How to Choose a Mattress
Jake Comfort | Updated: March 3, 2020
To help simplify and streamline the process, we’ve assembled this guide to picking a mattress. We’ll cover how to tell when you need a new mattress, the different types of mattresses, help you develop a budget for your mattress, pick a firmness, and explain how your sleep position and body weight should influence your mattress selection. In short, we’ll look at everything you need to know to choose a mattress.
The first question you need to answer if you’re trying to determine if it’s time for a new mattress is how old your current mattress is. While not all mattresses age the same, there are some general guidelines you can use to determine if it’s time for a new mattress. The most important factor when considering mattress age is what material your mattress is made from, as different types of construction have different expected lifespans.
- A latex mattress lasts the longest, at around 12 years
- Memory foam mattresses come in second, with a 10-year expected lifespan
- Hybrid mattress come in at a close third to memory foam, also lasting around 10 years.
- Innerspring mattresses can usually get at least 8 years of use.
- Pillowtop mattresses have the shortest expected lifespan, about 7 years.
Bear in mind that there are some ways to boost the life of some mattresses, and sometimes a mattress can wear out faster than expected. Therefore, you should always consider how well you are sleeping on a mattress and what kind of comfort you get when you are deciding to buy a mattress.
Types of Mattresses
One of the main reasons it’s so hard to decide what kind of mattress you want to purchase is that the number of innovations and advances made in the mattress industry has produced a variety in mattresses that is unmatched in human history. This list will cover the different types of mattresses and tell you a bit about each one.
Hybrid mattresses combine the qualities and construction methods of two or more of the other types of mattress on our list. The most common types of hybrid mattress are those that combine one or more layers of foam on top of an innerspring system. The foam layers can be made from memory foam, poly foam, latex foam, or a combination of all three. The foam layers offer comfort and softness while the innerspring system provides bounce, a traditional feel, and cooling.
Hybrid mattresses are best for those who want it all or that aren’t sure what they want. They offer a bit of everything, and receive positive reviews.
Latex is an increasingly popular material for mattresses. Latex mattresses are constructed from layers of latex foam. As a foam, latex provides a more generalized contour and hug than memory foam does. Latex is also more responsive and has better bounce and cooling than you get from traditional memory foam by itself.
Latex mattresses are best for people who want the comfort and feel of memory foam but want better cooling and bounce from their mattress.
Memory foam is one of the most popular types of mattresses on the market today, and they make up an increasingly large share of new mattress purchases. The reasons for the boom in memory foam mattresses are pretty easy to understand; a memory foam mattress provides a level of comfort and support that is hard to find in a traditional innerspring mattress. Memory foam is noted for its ability to hug and contour against your body. The viscoelastic properties of memory foam mean that the more pressure you apply to it, the more the material pushes back. This creates an impression of your body on the mattress, where the heavier parts of your body get more support than the lighter parts of your body. This creates even, consistent support for your whole body, leading to a restful night’s sleep.
Memory foam mattresses are best for people who are looking for the best support and comfort they can find.
Coils, or innerspring mattresses are the traditional mattress that has been around for centuries. They are constructed from a series of interconnected springs, which provide bounce and airflow for cooling. Innerspring mattresses are still a popular choice today, as they are generally inexpensive, well-made, and offer much better support and comfort than many mattresses could provide in the past.
Coil mattresses are best for people on a budget, those who like a traditional feel, and those who absolutely have to have a cool mattress.
A pillow-top mattress is an innerspring mattress with a soft upper layer. The upper layer can be attached to the top of the mattress, or quilted into the mattress cover. Pillow-tops quilted into the cover of the mattress are known as Euro-style pillow tops. This type of mattress has also been around for some time. The pillow-top element attempts to create more softness and comfort than you would get from a traditional innerspring mattress.
Pillow-tops are best for those who want a cloud-like feel of softness below them while they sleep, or those that like a traditional innerspring mattress but also want some extra comfort. Pillow-tops are also an option for people who want more softness from a mattress but don’t like the feeling or heat of memory foam.
Adjustable mattresses can change position, as their name implies. An adjustable mattress can tilt up and/or down at the head and/or foot of the mattress. Some adjustable mattresses can even provide extra heat, or vibrate to give a massage while you lay in bed.
Adjustable mattresses are best for people with specific needs that require their bodies to be angled in bed. Some examples include those with medical conditions, snorers, older sleepers, and those with back and neck pain.
Everyone has a different budget for any consumer purchase, and mattresses are no different. However, with the rise of internet transactions and ecommerce, the price of mattresses has been on the decline. Previously, the only place to buy a mattress was in a department store or a specialty mattress shop. The increased competition from online retailers, who can charge lower prices because they sell directly to the consumer, has brought a number of high-quality mattresses into the reach of nearly every budget.
It’s also important to note that more money does not mean a better mattress. Mattresses at a retail store are often marked up between 300-1,000%, as these stores have substantial overhead. Online purchases are usually the best bet. At the very least, nearly all online mattress retailers allow you to have a trial period with the mattress to determine if it’s right for you, so you don’t have to worry about paying money for a mattress that you don’t like.
Important Budget Notes
- Higher price doesn’t mean higher quality – use the information in this guide and our other guides to determine what kind of qualities you’re looking for in mattress, and then look at mattresses with those qualities.
- Lower price doesn’t mean lower quality, unless it does – we usually recommend avoiding the very cheapest mattress options. After all, if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Most mattress companies do a very good job of explaining why their price is what it is, so if the mattress you’re considering has minimal description and a dirt-cheap price, it’s probably not very good. Mattresses in the lower price range that have solid reviews are still likely to be excellent options.
- Go for value – the best mattresses are those that give you the most benefits and lifespan for the lowest price. Make sure your mattress has good durability so that you can ensure you’ll get the best value.
- $1,000 is a good general budget – no matter what kind of mattress you’re looking for, you can find a solid option at this price point. It’s high enough to ensure you won’t be looking at scam mattresses, but still reasonable enough that it’s an amount most people can afford for a new mattress.
- Kings and California Kings cost a bit more – most mattress prices increase in a liner fashion, from a twin to a full for example. However, for a King mattress or a California King, you’ll want to be prepared to spend around $1,500 for a good mattress.
Picking a Firmness
The next step in picking the best mattress for you is to determine what kind of firmness you want. We’ve covered firmness extensively in our guide to firmness, so if you have more questions, that’s a good place to look for answers.
Firmness is different from support. Sleepers sometimes confuse the two, and that can lead to devastating results. Firmness is a measure of how much initial pushback you get from a mattress, while support refers to how well a mattress keeps your body in the proper alignment while sleeping. Lack of support can cause occasional or persistent aches and pains when you wake up, and can result in restless sleep as you toss and turn trying to find a comfortable position.
Mattress firmness is a subjective measurement. Everyone experiences firmness differently. One example of something that might affect how firm you perceive a mattress to be is your weight. Someone who weighs 150 lbs might think a mattress is medium-firm, while a 250 lb person might think the same mattress is soft.
Many of the most popular online mattress retailers design their product with an approach known as Universal Comfort. The idea is to make a mattress that will be comfortable for around 80% of people. These mattresses usually have a neutral-to-medium-firm firmness, or a 5-7 on a scale from 1-10 where 1 is the softest and 10 is the firmest. They provide a generally agreeable firmness with excellent support to produce a mattress that most people will enjoy.
As a result, Universal Comfort mattresses are a great solution for couples that have different expectations or needs from a mattress. The Leesa is a fine example of a Universal Comfort mattress. It uses Avena foam as its top layer. The foam pushes back less against lighter sleepers and more against heavier sleepers. This means it can offer the comfort and support that are inherent to the idea of Universal Comfort.
Most sleepers prefer a firmness between 4-7 on our firmness scale. Savvy readers will notice that the Universal Comfort mattresses fall easily within this range. A mattress with a firmness of 4-7 is neither so soft that you will sink in and feel trapped, nor is it so firm that you’ll feel like you’re floating on top of the mattress.
If you’re not sure what kind of firmness you like with your mattress, or you’re having a hard time separating the notion of firmness and support, then we recommend trying the Universal Comfort mattresses, like the Leesa, the Loom & Leaf, Saatva, or Brooklyn Bedding.
The position you sleep in is a surprisingly important component of determining what mattress is best for you. Different styles of sleeping favor different levels of firmness, construction materials, and types of support.
Side sleepers are a difficult group to bunch together because, while there is only really one way to sleep on your back, there are many different ways to sleep on your side. Side sleepers are also the most likely to change position in the night. As a result, side sleepers are most likely to enjoy a softer mattress, in the 3-6 range on our firmness scale.
Moreover, side sleepers, more than anyone else, seem to enjoy the modern foam mattresses, especially those with substantial hug and contour. This makes sense, given the unique support requirements that side sleepers have because of the many different ways they can position themselves and where the pressure points occur on a side sleeper’s body. Soft mattresses with plenty of support can relieve the pressure points these sleepers experience on their hips, neck, and lower back.
Back sleepers also need the appropriate mix of firmness and support to get the best night’s sleep. People who sleep on their back generally benefit from a mattress that is on the upper edge of the Universal Comfort zone, a 5-7 on our scale. Failure to get the level of support they need can cause back sleepers to have problems with chronic aches and pains from the pressure points created on their body as they sleep.
Back sleepers also love memory foam mattresses, but most types of mattress construction are good for those who sleep on their back. That means you can look to the other qualities that different types of mattresses have, and make your selection based on those as long as they all deliver good support.
Support is the most important thing for stomach sleepers. You need to get enough support that your body isn’t sinking into the mattress and curving your spine downward. Furthermore, a mattress that’s too firm or has too much support can cause your back to arch while you sleep, which can lead to serious pain and complications down the line. Stomach sleepers like their mattresses the firmest, from 5-8 on our scale.
The last consideration that we’ll look at for determining how to pick out a mattress is how much you weigh. As we noted above, firmness is subjective, so a mattress that feels like a 7 to a sleeper who weighs 150 lbs might feel closer to a 5 for a sleeper who weighs 250 lbs.
We’ll go over the different combination of mattress firmness and weights to help you understand what mattresses you should look at based on what firmness you think you need and what your weight is.
Lighter Sleepers who want a medium feel – sleepers who weigh 150 lbs or less who are looking for a medium feel are great candidates for Universal Comfort mattresses. Lighter sleepers should usually look at mattresses that are from 1 to ½ a point lower on our firmness scale than they think they need.
Average Sleepers who want a medium feel – these sleepers are spoiled for choice when it comes selecting a mattress. Universal Comfort mattresses are practically designed for them. Any mattress with a feel from 5-7 will feel great.
Heavier sleepers who want a medium feel – sleepers weighing more than 200 lbs who are looking for a medium feel are still good candidates for Universal Comfort mattresses. However, heavier sleepers should favor mattresses that have a comfort layer at least 4” thick. This will prevent you from hitting the transitional or support layers too hard, which can create pressure points. If cooling is really important for you, or you want to make sure you have excellent edge support, then you focus your search on innerspring mattresses, as they offer both the cooling and edge support you need.
Lighter sleepers who want a softer mattress – for sleepers less than 150 lbs who want a mattress they can sink into should look into the 3-4 firmness range. Look for mattresses described as soft, plush, or similar descriptors.
Average sleepers who want a softer mattress – For average sleepers that are closer to 150 lbs, then you can use the same guidelines as lighter sleepers. If you’re closer to the 200 lbs range, then you’ll want take the sink and hug into account when getting a mattress. Side sleepers will still like a mattress in the 3-4 range, but others may want to look in the 4-5.
Heavier sleepers who want softer mattress – This combination of traits is one of the most difficult to get right. Heavier sleepers already tend to sink more into a mattress. A soft mattress will create substantial sinkage and hug for a heavy sleeper. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure you have a minimum of 4” in the comfort layer, and the whole mattress should be 12” or thicker. Mattresses in the 4-5 range will be the best bet. Foam mattresses might not be the best option here, and you might consider an innerspring mattress with a pillow-top or a hybrid mattress.
Lighter sleepers who want a firmer mattress – Firmer mattresses are much easier to recommend, as they don’t change as much in the feel. Firmer mattresses can cause lighter sleepers to feel like they’re floating on top of the mattress. These sleepers will want a mattress is the 7-9 range.
Average sleepers who want a firm mattress – Any extremely firm mattress will work for these sleepers, as mattresses are rated for average sleepers. You should make sure you’re still getting the comfort and support that you need. Look for mattresses in the 8-9 range.
Heavier sleepers who want a firm mattress – you’ll want to address your firmness target up a little bit from an average sleeper. Heavier sleepers looking for a firmer mattress should look in the 8-10 range. Be careful when going above a 9, as you are essentially sleeping on a solid surface at that point.
How to Choose a Mattress Summary
- Determine if you need a new mattress, use a combination of your mattress’s age and how it feels.
- Figure out what mattress is best for you, most people prefer foam, coils, or a hybrid. Pillow-top mattresses are rarely the first choice for anyone, except in the instances we’ve described in this review.
- Set a budget — $1,000 will get you a great mattress no matter what variety of mattress you are considering. If you’re looking for a King or California King, your budget should be at least $1,500.
- Choose a firmness level – Universal Comfort mattress fall in the 5-7 firmness range, and will be good for most people. Side sleepers might go as low as a 4 or 3, and back sleepers and stomach sleepers might be as high as a 7 or greater.
- Consider your sleeping position – foam mattresses are good for all sleepers but best for side sleepers. Side sleepers will want a lower firmness level, and stomach and back sleepers will want a higher level.
- Keep your weight in mind – the amount of support and firmness you experience is dependent on your weight. The heavier you are, the more thickness you need to get comfort and support.