Finding the Best Mattress for You

By Melissa Conroy

          Throughout history, people’s bedding choices were often fairly limited and came with varying degrees of discomfort. People have slept on everything from straw to wood shavings to corn husks in efforts to put some cushioning between themselves and the floor. Today, when we say, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite,” we are giving a nod to mattresses in the past that were commonly infected with pests and vermin and were often held in place by a rope woven through the bed frame. Sleepers tightened the rope prior to bedtime to reduce sagging and to “sleep tight.”

While today we don’t usually find mice burrowing in our mattresses or have to spend an itchy night sleeping on a pile of straw, the wrong mattress can give you back aches, stiff joints and long nights of tossing about, trying to find a comfortable position.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         The right mattress can make a world of difference in your health and well-being, and if your current mattress is starting to sag or you often wake up with back pain, it is time to look at getting a new mattress.  Since we spend a third of our lives asleep, it only makes sense that we do so on a high-quality, comfortable mattress to ensure the best sleep possible.

One of your first considerations is deciding what size mattress to buy. The Better Sleep Council recommends that you buy at least a queen-sized mattress if you share your bed with a partner. Queen size is 60 by 80 inches which may be a bit snug, so you might want to consider a king size at 76 by 80 inches to give you and your partner a little more room. Also, if you are taller and don’t want your feet hanging off the end of the bed, a California king size is a good option: it measures 72 by 84 inches, which gives you four more inches to stretch your legs.

Once you have determined the size of mattress to buy, you need to consider what type of mattress you want. The most well-known type of mattress is the inner spring. Bill Bryson, in his book At Home: A Short History of Private Life, notes that spring mattresses were invented in 1865, but at first, the coils could sometimes turn, “confronting the occupant with the very real danger of being punctured by his own bed.” Thankfully, today’s inner spring mattresses won’t stab you in your sleep, and you can find many different models that are both comfortable and supportive. A good-quality inner spring mattress can be less expensive than other options, and they come in a variety of firmness levels.

Memory foam mattresses are another sleeping option, and this type of material is growing in popularity because it contours to your body which can reduce pressure points. If you have a restless sleeping partner, a memory foam mattress may be just what you need, because this type of mattress absorbs movement and reduces jiggling. However, if you have trouble staying cool while sleeping, a memory foam mattress may not be for you as the foam tends to hold heat. Also, some people report that memory foam has a distinct smell that they do not like.

Air mattresses are another consideration, and today’s high-quality air mattresses are nothing like the blow-up bed you put out for guests. A good air mattress has air-filled chambers inside which you can adjust for varying degrees of firmness. These chambers prevent you from accidentally popping your partner off the bed when you flop down on the other side, and some air mattresses can be adjustable on both sides if you and your partner like different levels of softness.

You may not have heard of latex mattresses, but this is another type for you to investigate. Latex mattresses come in both synthetic and natural form, and natural latex mattresses are hypo-allergenic, anti-bacterial and anti-dust mite. Natural latex is a more “green” option, and those who are more environmentally-minded often gravitate toward this mattress material to avoid chemicals in their bedding. However, if you are not a fan of firm beds, latex is probably not your best option.

Armed with this knowledge, it is time to go shopping. The Better Sleep Council offers a handy shopping guide on its website at that offers several tips for mattress shopping. Remember that finding the right mattress is a full-body endeavor. Your goal when you are testing mattresses is to try to recreate your normal sleep environment, so you might want to bring your pillow along. When you find a likely candidate, lie down on the mattress in your usual sleep position and stay there for at least 10 minutes to evaluate comfort and support. The right mattress should put no pressure points anywhere on your body; you should feel like you are floating on a cloud. Also, if you have a sleeping partner, make sure he or she tests mattresses with you.

Buying a mattress is no time to be cheap, and a good mattress can easily run $1,000 or more which can put a dent in anyone’s budget. Another problem is that mattress companies often use special labeling that makes it difficult to comparison shop for a better deal. Also, be aware that if you buy an inner coil mattress, be sure to purchase the matching box spring because your warranty may be voided if you use a different box spring.

While it may be difficult to pay $1,000 or more for a mattress, consider it a long-term investment in your health. A high-quality mattress can provide you with a decade or more of restful sleep.


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