“Going to the mattresses” is an expression that (for those who aren’t Godfather fans and don’t already know) means to gear up for battle.
The thought of purchasing a new mattress may feel a bit like going to battle, what with the plethora of options available today and the fact that–since we spend a third of our lives sleeping–choosing the right mattress is a big decision. All the more reason to view this purchase not with trepidation but with anticipation and even excitement and to get educated before you start to shop.
Mary Helen Rogers, VP of Marketing and Communications at the Better Sleep Council, concurs. “We’re not here to tell you what to buy,” she says. “We recognize that it’s a very personal process, so we’re here to make it more fun and less of a grudge purchase.”
With that in mind, it’s best to start by thinking not of when to buy a new mattress but when to evaluate whether you need one. Rogers explains: “Ask yourself, ‘How am I sleeping and how am I feeling when I wake up?’ If it’s good, then you’re good to go.”
On the other hand, if you’ve recently gone on vacation and realized that you sleep much better on vacation than at home, it may be time to replace your mattress. Or, if you’re undergoing a lifestyle change, such as getting married, it may also be time, as your existing mattress may not align with what your partner needs. And if you’re experiencing a body change (think injury, pregnancy, weight gain, weight loss, etc.), those are all triggers for you to evaluate whether you need a new mattress.
COMFORT AND SUPPORT
While personal preference, size, firmness level, cost and more can influence your mattress purchase, the top two factors to consider when shopping for a new mattress are comfort and support. In other words, when you lie down in your preferred sleeping position (i.e., back, stomach or side), you should feel comfortable. Not only that, your head, neck and spine should be supported and in proper alignment. Here’s a breakdown of some different mattress categories relative to the kind of comfort and support they can provide.
TO SPRING OR NOT TO SPRING
Roberts explains that there are two “mega” categories of mattresses: those with springs and those without. Historically, mattresses have contained springs, but times call for modern mattresses. Springless mattresses are comprised of foam or air; examples include latex and memory foam.
• Latex mattresses have a bouncy feeling (without the feeling of sinking) and are known for their durability. Because they are harvested from rubber trees, eco-conscious consumers favor them, though this also means they can be more expensive.
• Memory foam mattresses are, for many, the heroes of the mattress world, perhaps because they envelop sleepers like a hug, molding to the body and evenly distributing weight. They allow people to sink into them for maximum comfort and can even alleviate back or joint pain.
• Hybrid mattresses are just that: a mix of support springs and then a foam core with varying levels of comfort at the top.
• Spring mattresses are certainly not obsolete. In fact, they provide support and bounce in their own right, with the coils allowing for airflow and ventilation. And spring mattresses often provide a cooler sleeping surface than other mattresses (though many of today’s foam options also help regulate temperature and wick away moisture).
Your mattress is key to a transformative sleep experience. But it doesn’t act alone. It rests, of course, on a base. Here are three basic types:
A box spring is a network of steel coils framed in wood. They are the base of choice for an innerspring mattress. On the plus side, they tend to be more lightweight than a platform, and thanks to the springs, they have a little bit of give. The springs, however, may weaken over time.
A foundation uses wooden slats which are spaced two to three inches apart—the closer together, the more supportive. On the plus side, this base is compatible with multiple mattress types, it provides even support and is fairly durable. However, this base has no give and tends to be on the heavier side.
An adjustable base allows the sleeper to move the mattress to support the curvature of the spine. Adjustable beds tend to cost more and are considerably heavier—up to three times the weight of a traditional mattress, box spring, and frame combination.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR SLEEP
Along with the right mattress, you need an appropriate bed frame. Platform beds are best for memory foam, latex, or hybrid mattresses. A conventional frame is better suited to the thickness of a mattress and box spring.
PRACTICAL SHOPPING TIPS
Rogers acknowledges that mattress shopping can seem daunting because there are a lot of choices. “I liken it to shopping for a car,” she explains.
“The options seem infinite, so how do you start? You say, ‘I like a small car, a red car, etc.’ Start thinking about the features that are important to you and align with one that has your preferred level of comfort and support.”
One of the best ways to start is with a self-inventory of what you like and don’t like. To help narrow down your choices, The Better Sleep Council’s website offers a “Better Bed Quizzz” to help consumers evaluate their mattress needs.
Consider factors such as whether you sleep with a partner or alone. “If the latter, go on your own mattress journey,” says Rogers. “If you sleep with a partner, you need to find something that will work for both of you. If it’s you, a partner and a pet, take that into consideration.” Ultimately, choose a mattress that gives everyone plenty of room, including if you co-sleep with your children.
Other factors? Think about what features are important to you. “Smart” mattresses offer everything from a massage option to sound features to sleep monitoring to adjustable foundations. The latter allows you to raise the head and the foot, and it helps with snoring and even with injuries.
Rogers encourages going to multiple stores and testing out what different mattresses feel like. It’s a tactile product, after all. “There is a lot of science and technology out there that goes into today’s sleep surface and if you haven’t shopped for a while, it may be unfamiliar,” she acknowledges.” So put on comfy pants and head out to try some out.”
It’s also important to bring your own pillow or ask for a pillow so you can get an accurate feel of the mattress as it relates to your head position.
Finally, in terms of cost, keep in mind that you may want to stretch your budget, if you can, because a good mattress is a good investment—not just in your physical health but in terms of your mental and emotional health as well. If you’re not sleeping well, you’re not going to feel well.
“I like to say, ‘By investing in your mattress, you’re investing directly in yourself,’” concludes Rogers.
RESOURCES Best Furniture Gallery for Bowles Mattress Co., Hooker Furniture; Bova Furniture for Mobican Furniture; Cedar Hill Furniture for Liberty Furniture; Hoffman and Albers Interiors for Hickory White, Hooker Furniture, Vanguard; ID Cincinnati Furniture & Interior Design for Hooker Furniture, Hickory White, Precedent, Vanguard; Studio J for Kincaid, Hickory White, Precedent, Vanguard
WHAT SIZE TO SLEEP ON…
Your mattress needs to be a good match for your sleeping habits, but it also needs to be the right length for your body and the right size for your room. Widths vary from just over 3 feet to 6 feet. Lengths vary from just over 6 feet to seven feet. And remember, getting some of these up staircases can be tricky.
Fun fact: The California king got its name from where it was invented—Los Angeles, California. The creator of the mattress thought most Californians had houses big enough for a bed six feet wide and seven feet long.
Article by Lee Rhodes
Article originally appeared in February 2023