Mattress Buying Guide | How To Choose A Bed
Choosing the right mattress can be a nightmare these days. We aim to make this shopping experience a little less painful with our five-step mattress guide. Or if you don't feel like reading thousands of words, you can use our Mattress Finder Tool to point you the right direction.
Is It Time To Replace My Current Mattress?
Before we get into the five-step guide for purchasing a new mattress, let's point out a few indicators or signs that your current mattress might not be getting the job done.
Generally speaking, if your mattress is eight years old or older, you should seriously consider purchasing a new bed.
Sagging / Body Impressions
If your mattress has considerable sag (over 1") or the bed is no longer responsive (i.e. your body shape is permanently engraved in the bed), it's probably time to start researching new mattresses.
Pain / Restless
If you routinely wake up in pain (e.g. lower back pain) or constantly find yourself tossing and turning and never sleeping through the night, it might be time to find a new mattress that fits your specific sleeping preferences.
Mattress Type and Overall Feel
One of the first things you may notice when shopping for a new bed is the range of different mattress types available to choose from. Mattress materials and construction can get a little complicated, but to simplify, we generally like to categorize online mattresses into one of three main buckets:
Spring & Hybrid Mattresses
Innerspring mattresses have multiple layers of coils that make up the support system of the bed. Hybrid mattresses have a combination of coils, foam, and/or other materials that all come together to provide the bed’s foundation, support, and comfort layers.
Spring mattresses are the type of bed most people (especially older people) are familiar with (i.e. think of the mattress in Grandma's guest room). Innerspring mattresses have multiple layers of coils that make up the support system of the bed. There are straight steel coils, micro coils, individually wrapped coils, and more. The height of the coils vary by bed as does the total number of coils in each mattress. Generally, a greater number of coils means more support for the person sleeping on the bed.
Hybrid mattresses come in all different constructions. Usually, these beds are comprised of a combination of coils, latex foam, memory foam, polyurethane foam, and other materials. Some people would consider a bed that has three different types of foam a hybrid bed. However, we like to refer to hybrid beds as mattresses that incorporate coils as well as multiple layers of foam.
There are many different types of foam out there. However, we've found that the majority of all-foam beds can be broken down into three main sub-categories: latex, memory foam, and proprietary foam.
Types of Foam
Foam mattresses come in a few different types. Memory foam beds are known for offering a ton of pressure relief and being very soft. These beds have a very distinct dense foam feel. We've found that while many people find memory foam beds to be very comfortable, there are some that find it’s just not for them. Memory foam has a lot of good qualities, but it also has a bad reputation for retaining heat and sleeping hot. However, many companies that utilize memory foam have taken steps to correct this. A lot of memory foam beds these days have some sort of cooling property (gel, copper, graphite, etc.) infused within the foam to help with temperature regulation.
Latex foam has a different feel than poly foam or memory foam, although there is some crossover. Like memory foam, latex foam can be on the soft side of the spectrum. However, it doesn't quite have that dense foam feel that memory foam offers. It feels a little lighter and doesn't contour to your body quite as much. Despite being a foam material, it actually has some similar characteristics to coils. Like innerspring beds, latex foam is responsive and offers a little bounce. It also happens to be a durable and (in most cases) a naturally-derived foam.
- Comfortable foam feel
- Pressure relief for hips, shoulders, etc.
- Limits motion transfer well
- Memory foam can retain body heat
- Latex can be expensive
- Edge support is often just decent
Bonus Category: Unique/Patented Mattresses
This section is pretty much for the mattresses from Purple, which are very unique.
Purple mattresses utilize a patented material called Hyper-Elastic Polymer. This material was actually invented by the founders of Purple and has been used in other industries outside of bedding. It's unlike anything else on the market, which is why it gets its own section. It sort of feels like a gel substance, but it's not actually gel. Hyper-Elastic Polymer is very soft, flexible, and responsive. It sort of gives you a floating sensation.
What Mattress Firmness Is Ideal?
This is probably the most discussed topic when it comes to mattresses. Often, the first question that comes to mind when researching beds is "How soft is it?" or "How firm is it?" Some people want a very plush, soft bed. Some want a firm bed. Others want something in between. But it's not just as simple as soft, medium, firm. There are a few important things to keep in mind when discussing this topic.
First, it's important to note that support and firmness are two different things. A lot of people intertwine the two. They often think a firm bed means support and a soft bed means no support. That's not the case. It's entirely possible for a soft bed to provide adequate support. If a mattress provides good support, that means it's able to keep your spine properly aligned. If your spine is not properly aligned as you sleep (i.e. the mattress sags quite a bit under the heavier parts of your body), you'll wake up with lower back pain, shoulder pain, etc. Therefore, instead of firmness and support being intertwined, it should be firmness and comfort that are discussed together, which leads to our next point.
Determining how firm and how comfortable mattresses are is almost entirely subjective. It depends on your body type, weight, material preference, and more. Someone that weighs 150 lb will think a mattress feels completely different from someone that weighs 250 lb. That's why we like to get input from all our team members before we publish firmness ratings. We have people on our team that weigh under 100 lb all the way up to 250 lb. Once we have input from our team, we generally bucket mattresses into one of five categories as you can see from the graphic.
Now, most online mattresses come in just one firmness level. These are constructed and designed to accommodate all sorts of people—doesn't matter how tall you are, how much you weigh, or how you sleep. A good example of this would be the original Casper mattress. As you can see, the Casper mattress is comprised of four layers, all of which are different. Each layer is designed with a specific purpose in mind.
The bottom layer is comprised of dense support foam. This is what gives the bed its foundation. Most all-foam mattresses that come in a box start with some sort of support foam. The next layer is Casper's Zoned Support Foam, which is split into thirds. The top and bottom thirds are a little softer for added pressure relief, while the middle third is slightly firmer. This ensures that there is never too much sinkage underneath your hips and lower back, and that your spine is properly aligned. The next layer is memory foam. This is the layer that heavier individuals would feel the most since they exert more pressure on the top layer. One the other hand, lighter sleepers who exert much less pressure on the mattress would feel more of the top layer of open-cell foam. So, the Casper mattress might feel slightly different depending on your weight, yet the support will be there for both of the body types we used as examples. Other companies who offer beds with just one firmness level include Leesa, Bear, and Tuft & Needle, as well as many others.
As the online mattress industry has continued to explode over the past several years, we've also seen more and more companies offer multiple firmness level options for their mattresses. You can often choose between a Soft, Medium, or Firm version. For example, Brooklyn Bedding does just that with their Signature Mattress.
Really, in the case of Brooklyn Bedding’s Signature mattress, there's not a drastic difference between each firmness level. The difference comes down to different foam densities of their TitanFlex Support Foam, which acts as the transition layer between the individually pocketed coils on the bottom and the proprietary foam on top. As such, if you're a heavier individual and order the Soft model, you'll feel more of that second layer, and if that layer isn’t as dense as it is on the Firm model, the Soft will obviously feel a little softer.
One company in particular stands out when it comes to offering various firmness levels—Helix. Before you order a Helix mattress, you first take an online questionnaire where you'll answer questions about your weight, firmness preference, whether you sleep on your side, etc. Once you're done, Helix enters your answers into its proprietary algorithm that calculates the optimal mattress for you. And what's neat about Helix is that they offer custom solutions for couples. Each person can answer their own questionnaire and then Helix customizes each side of the mattress.
Mattress Budget / Price Range
Before you go any further, it's important to set your budget. Buying a mattress is like buying a vehicle. It's not like buying a gallon of milk. You're hopefully going to have it for eight to 10 years. This is not the time to be a penny pincher, although we’re not suggesting you go into debt over a bed either. A good mattress can have a lot of positive effects on your physical and mental health. However, that's not to say you should just run out and drop a huge check on a mattress if you don’t need to. Here are a few things you should keep in mind:
Bang For Your Buck
Generally, you can get more bang for your buck online than you can shopping in a store. Online mattress brands have less overhead (i.e. no rent, fewer employees, etc.) than huge mattress companies that operate thousands and thousands of stores, so they can get away with offering cheaper prices.
Quality Can Be Deceptive
Just because a mattress is priced at $2,000 doesn't necessarily mean it's higher quality. Like most industries, the mattress industry is captive to branding and marketing. Some brands have better branding and marketing campaigns than other brands and can charge higher prices because consumers place a special value on the brand. However, as you read above, most mattresses can be bucketed into a few different categories and all use similar materials for the most part.
Each Person Is Different
This point sort of piggybacks on the previous section. Every person is different and has unique sleeping preferences. You don't have to buy the most expensive bed out there to get something that’s exactly what you need. It's about finding the right mattress for you specifically, one that you find comfortable and supportive. That could mean that, although you are financially well off, a mattress on the cheaper end of the spectrum without a big brand name may work just fine for you. Don't overthink it.
Don't Go Too Cheap
The title says it all. Yes, you can likely find a solid mattress at a moderate price point, but there is a certain cutoff point. We’d generally (not always, but usually) recommend staying away from mattresses that are priced under $500 for a queen size. Once you drop below that price point, the quality starts to drop off significantly. It's hard for mattress companies to make a quality mattress and still turn a profit when they’re offering beds under this mark. However, we say this assuming you are shopping for your own personal mattress that you will sleep on almost every night for eight to 10 years. If you're just purchasing a mattress for a guest room, well, go ahead and browse the under $500 (or even under $300) selection. You can find a lot of cheap mattresses to get the job done for one or two nights a month. For example, the Zinus Green Tea mattress is a good option for a guest bedroom.
We Recommend: $800-$1,000 Budget
We'd recommend starting with a $800-$1,000 budget if you're looking for a queen mattress. Most of the reputable online mattress brands are priced within this range. You'll find you have plenty of high-quality options to choose from no matter what kind of sleeper you are. If you're looking for a smaller mattress size, this range decreases by about $200, and if you're looking for a king size, the range increases by about $150-$200.
What Type of Sleeper Are You?
Choosing a mattress that suits your specific sleeping style is crucial. If you don't purchase the right mattress, you likely won't get the proper support, pressure relief, etc., which will lead to restless nights of sleep and possibly aches and pain. There are three primary sleeping positions—back, stomach, and side. Then there are also people who are considered combination sleepers because they rotate between all three positions throughout the night. Each sleeping position has its own set of needs and firmness requirements.
For people who spend the majority of time on their back, finding a bed with a good amount of support is very important. Usually, that means you'll be searching for beds that are on the firmer side of the spectrum. When you're on your back, your hips/trunk will exert the most pressure on the bed, so it's critical that that area does not have too much sinkage. If there's too much sinkage under that part of your body, your spine will not be properly aligned and you'll probably start to notice some lower back pain after awhile. That's why it's important to stick with mattresses that are firmer. A lot of times with mattresses that are on the softer side, you'll notice quite a bit of compression under the heavier parts of your body. We recommend sticking to mattresses that land in medium-firm to firm ranges in the graphic you saw above.
Like back sleepers, stomach sleepers will want to seek out mattresses that provide a good amount of support. Again, that usually means you'll be looking for mattresses that are on the firmer side of the spectrum. When lying on your stomach, your midsection will once again be exerting the most amount of pressure on the bed. You'll want to find a mattress that keeps your spine properly aligned. We recommend shopping for mattresses that land in the medium-firm to firm ranges of the firmness scale.
One thing that often goes overlooked, especially for stomach sleepers, is the pillow you use. You'll want to use a pillow that's as flat as possible. A pillow that has a lot of height to it and requires your neck to be cranked up all night will have negative effects on your spine and overall alignment.
This sleeping position can take a couple different forms. Maybe you have your legs straight, maybe they’re curled up, maybe one leg is straight and one is curled, etc. Regardless, your shoulders and your hips of the side you're laying on will be exerting more pressure on the mattress. In this instance, though, it's preferable if the mattress has a little more give (i.e. it's on the softer side). A firmer mattress will cause pain points in your shoulders and hips. It will be better to have a mattress that offers more pressure relief and that contours to your body. However, it's still important that the bed’s surface doesn't sag too much. Again, you still want your spine to be properly aligned, but it's nice to have a little more comfort around your sleep-side shoulder and hip. Overall, we'd recommend going with a mattress in the medium-soft to medium range on the firmness scale if you sleep on your side.
If you're a sleeper who rotates between your back, stomach, and side throughout the night, you're going to want a mattress with an optimal mix of both support and pressure relief. When you're on your back or stomach, you're going to want a mattress that's firm enough to prevent extra sinkage.
You want to feel as if you're always laying on top of the mattress rather than sinking into it. If you start sinking into the mattress too far, that might be an indicator that your spine is not properly aligned. However, when you switch over to your side, you don't want the mattress to be too firm because you won't have the necessary pressure relief for your shoulders and hips. It's really a fine line—you don't want something too soft or too firm.
As such, we recommend going with a mattress that is in the medium range on the firmness scale. This will hopefully give you that nice balance between soft and comfortable, and firm and supportive.
Couples who have different sleeping preferences can be a tricky subject. Obviously, each person has their own needs and will want a mattress to suit their exact sleeping preference, but there's only one bed. Really, there are only two solutions in this instance.
The first is that you go with a bed that's ideal for combination sleepers (i.e. it offers enough pressure for side sleepers while also being firm enough for back and stomach sleepers). As we mentioned in the combination sleepers section, you'll want to look for a mattress that lands somewhere near the medium range on the firmness scale.
The second option is to go with a company like Helix or Nest Bedding, which will custom tailor the mattress to both individuals. With Helix, each person answers a sleep questionnaire and the company will then build each side of the mattress to best suit that specific person. Nest Bedding, on the other hand, offers a split king option for couples (i.e one side of the bed can be their Plush feel and the other side can be their Luxury Firm feel).
Your Weight Makes A Difference
This is a subject a lot of people overlook when shopping for mattresses, but your weight actually makes a big difference when it comes to perceived feel, firmness, and pressure relief. As we mentioned above, there's no one mattress that works for everyone. There's no algorithm that spits out the perfect mattress. Every person is unique and will have different opinions as to how a mattress feels. However, with that said, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind based on your weight.
(150 pounds or less)
People under 150 lb exert less force and pressure on a sleep surface, which is why mattresses will feel a little on the firmer side of the spectrum. If you fall into this weight category, you'll generally want to read the firmness scale as reporting softer than what you’ll experience. The scale we use is based on an average sized person (150-180 lb). For example, if you're a lightweight side sleeper, you'll most likely want to look at mattresses that fall in the soft to medium-soft range because folks with smaller builds will find those options to feel more like medium-soft to medium. If you're a lightweight back or stomach sleeper, you'll most likely want to check out mattresses in the medium range because they'll feel closer to medium-firm.
Average Size Individuals
(150 - 200 pounds)
The firmness scale we use holds true for the people in this category. It really just depends on what type of sleeper you are. If you're a side sleeper, we'd recommend sticking to mattresses in the medium-soft to medium ranges. If you're a back or stomach sleeper, go with mattresses in the medium to medium-firm ranges. Lastly, if you're a combo sleeper, we'd recommend staying right around the medium range.
(200 - 275 pounds)
Heavier individuals will have basically an opposite experience than lightweight sleepers do. A heavier body means more pressure and force being exerted onto the mattress. As such, mattresses will generally feel softer to heavier individuals. If you fall into this weight category, you'll want to discount the firmness range a little. Therefore, if you're a heavier side sleeper, you'll want to look at mattresses in the medium to medium-firm ranges because they'll feel more like they belong in the medium-soft to medium range.
Again, the firmness scale we use is based on a person that weighs around 170-180 pounds. If you're a heavier back or stomach sleeper, you'll want to stick to mattresses that fall in the medium-firm to firm range. Mattresses designated in these ranges will feel more like medium to medium-firm to heavier people.
Even Heavier Individuals
(275 pounds or more)
Individuals that weigh more than 275 lb put a lot of stress on a bed so it's important your mattress is able to provide the necessary support over an extended period of time. A lot of bed-in-a-box mattresses, especially thin ones that are 10" thick or thinner, simply won't be able to hold up over the long haul. Heavier individuals will also notice they sort of bottom out these thinner bed-in-a-box mattresses. As such, the first recommendation we'd make for large individuals is to consider thick mattresses.
The more layers in between you and your bed frame the better. This will help you from ever bottoming out the mattress. The next recommendation would be to consider a mattress with coils. Generally, coils provide a little more support than dense foams and are also more durable over the long haul. Coils also give the bed a little more bounce and responsiveness, which will help you more easily switch between sleeping positions. Overall, if you fall into this category, we'd recommend going with an innerspring or hybrid bed that falls in the medium-firm to firm range on the firmness scale.
Step 1: Choosing The Right Mattress Construction and Feel
Online mattresses come in all different forms, but generally we like to bucket them into one of two categories: all-foam or hybrid mattress. Each type of mattress has its own positives and negatives (see above). You'll just have to figure out which type of mattress best suits you (i.e. do you want more bounce, is airflow important to you, etc.). Adding to the complexity of picking a mattress is all the different foam materials that go into beds and how they each feel. The most common types of foam are memory foam, latex foam, and proprietary foams. In very general terms, if you like a soft feel and want your mattress to contour to your body, an all-foam mattress is probably the way to go. If you like more of a traditional mattress feel that has a little bounce to it, an innerspring mattress is probably your best choice. Or if you want a little bit of both worlds, a hybrid mattress might be the most ideal construction for you.
Step 2: Choosing the Right Firmness
This is often the most talked about subject when it comes to mattresses, but it might also be the most subjective. Firmness and comfort are completely unique to each individual. It really depends on your body type, weight, and sleeping preferences. Now, most online mattresses come in just one firmness level. However, we have seen more and more companies come out with mattresses that are available in multiple different firmness levels. For most people, though, we'd recommend sticking to mattresses that fall into the medium-soft to medium-firm ranges of the firmness scale.
Step 3: Deciding On A Budget
When shopping for a mattress online, we'd recommend starting with a budget of between $800-$1,000 (assuming you're looking for a queen size). This seems to be the sweet spot for the majority of bed-in-a-box companies. You'll have a lot of high-quality mattresses to choose from that suit a variety of different people, sleeper types, and weights. Dip too far below this price range and you run the risk of a buying a mattress that is of lower quality and will break down quickly. On the other hand, buying a mattress priced above this range doesn't necessarily mean you'll be getting your money's worth. You might just be paying for the brand name even though the quality is the same as a mattress in the $800-$1,000 range.
Step 4: What Type Of Sleeper Are You?
Your specific sleeping style is very important when comparing mattresses. Not all mattresses will work for everybody. If you pick one that doesn't suit your specific needs, there's a good chance you'll have restless nights of sleep and possibly wake up with aches and pains. For back and stomach sleepers, we generally recommend going with mattresses that are on the firmer side of the spectrum and provide a good amount of support. For side sleepers, you'll want to go with a slightly softer mattress that provides quite a bit of pressure relief for your shoulders and hips. Combination sleepers will want to find a happy medium between the two, which will most likely be in the medium range on the firmness scale. The most important thing, no matter what kind of mattress you get, is that your spine is properly aligned.
Step 5: How Much Do You Weigh?
Your weight makes a big difference in how you perceive the feel and support of a mattress. Lighterweight sleepers will find that most mattresses feel on the firmer side. On the other hand, heavierweight sleepers will feel like most mattresses are on the softer side since they exert more pressure on the bed. This is why it's important to take your weight into account when looking at firmness ratings and descriptions.
Read our Recent Best Lists
Have an idea of what kind of mattress you're looking for? Check out our recent best mattress lists in each category, or browse all mattress best lists.