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Replacing Your Mattress
How to Know When It's Time for a New Bed

Last updated on August 19, 2020

Your mattress will eventually give you several signs that it's time for a new one.

The question of how often a mattress needs replacement is one on which the mattress industry has been increasingly vocal in recent years.  For a long time, the industry was content with the notion that a mattress should be replaced every 10 years or so.  Then, in about 2012, large mattress retailers like Mattress Firm started investing millions to advertise the idea that you should "replace every 8" years.  Nowadays though, mattress retailers are banding together to promote the idea of replacing your mattress every 5-7 years. But wait, didn't you just purchase a mattress with a 20 year warranty...?

The Truth About When to Replace Your Mattress

There is no magic number for when to replace your mattress. Much more important than the exact age of your mattress are the specifics of how well your mattress is holding up, and how well you are sleeping on it. At some point, nearly every mattress will wear to the point that it no longer provides the spinal alignment and pressure relief that you need from it, or even just the comfort level that you desire. Likewise, if your mattress is not holding its shape any more, this is a likely sign that it needs replacement. On the other hand, if none of these things are a problem, you don't need to be in a hurry to replace your mattress, despite what retailers may say.

Signs that your mattress may need replacing include:

  • Waking up with back pain or tightness in your spine
  • Losing circulation in your arms or legs
  • Pain in your shoulders or hips
  • Interrupted sleep for no apparent reason
  • Restless sleep, or changing positions more than in the past
  • Feeling that your mattress is too hard, too soft, or is otherwise no longer comfortable
  • Sagging, body impressions, or other visual signs of wear

When in doubt, replacing may be beneficial

Very broadly, experts do say that most mattresses will need replacing in the neighborhood of every 10 years, even for higher-quality mattresses. After a decade of nightly use, it is normal for mattresses to show signs of wear, such as loss of support and comfort, which may interfere with your quality of sleep or how your body feels upon awakening. 

This has also been backed up by a scientific study conducted at Oklahoma State University in 2008. In this study, 62 people who had been sleeping on old mattresses (with an average age of 9.5 years) were each given a new mattress to sleep on for a month. Almost across the board, the participants began to sleep better. So if you've been sleeping on your current mattress for 10 years or more, it's very likely that you'd benefit from starting your search for a new one.

Your needs have changed

Also keep in mind that over the lifespan of a mattress, our bodies can change a lot, and this can impact how well our mattress serves our needs.  For example, if we experience a significant weight gain or loss, there is a chance that the mattress that once provided us with great pressure relief and proper spinal alignment will no longer fit our bodies.  Changing our preferred sleep position can also affect the degree to which a mattress meets our needs.  Likewise, our bodies are constantly changing as we age, requiring more pressure relief for joints and muscles.

Your needs may also change when you get married or otherwise share a bed with someone new. Your sleep needs may differ from theirs, and you may find you need to choose a new mattress together that will better suit both of your needs.

Length of warranty does not equate mattress longevity

Your mattress came with a 20-year warranty — so it should last longer than one with a 10-year warranty, right?  Sadly, this is very rarely a reliable barometer.

In almost all cases, the length of a mattress warranty isn't much more than a marketing gimmick designed to sell more mattresses, without providing any meaningful accountability that can be tied to longevity.  The reason is that most mattress warranties have a clause that excludes any softening or sagging from being covered until it exceeds 1.5" without anyone lying on the mattress.  The reality is that your mattress will become unbearable long before it reaches a visual sag of 1.5".  So the only protection you'll get from this warranty is against catastrophic failure — which is very unlikely to occur beyond the first few years anyway.  Learn more about warranty tricks in our mattress warranty guide.

As such, you shouldn't feel the least bit compelled to replace your mattress just because its warranty is expired.  By the same token though, your mattress still being within its warranty period shouldn't give you pause in replacing it if it's showing some of the signs above.

When a Mattress Topper Can (and Can't) Help

If your mattress is showing signs of wear but you’re not ready or able to replace it just yet, there are some cases when adding a mattress topper can extend the life of your mattress a bit longer, however there are many other cases when this is not a good investment.

In particular, you should consider a topper if your mattress problems are rooted primarily in the loss of pressure relief. Once the upper comfort layers of a mattress have compressed over time, they will no longer provide as much cushioning or pressure relief, which you might experience as pain or tingling in your hips or shoulders. If the underlying support core is still holding up well, then adding a topper can be an effective (albeit temporary) solution to this problem.  Just be mindful that the rest of the mattress will eventually give way too, and factor that into your calculation of whether to invest in extending the life of this mattress or put that money toward a new mattress.

On the other hand, if your mattress is suffering from poor support, you should avoid the temptation to add a pad or topper -- it will likely be a very poor investment, even as a temporary solution.  Poor support (aka, sagging) is typically the root cause of back pain on a mattress, and unfortunately it can not be remedied by a topper. Back pain is best alleviated by a mattress that supports your spine in a neutral position, allowing the muscles in your back to relax while you sleep. Because the top few inches of padding generally do not affect the support profile of the bed, your spine will soon find itself back in the same (painful) position, even after you add the topper. 

Likewise, loss of comfort due to body impressions is another problem that can not  be remedied by a new mattress topper. Though it may seem to have a smoothing effect at first, a topper will soon conform to the shape of the mattress underneath it, leaving you with the same (or perhaps even worse) body impressions that you had before.

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