How to Choose a Mattress

Choosing the right mattress is an important decision. The average person spends about 1/3 of their life in bed, making their bed the most used piece of furniture in the home. Meanwhile, over 70% of people suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, and nearly 25% complain of sleeplessness.

The good news is that by keeping your spine in proper alignment and offering you a comfortable night's rest, the right mattress can help with both of these problems. That said, today's mattress shoppers are often overwhelmed to find thousands of models available across an extremely wide range of prices, each with complex features that can be hard to understand, and even harder to compare. At Best Bed Guide, our goal is to simplify the process of finding the best bed for you.

The first step to choosing the right mattress is to understand the three general criteria that differentiate mattresses from one another: comfort, support and durability. Within each of these categories, beds can be compared objectively; however, mattress buyers must also factor in their personal needs and preferences, as well as with the amount they are willing to spend on their new bed. To help you with this process, we have provided a brief summary of the three criteria below, along with a list of key questions to help you determine your "Personal Mattress Criteria."

Mattress Comfort

"Comfort" is the way the surface of the mattress feels against the surface of your body. It is what makes you feel cozy and relaxed in your bed, and it is probably the first thing you notice when you lay down on a bed. In an innerspring mattress (see our Innerspring Mattress Guide), comfort is driven primarily by the upholstery layers, particularly the cushioning and quilting. Mattress companies typically use words like "firm," "plush," and "pillow-top" to describe the comfort attributes of a bed, though what they are really getting at is whether the top layers of the mattress (e.g., what you feel when you press the mattress surface with your fingertips) feel "soft" or "hard." Other comfort-related attributes include features that minimize disturbance from your partner's movements, or that provide for differing levels of comfort on each side of the bed. More than any other aspect of your bed purchase, judging a mattress' comfort will be a matter of personal preference.

Mattress Support

With mattresses, the term "support" refers to the aspects of the bed that push back in order to hold your spine in position while you sleep. Unlike with comfort, which is largely a matter of personal preference, everyone requires support from their mattress, though to varying degrees based on some of the factors discussed below. Improper or inadequate support can result in tension or back pain, as your muscles try to compensate to keep your spine in alignment, and frequently causes pain and/or stiffness when you wake up. Though mattress companies use words like "firm" or "extra firm" to explain the support provided by a bed, what they are really describing is the extent to which the inner core of the mattress (e.g., what you feel when you put one knee on the bed and then lean your weight into it) is "springy" or "stiff." In an innerspring mattress, support is driven primarily by the coils, both in their quantity and their construction (see the Innerspring Mattress Guide for more details on the factors that make a coil system springy or stiff).

Mattress Durability

"Durability" refers to the length of time a mattress will continue to provide you with adequate support along with your desired level of comfort. The durability of a mattress is driven primarily by the quality of its materials and the way it is constructed. In general, durability tends to correlate with both the weight and price of the mattress, since higher-durability materials tend to be denser and more expensive. Not surprisingly, higher-quality construction techniques also tend to be more expensive (e.g., hand-tufting). Durability can also be impacted by special features in a bed. For example, some mattresses contain specific features to protect against common durability problems, such as "edge break-down," stains, or sagging. Conversely, mattresses with more layers of upholstery on top (e.g., pillow-top beds) are more likely to develop body impressions over time.

One way to increase the longevity of your mattress is to flip it regularly, particularly in its first few years. That said, a popular trend in beds today is the "no-flip" mattress, for which only one side is designed as a sleep surface. Naturally, this prevents the use of flipping as a means of avoiding body impressions, however manufacturers have generally offset this by replacing less durable padding materials like polyester fiber (which packs down over time) with longer-lasting materials like memory foam and latex.

Contrary to popular belief, mattress durability does not correlate with warranty length. While warranties will protect you against defects in materials or workmanship, they are not a guarantee of durability, and do not offer protection against general deteriorations in comfort over time. Similarly, durability does not correlate with manufacturer brand— each mattress manufacturer makes a range of models at various levels of price, quality, and durability.