How to Choose the Right Mattress

by Véronique Raymond
mattress review

Since we spend up to a third of our lives asleep, having the right mattress to sleep on is pretty important.

Without a comfortable, supportive mattress cradling your body at night, you’ll face sleepless nights, soreness or stiffness, back pain, and more.

There are so many factors that influence how a mattress feels, and you’ll need to weigh all of your options against your unique preferences and requirements for a new mattress.

A mattress is a big investment, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful one.

This buying guide will help you discover which features are most important to you, as well as outline all of your options and choices, so you can make an informed decision.

Let’s find out how to properly choose the best mattress for your sleep habits.

 

Types of Mattresses

There are many mattress types out there to try. Each offers its own level of support, comfort, affordability, and sustainability. Here are all the different mattress types to consider:

Memory Foam Mattress

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Memory foam mattresses are one of the most popular types of mattresses for all types of sleepers. They are one of the best options for lower back pain since the memory foam contours exceptionally well and relieves pressure points all over your body while you sleep. These mattresses usually have a thick top layer of memory foam supported by a strong support foam on the bottom, often with one or two transition layers in between. The main reason memory foam is so popular is because it molds to your body shape to provide heightened support and comfort over other types of mattresses.

Innerspring Mattress

An innerspring mattress is the oldest type of mattress still sold today. It is comprised of a thin comfort layer on top and 8-10” springs for support. Innerspring mattresses are the most affordable type of mattress, but they do have some not so great features. As they age, these mattresses become noisy. This can lead to interrupted sleeps whether you sleep alone or with a partner. Plus, they aren’t as durable, and most people experience broken springs within a few years of owning the mattress. They’re a great option through a child’s younger years since you’ll be upgrading their mattress every few years anyway, and they aren’t too expensive.

Hybrid Mattress

A hybrid mattress is the love child between a foam mattress and a spring mattress. They have a much thicker comfort layer on the top compared to the traditional spring mattress, but the support layer is made up of coils rather than support foam. Hybrid mattresses are a good compromise between affordability and durability. They also provide a great balance between comfort and breathability, which can be tricky for other types of mattresses such as memory foam.

Latex Mattress

Latex mattresses are one of the more expensive options out there since the material is more expensive to manufacture. Some latex mattresses are also organic, but not all are. Latex foam is an incredibly durable material, so these mattresses often come with a 15-25-year warranty. The latex foam can be paired with a support foam or supportive coils depending on the manufacturer you go with. Unfortunately, someone with a latex allergy won’t be able to use this type of mattress.

Polyfoam Mattress

A polyfoam mattress is very similar to a memory foam mattress except for the top layer. Polyfoam isn’t as high-performance as memory foam or other types of foam, but it is a more affordable option for people looking to purchase an all-foam mattress. Polyfoam is also a better choice if you prefer a bouncier texture to sleep on since many people describe laying on memory foam as a “stuck” feeling. Polyfoam isn’t as durable as higher-end foam, so it is more likely to develop dents where your hip rests since it can’t maintain its shape as well as memory or latex foams. This type of foam mattress is also the most popular choice for adjustable beds since it is flexible enough to contour with the adjustable bed frame.

Air Bed

Air beds are typically used as portable mattresses when camping or for sleepovers. They use air chambers to provide support for the body and are available in more shapes and sizes than a typical mattress, such as being fitted to the back seat of a vehicle for road trips or someone homeless sleeping in their car. Though affordable, versatile, and highly convenient in certain situations, air mattresses are not that comfortable, not very durable, and can be quite uncomfortable to sleep on.

Organic/Natural Mattress

If you’re sensitive to the materials and chemicals used in standard mattresses, a natural mattress is the way to go. Organic mattresses use only sustainable materials and don’t contain any chemicals during the processing process. They produce fewer harmful VOCs and are hypoallergenic – the perfect choice for those with allergies. These mattresses are much more expensive than traditional mattresses, but they also offer better longevity than most as well since they are a higher quality mattress.

 

Mattress Sizes

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There are more mattress sizes than you probably think. Beyond the standard handful of sizes, there are some in-between mattress sizes and some more custom, luxury sizes designed to suit various sleep habits. Though you’ll most likely choose from one of the standard mattress sizes(twin, double, queen, king), it’s helpful to know what your other more unique options are in case they’re the right choice for you.

Crib

A crib-sized mattress measures 52” long by 28” wide. They are the smallest mattress size available and are great for the first few years of a child’s life.

Small Single

A small single mattress is also known as a cot mattress. It measures 30” wide by 75” long and is designed for a single person. It does not leave much room for maneuvering.

Twin/Single

The twin bed or standard single mattress measures 38” wide by 75” long. This is the standard single mattress size, most commonly used for teenagers or smaller adults. Its small width is compatible with individuals only.

Twin XL

The twin XL mattress has the same 38” width as the standard twin, but it adds an extra 5” for a total 80” length. This is a good option for those taller people (up to 6’5”) who need a little extra room for their feet.

Half Queen

The half queen mattress size is the same width as the cot mattress (30”) but offers a little extra length for taller users (80”). It’s a popular choice for small rooms like dorm rooms that can’t accommodate the extra width of a twin or twin XL.

Double/Full

The double or full mattress is the first sized for more than one person. At 54” wide and 75” long, it can comfortably sleep two adults under six feet tall, or one person and a furry companion or two.

Queen

The queen mattress is the most popular mattress size for most couples since it is roomy but fits better in standard rooms than a king. It measures 60” wide by 80” long.

King

The king mattress is the largest standard mattress size for homes. It is a bit wider than a queen at 76” wide. Like the queen mattress, it measures 80” long. This bed can comfortably sleep two adults plus a small child or large pet.

California King

The California King mattress mixes things up a bit since it is both longer and slimmer than a king mattress. It measure 72” wide by 84” long. This is the right choice for extra-tall users up to 6’9” or for couples who want some extra foot room for pets to sleep at the bottom of the bed.

Wyoming King

The Wyoming king mattress measures 96” by 96”. This mattress can accommodate multiple adults comfortably or any combination of kids, adults, and pets. This is the first luxury mattress size.

Alaska King

The Alaska king mattress is truly a beast of a bed. It measures 108” by 108” and requires a pretty large room. Again, this luxury mattress size can comfortably sleep a combination of adults, children, and pets easily.

 

Features to Consider When Choosing the Perfect Mattress

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When choosing a mattress, there are a number of things to think about beyond “is it comfy?” or if it’s priced within your budget. Let’s take a look at all the things you’ll need to consider to choose the perfect mattress.

Layers

The makeup of your mattress consists of multiple layers molded together. Usually, a mattress has a comfort layer on the top, one or multiple transition layers in the middle, and a support layer on the bottom. Some of the cheapest mattresses may only have a comfort and support layer, but most will have at least three layers of different materials. Higher-end beds will include more than a half dozen layers that are designed to help you achieve a higher quality sleep, such as temperature regulation layers, pressure relieving layers, and extra comfort layers in the top for a cozy night’s sleep.

Generally, the more layers your mattress has, the higher its performance will be. Of course, these layers should also reflect your needs when you sleep. For example, if you’re not a hot sleeper, you may not need a mattress that uses three different cooling layers in the composition of the mattress.

Temperature Regulation

For many people, temperature regulation and breathability are two of the most important features of a good mattress. There are many techniques and features that mattress manufacturers use to make mattresses of all types better at cooling and maintain an ideal sleeping temperature. If you sleep hot, look for features such as aerated foam, gel-infused foam, coils used in the support layer, and certain fabrics that have cooling properties. Some mattresses may only offer one of these features while others may include most or all of them, so you can easily find the right amount of cooling no matter how much temperature regulation you need. However, if you sleep with a partner or pets in the bed, it’s recommended to choose a mattress with at least two cooling features.

Firmness Level

One of the most important features of a mattress is its firmness level. The three main options are soft, medium, and firm, but many combinations such as medium-firm or plush-soft exist that cater more directly to your personal preference for a mattress. Most people prefer a medium or medium-firm bed, but almost all mattresses are available in multiple firmness options so you can enjoy the same features without compromising on firmness.

Your body type and sleep position are the two main factors that influence which firmness level feels most comfortable. Generally, side sleepers need a bit more give in their mattresses than a stomach or back sleeper. Those with back pain will benefit from a firmer mattress while those with shoulder pain should opt for a softer mattress with more contouring. A medium-firm mattress is usually the best option for heavier individuals as well since it provides a balance between support and contouring. A firm bed with a pillowtop mattress topper could be a good compromise for a high level of support without being uncomfortably hard.

Pressure Relief and Contouring

A key component of your mattress is how well it contours to your body. A good mattress will hug your body to provide support in all the gaps. A mattress that provides the right amount of contouring also provides pressure relief since your body can fully relax and remain supported while you sleep. For best results, choose a thick foam layer such as memory foam, latex, or gel-infused foam that has excellent contouring. For maximum pressure relief, the mattress should evenly distribute your body weight so that one area doesn’t take too much weight and become sore.

Motion Isolation

Though motion transfer is a much more common problem for couples, individuals should also consider the motion isolation capabilities of their mattress. Even a single restless sleeper can wake themselves up if their mattress isn’t great at isolating those movements. Those with pets could also be woken up if the mattress allows motion to disrupt the entire sleep surface. If you worry about motion transfer, it’s a good idea to choose a queen size mattress or larger since you’ll have more space between pets or partners and won’t feel their restlessness as easily.

Memory foam mattresses are the best for motion isolation since they use high-density foam that stops motion in its tracks, but all types of foam beds, from polyfoam to latex foam, are better than any mattress with coils. In most spring mattresses, the coils are grouped in bunches that move altogether. If you want a hybrid mattress but need strong motion isolation, you’ll need one that uses individually wrapped or pocketed coils that all move separately from one another. Plus, you’ll want multiple layers of foam on top to help absorb movement.

Edge Support

Edge support isn’t a top feature on most people’s minds when mattress shopping, but it is a big deal in certain circumstances. Edge support refers to how firm and supportive the mattress is at the very edges. A mattress that doesn’t have good edge support will sink under your weight whether you’re sitting or laying at the edge. This can be problematic for those with mobility issues, those who rely on sitting on their bed when getting dressed and putting on their socks, or for those who prefer to perch at the edge of their bed when sleeping. Some mattresses include additional support structures around the perimeter of the bed solely for providing reliable edge support from corner to corner.

Spinal Alignment and Back Support

To avoid back pain while you sleep, your spine needs to be straight. A good mattress will have a strong support layer on the bottom with a well-cushioned comfort layer on the top that contours to keep your spine straight. Some more advanced mattresses may have zones in their support layers that are slightly different firmness levels. This allows your hip to sink in a little further while your shoulders have more support to keep you perfectly aligned while you sleep. This is the best way to prevent lower back pain during the night since your lumbar region is fully supported in an optimal position.

Durability

The durability of a mattress is important since you’re spending a pretty penny on a new bed. Most mattress brands offer a variety of quality levels to meet every budget, though some mattress retailers specialize in some higher-end beds that have matching longevity for the higher price range. Cheap innerspring mattresses have the worst durability while latex and natural mattresses offer the best durability. Some key features to look for in a more durable mattress include high-density foams, 15-25-year warranties, and natural materials over synthetic ones.

Size

Choosing the right size mattress is an essential part of mattress shopping. Though you’ll be tempted to choose the same size as the mattress you’re replacing, you shouldn’t rush the decision. The wrong size mattress can have a large effect on your sleep quality. For example, if you share a bed with your spouse but constantly bump into each other when trying to find a comfortable position, you’ll have a restless sleep. You’ll also need to consider the room size when deciding on a mattress size since a king size mattress takes up much more space than a double mattress and will require a larger room to look right in the space. Though it may be tempting to try to squeeze in a larger mattress for the luxury, you don’t want to affect your ability to move freely around your bedroom and fit in all the things you need, such as dressers and beside tables.

Warranty/Return Policy/Trial Period

The warranty, trial period, and return policy of a mattress are always important. That said, they’re even more crucial when purchasing an online mattress, also known as a bed-in-a-box, since you’re unable to test it out physically before buying and shipping it to your home.

The warranty on a mattress protects your purchase in case of a manufacturer defect. The longest warranty available on a mattress is 25 years, while the shortest warranty is 5-10 years. The warranty covers things like visible sagging over a defined acceptable depth (such as 1.5”), broken springs, faulty zippers, poor stitching, and more.

The return policy on a mattress refers to the amount of time you have, as well as some other conditions, for retuning the mattress if you no longer want it. Usually, the return window is the same amount of time as the trial period. A trial period is critical when buying a mattress online since you can’t try it out before purchasing. The trial period gives you a lengthy window, sometimes as long as 3-4 months, before you have to fully commit to your purchase. If the mattress isn’t working out, you can return it for free within this window.

 

How to Choose a Mattress For Your Sleeping Position

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Side Sleepers

Side sleepers require extra contouring than side or back sleepers. If the mattress is unsupportive or uncomfortable, a side sleeper will experience shoulder pain and back pain. Zoned mattresses are highly ideal for side sleepers since it is designed to offer better shoulder and back support while keeping the spine aligned. A mattress that effectively distributes body weight is also essential since the hip bears much of the weight when someone sleeps on their side. A mattress with strong contouring is recommended as well since the curves of your body are more pronounced when on your side. Side sleepers often prefer a medium to medium-soft mattress for this reason.

Back Sleepers

If you sleep on your back, your mattress should be fairly firm and provide excellent spinal alignment since back pain is a common struggle. A mattress that has a reinforced middle to provide additional support under the hips and buttocks is recommended to keep your spine straight while you sleep. Too much sagging will cause back pain, so a medium-firm to firm mattress is recommended.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers are prone to back pain, so they typically need a firmer mattress that keeps the hips elevated so the spine stays in a neutral relaxed position. A mattress with a larger support layer (8-10”) and firmer foam is ideal for a stomach sleeper.

Combination Sleepers

If you’re a combination sleeper, choosing a mattress can be challenging since your body needs to be supported and cushioned in different ways with each position. Usually, a medium or medium-firm mattress works best since it provides a balance between firm support and pressure-relieving cushioning. A hybrid mattress may also perform better for combination sleepers since coils are usually more supportive than foam and can adapt easily to each position.

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