a platform, are built in either a classic free flow style, without obstructions to the water’s natural motion within the mattress, or waveless, which uses baffles or fiber that limit the flow of water during movement. They often feature memory foam or gel tops.
Example of a typical waterbed mattress
Price range: Waterbed mattresses costs can run from $50 basic models to high end beds for $1,800 or more.
Typical firmness: Though affected by the layer(s) of cushioning on top of water-filled chamber(s), waterbeds’ firmness can be adjusted to fit the preferences of the sleeper. Water can be added for a firmer feel, or it can be drained to achieve a softer sleep surface.
Who should consider this type? Sleepers seeking the buoyant feel and total body support of floating on water, minimal surface pressure, a hypoallergenic surface, and a controllable sleeping temperature.
Sleeping positions best suited for the mattress: Waterbed mattresses tend to be good choices for side sleepers, since their natural give tends not to alleviate pressure point stress on the shoulders and hips.
Weight/size: When empty, size and weight are not issues for waterbed mattresses, but filled waterbeds can weight 1,500 pounds or more.
Locations: The cumbersome nature of waterbeds, which need to be filled and emptied to be moved, means they are not convenient options for consumers who move frequently. Their size and heavy filled weight generally make them best suited to larger spaces.
The futon mattress, a thicker, Westernized version of the traditional Japanese sleeping mat, is a versatile, space-saving sleep surface that can be used on a futon frame, mattress foundation, or directly onto the floor.
Lifespan: Futon mattresses, on average, have limited lifespans, providing only a few years of service, but well-made versions can last as long as some conventional sleep surfaces.
Construction: Futon mattresses are traditionally made from multiple layers of 100 percent cotton fabric, but many contemporary takes contain springs, foam, gel, or a combination of materials.
Example of a typical futon mattress
Price range: Futons generally start at only $50 and go as high as $400 for premium types, with an average price of about $150 to $175 ($130 to $150 online).
Typical firmness: Futon firmness can vary a great deal, from quite soft to very firm, but many tend to be on the softer side.
Who should consider this type? Budget-conscious buyers and those who only need a sleep surface for occasional use (for example, as a periodic guest bed). Also, consumers seeking dual-purpose furniture than can double as a makeshift sofa.
Sleeping positions best suited for the mattress: Most futon mattresses are best for back and stomach sleepers.
Weight/size: Futon mattresses in queen size generally weigh in between 10 and 80 pounds, averaging 40 to 50 pounds or so. Their thickness generally ranges from three to 10 inches.
Locations: Given their smaller size and lighter weight, futon mattresses are ideal for tight spaces or temporary use in almost any environment.
How to Choose Mattress Firmness
Firmness can best be described as the feel of a mattress when you lie down on it, as opposed to support, which is what keeps the body securely aloft and in proper alignment.
Firm mattresses offer little give and provide above-average push-back or resistance when depressed. Soft mattresses tend to envelop the sleeper in cloudlike comfort with plush cushioning that contours and hugs the body. Medium firmness balances the supportive feel of firm mattresses with the pressure-point relief of soft surfaces.
There is no ideal level of firmness for a mattress and every sleeper has a firmness preference that works best for them.
Determining Your Firmness Needs
A good starting point for identifying your best firmness level is considering how you sleep.
Firmness for Side Sleepers
Side sleepers create several pressure points where the head, shoulders, hips, legs and feet come into contact with the mattress. People who sleep on their sides rarely remain in one position. Quite often, they shift from sleeping with both legs extended to one leg straightened and the other bent at the knee to both legs bent. This shifting means that side sleepers typically need a soft or medium mattress capable of conforming to the body’s natural curves while lying on their side.
When choosing the right mattress, honing in on the right firmness is crucial, since people who sleep on their side need a mattress with a good balance of firmness. The mattress should be firm enough to provide support and soft enough to hug the natural curves of the body while sleeping.
Firmness for Back Sleepers
Back sleepers often suffer from neck, shoulder, and back pain, especially when sleeping on an improper mattress or one past its prime. Having the right level of firmness is especially important for back sleepers, since a mattress that is too soft will not offer a sufficient amount of push back tends to create potentially painful pressure points while sleeping. Making matters worse, an inadequate mattress that doesn’t provide proper support can lead to improper spinal alignment, something that can lead to chronic back pain.
Slightly soft, medium, and moderately firm mattresses can all be good choices, so long as the sleep surface offers ample support while providing pressure relief.
Firmness for Stomach Sleepers
Sleeping on your stomach can cause lower back issues, adequate support is crucial for stomach sleepers. Since the torso is the primary point of pressure on the mattress, stomach sleepers need a sleep surface that provides equal support along the entire length and width of their bodies. Mattresses that are too soft create a situation where the torso sinks into the bed, causing the sleeper’s spine to bow, resulting in alignment issues and lower back pain and discomfort.
Stomach sleepers usually require medium or slightly firm mattresses that keep the spine straight throughout the night.
Body weight is often overlooked when shopping for a mattress, but everything from support to contouring to sleep temperature can be affected by how much you weigh and your individual body type.
Light sleepers (under 110 pounds), who tend not to sink into mattresses as deeply, can experience discomfort sleeping on firm, dense mattresses. Universal comfort mattresses are often the best choices for light sleepers. Since mattress firmness is rated for average sleepers, people who carry less weight may want to choose a mattress that is slightly softer.
Medium sleepers (110 to 200 pounds) can generally have the pick of the litter, since most mattresses are designed with them in mind. Mattresses with a medium, medium firm, or luxury firm rating, as well as those in the universal comfort range should be comfortable.
Heavy sleepers (over 200 pounds), who place much more pressure on mattresses than average sleepers, should consider firmer mattresses with thicker comfort layers (four inches or more), since they offer greater support and cushion that holds up better under more weight. Other things to consider are mattresses that sleep cooler and those that offer increased edge support, such as luxury innersprings.
Consider these general guidelines for weight, firmness, and sleeping position:
|110 pounds or less||Soft||Side and Stomach||Plush, pressure-relieving comfort|
|110 to 200 pounds||Medium||Side and Back||Ideal for back pain sufferers|
|Over 200 pounds||Firm||Side and Back||Can prevent and reduce back pain|
Common Mattress Myths
The world of sleep is filled with facts that don’t stand up to real-world scrutiny. These are ten claims, half truths, and falsehoods fueled by the mattress industry and misinformed consumers:
Myth #1: Firm mattresses prevent back pain. Sleeping on a mattress that is too firm actually creates aches and pains, since they tend not to give at pressure points, which can lead to tossing and turning.
Myth #2: The more springs, the better. While innerspring mattresses with higher coil counts can be superior, that only holds true if the springs are made from heavy-gauge metal.
Myth #3: Gel provides a cooler sleep. Although gel is supposed to provide a cooling effect, that’s not always the case, especially when it’s buried deep beneath the top layers.
Myth #4: Never keep a mattress for longer than seven years. A common misconception created by the industry, the truth is that mattress life varies considerably. Some may need to be replaced in five years, while others could last 20 or more, depending on quality, how you sleep on it, and other factors.
Myth #5: One size fits all. This fast-growing marketing trend among newcomer mattress companies leads consumers to believe that all mattresses are essentially the same. It’s always important to consider your sleeping position, any medical condition, age, weight, personal preferences, and past experiences when choosing a mattress.
Myth #6: Get the longest possible warranty. The truth is, in most cases, a lifetime warranty only refers to workmanship and materials and doesn’t cover normal wear and tear.
Myth #7: You need a box spring. Box springs were first invented as shock absorbers at a time when mattresses were much thinner. These days, they simply raise the profile of beds to make them higher and are often an unnecessary cost. Most mattresses only need a solid platform underneath.
Myth #8: Doing a showroom test lie-down matters. The reality is the only true way to do a mattress a test run is to sleep on it for several hours minimum, which is why many companies now offer returnable trial periods.
Myth #9: Flip your mattress regularly. Most modern mattresses are one-sided, meaning they should never be flipped. Read your manufacturer’s instructions to find out when or if your mattress should be flipped or rotated.
Myth #10: More expensive means better. Quality generally comes at a price, but a higher price tag doesn’t necessarily guarantee a superior product. In fact, many lesser known brands sell models on par with big-name makers for up to 50 percent less.
The Quick Guide to Choosing a Mattress
When should you replace your mattress? Deciding when to replace your old mattress depends on a number of factors: its age and condition, your particular lifestyle, and budgetary considerations. Most mattresses should be replaced between seven to 10 years.
What mattress type should you get? Use your sleep lifestyle and other relevant factors to determine the kind of mattress you should buy.
What firmness is right for you? Getting a desired firmness makes choosing a mattress a very personal decision. Consider your body type and sleep style before settling on your firmness sweet spot.
How much do you have to spend? Although budget factors into the equation, expect to spend somewhere between $800 and $1,000 on a quality mattress. When evaluating the broad range of available options, keep in mind that spending less could mean settling for sub-par quality, leaving you with a mattress that will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.
What positions do you sleep in and how much do you weigh? Be sure to take into account your body type and sleep style when searching for a new mattress.
Where do you live? Don’t forget to any space limitations that could impact your mattress purchase, keeping in mind that offerings like box-delivered memory foam could end up being a better choice for small spaces like apartments and homes with limited square footage.
A Word About Mattress Prices
Manufacturer retail prices are usually much higher than the actual prices you’ll find in both online shops and brick-and-mortar stores. Unlike many traditional retailers, who employ sales pressure tactics and offer few true bargains, the highly competitive nature of the Internet means online mattress shoppers can find deals unavailable anywhere else and get the most for their money.
Many online mattresses brands also offer perks like free shipping and no-hassle returns to make for an attractive shopping experience.