Alaska Sleep Education Center

Consumer Affairs' 2019 Mattress Guide

Posted by Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. on Jan 15, 2019 12:32:00 PM

There are many reasons you might be looking for a new mattress. Maybe you’ve noticed creaking when you get out of bed in the morning—either from the mattress itself or from your aching back. Or maybe you’ve just had your mattress for a while and are ready for a change. No matter why you’re shopping for a mattress, the list of things to consider is lengthy, and the stakes of making the best choice are high.

Researchers say we spend up to 35 percent of our lives sleeping, so picking out a mattress that best fits your needs, but also fits your budget, is a big decision. Our guide will help you find the best mattress to suit your sleep style.

How to buy a mattress

1. Choose the type of mattress for your sleeping position

While beds are not built with just one sleeping position in mind, and many people take on multiple positions throughout their sleep cycle, there are types of mattresses that suit certain sleeping positions better than others.

  • Side sleeper: If you’re a side sleeper, you’ll want to look for a softer mattress that will allow your hips and shoulder to sink in a bit to ensure proper spinal alignment. Memory foam mattresses can be good for this. A soft to medium innerspring mattress can also work for a side sleeper.
  • Back sleeper: Back sleepers have a slight advantage, as they can sleep comfortably on most mattress types. A medium-firm to firm mattress is recommended to provide the best support to those who sleep on their back.
  • Stomach sleeper: Sleeping on your stomach can put extra strain on your body, so you’ll want to look for a firm, supportive mattress to ensure proper alignment and pressure relief.
  • Partners: If you sleep with a partner, you’ll want to pay careful attention to mattresses that talk about motion transfer (that is, how much the mattress moves—or doesn’t—if your partner gets up or moves often in their sleep). Memory foam mattresses have been shown to be a good choice for couples due to their superior motion isolation.
infographic of different sleeping positions

2. Consider any physical needs

More than sleeping position goes into deciding the right mattress style and firmness.

  • Back pain: If you struggle with chronic back pain, finding the right mattress support is crucial. Consider opting for a firm or medium-firm mattress to get the proper support and alignment and wake with fewer aches and pains.
  • Joint issues: While a firmer mattress is often recommended for people who suffer from pain, those who suffer from arthritis, inflammation or other joint issues may find firm mattresses cause too much pressure and can actually exacerbate their pain. However, you don’t want to risk going with too soft a mattress, either, because it can mess with proper spinal alignment. Ideally, those suffering from joint issues will want to seek a mattress somewhere in the middle to strike the perfect balance of comfort and support.
  • Overheating: If you find yourself kicking off the covers in a sweat in the middle of the night, look for a mattress that includes a cooling layer, often made of gel.
  • Weight: If you carry extra weight, you may want to try out a firmer mattress to avoid sinking too deep into the mattress and throwing off your alignment, which can lead to back pain down the line.

3. Compare the different types of mattresses

Mattresses come in a multitude of builds, styles and materials. One of the first major decisions you’ll need to make before you can begin shopping is which type of mattress you want.

  • Innerspring mattresses: The traditional mattress. Spring mattresses use coils, typically made of metal, to support your weight. While spring mattresses are usually more affordable, the metal coils can cause irritation to pressure points and can weaken over time.
    • Pillow top mattress
    • Coil mattress
    • Pocket coil mattress
    • Continuous coil mattress
  • Memory foam mattresses: The trendy choice. Memory foam gets its name because after being compressed it “remembers” its former shape. In mattresses, this is ideal, because the areas where your body exerts pressure are cushioned, while other areas are supported.
    • Gel mattresses
    • Latex foam mattresses
    • Organic, natural mattresses
  • Hybrid mattresses: A little bit of everything. True to the name, hybrid mattresses are a combination of two or more mattress types. The most common is a spring-foam hybrid (innerspring and memory foam mattress), where traditional coils provide support but are surrounded by layers of foam for comfort.

4. Determine your mattress firmness level

Mattresses are frequently described in terms of their firmness, so understanding what this means and how it impacts your sleep can help you decide which mattress to buy. To get the right mattress firmness, you’ll need to consider your preferred sleeping position, body weight, pain, physical condition and whether or not you’ll be sharing the bed with a partner.

  • Soft: A soft mattress will rank between 1–2 on the 10 point mattress firmness scale. A soft mattress will sag more than a medium or firm mattress, causing the sleeper to feel as though they’re “sinking in” to bed, even with an innerspring mattress. A softer mattress may be a good fit for a lighter weight person, as they won’t sink in as deep. Softer mattresses can trigger back pain in many individuals, including stomach sleepers and heavier people.
  • Medium: Sometimes referred to as “universal comfort,” medium mattresses, which include medium-soft (3–4) mattresses and medium firm (6–7) mattresses, will rank between 3–7 on the firmness scale. They’re a popular choice for all sleep types as they combine the plush comfort of a softer mattress with the firm support of a firmer mattress. A medium-soft mattress is a great choice for side sleepers, and a medium-firm mattress is a great choice for couples.
  • Firm: An 8–10 on the firmness scale, firm mattresses allow sleepers to truly sleep “on top” of the mattress and provide little-to-no “sinking” factor. Firm mattresses are especially recommended for stomach sleepers and heavier individuals.
mattress firmness chart

Support versus comfort

These two words are often incorrectly interchanged. There are comfort layers and support layers in a bed. The more layers, the more expensive the mattress. The support layer is usually the bottom six inches. This is the base that usually sets the firmness and can be foam, coil or air. Then, depending upon the density, or feel, the manufacturer wants to produce, they can add more firmness or less, more plushness or less or whatever else they want to add to make it appealing to consumers.

5. Understand how the mattress is made

While ideal mattress firmness is largely a personal preference, there are some factors everyone will want to keep in mind when choosing a high-quality mattress.

For memory foam, you’ll want to look at the density of the foam. Hybrid beds combine the best of memory foam and innerspring beds, giving individuals exceptional sleep due to many unique benefits.

  • Materials and construction: Start by considering the materials used to construct the mattress. Different types of foam are found in nearly all mattresses, while luxury mattresses might include high-end materials such as silk or cashmere. If eco-friendly options are important to you, you’ll want to look for mattresses that are made with organic or non-toxic materials.
  • Support: If you’re looking at innerspring mattresses, consider whether they feature open-coil or individually pocketed springs. The more coils in a bed, the more support it typically offers. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean a bed with more coils is more comfortable—it just plays a role in reducing motion transfer.

    For memory foam, you’ll want to look at the density of the foam. Hybrid beds combine the best of memory foam and innerspring beds, giving individuals exceptional sleep due to many unique benefits.

  • Thickness and layers: You should also look at mattress thickness when comparing different beds. Most mattresses range between 8–12 inches and usually include two to five layers. The top layers deliver the comfort and cooling properties while the bottom layers provide the foundation and compression support. In the best mattresses, the foundation should be at least half of the mattress’ thickness.

    The comfort layer, which often includes memory foam, is also important. Each layer should be at least two inches thick to provide excellent support and comfort. Increased padding often indicates a higher-quality bed. Plus, the thicker the mattress, the longer it typically lasts. Many 10-inch mattresses include a 10-year warranty, while thicker mattresses offer as much as a 15- or 20-year warranty.

6. Test mattresses at home or in store

Once you have a rough idea of your ideal mattress in mind, it’s time to go shopping. One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make is whether you want to buy online or in a physical retail location. There are pros and cons to each. You may be able to get a better deal online, but you can only try before you buy by visiting a store or showroom in person.

Use these shopping tips to help you navigate the process and get the best mattress—and the best deal—available.

  1. Test it out: The only way to know if you like a mattress is to lay on it. Mattress stores anticipate this—it’s why they usually have a strip of fabric where customers' feet hit at the foot of the bed. Don’t just lie back and jump back up, either. Be sure to test the mattress in the position you typically sleep in, particularly if you are a side sleeper, and stay in the position for a few minutes. This tip goes double if you have a partner, so be sure to bring them along.
  2. Look for a generous trial period: Experts say it can take several weeks to fully adjust to a mattress. That’s why many companies offer at least a 30-night trial period. Some brands, particularly those who sell their mattresses exclusively online, offer 90–100 night trials. A longer trial period can take some of the fear out of buying a mattress, as you have the ability to change your mind and try something else.
  3. Try more than one, but not too many: You should compare and contrast different styles and levels of firmness in person if you have the chance. However, trying too many mattresses in one sitting can be confusing and ultimately muddle your experience. Try two to three in the style you’re leaning toward, but add in one you might not have considered just to compare.
  4. Negotiate: Like buying a car, salespeople know you have endless options when buying a mattress. This means they may be willing to offer a discount or rebate, or even upgrade you to a nicer mattress for the same price as a less expensive model.
  5. Ask about warranties: Like any major purchase, mattresses often come with a warranty—some with warranties that extend well beyond the typical lifespan of a mattress. Like the return period, be sure to know what situations might void a warranty and how to avoid them.

How long does a mattress last?

The lifespan of your mattress will depend greatly on how you use it, your body type and the environment you live in. The Better Sleep Council recommends replacing your mattress every seven to 10 years, on average. Higher quality mattresses may last longer due to their superior materials and construction, but even expensive mattresses have an expiration date.

How do you know it’s time to replace your mattress?

  • You wake up with neck or back pain, stiff limbs or feeling tired even after a good night’s sleep
  • You frequently toss and turn or wake up throughout the night
  • There are low spots or visible sagging in your mattress
  • Your mattress has suddenly begun creaking
  • Your allergies are worsening, especially when it isn’t your typical allergy season
  • You’ve found a mattress firmness or style you like better

How much does a mattress cost?

The average price of a queen-size mattress can run from $200 to more than $5,000. Crib mattress prices are lower, as are most mattresses for kids, ranging from around $30 to over $400. No matter what size mattress you’re buying, there are ways to make the mattress buying process more affordable.
  • Finance: Most mattress stores will offer financing, often with a low or even zero percent interest rate for the first several months. If you do finance, make sure not to have a payment plan that goes beyond the usable life of your mattress.
  • Buy online: Over the last few years, several companies have started selling mattresses online, like Saatva and Loom and Leaf. Online companies have less overhead and can offer high quality mattresses for a lower cost.
  • Get the timing right: Mattresses are notorious for changing prices with the seasons. Studies have shown the best month to buy a mattress is either March or April, as stores look to clear out the previous year’s inventory during the spring before the summer shopping season. Holiday weekends, especially Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day, are big sale weekends for mattresses.

Another great website to help you find the perfect bed frame for the mattress you choose is SleepSources


If your sleep problems are caused by more than just the wrong mattress, call Alaska Sleep Clinic today and speak with one of our board-certified sleep specialists.  Our free consultation will get you on the right track to improving your sleep and your life.




Michael-Breus-headshot_head_shot_smallAbout the Author:  Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., known as The Sleep Doctor, is a Clinical Psychologist and both a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He is on the clinical advisory board of The Dr. Oz Show and is a regular contributor on the show. He is also the author of several books, including The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep (Rodale Books; 2011) and Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health (Dutton/Penguin; 2006). Dr. Breus has been featured on several national media outlets, including The Today Show, The CBS Early Show and Psychology Today. For more detailed descriptions on mattresses, go to

Topics: technology, sleep hygiene, mattresses

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