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Choosing the Right Mattress
What to Consider When Choosing a Mattress

Last updated on March 6, 2019

The average person spends about a third of his or her life in bed, making the 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. Choosing the right mattress can make all the difference in the overall quality and comfort of your sleep.

Buying a Mattress is Like Buying Pants

Thanks to the staggering number of innovations in design and materials over the last few decades, there are more options than ever when it comes to choosing a new mattress. The mattress industry offers thousands of models to choose from, which can be downright overwhelming when you start looking! Our goal at GoodBed is to simplify the process of finding the best mattress for you.

The first thing you should know is that which mattress you choose is a uniquely personal decision. Buying a mattress is not like buying a washing machine — the model your neighbor swears by may not be the best fit for you. Choosing a mattress is more like buying jeans: The pair your friend loves may not fit you at all.

So what’s the right mattress for you? The answer depends on your body (size, shape, weight, etc.), your sleep habits, your personal preferences and priorities, and your budget. The right mattress for you will match all of these.

Needs vs Preferences vs Priorities

Sticking with the jeans analogy, the most important thing is that they have to fit your body. After that, you can decide what color you want, the width of the leg, how many pockets, and price.

The Two Things You Definitely Need From Your Mattress 

With mattresses, there are two things that every mattress MUST do: It must provide proper back support (which means that your spine should be held in the same shape when you're lying on the mattress all night as it has when you're standing), and it must provide adequate pressure relief under sensitive points like shoulders and hips (which is particularly important when lying on your side). These are what we call "must-haves" in our reviews.

Keep in mind (just like the jeans) that no mattress can do these two things equally well for everyone. Terms like "better back support" are used often in mattress advertising. But no mattress can provide better back support in general — it can only provide proper neutral spinal alignment for certain people.  A mattress that works great in terms of back support for a 125-lb. person may not work as well for a 200-lb. person. In order to hold your spine in neutral alignment, a mattress will need to be a fit for your unique size, shape, preferred sleep position(s), etc.

Read more about which mattresses or types of mattresses will do this best for you, as well as other guidelines for choosing a mattress that matches your body type and sleep position.

The Things That Are Up to Your Personal Preferences

After the must-haves of spinal alignment and pressure relief come aspects of the mattress that GoodBed calls "preference-based."  These are qualities of the mattress for which there is no better or worse — it is just a matter of your personal preferences (and to a degree, your needs from a spinal alignment or pressure relief standpoint).  Here are the key preference-based characteristics of a mattress:

  • Softness: Your mattress should have the right amount of softness for your comfort preference.
  • Cushioning Depth: Some sleepers enjoy sinking deeper into the mattress for a 'hugged' or 'cradled' feel, whereas others may prefer less sinking and conformance with more of a 'floating on top of your mattress' feel.
  • Memory Feel: Some people love the 'slow melting' sensation of memory foam, while others have described this same experience as sleeping in 'quicksand.'
  • Bounce: Some people prefer a mattress that has some pushback or bounce, while others would rather their mattress be more of a shock absorber.

The Things That May or May Not Be a Priority for You

GoodBed thinks of most other mattress attributes as "priority-based" considerations. These are aspects of the mattress for which there is better and worse — meaning, some mattresses will do these things much better than others. However, depending on your priorities, these factors may or may not matter to you personally.  For example, couples shopping for a mattress together might find it important that it have excellent "motion isolation" — but if you sleep solo, this feature may not matter to you at all. Here are the priority-based characteristics that we tend to focus on in our reviews:
  • Motion Isolation: How much are disturbances on one side of the mattress felt by someone on the other side of the mattress?

  • Edge Support: How stable do you feel when sitting or lying on the edge of the mattress?

  • Temperature: All else being equal, how likely are you to get overheated on this mattress?

  • Ease of Repositioning: How easy is it to move around or change positions on this mattress?

  • Natural Materials: To what degree is this mattress made with natural or organic materials, and what precautions were taken to avoid potentially harmful chemicals?
  • Smell: Does the mattress have any persistent odors (eg, chemical off-gassing smell) that could be bothersome to some people?

  • Dual Comfort: Can this mattress be configured to provide a different feel on each side of the mattress to accommodate partners with different needs or preferences?

  • Adjustable Comfort: To what extent can the feel of this mattress be adjusted over time to accommodate changes to your needs or preferences?

  • Noise: Does the mattress make any sound when you lie down or more around on it?

  • Adjustable Base Compatibility: How suitable is this mattress for use on an adjustable base that elevates the head and/or foot of the bed?
  • Warranty: What protection does the manufacturer provide against defects and/or other problems that may arise over time?

Budget and Retailer-Specific Factors

Beyond the mattress itself, there are other important factors that will generally be determined by the retailer from whom you choose to buy. Price is the most universally important of these, but is not the only such consideration.  In the case of most online brands, the retailer and the manufacturer are often one and the same, so you may think of these things as being a characteristic of the mattress itself. But in the case of most traditional brands, you will often be able to buy the same product from different stores that will offer different things on these fronts.  Here are the retailer-specific factors to consider:
  • Price: When determining how much you want to spend on a mattress, you'll want to consider what you're getting for your money, as well as how long your new mattress will last. And if you're buying online, make sure you're taking advantage of the best available discounts for that product.
  • Delivery: How much does delivery cost? When will the mattress arrive? Does the delivery service include bringing it into your bedroom, setting it up, removing the packaging, and/or removing your old mattress?
  • Return Policy: Will you be able to return or exchange this mattress if it doesn't work out for you? How long is the trial period? Are there any fees or limitations related to this?
  • Post-Purchase Service: How does this retailer support its customers if something goes wrong with this mattress down the line? How does their online reputation reflect their track record in standing by their products?

For more information, check out the various features GoodBed considers when reviewing mattress.

Find the Right Bed

Not sure which type of bed to buy? Answer a few questions to see good matches for you with GoodBed's unbiased, personalized results.

Let's start… Select your preferred sleeping position:
This is awesome. Now I feel equipped to walk in somewhere and say with certainty, "This is exactly what I'm looking for."
— Sara in Phoenix, AZ

What size of bed are you looking for?

Not sure? Go to Mattress Size Guide