How to Choose a Mattress

Your mattress holds a king-sized responsibility to deliver a good night's sleep. Here's how to buy the right one.

September 23, 2020
By: Robin Anders

As the home's most-used furniture item — on average, we spend one-third of our lives in bed — our mattresses hold a king-size responsibility to deliver a good night’s sleep. On the surface, the formula for a good mattress set sounds simple. "We expect our mattresses to be comfortable and to provide the support our bodies need," says David Perry, executive editor for the weekly newspaper Furniture Today.

In reality, however, mattress shopping can be a lot trickier. "The biggest challenge is that it’s extremely difficult to quantify what that means," he adds. While one buyer’s "squishy" is another shopper’s "plush," Perry says the following universal advice applies when selecting a new mattress.

Take it for a test drive.

While plenty of consumers purchase mattresses online, there’s a higher risk of dissatisfaction if you don’t experience it for yourself before you buy. "Make mattress shopping an adventure," Perry advises. "Challenge yourself to find the most comfortable mattress in the store, and spend 10-15 minutes on it. Roll around and get in the position you sleep in."

Don't waste time counting coils.

Because "coil count" has traditionally been a common buzz phrase for marketers, "coil count inflation" is now common. A bed might have a high coil count, but more coils don’t always make for a better bed. The bottom line? Don’t stress over it. "Most of the beds you see out there have plenty of coils," he says. "If you go in and ask how many coils there are in each mattress, you’ll wind up getting confused."

Check out the return policy and the warranty.

Consumers are trained to know they should ask about a warranty, but in reality, mattress warranties are more of a selling tool than a security net. According to Perry, warranties often have two parts: "full-replacement," which designates the period of time under which buyers can return a mattress for its full replacement value, and "pro-rated", which tells the number of years after purchase consumers can receive a pro-rated portion of the purchase price back. "The pro-rated warranty is often a time period that far exceeds the product life, and therefore is not very useful," explains Perry. "A warranty is not a guarantee of product or comfort life. A warranty protects against defective workmanship, which will likely show up within the first year of purchase." Instead, Perry recommends asking the retailer about its return policy. "If you purchase a mattress you find legitimately uncomfortable several weeks following the purchase, you want to know that it can be returned without massive penalties."

Stop the bounce.

How to Buy a Mattress

Dog Lounging on Mattress

A dog sits on a mattress held by a bed frame.

©Scripps Networks Interactive

Scripps Networks Interactive

Whether your bedfellow is a puppy or a spouse, a certain amount of squirming is a fact of life—but it shouldn’t wake you up at night. "The extent to which your movement affects the other person is called 'motion transfer,'" Perry says. Of the most common mattress types, memory foam and latex mattresses have energy-absorbing properties that provide the most effective motion isolation.

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Give yourself some space.

Better yet, buy a bigger mattress. "Larger sizes are one answer to this issue of motion separation. If you’re sleeping on a double, consider purchasing a queen or a king," Perry says. "This is one of the things you and your significant other should be testing for when you go into a store to try out a new mattress."

Consider the whiz-bang extras.

With prices starting in the hundreds and moving into the five-figure range, mattress prices can fit almost any budget. "At around a thousand dollars, you can get a really good sleep set, but generally, you add layers of comfort as you go up in price," Perry says. The adjustable base mattress, which allows for raising and lowering the mattress’s head or foot, is one popular add-on worthy of consideration. "So many people have lifestyles based around the bedroom. We watch TV, work from our laptops, and eat in bed," he says. "The old cliché is that the adjustable bed was only for senior citizens or people with health issues, but that’s no longer true. If you don’t think about your mattress except for once every 10 years, there may be things that need to be updated."

Buy a pillow while you're at it.

It’s the ultimate add-on: "a bed for your head," says Perry. For maximum comfort, look for pillows tailored to your sleep position. "Stomach sleepers need a low-profile pillow, side sleepers a higher pillow, and back sleepers need one somewhere in the middle."

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