Guide | Mattresses

How to Choose a Mattress

A good mattress can make a world of difference for busy people who struggle to get a good night's sleep. Old, worn-out mattresses won't provide enough support, especially for sensitive joints like shoulders and hips.

Choosing the right mattress for you requires a careful examination of your budget, firmness preferences, sleep habits, and desired size. Even small differences in mattress firmness can make a big difference, especially if you sleep on your side. To get the perfect mattress, take your time and research all the options within your budget and size restrictions.

How large should my mattress be?

There are four common sizes of mattresses available:

  • Twin mattresses are large enough for a single adult. They measure 39" wide by 75" long. Twin XL mattresses are 5" longer for taller people and dorm rooms. 
  • Full-size mattresses are 54" wide and 75" long, with full XL measuring an extra 5" long. They can fit two people as long as they don't move around much in their sleep.
  • Queen mattresses can comfortably fit two people and are the standard for master and guest bedrooms. They measure 60" wide and 80" long.
  • King mattresses are ideal for two people to sleep on. They measure 76" wide by 80" long. California king beds measure 72" wide by 84" long, so they are a better option for very tall people.

Other sizes are available for cribs, recreational vehicles, and other specialized uses.

The right size for you depends on how tall you are. Individuals over 6' 2" may prefer a California king bed. Individuals over 5' 10" may need a full XL or twin XL to sleep comfortably.

The minimum width for you will depend on how active of a sleeper you are. If you frequently roll around, you and your partner may want to get a queen or king mattress to give both of you a more peaceful sleep.

Keep in mind that the size of your bedroom may dictate how large your bed can be. Rooms smaller than 12' by 12' will have a hard time fitting a queen or king bed and other furniture.

What type of mattress is best?

  • Innerspring mattresses are the traditional option and have metal coils for support. They are breathable but can be noisy and transfer motion very easily, increasing the potential for partners to wake each other up during the night.
  • Hybrid mattresses with continuous coils use a thick layer of foam above coils to provide more support. Like traditional innerspring mattresses, they transfer motion easily.
  • Hybrid mattresses with individually wrapped pocket coils limit motion transfer by separating coils. These mattresses provide excellent value for couples.
  • Memory foam mattresses provide a soft surface that molds to the body's contours. This foam has minimal movement transfer and firm support making it ideal for people with back problems. However, it can be warm to sleep on unless it is infused with a special cooling gel, so it is not suggested for people who naturally overheat in their sleep.
  • Latex mattresses are similar to memory foam but do not mold as closely to the body. They also do not trap heat as much as memory foam making them an excellent choice for people who sleep warm. They have minimal movement transfer and are very popular among couples.
  • Adjustable air mattresses use a combination of air and foam to provide support that can be modified by increasing or decreasing the amount of air.
  • Waterbeds are better now than in years past but can still leak and transfer motion without providing comfortable support. They are not recommended for people suffering from back injuries or poor mobility.

What is a high-quality mattress made of?

  • Springs should always be made of steel, as the springs must have a balance of durability and flexibility that is hard to replicate with any other metal.
  • Light padding, like the kind on top of pillow-top innerspring mattresses, may be made of polyester batting, cotton, wool, or a number of other fibers. Since innerspring mattresses are quite firm and provide plenty of support, the padding can be soft for better comfort.
  • Foam can be made of either latex or viscoelastic memory foam as they both have a high-density and are very elastic, which allows them to return to their original shape more easily. Polyurethane foam should only be used in small quantities as padding, as it does not provide the same support as memory foam or latex.
  • The fabric on the surface of the mattress may be cotton, silk, wool, bamboo, or a blend of any of these. The material must be breathable for optimal temperature control and to minimize mold and mildew build-up.

What coil count is best for innerspring mattresses?

Typically, higher coil counts are better for innerspring mattresses because they provide more support. Coil counts range between 400 and 900 or more, and many mattresses have at least 700.

However, some mattresses that claim higher coil counts use lower-quality coils, which means you lose out on many of the comfort and support benefits of an innerspring mattress.

Are some mattresses thicker than others?

Most mattresses are between 6" and 9", but some high-end mattresses are up to 18" thick. Many of the thicker mattresses combine a mattress and box spring or other additional support layers.

Though thick mattresses may be capable of providing better support, they can also be more difficult for older adults, children, or pets to climb onto. They also may be incompatible with standard bedding.

How many layers should a mattress have?

As the science of sleep and mattress design has become better understood, manufacturers have begun using multiple layers of padding, foam, or air to provide support. Many innerspring mattresses, for example, have just a thin layer of soft padding on top, followed by slightly thicker padding, and then the springs.

This combination of layers allows the body to sleep on a soft and comfortable surface without sinking in too much. A surface that is too soft will cause the body to bend into an unnatural shape during the night, resulting in aches and pains the next day.

A good mattress includes 3 or more soft and firm layers to support individual sleepers while also keeping them from feeling their partner's movements too much. However, more layers do not make a better mattress. Each layer must be made of the correct materials for the job and assembled for durability and comfort.

Do mattresses need box springs?

Not all mattresses are designed to work with separate box springs. Typically, mattresses under 12" will need box springs underneath. Thicker mattresses are designed to be used without box springs. However, it also depends on your bed frame. Slatted and platform bed frames may be unable to support the weight of a thicker mattress, so if possible, buy your mattress and frame at the same time to find your perfect sleep solution.

Wood Box Spring
Metal Box Spring
Metal Box Spring

How do I know what mattress firmness is right for me?

As a general rule, the right mattress firmness depends on your sleeping position. Soft mattresses are best for people who sleep on their sides because shoulders and hips need to be able to sink into the foam slightly.

Since sinking into a soft mattress can feel suffocating while on your stomach, firm mattresses are best for people who sleep on their stomachs. Medium mattresses usually work for people who sleep on their backs and still need some spine support.

Do I need a mattress topper?

Many mattresses have built-in high-quality foam or gel tops. Cheaper mattresses may not have thick padding and may eventually require the addition of a mattress topper to be comfortable.

Even high-quality innerspring mattresses can be used with a mattress topper to extend their lifespan. Typically, the inner springs last much longer than padding on the surface, so a replaceable mattress topper can help it last a few more years.

However, a mattress topper may not be enough to redeem a cheap or worn-out mattress. The bottom layers of a mattress are just as important as the top, so if the bottom was cheap, to begin with, then another layer on top won't help.

Microfiber Goose Overstuffed Hypoallergenic Mattress Topper

Will a gel mattress keep me cooler?

Gel mattress padding may help keep you cooler. For optimal coolness, get a gel-topped spring mattress. The open air around the springs can also help keep you cool.

Which mattresses are best for kids?

Kids and teens usually only need twin or twin XL mattresses. Toddlers and very small children can use crib-sized mattresses.

Teens and kids don't need high-end adjustable air mattresses, as young adults' joints rarely need careful cushioning to prevent soreness in the morning. However, they may benefit from having memory foam mattresses to sleep better at night, especially if they are side sleepers.

Which mattresses are best for people with sleep apnea?

Medium to firm memory foam mattresses are best for people with sleep apnea. It is often recommended that people with sleep apnea sleep on their sides to open up the airways and reduce symptoms. A memory foam mattress is the most comfortable and supportive option for side sleepers.

Which mattresses are best for people with allergies and asthma?

Memory foam and natural latex mattresses are both hypoallergenic and don't have space for dust to accumulate as innerspring mattresses do. Use foam pillows and a hypoallergenic mattress cover to reduce dust sources further.

Latex mattresses generally do not trigger latex allergies as long as the mattress is covered. Individuals with severe latex allergies should consult with a doctor before buying a latex mattress.

How long will a mattress last?

Most mattresses have warranties between 10 and 25 years. However, some of these warranties are crafted to cover manufacturer defects, not regular wear and tear.

Realistically, mattresses should be replaced every 5-10 years. If the mattress is sagging or the coils can be felt through the padding, then it's time to replace it. Also consider a replacement if you begin waking up with more aches and pains, or if the bed is noisier than before.

You can prolong the life of your mattress with a mattress topper and by regularly flipping your mattress to ensure even use.

Quick Tips

  • Twin mattresses are best for individuals, while full, queen, king, and California king beds are best for couples. Tall people will appreciate the length of twin XL, full XL, and California king mattresses. Be mindful of how large your room is, as the largest sizes may not fit in small bedrooms.
  • Innerspring mattresses can be noisy and transfer motion, and even hybrid mattresses with continuous coils still have this problem. Hybrid mattresses with individually wrapped coils offer firm support without motion transfer. Latex and memory foam mattresses provide a soft and comfortable surface. Adjustable air mattresses provide incredibly flexible comfort but are expensive.
  • Coil count varies, and though higher coil counts can be better, they do not matter as much as other materials.
  • Mattresses can be up to 18" thick if they are combined with box springs or are intended to be used without one. Purchase a mattress that is thick enough to provide adequate support without making it difficult to climb onto the bed.
  • Mattresses should have at least 3 different layers of soft and firm materials. However, more layers are not necessarily better.
  • Side sleepers typically need softer mattresses, and stomach sleepers need firm mattresses. Back sleepers need medium mattresses to provide enough spine support.
  • A high-quality mattress typically costs at least $1,000 dollars, with adjustable air mattresses costing much more. However, some lower-budget innerspring mattresses can still provide adequate support.
  • Not all mattresses need mattress toppers for comfort or gel-infused foam for better air circulation. Cheap innerspring mattresses are more likely to need mattress toppers.
  • Kids and teens typically don't need anything larger than a twin XL mattress. Teens may appreciate the added comfort of foam mattresses if they sleep on their side, but typically don't need the same comfort and support as older adults.
  • People with sleep apnea need a medium to firm mattresses. People with allergies and asthma can use memory or latex foam mattresses, but people with severe latex allergies should talk to their doctor before using latex foam.
  • Despite having long warranties, mattresses typically last 5-10 years before needing replacement. Return periods are usually at least 30 days, with some being much longer.

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