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How to Choose a Mattress in 3 Simple Steps, According to Professional Bed Testers

Your best night’s sleep is only a few clicks away.
By Jillian Mueller
Updated September 12, 2021
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Getting a good night's sleep is one of the best ways to stay healthy and happy, so if your mattress negatively impacts your shuteye, it's time to start shopping for a new bed. You may feel overwhelmed by the amount of options available, but this easy-to-follow guide—featuring input from the experts at Mattress Advisor—shows you how to choose a mattress in just three simple steps.

Below, you'll find information on when a mattress needs to be replaced, where to look for the best beds, and what types of materials and firmness level you should pick based on your sleep style and budget. You'll be drifting off to dreamland in no time.

Step 1: Determine whether your mattress needs replacing

How often should you replace your mattress? The age of your bed is an important factor to consider when deciding whether it's time to invest in a new one. The average lifespan of a mattress is seven to 10 years. No matter how well a bed is constructed, everyday wear and tear will cause the quality of your mattress to deteriorate over time. This decline can impact the bed's support structure and lead to general discomfort throughout the night.

"Regardless of how old your mattress is, if you've started waking with aches and pains, noticed sagging or lumps in the mattress, or feel like you're sinking uncomfortably deep into your bed, it's probably time to ditch your mattress," Michael Breus, Ph.D., a board-certified sleep specialist in Los Angeles (who's also known as 'The Sleep Doctor') tells Health.

Saatva Solaire Adjustable Mattress

Step 2: Research where to buy a mattress

Once you've decided to start shopping for a new mattress, there are plenty of places to look. You'll find a wide variety of beds at speciality mattress stores, department stores, and big box stores, or you can search online mattress brands from the comfort of your home. 

In-store vs. online

Brick-and-mortar mattress stores allow you to test multiple beds before you take one home and they often have experts on site who can help you find your ideal fit. However, online mattresses have increased in popularity over the years due to the fact that they're often less expensive than their showroom counterparts. With online, you purchase directly from the retailer, which cuts out middleman markups. Another benefit to shopping online is the amount of information available on any one bed, including helpful customer reviews.

Online mattress companies tend to offer lengthy sleep trials—sometimes up to a year—and generous return policies so you can test the bed at home before committing. If you choose to buy a mattress online, there's a good chance that it will be a bed-in-a-box mattress, meaning it arrives in a compact box. When you unpack the bed, it will begin to expand to its full shape and size and should be ready to sleep on within a few hours.

Here are three of the best bed-in-a-box mattresses on the market today:

  • Best on a Budget: Nectar—Costing less than $900 for a queen, this bed also comes with a lifetime warranty and a one-year sleep trial that allows you to return it free of charge if you decide it's not the right fit. Nectar Memory Foam, $1,298; nectarsleep.com

Price

Mattress prices range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, but a durable online mattress typically costs around $1,000. It's important to keep in mind that a well-made bed is meant to last seven to 10 years, so purchasing one is a decade-long investment. If you're bargain hunting, look for a mattress that has at least a five-year warranty to keep you from having to buy a new one sooner.

Saatva Solaire Adjustable Mattress

Step 3: Pick your preferred mattress materials and firmness level

As this guide has already established, there are tons of mattress brands on the market. But there are also a lot of different materials to filter through, some firmer than others. So, how do you begin to choose a mattress that will fit your specific sleep style? Consider these three factors before hitting the order button. 

Mattress type and materials

Innerspring

Innerspring mattresses are often considered the most traditional mattress type and contain one or more rows of steel coils sandwiched between layers of thin foam. These beds are supportive, breathable, and responsive to movement, but the coils don't contour to the body and innersprings aren't known for providing excellent pressure relief.

Our recommendation: Saatva Classic, $1,574; saatva.com

Memory foam

Memory foam mattresses are made with layers of plush foam that contour around your curves to relieve pressure and isolate motion. Though memory foam isn't favored by hot sleepers because it can trap in body heat, some memory foam beds incorporate gel-infused foam, graphite, and other cooling materials to combat night sweats. Adding a cooling mattress pad on top of your bed is another way to avoid overheating during the night. 

Our recommendation: Nectar Memory Foam, $899 (was $1,298); nectarsleep.com

Latex

Latex mattresses blend the contouring comfort of memory foam with the buoyant feel of coils. This combination provides pressure relief and the ability to switch positions easily. Latex is also highly durable: A traditional mattress usually lasts between seven and 10 years while a latex mattress's lifespan can be upwards of 20 years.

Our recommendation: Birch Natural, $1,499; birchliving.com

Hybrid 

A hybrid mattress is made of two or more mattress types, commonly memory foam and coils. When combining the best features of multiple materials, you're left with a solid support structure and cushioning relief for pressure points like the hips and shoulders.

Our recommendation: Brooklyn Signature Hybrid, $1,124; brooklynbedding.com

Bonus all-natural recommendation: Avocado Green, $1,499; avocadogreenmattress.com

Adjustable

An adjustable bed consists of a mattress that rests on an adjustable bed frame, which can be raised or lowered depending on your sleep needs. Back pain sufferers like this type of bed because it allows them to control the incline and helps maintain healthy spine alignment. In some cases, adjustable beds have been known to alleviate sleep apnea. Plus, some of them come pre-programmed with 'anti-snore' mechanisms that will tilt your head into a specific position to help reduce snoring.

Our recommendation: Saatva Solaire, $2,845, saatva.com

Saatva Solaire Adjustable Mattress
Credit: Saatva

Firmness

Mattress firmness is measured on a scale from one to 10, with one being the softest and 10 being the firmest. For sleepers who want a soft mattress, a bed with a firmness level of three or four will likely suffice while those looking for a firm mattress should consider beds in the seven to eight range. 

Medium-firm mattresses with a firmness level of five or six tend to suit all sleep positions and are a safe choice if you aren't sure what kind of feel you prefer. If you struggle with back pain, a medium-firm model—like the Puffy Mattress—helps keep pressure off your lower back by maintaining proper spine alignment.

Once you purchase a mattress, you can adjust the firmness through various sleep accessories. For example, a plush mattress topper is an easy way to soften up a bed that's too firm. Another option is to buy a flippable mattress like the Layla Hybrid. It's medium-soft on one side and medium-firm on the other, allowing you to switch things up when you need a change.

Sleep Position

Side sleepers

The best mattresses for side sleepers cushion pressure points along the body. If you're this type of sleeper, a medium-firm mattress will work to keep your spine in alignment through the use of supportive layers while providing a comfortable surface to sleep on. For side sleepers in need of a cooling mattress, the Bear Original features foam layers infused with graphite gel to push away body heat.

Back sleepers

Back sleepers need firm support in order to keep their spines in a neutral alignment throughout the night. If too much pressure is placed on the lower back in this position, it can lead to aches and pains. Typically, a firm mattress that has supportive coils is a great option for back sleepers. 

Stomach sleepers

Stomach sleepers need a blend of firm support for the spine and pressure relief around the chest and shoulders. A medium-firm to firm mattress with a plush comfort layer and sturdy coils will help stomach sleepers get a comfortable night's rest. 

Combination Sleepers

For combination sleepers—those who switch positions during the night—a middle-of-the-road medium firmness level is ideal because it suits any sleep position. If you tend to toss and turn, you'll also want to look for a responsive bed that adapts quickly to your movements. A mattress like the Cocoon Chill uses dense memory foam layers to promote motion isolation, which is ideal if you sleep with a partner and don't want to disturb their sleep.

To recap, once you've determined that your old bed isn't working for you anymore, do your research before buying a new one. Shopping online vs. browsing in a traditional store each comes with its own set of pros and cons, but you'll typically save more money with a bed-in-a-box mattress. 

When picking out a mattress type and firmness level, think about the way you sleep and how you define comfort. Bookmark this guide for reference as you begin to explore different mattress brands. Happy hunting!

Jillian Mueller is a health and lifestyle writer for Mattress Advisor.

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