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Trying Out a Mattress
How to Compare and Evaluate Mattresses

Last updated on August 19, 2020

Mattresses are something people don’t buy very often, and we notice that most consumers are simply at a loss when it comes to what exactly they’re supposed to be doing when evaluating a new bed. Laying on mattress after mattress in a store, they all start to blend together. And for those who go the online route, panic can set in if you don’t sleep perfectly on it the first night.

The good news is that you can greatly increase your chances of finding a mattress you’ll love by narrowing down your choices before spending a dime or going to a store. That’s why we created the GoodBed Match Quiz. Answer a few questions about your support needs, sleeping tendencies, and comfort preferences, then our algorithm will sort through thousands of mattress models – both online and in physical stores near you – to show you ones that are most likely to fit your personal requirements and budget. Instead of trying to differentiate dozens of models, our quiz gives you a quick leg up by letting you focus your search on beds that you will already know to be a good match for most of your needs.

>>Start the GoodBed Quiz<<

That said, even if you plan to buy your mattress online, it can never hurt to visit at least one store to try out mattresses before you buy. Our quiz will show you exactly where you can try the mattresses that are your best matches. Also keep an eye out for stores bearing the Trusted Retailer badge – these are ones that we hand-picked for their good service and prices, and GoodBed readers get a free $50 Amazon gift card (from us) if you choose to shop at one of these stores. Our Mattress Store Locator can also help.

How to Evaluate a Mattress in the Store

Give yourself plenty of time to visit the store. Going on a weekday will probably mean a quieter shop. Bring a list of models you want to see, and some paper and a pen to jot down some notes – you can even print out this checklist if it helps you organize your thoughts. To allow your muscles to begin relaxing, we'd recommend lying down on any mattress you're seriously considering for at least 10-15 minutes, covering all of your favorite sleep position(s). 

Not all of the factors that GoodBed considers in our reviews can be assessed during a store visit, but these 10 questions are some of the same ones we ask ourselves when we evaluate a mattress.

Does the mattress FIT your body?

These are the two things every consumer needs to get from their mattress. No mattress will deliver them equally well for all people because they depend on factors like your weight, body shape and preferred sleep position(s).

1. Is your spine supported in neutral alignment? You can ask a friend to look at your back. Your spine should maintain its natural “S” curve when you are on your belly or your back, and it should be straight when you’re on your side. If your hips sink too much, or if it's not able to adequately conform to your body's curves, that can cause your spine to be out of alignment and lead to back pain.

2. Do you feel pressure on your shoulders, hips, or elbows? Pay close attention to this as this, especially if you tend to spend time sleeping on your side. This will give you a sense of the mattress’ ability to provide pressure relief, which can affect how comfortably you sleep. Side sleepers should pay special attention to pressure relief.

How does it FEEL to you?

Some mattress characteristics are not better or worse, but rather are a matter of your personal preferences. Most of these can be assessed, at least on a preliminary level, during a store visit.

3. Does it feel too soft, too firm, or just right? In general, comfort is a matter of personal preference—meaning there’s no “right” answer. Some people like soft and squishy pillow tops, while others like a smooth, tight surface with a lot of firmness. For most people, assessing this aspect is their first instinct when testing a new mattress.

4. How much do you sink in? We call this ‘cushioning depth.’ Some like a hugged or cradled sensation on their mattress, which comes from sinking more deeply into the mattress and having it conform more closely to your curves.  Others prefer more of a floating-on-top feeling, which stems from the opposite. And of course, some people prefer something more down the middle on this front.

5. How much bounce does it have? A mattress that has some bounce will provide resistance and return of energy, pushing your body back up when you push down. For sex, that can mean partners won’t tire out as quickly because the mattress will be doing some of the work in moving your bodies for you. 

6. How much "memory feel" does it have? Many mattresses today contain memory foam, which has a unique feel characterized by a delayed responsiveness to your movements. But some memory foam responds much faster/slower, and depending on how much memory foam there is and where it's located in the mattress, it can feel very differently.  How much, if any, of this 'slow melting' sensation would you like your mattress to have?

Does it have the FEATURES you want?

Today's mattresses can also boast numerous performance features, the importance of which will depend entirely on your personal priorities. Some of these features can be readily assessed during a store visit.

7. How much can you feel movements on the other side of the bed? Some mattresses offer much better "motion isolation" than others. If you’re easily disturbed by your partner’s movements in the night, this is something you’ll want to test out.

8. When you sit or lie close to the edge of the bed, do you feel stable? Or does it compress so that you feel like you’re going to roll off? If you often find that your bed gets crowded during the night – whether by kids, pets, or even a restless spouse – a strong edge may be particularly important to you.

9. Is it easy to change positions? Try moving from one sleeping position to another (important if you sleep in multiple positions) and try getting in and out of bed to make sure neither of these is likely to be a problem for you on this mattress.

10. Does it work on an adjustable base? If the mattress is displayed on an adjustable base, try raising the head and foot. Does the mattress conform well? Any weird bulging or bunching? Even if you don't plan to buy an adjustable base right now, it's good to know how it does for future reference.

How to Evaluate a Mattress at Home

For people buying a mattress online, the first chance to try the mattress may be once it's already in your home. To assess the mattress, you can run through the same list of questions above. However, an in-home test where you're actually sleeping on the bed will also allow you to evaluate a couple additional factors:

1. Any new aches and pains? Aches in the hips or shoulders (also tingling or loss of circulation in the arms or legs) tend to be a sign of inadequate pressure relief. If you're waking up with new back or neck pain, that can be a sign of improper spinal alignment. Lower back pains are more often related to the mattress, whereas upper back and neck pains often have more to do with the pillow. Note that your pillow needs to correctly fill the space between you and your mattress, so even if your pillow worked great on your old mattress, it may not be the right fit for your new mattress.

2. Are you sleeping hot? Are you waking up sweaty or kicking off the covers a lot? Is this happening more than it did with your old mattress? Read more on sleeping hot.

If you don’t sleep perfectly the first few nights, don’t worry. Know that there is often a 'break in' period for a new mattress. Also, depending how different it is from your previous mattress, your body may need time to adjust to the new sleeping surface. Track your experience over the first couple weeks – we've heard from people for whom it took upwards of 30 days for them to really start loving their new 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