From the Sleep Experts™ at Mattress Firm
Design

How Do I Choose a Mattress?

Serta icomfort mattress on a wooden bedframe in a bedroom

You’ll sleep on it for years, so you want to get this one right.

When choosing the best mattress for you, it’s important to consider your preferred sleep position, your personal comfort preferences, and any health concerns, along with the type and size of mattress fit for your space.

To help make buying a perfect mattress feel less intimidating, we created this easy guide chock full of expert advice. Next stop: gloriously great sleep.

[Note: If you buy something using a link on our site, we may earn a commission.]

What’s the Lifespan of a Mattress?

Every eight years is the optimal timeframe for replacing a mattress.

It’s likely you remember your parents—or even your grandparents—telling you a mattress needs to be replaced about every decade. But even though the warranty may last that long, the reality is it needs to be swapped out sooner—about every eight years, says Megan Anderson, product marketing manager at Mattress Firm.

“Your mattress is like a giant sponge,” she says. “It absorbs body oil, sweat, dead skin cells, dust mites, and more over time.” (Fun fact: Research shows there could be up to 10 million mites inside a typical used mattress.) “These often cause the comfort layers at the top of the mattress to deteriorate much faster over time, so you want to replace yours to maintain the maximum level of comfort and mattress health.”

(You may also want to consider using a mattress protector to help deflect those dust mites and allergens.)

If you notice a substantial amount of sagging, lopsided-ness, or tearing, those are other indicators that your mattress is no longer providing enough support, Anderson says. Another sign: waking up with aches and pains or having challenges falling asleep because you can’t get comfortable.

“In general, the way people develop pain and discomfort, or more chronic injuries, a lot of times has to do with our posture,” says Dr. Jessalynn Adam, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician with Orthopedics and Joint Replacement of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “Just like you would develop pain from poor posture after hunching over a computer all day, if you spend a lot of time sleeping in an unsupported position, you might develop pain or another health issue.”

The good news: You can extend the life of your mattress by rotating it about every six months to more evenly distribute body weight and prevent divots from forming, Anderson says. Toppers can also help, giving mattresses an extra layer of comfort when you’re on a budget or in need of a more luxurious experience.

How Much Should I Pay for a Mattress?

It depends. You can spend as little as $250 and up to as much as $5,600 for all the luxurious bells and whistles. Anderson says the ideal budget is somewhere between $1,000 and $1,500. That aligns with data from Statista, which found the average perceived cost of a quality mattress is right around $1,100.

Let’s face it: This is a product you’re sleeping on every single night for a substantial amount of time so it’s important to look at this purchase as an investment and seek out high-quality materials and features that are built to help support your sleep health.

Still, not every mattress in your home may need to be a top-dollar line item. “I think it really depends on the stage of life you’re in and what you need the mattress for,” Anderson says. “Some people are just looking to upgrade their kid’s bed or outfit a guest bedroom, so they might not spend as much, versus others who are shopping for a primary bedroom when you’re really looking for that higher quality.”

If dropping a cool grand all at once is out of the question for your budget, Anderson has a suggestion: “There are so many financing options available these days to help fit whatever budget you have,” she says. “So, there are definitely ways to make it affordable to get a high-quality mattress.”

The Types of Mattresses to Choose From

With the variety of materials, technologies, and styles available, there is a mattress that’s perfect for every style of sleeper and every person’s unique needs.

“You want to choose a mattress that disperses pressure and weight more evenly, alleviating any pressure points,” Anderson explains.

To do that, it’s important to know the different types of mattresses out there. Here’s a helpful list:

Memory Foam


The goal of memory foam is to isolate motion, helping to reduce what you feel (like your partner tossing and turning) and offer pressure relief to your shoulders, hips, and back. They come in a variety of comfort levels, and most can feature cooling technology, ventilated for breathability, or convoluted for enhanced airflow to avoid the stereotype that memory foam “sleeps hot.”

Learn more: Foam 101

Options to consider:

Cocoon by Sealy Chill memory foam mattress on a wooden bed frame
With the Cocoon by Sealy Chill Mattress-in-a-Box, you can get a premium memory foam mattress with cooling technology delivered right to your door.
Photo Credit: Cocoon by Sealy

Coils/Innerspring


Support levels can vary depending on the coil type and comfort layers added in between. Individually wrapped or fabric-encased coils are best for isolating motion. There are also mattresses that contain micro-coil layers, which are one-inch coils that help provide more responsiveness and comfort. Innerspring mattresses are typically much more breathable thanks to the structure of the unit.

Learn more: Innersprings 101

Options to consider:

Hybrid


An increasingly popular style, hybrid mattresses combine multiple bedding technologies such as memory foam, innersprings, and gel materials. Hybrids come in a variety of comfort levels and—because of the unique combination of materials—can provide solutions to all kinds of sleepers’ comfort needs, including pressure relief and support.

Options to consider:

Gel


This grid-shape material looks like an ice tray and produces a unique, conforming feel. It’s highly pressure-relieving and breathable, thanks to the open design of the gel layer, and dynamically responds to your body’s movements to provide comfort and support.

Options to consider:

Latex


One of the most unique, durable, and natural materials found in bedding today, latex is produced from the sap of rubber trees. Manufacturers of latex mattresses use an intensive process that creates a layer containing a unique cell structure. It’s breathable and resistant to mold, mildew, and dust mites.

Option to consider:

How Your Sleep Position Impacts Your Mattress Needs

Whether you sleep on your back, your side, or your stomach—or you tend to mix it up throughout the night—your primary sleeping position should factor into the level of firmness you may need in a mattress.

According to Dr. Adam, you want a mattress that evenly supports the whole spine to prevent throwing your body out of alignment while you sleep. Your spine alignment support needs are different based on your preferred sleep position.

Side sleepers tend to need a softer mattress to keep shoulders and hips in line.

Stomach sleepers usually crave a firmer mattress.

Back sleepers typically fall somewhere in between.

But ultimately, personal preference will be your guiding force.

“You may find the conforming feel of a plush mattress helps alleviate your back pain, while others may appreciate the supportive feel of a firmer option,” Anderson says. “The only way to find the best mattress for you is to try a variety of comfort levels and go with what feels best on your joints.”

Besides that, there are a few other features to look for when shopping to satisfy your sleep needs.

Other Mattress Comfort and Customization Options

If you tend to sleep hot: For anyone who heats up in the night and ends up sweaty, Anderson recommends that you start by considering phase-change material, a common cooling treatment for mattresses that helps provide a cooling sensation upon lying down and helps regulate your temperature throughout the night. Anderson says it can be woven into the cover fabric or applied to the top mattress layer.

Additionally, Anderson recommends ventilated materials—like a foam layer with perforated holes—to help promote airflow and avoid heat getting trapped inside the bed. Then, consider cooling sleep accessories, like sheets and pillows.

PureCare Elements Premium Tencel cooling sheets on a made bed in a bedroom.
Spun from raw wood pulp, PureCare's Elements Premium Tencel Sheets are naturally cool to the touch.
Photo Credit: PureCare

If you have allergies: While Anderson notes most materials are designed for people with allergies, foam and latex are both antimicrobial. It isn’t a bad idea to add an allergen-resistant mattress cover and pillowcases to help keep irritants at bay, either.

If you’re concerned about chemicals: “In general, be wary of companies that claim their mattress is totally organic and chemical-free,” Anderson warns. “Legally, every mattress has to be treated with fire-retardant, so there’s going to be something.”

That said, you can limit your exposure to chemicals when mattress shopping. Anderson recommends looking for mattresses that are hand-tufted, as the style of construction eliminates the need for glue in between the mattress layers. And look for certifications like CertiPUR-US to avoid unsafe levels of chemicals, she adds.

If you have back pain: For patients with chronic lower back pain, researchers tested the effectiveness of a foam mattress, waterbed mattress, and firm mattress. After a month of use, they found no major difference between the foam and waterbed mattresses, but the firm mattress only made things worse. And since waterbed mattresses aren’t exactly hot on the market these days, your best bet is to go with a foam mattress that molds to your body for support.

If your partner has different preferences: Hybrid mattresses can be a solid option, as they have both comfort and support layers that might allow couples to find something in the middle of both comfort preferences, Anderson says. But if your needs are drastically different, you may want to purchase a split king mattress and get two different twin XLs to create a totally custom experience, she suggests.

When to Shop for Mattresses In-Store Vs. Online

Flopping spread-eagle onto a mattress in a store is a solidly fun way to test comfort level—come on, we all love a good hit of nostalgia!—but it's certainly not the only way to choose a mattress nowadays.

The latest wave of bed-in-a-box offerings (think Purple, Tuft & Needle, and Lull) have sparked a movement toward online mattress shopping—winning the business of thousands of customers for convenient, contactless delivery and generous free-trial periods.

What’s more, a 2018 consumer survey from the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) found that almost half of all mattress bought in the past year were purchased online. The consumers who bought them online credited their decision to ease of shopping, free shipping, and an affordable (i.e. lower) cost.

Other than the major sway of convenience, buying a mattress online also means you can stay in your pajamas while analyzing products and reviews—an important note to consider, as 24 percent of shoppers mull over a mattress purchase for three to seven days, according to the ISPA.

And, ironically, online mattress shopping may be better for those who easily get overwhelmed: because bed-in-a-box brands typically offer fewer options, there’s simply less back-and-forth between models.

Learn more: How to Buy a Mattress Online

But there are also many solid reasons more than half of people prefer to visit a showroom when shopping for a mattress. Not only does this allow you to immediately get a feel for the mattress (Consumer Reports says you should spend at least 10-15 minutes lying on a mattress before buying it), it also gives the opportunity to talk to sales professionals who are knowledgeable on all the key details of various mattresses.

"We have Sleep Experts in every Mattress Firm store who are trained to help you,” says Anderson. “If you tell them your preferred sleeping position and any health concerns you may have, they can help you find the perfect mattress to ensure you achieve your best sleep."

And remember, there’s always the option to do a combination of both online and in-store shopping.

“You can start online and take a mattress-match quiz to get some thought-starters on what you might want, and whittle down to start looking in-person,” Anderson says. Then, visit a showroom to give the mattress a lie-down while talking to a Sleep Expert for personalized sleep advice and recommendations.

Regardless of your shopping method, always ask about the return policy and how long you can test drive the mattress risk-free. (100 days is standard, though some companies—including Mattress Firm—have an even more generous 120-night sleep trial.) You may get a partial refund or exchange when you purchase a mattress in-store, whereas online companies are likely to give a full refund and pick it up to donate it to a local charity.

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Now that you’ve got the ins and outs of mattress shopping down, take advantage of Mattress Firm’s Mattress Matcher tool to get you that much closer to a perfect night’s rest.

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