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How to Pick Your Perfect Mattress

Ready for a new mattress? Here’s how to find the one that suits you best.

Getting a good night’s sleep depends on a lot of different factors — comfort, stress level, room temperature – but to get it right, you’ve got to start with the basics and your mattress is the first building block to a restful slumber.

If you’re in the market for a new mattress and have recently taken a stroll down the aisle of a bedding store, you know that there is a dizzying array from which to choose. How do you know which mattress is best for you?

To start, says Arya Nick Shamie, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center, the mattress needs to support your body in a neutral position, one in which your spine has a nice curvature and your buttocks, heels, shoulders, and head are supported in proper alignment

"If the mattress is too firm, it will push on those main pressure points and take you out of alignment," Shamie tells WebMD. "If it’s too soft, those pressure points won’t be properly supported, so your whole body flops back." Both of these scenarios can lead to an achy morning.

Generally speaking, one type or brand of bed isn’t better than another, says Michael Breus, PhD, a WebMD sleep expert and author ofBeauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep.But he does find that a firmer bed seems to be better for people with lower back pain.

In fact, researchers in Spain studied people with long-term back pain and found that on a 10-point hard-to-soft scale people who slept on a medium-to-firm mattress (5.6 on the scale) had less back pain than those who slept on a softer mattress.

Is It Time for a New Mattress?

How do you know if the bed you’re sleeping on is the right one?

"If you wake up in the morning and have some low back pain and can stretch and get rid of it in 15 or 30 minutes, that means you’re on an inappropriate mattress for you," Breus says.

The right mattress, on the other hand, is one on which you feel no pressure, almost like you’re floating in air, Breus says.

If you’re looking for a new mattress, experts suggest testing it in the store and laying down on each mattress in the position in which you normally sleep. Breus suggests spending at least 10 to 15 minutes on the bed. And, bring your own pillow! The more you can replicate the way you’ll be sleeping on the mattress once you get it home, the better your chances of picking the right one.

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Innerspring Mattresses

Innerspring mattresses are still by far the most widely used. They support you with coil springs, and in most built today, each coil is individually enclosed. This helps the bed weather years of use and prevents the coils from popping out of the mattress. On top of the coils are a wide variety of materials added for comfort, from pillow to latex to memory foam. It’s all a matter of preference.

Salespeople may try to sell you on the idea that more coils mean more comfort, but that’s not necessarily true, Breus and Shamie say.

"You don’t really need a coil count above 390," Breus says. Beyond that, the difference in feel is so small it would be difficult to notice.

Pros:There are plenty of innerspring mattresses on the market from which to choose. They range in firmness, the fluffiness of the pillow top, and in price to fit nearly every preference and pocket book.

Cons:There’s no direct relationship in most cases between price and comfort, but Shamie suggests steering clear of the cheapest innerspring mattress. If there aren’t enough springs and cushion to offer you proper support, he says, you’ll likely wake up with an aching back.

Conditions:For someone who is very overweight, spring mattresses may offer a firmer support, making them easier to get in and out of, Breus says. Firmer versions are good for people with back pain. But spring-based mattresses can be comfortable for almost anyone.

Memory Foam Mattresses

Memory foam mattresses are growing in popularity. They are made of layers of different densities of foam that respond to weight and temperature, and are known for comfort because they contour to the specific shape of your body. Memory foam toppers are also available.

Pros:By molding to the shape of your body as your weight shifts through the night, memory foam reduces pressure points, and relieves pain. Memory foam also absorbs movement, so if you sleep with a partner, you’re not likely to be disturbed by his tossing and turning.

Cons:One of the biggest complaints with memory foam mattresses is that because these mattresses are temperature sensitive, softening and molding with your body heat, they can make you feel extremely hot during the night. Breus also says memory foam mattresses have been known to emit an unpleasant chemical smell.

Conditions:"If you have a hard time getting comfortable, if you have chronic fatigue, or some type of muscle pain, then a memory foam mattress would work well for you, assuming you don’t have temperature issues," Breus says.

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Latex Mattresses

Latex mattresses are made from either natural or synthetic rubber, and are known for providing a very firm, bouncy support that is uniform throughout the bed.

Pros:"Quite frankly, I think one of the best materials is latex," Breus says. He likes it for being very firm and supportive, but also for providing comfort similar to memory foam. Unlike the memory foam mattresses, however, Breus says latex pushes back, ultimately providing more support.

Cons:If you don’t like the feel of a firm mattress, latex is probably not the right choice for you.

Conditions: Either a latex mattress or latex mattress topper is great for relieving back pain because they offer the best combination of comfort and support, Breus says.

Air Mattresses

We’re not talking about the blow-up mattresses you put your holiday guests on for a few days. Higher-end air beds look like a standard innerspring mattress, but use air-filled chambers instead of coils, and are covered by a foam layer on top.

Shamie notes that air beds have long been used for patients with spinal cord injuries who are lying in bed for a long time. They can be adjusted so they don’t continue to press on the same areas of the body, which helps to avoid skin breakdown in patients who can’t move.

Pros:"Couples who have dramatic differences in their individual preference for comfort and firmness levels might do very well with an air mattress," Breus says. The reason is that the firmness of each side of the bed can be altered. If you like it firmer than your partner, these beds can be adjusted for that.

Like latex and memory foam, you can also find air toppers for your mattress.

Cons:Shamie says people sometimes fail to make their air bed firm enough and wake up with back aches. Less sophisticated air mattresses also pop up on one side when you sit on the opposite end. For that reason Breus says, you want multiple chambers so that doesn’t occur.

Conditions:These beds are particularly useful when sleeping partners have different needs. If one of you has a bad back, one side can be made firmer than the other to provide greater support.

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Adjustable Beds

These beds are able to bend and elevate at varying angles. As a result, the mattress has to be flexible. Different types of mattresses can be used on an adjustable bed – memory foam, latex, or air, for example. Spring mattresses are more difficult to use, however, because the springs don’t handle the bending well.

Pros:For people who have difficulty getting in and out of bed or who like to watch television in bed, Shamie says, adjustables can make life easier by moving you closer to where you need to be.

Conditions:If you suffer from sleep apnea, sleeping flat can make the condition worse by cutting off airways and causing the tongue to fall into the back of the throat, Shamie says. People who experience acid reflux can also benefit by sleeping in a bed that elevates their upper body.

Shamie also suggests adjustable beds for people with hip or back pain who have a hard time moving from a lying position to sitting up or standing.

Sofa Beds

When you have guests staying for a night or two, sofa beds come in handy. The mattresses in these beds tend to be very thin so they are flexible enough to fold and collapse into the couch. It’s a great convenience to have a sofa bed, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who raves about their comfort.

Pros:Sofa beds are convenient, especially if you have limited space. But from a health perspective, Shamie and Breus don’t see any advantages.

Cons:A night or two on a sofa bed is OK. But "this is probably the worst kind of bed you can sleep on long-term," Shamie says. The mattresses used in most sofa beds are very thin and the springs quite weak. "It really leads to an uncomfortable situation," Shamie says.

If you’re really tight for space and need a bed that folds up, Shamie says that futons, while not the most supportive, are better for your back than the typical sofa bed.

Conditions:There are no conditions for which a sofa bed will be helpful, according to the experts. But if you have a bad back or hips, these beds will be especially uncomfortable.

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When to Part With Your Old Mattress

Today’s mattresses are made to last a lifetime. But you probably shouldn’t plan on keeping yours for that long. Our bodies change over time, Breus says, so the mattress that was once a joy to sleep on may no longer feel comfortable a few years down the road.

In addition, mattresses collect dust mites, fungus, and other germs that can exacerbate allergies and impact your sleep patterns. After 10 to 15 years, it’s time to think about buying a new bed.

Ultimately, the experts say that the best bed for you is the one that feels most comfortable. And remember, Shamie says, "There’s no mattress that’s going to save your body when you get only five hours of sleep." In order to feel your best, you need to get enough rest… no matter what type of mattress you’re sleeping on.

Sources

Arya Nick Shamie, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery, Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center.

Breus, Michael, PhD, WebMD sleep expert and author ofBeauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep

Kovacs, FM.The Lancet, November 2003; vol 362: pp 1599-1604.

Best Mattresses for Couples

These options from Beautyrest, Casper, Charles P. Rogers, Tuft & Needle, and more stood out in CR’s test for stabilization

A healthy person shifts position 40 to 60 times per night. If that person happens to be sleeping beside you, those shifts could be disruptive.

That’s why Consumer Reports tests stabilization for all of the mattresses it rates. With innerspring mattresses, this test—essentially a gauge of bounciness—is a good indicator of whether your movements will disturb your partner or vice versa. And with foam mattresses, which aren’t generally bouncy but can be difficult to roll around on, our stabilization tests determine how easy it is to change position.

Of course, a mattress works for a couple only when it offers support for the body type of each person. In our labs we look at how well each mattress maintains support for sleepers of different statures and sleeping styles.

We use test subjects that represent the lower and upper 5 percent of the population by size. Our petite subjects are about 5 feet tall and weigh 110 to 127.5 pounds; our large subjects are 6 feet, 3 inches tall, give or take an inch, and weigh 220 to 242 pounds. We measure support while subjects from both size categories are on their sides and on their back. (We average the two sets of scores to get results for a midsized person.)

For side sleepers, we look to see how well a mattress can keep the alignment of the spine parallel to the floor. For back sleepers, we measure how well a mattress maintains the natural curvature of the spine in a prone position. All of this data informs our extensive ratings, available to Consumer Reports members.

“When shopping for a mattress with your partner, make sure you’ve tried out the bed while lying on it together,” says Chris Regan, the project leader for CR’s mattress testing. Move around and shift positions. Take turns so that one person can feel the effect of the other person’s shifts. You want to determine whether movements are transmitted across the mattress to the point where they’d bother you.

CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of nine mattresses whose attributes make them particularly good for couples. All rated high in our tests for support and stabilization. They’re organized by category (innerspring, foam, and air) and listed according to rank in our mattress ratings.

Best Innerspring Mattresses for Couples

These traditional mattresses use steel coils for support. The most widely sold, they tend to be more expensive than foam mattresses.

How to choose a mattress consumer reports

If you dread a trip to Mattress Firm or Macy’s, realize that you have more options than ever before—department and specialty stores are no longer the default destination for mattress shopping. Great mattresses at fair prices can be found at warehouse clubs and through online retailers—and the competition is only getting more intense.

We test queen-size mattresses (60 inches wide by 80 inches long) because they’re the most common size purchased. (For your reference, the other standard dimensions are king, 76×80 inches; California king, 72×84; full, or double, 53×75; and twin, 38×75.)

We subject each mattress to a battery of tests, including running a nearly 310-pound roller over each one 30,000 times to simulate eight to 10 years of use. Still, there’s much to know even before you start shopping. Here’s your path to a good night’s sleep.

Find the Best Mattress for Any Sleeper

Compare the Types

If you’re shopping for a new mattress, you could be overwhelmed by the variety of choices and prices, ranging from too-low-to-believe to astronomical. But there’s good news: Our years of testing have shown that, whichever type you choose, you only need to spend around $1,000 for a comfortable, supportive mattress. Here are the major types you’ll see:

Foam Mattresses

Though many manufacturers use polyurethane to create their foam layers, some might use latex as well and we note which mattresses have latex in our features tab. Some mattresses include both. Memory foam softens when you lie on it and soon molds to your body. Once you get up, it springs back to its original shape. Some foam mattresses require some effort to change position.

Innerspring Mattresses

Adjustable Air Mattresses

Interactive Video Guide

For more, watch our interactive video. You can skip to chapters on the different types of mattresses, tips for test-driving a mattress, and more.

Mattress Myths

Common claims that haven’t held up in our tests:

The More Coils, the Better
The better innerspring models we test have 600 to 1,000 coils. But even if one mattress has more coils than another, the coils could be made of thinner-gauge metal. You’ll also hear about coil variations such as Bonnell (hourglass type), continuous wire, and individually pocketed springs. None of those is inherently superior.

Gel Provides a Cooler Sleep
More than half our innerspring mattresses (noted in our mattress ratings) have a layer of gel-infused foam that’s claimed to provide a cooling effect, though it’s worth noting that 10 percent of the mattresses with a gel-infused layer still retain warmth. Overall, our tests have shown that innerspring mattresses containing gel did tend to sleep slightly cooler, but the reverse was true with gel-infused foam beds.

Forget About Comparison Shopping

If you like a mattress at one store and ask elsewhere for something similar, you’re likely to be steered toward a same-brand mattress claimed to have the same construction, components, and firmness. Mattress makers offer some lines nationally, but when those brands are sold through major chains such as Macy’s or Mattress Firm, they’re typically exclusive to those chains. And manufacturers don’t publish a directory of comparable mattresses. So use our ratings as a guide, and insist on the precise make and model that scored well in our tests. Also check our ratings of mattress brands and stores, based on subscriber surveys.

Shopping Tips

Lie Down
If possible, lie on any mattress that you’re considering. Wear loose clothes, and shoes you can slip off. Make yourself comfortable, and shoo away the salesperson if you’re feeling pressured. Salespeople should expect you to take your time. Spend at least 5 or 10 minutes on each side and on your back (your stomach, too, if that’s a preferred sleeping position). Panelists who took beds home for a month-long trial rarely changed the opinion they formed after the first night. Shopping online or at a warehouse club? Tryouts aren’t usually an option, so checking return policies before you buy is extra-important.

Check Return Policies
Make sure the store offers a full refund or credit toward another mattress. Return periods, often called “comfort guarantees,” range from a couple of weeks to 120 days. Some retailers, including Macy’s and Sears, charge a 15 percent restocking fee. Some sellers provide free pickup if you want a refund or an exchange, but otherwise, you’ll have to pay for it—or cart the mattress to the store. Macy’s, for example, charges an $85 pickup fee. And you’ll be responsible for any damage.

Try to Haggle
Once you’ve settled on a model, try to bring the price down. Many businesses, such as warehouse clubs, have fixed prices and won’t budge. But for retailers that do negotiate—particularly specialty chains—huge markups allow them to lower prices by 50 percent or more during their frequent sales. Our recommendation: Any time of year, insist on a sale price you’ve seen for the mattress you know you want, and don’t be afraid to walk out if you feel you’re getting a raw deal. While it’s a little tougher to negotiate online, there are still ways to save.

Don’t Be Bullied Into Buying a Box Spring
You might not need it. If your box spring isn’t broken and is still structurally sound, consider keeping it and saving money (roughly $150 to $300 for a queen-size). One caveat: Some brands require you to buy their box spring to receive full warranty coverage. Many foam manufacturers recommend a platform base or strong slatted wood foundations.

Understand the Warranty
It can range from 10 to 25 years and covers only manufacturing defects such as sagging and loose or broken coil wires. Coverage is frequently prorated, meaning that it decreases over time.

On Delivery Day
Never accept delivery without inspecting the mattress (and the box spring, if you buy one) for stains and other damage. Also be sure that the mattress has a label that states “all-new material” before you send the driver on his way. If it’s not there, refuse delivery. And keep it on afterward in case you have to file a warranty claim in the future. If you bought a bed-in-a-box, inspect the mattress as soon as you unroll it. Call customer service immediately if something appears to be wrong with the mattress or if it’s dirty. Take a few photos with your smartphone in case the customer service representative asks for proof of the damage.

Need a new set of sheets for your new mattress? Check our sheets buying guide and ratings to find out how we rate and review cotton sheets.

7 Ways to Buy a Better Mattress

You spend a third of your life in bed, so why settle for a mattress that leaves you cranky or in pain? Here’s how to find the right one.

O sleep! O gentle sleep! . . . The promise of a sound and peaceful rest has inspired people to wax poetic for centuries. The trouble is, assembling the dreamiest combination of mattress and pillow is something closer to a nightmare for a lot of consumers. And there are plenty of reasons why.

For starters, if you want to replace your old mattress with the same brand—as 1 in 5 respondents to our new survey of nearly 62,000 Consumer Reports subscribers has done—you probably won’t be able to get the same model. That’s because manufacturers regularly discontinue or rename their products. Names and claims on mattresses range from the ethereal to the incomprehensible. Salespeople invariably hint at nocturnal disappointment unless you buy the priciest pick in the place. And trying to approximate the intimacy of sleep by lying down on a mattress in a fluorescent-­lit public space can be awkward at best.

On the plus side, mattress makers are experimenting with new methods of construction, rearranging the layers of foam as well as the placement of coils in innerspring models in a bid to improve comfort. Meanwhile, savvy online retailers are trying to improve the shopping experience by removing the store from the equation altogether. And they’re doing a good job: The highest satisfaction scores from our survey went to two of the newer mattress brands in America—online outfits Casper and Tuft & Needle. They’ll ship a foam bed-in-a-box to your front door for a very competitive price. As for performance, Casper took the top overall score among foam mattresses.

Innersprings, however, are still the most common type of mattress sold, although that seems ripe for consumer reconsideration. In our survey, 65 percent of respondents said they were highly satisfied with innersprings, vs. 75 percent of memory foam owners and 80 percent of adjustable-air owners. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, memory foam mattresses are growing in popularity. And adjustable air mattresses, such as those sold at Sleep Number stores, rate very well in both our mattress tests and reader survey, especially among those who report neck pain, back pain, sleep apnea, and other health problems.

Whether you already have an idea of what you want or are starting from scratch, we think you should give your mattress choice at least as much consideration as a new car. True, it’s only a fraction of the price, but you spend nearly a third of your life in a prone position, so making the wrong choice has consequences. “If your mattress is uncomfortable, it could disturb your sleep, exacerbate orthopedic problems, or possibly have a negative impact on your long-term health,” says Michael H. Bonnet, Ph.D., a neurology professor and sleep expert at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.

That’s why we put every model we purchase through rigorous tests utilizing actual people as well as use sophisticated equipment to measure support and firmness. These machines pummel and abuse the mattresses to gauge how they’ll hold up over time. Then we tear them apart to expose what’s inside—springs, layers of foam, gel-infused foam—to determine which materials improve performance. This year, we’ve introduced some methodology improvements, including a way to matchmake a mattress for you and your honey.

Here, seven steps to shopping for, choosing, and buying a mattress you’ll love, and that loves you back:

Step 1: Learn Lessons From Your Old Bed

Do you twist and turn and grit your teeth trying to find your mattress’ sweet spot? Do you wake up feeling drained or achy? Do you find that, curiously, you sleep better in a hotel? If not, you will eventually. “Younger people can sleep just fine on almost any surface, including a piece of plywood,” says Bonnet. “We all become lighter sleepers as we age, and pain and other medical problems make this worse.”

There’s no set rule for when to replace a mattress—we test them to approximate eight to 10 years of use—but there are some telltale signs that you should. Some you can plainly see, such as rips, divots, or stains (your old dog is sleeping with you, isn’t he?). Others you can feel, for example if your hips and shoulders now sink deeply into the mattress. Still other signs you can’t see at all: Your mattress and bedding provide an ideal environment for dust mites that can trigger allergies or even asthma. So if you wake up sniffling every morning, your mattress may be to blame.

You can use other observations to guide your choice in something new. If you feel lumps or sharp points, that could indicate damage to the inside of your mattress, so look for a model with a high durability score in our ratings. If you and your partner wake each other up while tossing and turning, look for a high stabilization rating.

Step 2: Master the Mattress Store

If it seems like mattress showrooms are on every block these days, that’s because they are. There are more than 12,000 bed and specialty mattress stores nationwide, and the number is growing. If you can’t find something you like at Mattress Firm, you can wander next door to Sleepy’s (which, by the way, is now owned by Mattress Firm).

Not that having more choice helps, given how fruitless it is to compare a mattress sold at one store with one sold at another. A “Blissful Featherweight” here may be nothing like the “Delightful Featherlite” there. And because manufacturers’ descriptions of firmness are so fanciful and sometimes fact-free, we suggest ignoring them altogether and instead checking our mattress ratings. Firmness is now presented on a handy scale from 1 to 10.

As awkward as it can be, we stand by our longtime advice to try before you buy—meaning, kick off your shoes and lie down on a prospective pick for at least 15 minutes in the position you usually sleep in. In our survey, nearly 20,000 readers bought a mattress in the last three years. Among those who tried it out in the store, the more time they spent testing it before buying, the higher their satisfaction: 77 percent of respondents who spent more than 15 minutes were especially happy with their purchase. Fewer than 1 in 5 people actually do that, our survey shows, though 28 percent do lie down for a few minutes.

If you want to minimize some of the weirdness of publicly test-driving a mattress, consider visiting one of the more well-regarded mattress or furniture specialty stores in our survey. The Original Mattress Factory was the top-rated store, followed by several regional chains, including Nebraska Furniture Mart, Havertys, Jordan’s Furniture, and Bob’s Discount Furniture.

Macy’s, a traditional department store, received only middling scores for price and selection. Costco—where you can’t try a mattress in the store because they’re standing upright—got a top mark for price but fared poorly on selection. That might be just fine, given that the warehouse club makes one of our top-rated mattresses, the Novaform 14” Serafina Pearl Gel. And it may be a sign of where the market is heading that 57 percent of readers who bought a mattress from Costco did so online.

Step 3: Consider Buying Online

For those who want the ultimate convenience of buying online and skipping retail stores altogether, there are more options than ever before. Startups like Casper and Tuft & Needle are getting a lot of attention for their high-performing bed-in-a-box foam mattresses, but the fact is that you can buy almost any mattress online, innersprings included.

It might seem risky to buy a mattress without trying it, but consider that Amazon, which sells all types of mattresses, topped our retailer ratings among all sellers. It’s excellent on price as well as on-time delivery. The limitation is that should you want to try a mattress in a store before purchasing it online—a practice known as showrooming—you wouldn’t be able to. That’s because you won’t find the mattress you tried at, say, Ethan Allen on Amazon because it’s exclusive to that store.

You can try the mattress in the flesh but then buy it virtually, although you might need to stick to that retailer’s website.

If you have no qualms about buying a mattress sight unseen, try a bed-in-a-box. The foam mattresses are compressed, packed into a box less than 4 feet tall, and delivered to your doorstep by UPS or Fed­Ex. These foam mattresses can be heavy—100 pounds or more for a queen-size—so you may need a friend to help you move it to an upstairs bedroom. Once you get it there, carefully slice open the packaging to let the mattress return to its original shape; it’s actually fun to watch.

When buying a mattress online, don’t assume you can’t haggle—you can, and you may actually do better because you can maintain a true poker face when you’re virtual. Open the chat window, and when the customer-service rep responds, start the bidding.

Consumer Reports Take On Choosing The Right Mattress

Choosing the right mattress is important. However, it is not all that easy to do.

The team at Consumer Reports created some tips on how to choose the right mattress. It’s not about falling for the fancy terms used by mattress retailers. It’s about trying and testing them out for yourself.

They explain it here in this 3 minute video.

Here’s my take on this:

Before you head out mattress shopping do a little research. While it is true the big box retailers have insane markups, not all mattress retailers inflate their prices.

Also, find out about the quality of the materials used in the mattress. For instance:

  • What is the density of the foam used? 1.5lb polyfoam and below is lesser quality than a foam 1.8lb and above.
  • Are any of the materials all-natural? If you are sensitive to chemicals or you just want to sleep on a bed that will limit the amount of toxins you breathe in then you may want to consider an all-natural mattress.
  • What type of innersprings are used? You can find out about the different types of innerspring mattresses here.

Consider Consumer Report’s advice when mattress shopping and take your time. Don’t rush when you are testing out the mattresses since a good night’s sleep plays an important role in your productivity.

If you need some more help on your mattress shopping journey we created a free guide you can download. Just click on the image below to get it.

Oh and one more thing… did you notice them say our name at 1.47? I know they weren’t actually talking about us but I just like to hear our name being used ;).

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