Today we’re excited to kick off a new series, #MyFirst, a guide to all of your “firsts” in this chapter of life, from buying a home (or a new mattress) to asking for a raise at work to dealing with your first serious breakup. Each month we will serve up expert tips and insights on how to best navigate each of these #MyFirsts.
Since winter is all about hibernation, we’re kicking things off with a mattress buying guide, which will help you cut out all the sales jargon and find the right mattress for you. Whether you’re moving into a new apartment, finally getting rid of that hand-me-down from your parents’ home, need to furnish your new home, or just have been waking up achy and tired, at some point, you’ll find yourself browsing mattress stores and wondering where to start. Read on for our shopping tips and tricks.
From plush to innerspring to ultra-premium, there are a lot of adjectives floating around in the mattress industry and making it daunting to choose a mattress. What’s the right combination of all these seemingly important attributes? The truth is there are really only two primary factors to consider when choosing a mattress: comfort and support.
When you use the word support in relation to mattresses, you’re talking about a mattress that can not only hold you up but also keep your bodily properly aligned—so you don’t wake up feeling achy from head to toe. No matter which direction you sleep, your body has curves (your hips, your shoulders, your rear, your chest, etc.). Thus, a supportive mattress should dip down around those curves, conforming to the body with minimal sinkage so that your spine stays properly aligned. If your mattress is too soft, your back will sink, causing it to be arched. If it’s too hard, it will push your hips up, causing your spine to be out of alignment.
Another critical factor to consider is comfort. This isn’t just a superficial “oh this is so comfy” kind of comfort. A good mattress should relieve your body of pressure from itself. If a mattress creates too much pressure against your body, this will cut off circulation, giving you that pins-and-needles feeling that makes you toss and turn all night. If you find a mattress that doesn’t have you tossing and turning while you’re testing it, you’re probably onto something good.
There are a few other important factors to consider that may matter for some people but not all.
If you share your bed with a partner, motion transfer is definitely something to consider. Some foam mattresses are designed to have “localized bounce,” which means that when there is movement, the bounce or motion only occurs where the movement occurred. In other words, if your partner gets out of bed in the middle of the night, that motion won’t transfer to your side of the bed and wake you up. Test out mattresses with your partner (or at least a salesperson) to ensure the motion transfer is minimal.
Unless you’re very lightweight, you’ll want to look for a mattress with a strong edge support so that you don’t slip (or fall!) if you’re sleeping or sitting near the edge of the mattress. This is usually only an issue with cheap innerspring mattresses—most memory foam and good-quality innerspring mattresses have solid edge support.
If you’re someone who sweats in the night and/or wakes up feeling warm, you should look for a mattress that doesn’t retain heat. Memory foam mattresses, especially the cheap ones produced in China, are notorious for “sleeping hot.” Latex and other specialty foams have a better track record here, while innerspring mattresses are usually designed with ventilation in mind.
The two main types of mattresses are innerspring and specialty foam. Beyond that, you may encounter some variations of these and a couple exceptions, which include hybrid (a combination innerspring and specialty foam), gel (a foam mattress with a layer of gel in the support system), pillow top (innerspring with an additional layer of upholstery), adjustable air beds (with a controllable air chamber to allow you to adjust firmness on each side), and, of course, the water bed. Read on to hear more about innerspring and foam mattresses.
What is an innerspring mattress? These classic mattresses use a steel coil support system covered by upholstery materials, padding, and sometimes additional layers of smaller springs, layers of foam, fiber, etc. The coil gauges and designs, as well as the number of coils, vary per mattress and manufacturer.
Lower-priced innersprings tend to have the old-school style of coils, which are separate coils all tied together; these don’t rank as high for motion transfer or comfort. Meanwhile, some more-expensive mattresses have individually wrapped coils, which generally provide more support and comfort for your body and don’t cause as much motion transfer.
Shop a few of our innerspring picks in a range of prices below.
Serta Perfect Sleeper Leisure Bay Cushion Firm Tight Top Queen Split Mattress Set ($407)
Designed with a moisture-wicking sleep surface, this innerspring mattress from Serta is designed to increase airflow and regulate your sleeping temperature. Its comfort layers reduce pressure points and provide “instant comfort.” Edge-to-edge coils prevent roll-off, and its durable and flexible coils minimize motion transfer.
Sealy Posturepedic Grant Park Plush Euro Pillowtop Queen Split Mattress Set ($857)
This innerspring mattress from Sealy is also equipped with a gel memory foam to regulate temperature. Its quilted layers are super responsive and keep your body well supported, while a pillow top offers extra comfort, and a reinforced border offers edge support. Each coil is designed to move independently, preventing motion transfer.
Saatva Queen Luxury Firm Mattress ($1149)
Saatva has emerged as a new leader in innerspring mattresses. Its mattresses have two layers of coils: hourglass-shaped steel, which provides a support base, and individually wrapped coil, which eliminates motion transfer. Coupled with its Euro pillow top, an edge-support system, and lumbar support, the coil-on-coil system creates one very luxe sleeping experience.
Specialty Foam Mattresses
Foam mattresses are becoming more and more popular, and there’s been a lot of innovation in this space. If you suffer from back or joint pain, a specialty foam mattress is a good choice for you, as the foam softens as soon as you lie on it, and molds to your body. When you move, the foam springs back up into its original shape.
There are two basic types of foam mattresses—latex and memory—but more and more manufacturers are creating hybrids to offer the best of both worlds. Memory foam takes a little longer to spring back to shape, but it’s said to relieve pressure better than latex. It also retains more heat than latex foam does, so if you sleep warm, consider latex instead. Latex, on the other hand, sleeps cooler, is more supportive and durable, and springs back to shape quicker. It doesn’t rank as high for motion transfer or pressure relief, though.
One benefit of these mattresses is that they can be compressed for compact and affordable shipping. Most of the new direct-to-consumer mattress brands that you may have heard about, such as Casper, can quickly ship your foam mattress to you in a box about the same size as you. The mattresses “inflate” in moments after you open them.
Shop a few of our specialty foam picks in a range of prices below.
Tuft & Needle Queen Mattress ($0)
Made with a proprietary foam (not memory or latex), along with a supportive base layer, the Tuft & Needle mattress is designed to adapt to your body, support sleepers of any size or weight, and prevent sinkage. It’s also heat-wicking and breathable, meaning it keeps you cool. The brand also offers a 100-night free trial and a 10-year warranty.
Casper Queen Mattress ($850)
Casper is a hybrid foam mattress made of an extensively tested three-layer combination of open-cell latex foam (which keeps you cool and adds bounce), responsive memory foam (which provides responsive support), and a base foam for core support. It’s designed to rest on any flat surface, be it a platform bed, slatted base, or box spring. The brand also offers a 100-night free trial, free return pickup, and 10-year limited warranty.
Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Contour Supreme ($2199)
The original name in foam mattresses, the Tempur-Pedic prides itself on its reliable and versatile comfort and support. Its moisture-wicking materials make it temperature friendly, while its support layer distributes weight evenly and keeps it “soft where you want it, firm where you need it.” The brand offers a 90-day free trial and a one-year limited warranty.
As in every industry, there are a handful of myths floating around mattresses. One of them is that the more coils an innerspring mattress has, the better the mattress will be. Consumer Reports found that mattresses with a range of 600 to 1000 coils tended to be the best, but having more coils didn’t make one mattress better than another, because coils could have thinner-gauge metal.
Another feature manufacturers like to tout is a special “lumbar support zone” for back sleepers. Consumer Reports found that these made no real difference in comfort or support.
A layer of gel-infused foam is often marketed as providing a cooling effect. Consumer Reports found that this is only the case with innerspring.
Try it. The biggest mistake you can make in mattress buying is not testing it out. If you’re purchasing from a direct-to-consumer brand like or Tuft & Needle that offers a long free trial, take advantage of the trial, and note what you like and dislike and how the mattresses suits you. If you’re shopping in-store, lie down on every mattress that’s in the running. Dress in comfortable clothes, like you would while you’re sleeping. As little as five to 10 minutes spent lying on each side can be quite telling.
Read the fine print. While some manufacturers offer a 100-day free trial with free turns, others charge a restocking fee or charge for pickup. If you’re not 100% sure you want to keep your mattress, be sure you know everything about the return policies that might impact your decision to keep it. Likewise, warranties are also an important part of the equation. A 25-year warranty might sound like quite a perk, but if its coverage is limited, you shouldn’t factor it into your decision.
Bargain hunt. Mattress retailers and warehouses are always fair game for haggling. In fact, your salesperson might be offended if you don’t ask for a better deal.
Mattresses range drastically in price, from around $200 to upward of $5000. Unless you’re shopping for a guest room mattress that will be lightly used, you should plan to spend at least $600 on a good-quality mattress. The aforementioned specialty foam mattress brands generally fall in this range, somewhere under $1000, as well as popular innerspring brands like Simmons Beautyrests and Sealy Posturepedics. If you spend more than a grand, you can expect important features like the coil systems or the specialty foams to be a bit more premium. Have closer to $2000 to spend? You can expect to have the most luxurious, supportive, and comfortable features through and through—as well as an extended warranty. Above that, you’ll find yourself with fancier organic and internationally sourced materials, which you’ll pay a premium for but that won’t necessarily impact your sleep.
The biggest takeaway? Think about how you sleep before you go shopping for a new bed. Take notes. Do you sleep warm or cold? Are you a side sleeper or a back sleeper? Do you share your bed? Do you get up often in the middle of the night? Do you like your mattress firm or soft, or somewhere in between? Do you sleep on the edge of the bed?
If you're considering a specialty foam mattress, read as many online reviews as you can and then narrow down your choice. We've heard the softer ones, like Casper or Leesa, are better for side sleepers, while back sleepers may prefer Tuft & Needle. Try them. Enjoy the extended trial and see if you're happy.
Shopping in-store? Read the descriptions for the mattresses and know what you're looking for. Most product descriptions will have a laundry list of features, but there's usually one or two primary design features to note. Know what's important to you, test them out, and try to take a power nap.
Any mattress-shopping tips to share? Tell us below.