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What Do you Look For in A Mattress

April 10, 2017

Mattress Buying Guide


Perhaps your current mattress is hurting you, or you wake up tired. Maybe you just want a bigger mattress size. Maybe you’re moving and don’t want to lug your old mattress from place to place. Whichever is the case, my goal is to help you select the right mattress so you don’t make a mistake.  A mattress is perhaps the most important piece of furniture in your home. If you get the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night, you will spend at least 1/3rd of your life in that mattress. That means if you keep that mattress for 9 years (which is about the average), 3 of those years will be spent on it. However, many of us don’t think about our mattresses and how it impacts our lives every day.


In this post, I will go over the basics on selecting the correct mattress. Elsewhere on the site, I will go into more detail on each of these topics and more, but this will be enough to get you started.


                        1 How to buy a mattress: the major factors

                        1.1 How to test for support in a mattress

                        1.2 How to test for comfort in a mattress

                        2 Other criteria in a mattress

                        2.1 Motion transfer in a mattress

                        2.2 Temperature neutrality in a mattress

                        2.3 Edge support in a mattress

                        3 The mattress shopping experience

                        4 Choosing a mattress store

                        4.1 Online: Mattress

                        4.2 Big Box retailers: Mattress

                        4.3 Department stores: Mattress

                        4.4 Furniture stores: Mattress

                        4.5 Mattress specialty stores:

                        4.6 My recommendation: On a Mattress

                        5 In the store

                        6 How to negotiate for mattresses

                        7 Types of Mattresses

                        8 Innerspring mattresses

                        8.1 What about coil count?

                        9 Specialty Foam

                        10 How much to spend

                        11 Conclusion

                        11.1 Related articles







How to buy a mattress: the major factors


There are two major factors to look for in a new mattress. They are:

            1.         SUPPORT – You want the mattress to hold you in proper alignment from head to toe, so you don’t wake up with a back ache.  And proper spinal alignment will allow you to get in your deepest stage of sleep, your REM stage.  This is where your body resets, and recharges.  If you don’t get in your REM stage you will wake up feeling wore down and tired. 


            2.          COMFORT – You want a mattress that will elevate pressure to your body, which helps tossing and turning, which means you wake up more refreshed.

If you can find a mattress that keeps you in proper alignment while not causing any pressure to your body, you’ve found a good mattress for you. There are some other minor factors to look for. They include:

            •          Motion separation – You don’t want to be disturbed by your partner moving around, or getting into or out of bed.

            •          Temperature – You want the surface of the bed to be similar to your skin temperature. If a mattress is too warm (or sometimes even too cold), that can interrupt your sleep. This is called thermo-neutrality.

            •          Edge support – You don’t want to feel like you’re rolling off the mattress if you sleep near the edge.


Let’s look at all of these in a little more detail.


How to test for support in a mattress


The most important factor in finding the correct mattress is proper support. You need the mattress to push up on your body to counteract your body weight. So that means get a hard, firm, stone-like mattress, right?


Your body isn’t a straight line. Whether you sleep on your back, side, or stomach, your body has curves, and a mattress must come up to support the curves and arches of your body (similar to how a good shoe will have arch support). Consider the following image to illustrate:  




Notice that even while her shoulders and hips “sink” into the mattress, her spine is straight.  You’ll notice that the mattress dips down around her shoulders and hips, but her spine is in proper alignment. If the mattress were too hard, her hips would be pushed up and her shoulders would be pushed up, and her spine would not be straight. If you’re in this position for too long, you can wake up with a backache.

Additionally, if you keep changing positions to try to keep your back in alignment, you’re not getting into the deeper stages of sleep, which causes you to wake up tired. The same exact consequences occur if a mattress is too soft, and you’re in it like a hammock. You want a mattress to contour to the shape of your body to hold it in its neutral alignment.

How to test for comfort in a mattress


The second most important criteria to selecting the right mattress is comfort (or as you may hear it called, pressure relief). If a mattress is too hard, it can cause pressure to your body. This cuts off circulation and pinches nerves (ever wake up with a “pins and needles” feeling in your hand?), and will cause you to change positions frequently.

If you’re frequently changing positions, your sleep is fragmented and you don’t get into the deeper stages of sleep (such as REM sleep). This means you’ll wake up tired, even if you thought you got 8 hours of sleep. When you’re trying out the mattress, you should be able to lie in one position without moving around for at least a few minutes. If you can do that, you’ve found a good mattress.

Those are the two main criteria. If you find a mattress that keeps you in proper alignment which doesn’t cause pressure to your body, you’ve found a great mattress for you. To help fine-tune it from there, there are a few other things to consider.

Other criteria

There are several other criteria that you can look for when searching for a mattress.

Motion transfer

If you share your bed, you want to minimize motion transfer. If your partner gets in or out of bed, or changes positions, you run the risk of being woken up if the mattress transfers too much of that motion to your side of the bed. Try the mattress in the store with your partner, and have your partner switch positions while your back is turned to see how much motion you feel.

Temperature neutrality

Another issue some people have is heat retention of the mattress. Most good mattresses these days have features to help mitigate this (advanced foams, phase change materials, ventilation, etc). The biggest risk here is with cheap memory foam mattresses.

Edge support

Lastly, you want a strong edge support on your mattress, particularly if you sleep near the edge of the bed, or sit on the edge of the bed often. Most of the average or better innerspring mattresses use the upgraded foam encasement around the edge, but some of the very cheapest mattresses just use a steel rod on the side. Foam encasement is better. Memory foam mattresses don’t often have a separate edge support because of the nature of the foam (it’s designed to take the shape of your body, even when you’re just sitting on it).

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