Mattress Buying Guide: How to Choose the Right Mattress
Mattress Shopping to Fit Your Needs
The mattress industry looks nothing like what it did a decade ago. For most of the 20th century, the model was the same: Shoppers would visit a mattress store in person and test out a variety of beds to choose from. They had very little in the way of resources to research whether or not the salespeople’s claims about the mattresses were reliable, and no way to truly know whether or not they were getting a good deal for the price point they paid.
Now that there is a huge industry for direct to consumer mattress brands online, consumers face the exact opposite problem: an overwhelming dearth of options and information, but less ability to physically test out a mattress before purchasing it. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know before buying a mattress online. From how to compare mattresses online to understanding which brand is right for you, this mattress buying guide will cover all the bases and get you ready to click that purchase button with confidence.
When to Replace Your Mattress
It can be hard to know when it’s time for a new mattress. There are obvious signs like creaky springs and sagging frames, but there are also less overt reasons you might want to start the mattress shopping process:
- Mattress age: We recommend replacing your mattress at least every eight to nine years. The main components of your mattress, such as foams, latex, and coils, will begin to deteriorate around this time. Many online mattress brands offer a ten year warranty, signaling that this is about how long you can expect your bed to maintain optimal performance.
- Mattress sagging: No one likes a saggy mattress. Many mattresses begin to sag in the middle. Do you feel like your body wants to roll toward the center of your bed, even if you and your partner generally sleep with a bit of space side by side? This might not seem like a huge problem at first, but think of the small ways in which your body is straining to compensate for the sag to keep you in a comfortable position.
- Body impressions: When you get out of bed, can you see a dent where you sleep on it? If so, it is definitely time to look into a replacement mattress. Body impressions mean that the core functionality of the bed — responding to your weight with support and responsiveness — has run its course. Even if you are not dealing with significant back pain or other physical issues, you are not sleeping as well as you could be when a body impression is present.
- Upgrade: Sometimes you just want to treat yourself. And nothing says, “I deserve an upgrade” like buying a modern, well manufactured mattress. You sleep about a third of your life, after all. It should be comfortable. Upgrading to a newer mattress can have a big impact on your quality of life once you begin to sleep more soundly and with better support.
- Pressure points: Your pressure points are the areas of your body that stick out, causing them to be sensitive to pressure when your body isn’t properly aligned on the mattress. Most top rated mattress brands take pressure points into consideration in their design and construction. Do you suffer from discomfort in your shoulders, hips, or knees when you wake up in the morning? If so, your body might be telling you it’s time to get a mattress with better pressure point support.
- Back pain: Back pain is one of the most common complaints when it comes to sleeping problems. It can be a signal of any number of things, from too much sink to too much firmness. Luckily, the best mattress brands out there today put a lot of work into their designs to help alleviate back pain in a diverse array of sleepers.
What Criteria Are Most Important?
Everyone has a slightly different idea of what makes a mattress as close to perfect as possible. But it can help to keep a few general categories in mind when you’re mattress shopping online since you usually can’t actually lie down on the mattresses you’re comparing until after your purchase is made. Even if you are shopping in a store, it’s easy to get overwhelmed about what you need from your mattress in order to get a good night’s sleep. Pay attention to what your learn in your research about a mattress’ firmness, comfort, support, temperature, motion isolation, and edge support:
Firmness, comfort, and support are your triple threat when it comes to finding the best mattress brand that will feel just right for you. Firmness is pretty straightforward, but comfort and support are a bit more tricky to parse. Think of comfort as the initial feeling of relief you have upon lying on the mattress after a long day. And think of support as the feeling you’ll have upon waking up and throughout the day based on how well your hips, shoulders, and other pressure point areas are aligned during sleep.
- Firmness: Do you like to feel like you’re sinking deeply into your mattress? Or are you more comfortable resting more on top of its surface? These questions can help you get a sense of how firm you will want your new mattress to be. You can also take your sleeping position into account. Back and stomach sleepers tend to prefer firmer mattresses than side sleepers.
- Comfort: At the end of the day, your happiness with your mattress purchase will likely correspond mostly to its comfort level. When you are shopping and comparing, take a look at what sorts of technologies and materials each brand utilizes to add comfort to their mattress.
- Support: Comfort is not worth much on its own if you wake up sore in the morning from an unsupportive bed. Many materials like memory foam do a great job of giving sleepers an initial experience of comfort, but problems can arise if there is not enough support underneath that softer material to counterbalance sink.
These factors are not quite as paramount in the overall satisfaction you’ll have in your new mattress purchase. That being said, they might make or break your experience if something is particularly off — or particularly great
- Temperature neutrality: Before you buy your new bed, figure out how important temperature is to you. Are you always too cold, or do you tend to sweat uncomfortably through the night? This can help you choose a bed with the right amount of airflow, cooling gel, or other temperature-based construction and technology. However, you won’t want to pay extra for a super cool sleeping mattress if that isn’t important to you.
- Motion isolation: Motion isolation and transfer refer to how much the overall mattress surface moves in response to motion. Think of what happens when your partner tosses and turns at night. Do you need the motion they create to stay on their side of the bed, or do you not mind the whole mattress moving a bit? Memory foam tends to have less motion transfer than coils, with latex falling somewhere in between.
- Edge support: If a consistent sleep surface is important to you, you should also be looking at edge support. Many direct to consumer mattresses do not have a rigid structure since they’re made of foams and other malleable materials. If a bed has poor edge support, you may feel as if it would be too easy to roll off the side. Good edge support means you will feel secure no matter where you are on the mattress.
Types of Mattresses
There are a handful of main mattress types you’ll come across on the market.
Innerspring mattresses are still the most common type of mattress on the market. When most people think of a mattress, this is what they picture. Innerspring mattresses are typically cheaper than latex and other dense materials. These mattresses are:
- Generally less expensive than their foam competitors.
- Durable and long-lasting thanks to steel construction.
- Noisy at times because of the creaking of their metal interiors.
Hybrid mattresses make up about 10 percent of the U.S. mattress market today. They’re called hybrid because they use both inner springs and comfort layers like latex and memory foam on top. This gives them a best of both worlds quality, which is usually reflected in their price point. Hybrid mattresses are:
- Generally more expensive than their non-hybrid counterparts.
- Great at providing maximum comfort and support simultaneously.
- Cooling and good at temperature regulation.
Memory foam is a very popular material in modern mattress construction. It is known for its unparalleled comfort. When you put pressure on memory foam, it immediately conforms to the shape pressed into it. That also means, however, that these mattresses aren’t as springy as some would like. Memory foam beds are:
- Very comfortable and great for relieving back and pressure point pain.
- Unfortunately quite good at trapping heat.
- Quiet and present minimal motion transfer issues.
Some mattresses blend a few different types of foam, such as memory foam, gel foam, polyfoam, and others. Mixed foam mattresses are:
- Built to get the benefits of multiple material types.
- Not quite as durable because of shorter shelf like foams like polyfoam.
- Often less expensive than all memory foam or hybrid options.
Latex comes in many forms, and all the latex mattresses you’ll see on the market will either be natural or synthetic latex — and often a blend of the two. Natural latex comes from the sap of rubber trees, and synthetic latex uses man-made materials to mimic it at a lower cost. Latex mattresses are:
- Wonderful for temperature control and motion isolation.
- Hypoallergenic and often very eco-friendly.
- More expensive, especially when they’re primarily naturally sourced.
When most people think of airbeds, they think of the inflatable plastic beds used for unexpected houseguests. Some people might try using an airbed as their primary sleeping arrangement, but that is not very common. Airbeds are:
- Much less expensive than all other bed types.
- Not very comfortable or supportive and could worsen back pain.
- Super easy to store and transport compared to other mattresses.
Waterbeds had their heyday back in the 70s, and they are not quite as popular now. Waterbeds are:
- Very comfortable and relaxing if you like the sensation they create.
- Great at pressure relief in the way they contour to the body.
- Poor at motion transfer performance.
Buying a mattress can feel as daunting as buying a car because of how shrouded in mystery the process can be. It’s an expensive purchase, so you want to make sure you are making the best informed decision possible. And it shouldn’t have to be a gamble. Unfortunately, there is some misinformation you’ll need to steer clear of. Let’s take a look at a few common mattress myths:
Coil count matters:
While having fewer coils does mean a little less contouring and support, you can max out the benefits of the number of coils pretty quickly. Look instead at the overall quality of the materials and construction of various options.
Gel foam sleeps much cooler than regular memory foam:
Memory foam gets a bad rap for sleeping hot, but gel foam does not offer a huge advantage over it if there aren’t other airflow promoting technologies at play.
Special lumbar support helps alleviate back pain:
Back pain isn’t just caused by what is going on under the back during sleep. Misalignments in the hips and shoulders can transfer pain elsewhere in the body, so it’s more important to think of the overall support of the mattress as a whole.
Size (height) matters:
Most mattresses today are about 10 to 12 inches thick and made up up several layers of different materials. Pillow tops can also add a bit of loft. But overall, the height of your mattress does not correlate to better comfort or quality as long as it’s in a reasonable range.
You need a box spring to go along with that new mattress:
There is a trend in the mattress market away from reliance on box springs. While there are still many types of mattresses out there that require a box springs, most beds that come delivered to your door will do just fine on any flat surface such as a platform bed.
One size fits all:
It’s true that about 80 percent of consumers will be happy with a mattress that fits into a certain category. The average sleeper will want a mattress that is at least 10 inches thick and between a 6-7 on the firmness scale. It’s important to educate yourself before making a big ticket purchase, though, to make sure you’re taking any unique needs into account.
Laying on a mattress for five minutes in a showroom is enough to test support and quality:
The true benefits and drawbacks of a mattress won’t be apparent right away. But luckily the direct to consumer mattress industry has normalized the 100 night sleep trial period. Some brands even offer longer. This way, you can really get to know whether or not your mattress is right.
Comparison shopping is easy in stores:
Mattress lines are almost never national, meaning that different stores can change names and other details as they please. This makes it very difficult to ascertain consistent information when you’re shopping for a mattress at a brick and mortar location.
In-Store vs. Online
There are plenty of reasons you might be unsure of the best place to buy a mattress. Deciding where to buy a mattress is really all about knowing your priorities. For example, do you absolutely want the chance to lie on the mattress in person before you buy, or will a 100 night guarantee do the trick? If you’re wondering how to buy a mattress in person or online, read on.
If you decide to shop for your mattress in store, you can head to a big box retailer, furniture store, department store, or mattress specialty store.
- You can test out the beds.
- You can see a variety of options and compare them to one another.
- Sales staff can be reliable and helpful sources of information (depends on the store).
- Big box retailers tend to have lower pricing than others.
- There’s no way to comparison shop.
- Pressure for sales staff can be too much.
- Returns are difficult and can be pricey.
- Not all stores allow for mattress testing (ex: Costco and Sam’s Club).
- Transparency can be an issue, as it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to get specs around the components within each bed.
The online mattress retail space has exploded in recent years, meaning there’s a ton of competition for your hard earned money, causing mattress brands to innovate and keep their prices down.
- It’s convenient.
- It’s transparent, as most direct to consumer companies share full specs of their beds.
- The pricing is often lower.
- You can expect quality customer service.
- Sleep trials let you change your mind if necessary.
- Free shipping cuts down on the risk of the online purchase.
- Easy refunds are typical.
- You can’t test the mattress beforehand, although some online mattress brands do have showrooms at this point.
- It’s important to make sure that whatever company you buy from has quality customer service, a sleep trial that makes you comfortable, and fits any other needs you might have around the process of buying a mattress online.
A 2016 Better Sleep Council survey showed that shoppers pay an average of $930 for a new queen sized mattress. Here’s what can you expect to get for each of the following price ranges:
- $0-200: Unless it’s for an airbed that will live in the closet 364 days a year, steer clear.
- $200-400: A mattress this cheap will likely not be a great long-term option, but may work as a quick dorm room solution in a pinch.
- $400-600: This is the range wherein you can expect a bit more quality in a mattress, although it’s still going to be a very budget version of whatever style of bed it is.
- $600-1000: This is the normal range for most direct to consumer mattresses.
- $1000-2000: You’ll find these prices in luxury online mattress options as well as your regular brick and mortar retail environments.
- $2000-5000: Mattresses in this range are going to have more bells and whistles and be at the higher end in terms of quality and comfort.
- $5000+: You can probably find a mattress that exceeds all of your needs for well under this price point.
Here is your seven-point quick guide for how to proceed when wondering how to choose the right mattress:
- Check for support from top to bottom.
- Comfort is the most important and the most subjective part, so testing out mattresses is crucial.
- Shopping online tends to give you the best price and the most transparent option at this point in time.
- If buying an innerspring mattress, pocketed coils are better than the other component options.
- Expect to spend at least $750 for a quality mattress that lasts between 8-10 years (assuming daily use).
- Take a look at our comprehensive mattress information to narrow down your list and to find more information about the mattress lines you are interested in.
- Reach out to the Tuck sleep community if you’d like specific recommendations, help or additional information and we’d be glad to assist you!
Now that you have this information, you’re equipped to make a mattress purchasing decision you’ll be happy with for years to come.