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How to Choose a Mattress: Buying Guide

August 30, 2017

Does your bed look saggy and lumpy? Do you experience sleepless nights and achy mornings? Or do you like the hotel’s bed more than the one you got at home? Perhaps, it’s time to ditch that old thing of yours and buy a new one.

Buying a new mattress, however, can be the most daunting and confusing task you’ll ever encounter. Not only are there limitless options to choose from, but picking one that suits your comfort and taste can be the ultimate challenge. In addition to that, there’s a budget that can’t be left out in our consideration. Hence, research, research, and a lot of research are essential to guide you to your shopping.

In this article, I’ve put together everything you need to know about mattresses before buying a new one. So, if you suffer from the inconveniences mentioned above, read out to find what’s best for you.

Should I Buy a New Mattress?

The most basic, but no less essential question, do you actually need a new mattress? There are effectively two criteria to decide if it’s time to buy a new mattress.

Is your mattress more than 8 years old?

Most traditional mattresses are designed to last for around 8 years. Some may not quite make this mark, and others may exceed it by a few years, but in general 8 years is the expected lifespan of a typical mattress. If you’ve had your current mattress for more than 8 years it may be time to buy a new mattress. In addition, different types of mattresses tend to last slightly longer or shorter (see chart below).

Average Mattress LifeSpan

Are you sleeping well on your current mattress?

Even if your current mattress isn’t 8 years old, if you aren’t sleeping well all the sudden sleep becomes a huge priority. If the rest you are getting isn’t recharging you like it used to it’s definitely time to begin shopping around for a new mattress. Are you waking up sore or in pain in the morning? Do you wake up multiple times during the night? Are you unable to get back to sleep quickly after waking up? If you answered yes to any of these questions it may be the result of a bad mattress.

Most people spend 1/3rd of their life sleeping. Do yourself a favor, make it good sleep!

What Type Mattress Should I Buy?

The first thing to consider when buying a mattress is to find out what type of mattress core you want. There are four types of cores which provide support to your mattress: foam, innerspring, latex, and air-filled.

Memory Foam

Memory foams are polyurethane-made. It softens every time you lie on it and leaves an outline (or memory) of your body in just a few minutes. Not everyone likes the sinking property of this type of mattress, and it is rather warm when you sleep on it, but it’s perfect for those people suffering from joints and back pains.

Memory foam mattress response time – average

Memory foam mattress response time – average

Guide: How to Choose The Best Memory Foam Mattress

Innerspring Mattress

Innerspring mattresses are also called traditional beds because they’re the most budget-friendly and the most widely sold. It can give a bouncy feel to the person lying on it because of its metal coils. The coils can be gauged from 12 to 15, with a higher gauge means the thinnest and a lower gauge means the thickest. Heavier persons tend to choose thicker gauge for support. Example – Saatva Mattress, spring coil-on-coil 2 layer system.

Saatva mattress layers (top to bottom)

Saatva mattress layers (top to bottom) – Euro-style pillow top, 0.5″ coil encasement foam, 4″ foam encasement coils, 7″ high-profile coils, 0.5″ coil encasement foam, & 5″ of edge support foam

Latex Mattress

Concerning firmness, there’s not much difference between latex and memory foams, except that the former has a bit more spring back. Some latex mattresses are synthetic, but there are ones that come with antimicrobial and mold-resistant properties from natural materials. The good thing is, latex foam won’t make you feel hot in the middle of the night. Example – Brooklyn Bedding – 10″ latex mattress

Brooklyn Bedding mattress layers

Air-Filled Mattress

Airbeds or air-filled mattresses have adjustable air pockets that you can control with a remote. You can adjust it to your desired firmness, or you can inflate the other half that suits the person you share with the bed. Airbeds have vinyl as its materials, but you can choose rubber versions of it.

Gel Mattress

These mattresses include a layer of gel foam. This layer of gel generally offers different comfort, feel, and cooling features. Example – Loom & Leaf mattress with gel cooling layer

Hybrid Foams

Crafted from a combination of latex, memory, other polyurethane foams, coils, or other materials. These mattresses generally try to achieve support and comfort using differing materials to offer the best of both worlds.  Examples – Leesa mattress built from responsive Avena foam + memory foam.

leesa mattress layers

Leesa mattress layers (top to bottom): 2″ of Avena foam, 2″ of memory foam, 6″ of high density support foam

Guide: How To Choose Best Hybrid Mattress


Pillow-top mattresses fall into many categories, they may be innerspring, latex, memory, hybrid, or another entirely. The unique attribute is the layer of soft material sewn to the top of the cover or stuffed inside the cover, adding extra cushion and comfort. Example – Saatva Mattress also falls into this pillow-top category. It is an innerspring mattress with a euro-style pillow-top attached.

Adjustable Mattress

These types of beds allow the mattress to adjust up or down at various positions. They may also allow you to increase / decrease the firmness, vibrate, or massage the sleeper. Example – Leggett & Platt adjustable base  (note that this is just an example of an adjustable foundation, you’ll need to also purchase a mattress that is adjustable; most foam mattresses are adjustable).

Adjustable mattress example

What Firmness Do You Need?

Durability matters when it comes to the quality of your sleep. Your sleeping position, height, and weight are some of the factors to consider for the desired level of firmness of your mattress. Below are the three degree of firmness that suits what type of sleeper you are.

Firm mattress range

Firm mattress range from a 7-9 out of 10, where 10 is the most firm

  • Soft – Soft mattresses are the best to go for side-sleepers or those persons who love to change positions during the night. It will relieve pressure on your back as it will mold your body to its natural position.
  • Medium – Medium firmness is also good for restless sleepers, but it provides an added support than soft mattresses.
  • Firm – For persons who weigh over 210 pounds and who like to sleep on their fronts, this level of firmness is ideal. A firm mattress can also prevent lower back pains as it will keep your back in a comfortable and stable position.

How Much Do You Weigh?

Weight may not seem that important, but it can be crucial when choosing a mattress. The sinkage, hug, feel, cooling, and support of each mattress is highly affected by how much you weigh and your body type.

Depending on your weight and body type you may need a specific type of mattress or firmness to create the ideal feel and support that your body needs. There is no perfect formula or “best” mattress for everyone. I’ve provided the following guidelines to help you align your weight and preferences with the ideal mattress:

You’re a lighter sleeper (150 pounds or less) and want a medium feel (5-7) – lighter sleepers don’t sink as deeply into the mattress, this can make mattresses with denser top layers not as comfortable. Universal comfort mattresses are a great fit for these sleepers. If you’re lighter I usually recommend my readers choose a mattress that’s  0.5-1 firmness points below what they feel they actually need. This is because most medium firmness feels are rated based on an average sleeper (180 pounds).

You’re an average sleeper (150-200 pounds) and want a medium feel (5-7) – you’re in the market sweet spot. Most mattresses are designed for average size sleepers. Anything in the universal comfort range or any mattress characterized as medium, medium firm, luxury firm, or rated 5-7 out of 10 is very likely going to be a great fit.

You’re a heavier sleeper (200 pounds or more) and want a medium feel (5-7) – heavier sleepers put more pressure on the mattress, so we need to adjust for that. Look for mattresses that have a comfort layer of at least 4″. This will ensure consistent support and comfort for your size. If you have extreme cooling needs and / or you need a mattress with exceptional edge support you will likely need to consider luxury innerspring / coil-on-coil mattresses. If these needs aren’t as important for you then you can focus more on the foam side where you’ll get better contouring hug and body shaping.

READ:  Best mattresses for heavy people

You’re a lighter sleeper (150 pounds or less) and want a soft feel (3-4) – as a lighter sleeper you have the advantage of not sinking as deeply into foam mattresses. This allows you to get the cloud like comfort you’re looking for, but without being excessively hugged or creating as many heat retention issues. Mattresses characterized as soft, plush, plush soft, or in the 3-4 out of 10 range are good options.

You’re an average sleeper (150-200 pounds) and want a soft feel (3-4) – your needs are similar to lighter sleepers in this area. If you’re closer to 150 then you can follow the same rules as lighter sleepers. As you get nearer to 200 pounds you’ll want to consider the increased hug / sinkage of the mattress. Softer mattresses already have an increased level of hug and sinkage. For side sleepers this can be ideal, however for many back sleepers and almost all stomach sleepers, this will create a negative situation for the support of the mattress for you.

You’re a heavy sleeper (200 pounds or more) and want a soft feel (3-4) – this is one of the most difficult to find mattress combinations. Heavier sleepers already sink deeper within the mattress and soft mattresses amplify this further. A mattress that’s designated as soft will create dramatic sinkage and hug for heavy sleepers. It is incredibly important to find a mattress that still offers great deep compression support. This means a minimum of 4″ of comfort foam, which usually will only be found in mattresses that are 12″ or thicker. If you don’t like the foam mattress options you’re seeing a pillow-top coil mattress can be a great fit for this area. They’ll provide great deep compression support, but can still bring the soft feel you’re looking for.

You’re a lighter (14o pounds or less) or average (150-200 pounds) sleeper and want a firmer mattress (8-9) – firmer mattresses are a little easier to diagnose, mostly because there’s a smaller degree of variation in their feel…i.e. you don’t deal as much with balancing hug, cooling, contour, etc. A firmer mattress floats sleepers on the surface of the mattress, as opposed to hugging the sleepers (like many foam mattresses will). For lighter and average sleepers that want a firm feel you’ll want to look for mattresses characterized as firm or in the 8-9 out of 10 range.

You’re a heavier sleeper (200 pounds or more) and want a firmer feel (8-9) – since you’re a bit heavier you’ll want to adjust your targeted firmness. If you’re looking for something that’s an 8 out of 10 this means you’ll be looking at mattresses that are in the 8.5-9 range. Add 0.5-1 points. That said, I would recommend caution in ever going above a 9 on the firmness scale. Beyond this you are effectively sleeping on the floor.

Body types

What is Your Budget?

Budget varies from person-to-person. Just a couple of years ago the only real option was going in-store, which almost always meant overpaying for a mediocre mattress or offering your first born child up for a great mattress. The online mattress industry is helping to change that. With so many companies building exceptional mattresses at fair and reasonable prices, consumers are able to set a modest budget and get a great bed.

In this industry, more money does not always mean a better mattress. Retail store mattress pricing is dramatically inflated, often times with markups that range from 300-1,000%.

In almost all cases I recommend that my readers consider purchasing a mattress online first. Online mattress companies are able to remove much of the markup and offer a high quality product for about 30% of what you’d pay in-store for a similar mattress. The Tempur-pedic Flex Supreme is $2,599 for a Queen. Loom & Leaf is 58% less expensive and Leesa is 64% less expensive. All 3 of these mattresses have a similar feel and built quality, the only difference is the price you ultimately pay for it.

Online mattress price comparisons vs. in-store

Steps for choosing your mattress budget

Price Doesn’t Equate Quality – Remember that the price of the mattress doesn’t always indicate its quality, especially if you are shopping in-store

$1,000 Budget is Ideal – I recommend a starting budget of around $1,000. This price point puts you in the luxury end of the online mattress market and gives you an ample number of options

Slightly Increase Budget for King / Cal King – If you want a King / California King you may consider increasing your budget up to $1,500. This will allow you more choices, especially for the higher end market

Don’t Go Ultra-Cheap – Don’t spend less than $500 (Queen). Price isn’t a perfect indicator of quality, but if you’re not spending at least $500 you’re probably getting lower quality, lower durability, and higher toxicity in a mattress.

Pay for Quality – Remember that this mattress can and should last you 8-10 years. A 10 year $1,000 mattress works out to $0.27 / day. Don’t skimp on your mattress! Your health and sleep are worth a whole lot more than a quarter a day.

What Size Mattress Do I Need?

The size of your mattress depends on three factors: Your weight, how active you are when sleeping, and how many people that sleep with you. Below are the American standard sizes of mattresses.

US mattresses size chart

  • Twin Size Mattress – Twin size mattress measures 39” wide by 75” long. Its small size can fit easily into smaller rooms such as children’s and guest’s rooms.
  • Twin Extra-Long Mattress – Twin extra-long size bed is 5” longer than the standard twin size, providing extra length for taller persons. It is common to college dorms as it can save up more space. Its standard size measures 39” wide by 80” long.
  • Full-Size Mattress – Full-size mattress measures 54” wide by 75” long. It is recommended to fit one adult comfortably, but it is also excellent for couples who want to snuggle with each other.
  • Queen Size Mattress – The standard measurement of queen size mattress is 60” wide by 80” long, which makes it an ideal size for couples and sprawling sleepers.
  • King Size Mattress – King size bed measures 76” wide by 80” long. In its capacity, it can provide couples a maximum amount of space for sleeping. It can also add a rich quality to large bedrooms.
  • California King Size Mattress – California king size mattress has four inches more length, with less width than the king size. Like the king size, it is perfect to add a luxurious quality to large bedrooms.

Guide: California King & King & Queen & Full & Twin Size Mattress: What’s the difference

Mattress Toppers

When buying a mattress, it’s also important to buy mattress toppers. Not only that a mattress topper can provide an added support and comfort, but it will also ensure your bed to become a luxurious quality. There are many materials to choose from for your mattress topper. There is wool, goose feathers, cotton, and polyester.

What About Mattress Trial Periods?

Most mattress companies offer some version of a trial period. However, be sure that terms of that trial period are crystal clear before purchasing. Many companies offer a “comfort guarantee” or similar wording, which may allow you to return the mattress, but not at the full price you paid for it. Or that return may mean you can exchange it for another mattress by the same brand.

In addition, there may be re-stocking fees, return fees, shipping fees, among others. Be wary of these guarantees and always ensure you know exactly what the terms are for returns and refunds.

Many companies who ship mattresses direct from the factory offer much more friendly returns, with in-home trial periods ranging from 75-100 days. The return process for these types of mattresses are generally easier also. Below are examples of the trial periods you’ll find for many factory direct mattresses.

  • Leesa – 100 day trial
  • Casper – 100 day trial
  • Nest Bedding – 100 day trial
  • Tuft & Needle – 100 day trial
  • Saatva – 120 day trial
  • Loom & Leaf – 120 day trial

How Much Should I Pay for A Mattress?

This a difficult question, but the one point I want to stress is that higher price does NOT equate better mattress quality. Many mattresses are inflated with huge markups that in no way reflect the real cost or the quality. As a reference point, most good foam mattresses cost between $350-$500 to manufacture.

Bottom line, you want to get a mattress that allows you a perfect night’s sleep for the least amount of money. To that end, there are a few important items to consider.

  1. Extremely Low Prices – mattresses less than $300 are priced at that level for a reason. Price may not reflect quality to a point, but that point is not $300. Mattresses at this price point utilize inferior materials, have lower coil counts, or are otherwise cutting corners elsewhere. Always be wary of extremely low priced mattresses.
  2. Cheap Foam Mattresses – I would recommend avoiding these at all costs. Yes, they are among the cheapest foam mattresses you can find, but there’s a reason. They tend to be lower quality, more toxic, have higher levels of off-gassing, and are generally less durable.
  3. Buying in a brick-and-mortar store – if you plan to buy here, plan to to pay more. These stores have a physical building, salesmen, and other overhead costs. You might get a decent price, but you are going to pay more. You could find a comparable mattress online for $1,000 that would be $2,000-$3,000 in a brick-and-mortar store. If you do buy here expect to spend $1,500-$3,000 for a quality mattress.
  4. Buying Online – factory direct mattress companies have turned the mattress industry on its head this year. I personally believe that this is the best way to go. Quite simply, you get a better mattress for less money. Most mattresses range from $600-$1,200.

What Mattress is Best for Back, Stomach, and Side sleepers?

Your preferred sleeping position will strongly influence the mattress you end up purchasing. Below is a general assessment of the mattress attributes that each major sleeping position enjoys.

Best Firmness for Stomach, Side, and Back Sleepers

Stomach Sleeper – generally stomach sleepers prefer mattresses in the neutral to firmer range. The stomach sleeping position tends to put the back and spine in less than an ideal sleeping angle. By using a firmer mattress you get better support to help keep your spine in alignment.

Side Sleeper – if you prefer your side you probably also prefer a softer mattress. The human body when it’s on its side isn’t a straight line. You need the mattress to contour to the curves of your side. Foam mattresses are a great choice here, as they provide superior body contouring. Click here find to mattress for side sleepers

Back Sleeper – typically a mattress in the neutral or slightly firm range is best for back sleepers. The most important factor is providing support for your lower back. A mattress with no give will put stress on your back, but one that is overly soft can inhibit support, creating pain in the lower back.

Shopping Tips

Here are some of the few tips whenever you go to a mattress store.

Test the Mattress

Testing the mattress at the store is needed to ensure its quality. Make yourself feel at home at the bed shop and don’t mind the salesperson who suggests otherwise. Lie down on the mattress for five to ten minutes to test if it suits your level of comfort.

Bring Your Negotiation Skills

Please keep in mind that most retail stores offer huge discounts. If you’re lucky, retailers can give you a discount for as large as 50% on their frequent sales. A time-honored advice from hagglers will tell you not to be afraid to walk out if you’re at a disadvantage.

Know the Warranty

Make sure that you read the warranty guidelines. Coverage for manufacturing defects usually range from 10 to 25 years, and it is often prorated, meaning that it decreases over time.

Inspect Your Newly-Bought Mattress Upon Delivery

Check your mattress upon delivery for defects and damages. Always see to it that it has an “all-new material” label before you send the delivery guy on his way. If there’s no label on it, you can turn down the delivery. Always remember, the customer has rights.

Mattress Buying Factors

Comfort – the mattress above all should be comfortable. When you lay down make sure it doesn’t cause any undue pressure points on your body. Cooling and mattress “breathability” are also comfort factors to consider.

Support – support is all about keeping your spine in alignment. If the mattress doesn’t provide adequate support you’ll likely wake up with pain.

Motion Transfer – if you sleep with a partner this is especially important, how much do you feel the other person when they are moving during the night?

Durability – what is the typical lifespan of the mattress? If it’s much less than 8 years you may want to reconsider. A good warranty is helpful in this area.

Edge Support – a mattress with strong edges is important for both sitting and laying near the edge. If the edge sinks dramatically or collapses entirely it can effectively roll you off the bed when you’re getting up or even sleeping during the night.


When you buy something always remember to do research first on the things you want to buy, especially when the thing you want to buy is a mattress. As mentioned, shopping for a mattress can be the most challenging task you’ll ever encounter.

Doing research will guide you through the features and quality of a mattress that suits your wants and needs. It is important to consider its core, its firmness, and its various sizes before going shopping.

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