How to Pick Your Perfect Mattress
Ready for a new mattress? Here's how to find the one that suits you best.
By Lisa Zamosky
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Getting a good night's sleep depends on a lot of different factors -- comfort, stress level, room temperature – but to get it right, you've got to start with the basics and your mattress is the first building block to a restful slumber.
If you're in the market for a new mattress and have recently taken a stroll down the aisle of a bedding store, you know that there is a dizzying array from which to choose. How do you know which mattress is best for you?
To start, says Arya Nick Shamie, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center, the mattress needs to support your body in a neutral position, one in which your spine has a nice curvature and your buttocks, heels, shoulders, and head are supported in proper alignment.
"If the mattress is too firm, it will push on those main pressure points and take you out of alignment," Shamie tells WebMD. "If it's too soft, those pressure points won't be properly supported, so your whole body flops back." Both of these scenarios can lead to an achy morning.
Generally speaking, one type or brand of bed isn't better than another, says Michael Breus, PhD, a WebMD sleep expert and author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep. But he does find that a firmer bed seems to be better for people with lower back pain.
In fact, researchers in Spain studied people with long-term back pain and found that on a 10-point hard-to-soft scale people who slept on a medium-to-firm mattress (5.6 on the scale) had less back pain than those who slept on a softer mattress.
Is It Time for a New Mattress?
How do you know if the bed you're sleeping on is the right one?
"If you wake up in the morning and have some low back pain and can stretch and get rid of it in 15 or 30 minutes, that means you're on an inappropriate mattress for you," Breus says.
The right mattress, on the other hand, is one on which you feel no pressure, almost like you're floating in air, Breus says.
If you're looking for a new mattress, experts suggest testing it in the store and laying down on each mattress in the position in which you normally sleep. Breus suggests spending at least 10 to 15 minutes on the bed. And, bring your own pillow! The more you can replicate the way you'll be sleeping on the mattress once you get it home, the better your chances of picking the right one.
Innerspring mattresses are still by far the most widely used. They support you with coil springs, and in most built today, each coil is individually enclosed. This helps the bed weather years of use and prevents the coils from popping out of the mattress. On top of the coils are a wide variety of materials added for comfort, from pillow to latex to memory foam. It's all a matter of preference.
Salespeople may try to sell you on the idea that more coils mean more comfort, but that's not necessarily true, Breus and Shamie say.
"You don't really need a coil count above 390," Breus says. Beyond that, the difference in feel is so small it would be difficult to notice.
Pros: There are plenty of innerspring mattresses on the market from which to choose. They range in firmness, the fluffiness of the pillow top, and in price to fit nearly every preference and pocket book.
Cons: There's no direct relationship in most cases between price and comfort, but Shamie suggests steering clear of the cheapest innerspring mattress. If there aren't enough springs and cushion to offer you proper support, he says, you'll likely wake up with an aching back.
Conditions: For someone who is very overweight, spring mattresses may offer a firmer support, making them easier to get in and out of, Breus says. Firmer versions are good for people with back pain. But spring-based mattresses can be comfortable for almost anyone.
Memory Foam Mattresses
Memory foam mattresses are growing in popularity. They are made of layers of different densities of foam that respond to weight and temperature, and are known for comfort because they contour to the specific shape of your body. Memory foam toppers are also available.
Pros: By molding to the shape of your body as your weight shifts through the night, memory foam reduces pressure points, and relieves pain. Memory foam also absorbs movement, so if you sleep with a partner, you're not likely to be disturbed by his tossing and turning.
Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox FREE!