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How To Choose A Mattress (2021) – Complete Buying Guide

TopImageHowToChooseAMattress

If you’re looking to buy a new mattress, perhaps the most challenging thing to figure out is where to start. Do you go in-store or shop online? Do you prioritize budget-friendly options or splurge on a fancy model? And what about the size, shape, material make-up, and design? Yeah, it’s a lot of things to consider, especially if you’re bed shopping for the first time. But never fear, Sleepopolis is here! 

In this handy guide, I am going to walk you through exactly how to choose the perfect mattress for you. We’re going to chat about different types of mattresses, how to determine what feel will work best for your sleep style, and much, much more! By the end, I guarantee that you’ll know exactly how to find the mattress of your dreams. 

Sound like a plan? Then let’s get things started! 

Important Mattress Questions 

When thinking about how to organize this resource, I decided to break it down into the six most important questions to consider when buying a new mattress. Each section, then, will teach you how to answer these questions in the way that’s right for you. For a little tease, here are the Q’s we’ll be exploring along with links to their respective sections (so you can jump around as you please): 

  1. How old is your mattress?
  2. What position do you sleep in? 
  3. What firmness do you need?
  4. How much do you weigh? 
  5. What type of mattress do you need?
  6. What’s your budget? 

Though everyone’s search is going to look a little different, riddling these quandaries will set you up for major shopping success. So, let’s get started by talking about mattress age! 

How Old Is Your Mattress? 

This is the very first question you need to answer. Why? Well, the age of your mattress can play a big role in determining whether or not you need a new one. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to start thinking about getting a new bed if you’ve had your old one for over 8 years. This isn’t a set standard by any means, but is usually a good benchmark for checking in with your mattress and figuring out whether it’s still doing its job re: Lulling you to sleep! 

For a quick primer on the typical expiration dates for different mattress materials, check out the graphic below: 

While these numbers are helpful in contextualizing the lifespan of your mattress, the best way to determine whether or not it’s time to boot the old gal is to listen to your body. Are you waking up with new pains in the morning? Do you have trouble finding a comfortable position at night? Have you noticed any new dips in your mattress that can’t be fixed by rotating it regularly? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to bid adieu to your bed. 

What Is Your Sleeping Position?

SleepingPositions

Now that we’ve got the age question sorted, it’s time to think about you, the sleeper. While we’ll be digging into a lot of different factors that have to do with you and your unique slumber style, the first thing to figure out is what position you sleep in. 

Though a majority of folks tend to toss and turn between different positions in the night, most people favor certain positions over others. Maybe you’re someone who likes to start off on your back and roll over to your side. Or perhaps you spend most of the night on your side and then finish things off on your stomach while hitting snooze in the morning. If you’ve never really thought about your preferred sleeping positions before, I’d encourage you to pay extra close attention to how you sleep over the next week. You’ll likely find that you’re either a back sleeper, side sleeper, stomach sleeper, or some combination of the three. 

This information is important because all mattresses endear themselves to different kinds of sleepers. Below, I’ll walk you through the types of beds best-suited for each position group. 

Back Sleepers

If ever there were a type of sleeper in need of a Goldilocks mattress solution, it would be back sleepers. Too firm, and these folks could experience unnecessary tension at the shoulders and lower back. Too soft, and their hips could sink out of alignment with their shoulders, resulting in a bowed back and shooting pains up the spine. Therefore, these dreamers need a medium firm feel that falls right in the middle of these two extremes

In my experience, back sleepers will want to go with a bed that lands somewhere in the 5.5-7/10 range on the firmness scale, with 1 being the softest mattress in the world and 10 being the firmest mattress in the world. For reference, 6.5 is typically considered to be the industry standard for medium firmness. 

Why is this vibe right for back sleepers? Well, it helps to lift and set the spine in a neutral alignment. When I talk about neutral spine alignment, I’m basically just referring to the idea of establishing an even line all the way from the shoulders to the hips. This helps to alleviate tension across the back and prevent aches and pains as related to fibromyalgia and arthritis

Though back sleepers are lucky in that they can usually find comfort on a variety of different types of mattresses and materials, I recommend that these folks check out hybrid mattresses, which combine foam and coil layers (more on that later!) For specific mattress recommendations, check out my Best Mattress for Back Sleepers guide. 

Side Sleepers

Where back sleepers need balance, side sleepers need deep pressure relief at the shoulders and hips. This means that they’ll typically want to stick with a softer mattress that contours to the curves of the body to help prevent uncomfortable jamming in the night. 

While softness is a fairly subjective term, for me, it can be defined as anything within the 4-6/10 range on the firmness scale. Again, we’re comparing these measures to the industry standard of 6.5 for medium firmness. 

Since side sleepers are exerting so much force on their joints in the night, it’s crucial that they land on a gentle bed designed specifically with pressure relief in mind. A lot of mattresses claim to alleviate shoulder and hip pain, but it’s important to really dig into the construction specs to figure out how well a bed is going to relieve pressure at these spots. I recommend that side sleepers stick with memory foam mattresses, which are known for their deep body-contouring, sinkage, and pressure relief. Curious to see some of my favorite side sleeper beds? Then head on over to my full Best Mattress for Side Sleepers page. 

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers are basically the opposite of side sleepers in that they’ll want an ultra-firm mattress that lifts the hips in line with the shoulders. The biggest issue these folks will face is a soft mattress that causes the hips to sink out of alignment with the rest of the spine, so they’ll want to keep their eyes set on highly supportive models. 

When considering the range for stomach sleepers, I like to keep things between 7-9/10 on the firmness scale. Once again, comparing these numbers to the industry standard of 6.5 for medium firmness reveals that stomach sleepers will definitely want to hang out on the extreme end of this range. 

But that doesn’t mean you’ll want to end up with a mattress that’s hard as a rock. The key here is to find a bed that combines super supportive foundations with thin comfort layers to provide just a touch of cushion to the overall firmness. Therefore, stomach sleepers will likely do best on an innerspring or hybrid mattress that marries tall coil sections with either pillow tops or a quilted cover layer. Don’t know where to start? I suggest my guide to the Best Mattress for Stomach Sleepers.

Combo Sleepers 

And finally, combo sleepers, those folks who combine all three positions into a snuggly smörgåsbord of comfort. A popular sleeping style, but one that requires a dynamic mattress able to provide comfort across the back, side, and stomach

Generally, I recommend that combo sleepers aim for a medium-firm mattress i.e. one that hovers right around the industry standard of 6.5 for medium firmness. 

A medium-firm mattress is an excellent choice for combo sleepers because they typically strike a pleasant balance between pressure relief and support. They’re soft enough to provide pressure relief to the shoulders while sleeping on the side and firm enough to support the hips whilst dozing on the back. More than anything, though, I think combo sleepers will want to consider the bounce and mobility of their mattress. It’s vital that these sleepers are able to move around and adjust positions with ease, so they’ll likely want to focus either on buoyant latex or hybrid mattressesFor more inspiration, take a gander at my guide to the Best Mattress for Combination Sleepers

What Firmness Do You Need? 

Since we’ve already started to discuss firmness, I thought we might as well dedicate an entire section to the measure. Put simply, firmness refers to how hard or soft a mattress feels. While it might seem like a simple question to answer, determining a bed’s firmness (and the firmness that you, the sleeper, needs) can actually be quite tricky. That’s because the feel and firmness of a mattress depends on your own personal definitions for soft, medium, and firm as well as your specific body type, weight, and size. 

This conversation can get further complicated by the fact that many consumers confuse support with firmness. A supportive mattress is one that sets the spine in an even line without creating pressure points and can be achieved on a soft, medium-firm, or firm mattress. Firmness refers only to the actual “feel” of the bed. Long story short, you can find a supportive mattress all across the firmness spectrum. 

With this in mind, the average preferred firmness level for sleepers falls between the 4-7 out of 10 range. As we discussed above, certain sleepers will either want to dip into the lower end of that range or the higher end, depending on their preferred sleeping positions. 

How Much Do You Weigh?

Weight is another huge factor to consider when choosing a new mattress as the sinkage, hug, feel, cooling, and support of a bed can be highly affected by how much you weigh. 

In fact, depending on your weight and overall body type, you may find that you need a specific type of mattress to satisfy your unique slumber needs. So, I’m going to walk through a few different weight categories to demonstrate what kinds of mattresses might work best within each class. 

For reference, I’m breaking it down into light sleepers (those folks who weigh 150 lbs. or less), average sleepers (those who weigh between 150 lbs. and 200 lbs.), and heavy sleepers (those who weigh 200 lbs. or more). 

Light Sleepers

Though light sleepers might fall within the same weight range (again, typically at or below 150 lbs.), that doesn’t mean they all sleep the same. Therefore, I’m going to provide mattress recommendations based on the different feels these sleepers might be after. 

 

  • Soft Feel (4-6/10 on the firmness scale): As a light sleeper, you shouldn’t have any trouble landing on a soft mattress. You’re not as likely to sink through the materials as other sleepers might be, so you should be well-satisfied on any sort of all-foam bed, preferably one with a memory foam comfort layer. 
  • Medium Feel (5.5-7/10 on the firmness scale): Lighter weight sleepers won’t sink as deeply into their mattress, which can make beds with super dense or thick top layers of foam uncomfortable for these folks. So, if you’re a lighter individual, I recommend going with a mattress that’s .5-1 firmness points lower than the feel you actually need. This is because most medium-firm mattresses are rated with an average weight sleeper in mind (typically around 180 lbs.)
  • Firm Feel (7-9/10 on the firmness scale): Lighter sleepers after a firm feel will want to prioritize mattresses with thin comfort layers. In fact, they might be better off with a simple pillow top or quilted cover comfort layer. Why? Well, these folks aren’t going to sink as readily through any top layers of foam, so don’t need to be buffeted from ultra-supportive foundational layers. 

 

Average Sleepers

Again, we’re going to explore this weight category (from those who weigh 150 lbs. to around 200 lbs.) by breaking things down into different firmness needs. 

 

  • Soft Feel (4-6/10 on the firmness scale): Your needs are pretty similar to lighter sleepers in this area. If you weigh closer to 150 lbs., you can follow the exact same rules as we outlined above for lightweight sleepers. But if you’re closer to 200 lbs., you’ll likely want to go for a mattress with thick top layers of foam to provide plenty of cushion as you press into the structure. 
  • Medium Feel (5.5-7/10 on the firmness scale): This is probably going to be the easiest feel for average-sized sleepers to satisfy. Since most mattresses are designed with both average-weight sleepers and medium firmness in mind, you should have no issue finding a bed to meet this need. In general, medium firmness is achieved when there’s a balance of comfort and support layers. 
  • Firm Feel (7-9/10 on the firmness scale): If you’re on the prowl for something firmer, you’ll want to reduce the thickness of your comfort layers and increase the thickness of your support layers. Average-sized sleepers will press into the structure more than light sleepers will, so they’ll need extra support in the base to achieve a “firm” feel. 

 

Heavy Sleepers 

Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult for heavier folks (those who weigh over 200 lbs.) to find a comfortable mattress. That’s not to say that there aren’t cozy options out there, but many brands build their beds with only one type of sleeper in mind. As frustrating as this is, there are some tips and tricks you can use to find a mattress to satisfy all your firmness and support needs. 

 

  • Soft Feel (4-6/10 on the firmness scale): If you’re looking for a softer feel, I recommend going for a tall bed that features thick top layers of foam over a sturdy coil section. Heavy sleepers are likely to press deeply into their beds, so making sure there are at least 4-5 inches of foam up top to sink through will help create a softer feel. 
  • Medium Feel (5-7/10 on the firmness scale): For a medium-firm feel, I’d keep the top layers of foam thick, but reduce them by an inch or two. Though the industry standard for medium firmness is 6.5/10, I’d suggest that heavier folks go for something in the 7-8/10 range. What would be considered firm for other sleepers should be just right for those in need of a medium-firm feel! 
  • Firm Feel (7-9/10 on the firmness scale): And finally, if you’re a heavier sleeper looking for a firm feel, I’d recommend going with a sturdy innerspring mattress with a pillow top layer. There are plenty of firm models available on the market today, but I’d keep the focus on beds that land somewhere in the 8-9/10 firmness range. 

 

Need help finding a mattress for heavier folks? Check out my guide to the Best Mattress for Heavy People

What Type Of Mattress Do You Need? 

Now that we’ve explored some of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a new mattress, it’s time to figure out exactly what type of bed you need. Below, I’m going to introduce you to the most popular options. I’ll describe what they are, how they feel, and who might like the most. 

Memory Foam

Memory foam mattresses are built predominantly with memory foam, a material known for its slow response to pressure and deep contouring hug. Therefore, they provide an immense amount of pressure relief at sensitive spots like the shoulders, hips, and lower back. 

One slight caveat for the dense material is that it tends to trap and absorb body heat. This can be a big issue for folks who naturally sleep hot. But nowadays, most brands circumvent this pesky problem by infusing their memory foam materials with cooling agents such as copper, gel, or graphite. 

Best For: In my opinion, memory foam is best for sleepers who want to feel more “in” their mattress than “on top” of it. Side sleepers, in particular, may benefit from the material’s deep contouring hug as they press into the structure. 

Worst For: Memory foam is a super soft material, so likely won’t be firm enough for stomach sleepers. If you want an ultra-firm feel from your mattress, you’ll want to skip the memory foam altogether. 

Popular Memory Foam Mattresses: There are a lot of memory foam mattresses on the market, but some of my favorites include the Nectar, Amerisleep, and Loom & Leaf mattresses. 

For more picks, check out my guide to the Best Memory Foam Mattresses

Latex

Unlike memory foam, latex foam has a quick response to pressure, so is bouncy and lively. It’s also an all-natural material, so could be a great fit for eco-friendly sleepers in search of an organic mattress. Plus, it’s naturally cooling, marking it as a nice option for folks who sleep hot. 

Best For: Latex can work for a wide range of sleepers, but I especially like it for combo sleepers. These folks need to be able to move around and change positions with ease, so should benefit from latex foam’s natural bounce. And as mentioned above, eco-friendly sleepers will likely enjoy its organic composition. 

Worst For: If you need deep pressure relief at the shoulders or hips, latex may not be the best fit for you. The material is soft and cozy, but won’t provide you with the same hug you’d get from a memory foam mattress. 

Popular Latex Mattresses: There are many latex models available online, but I particularly enjoy the Plushbeds Botanical Bliss, Zenhaven, and Avocado mattresses. 

For more latex inspiration, take a peek at my guide to the Best Latex Mattresses.  

Innerspring

One of the most popular and widely used mattress types, innerspring mattresses are bouncy, supportive, and firm. Featuring tall sections of steel coils, these beds work best for those after a traditional, “old-school” vibe. 

Best For: I tend to recommend innerspring mattresses for folks in need of major support, namely back sleepers, stomach sleepers, and heavier sleepers. They may also work well for those who prefer a supremely bouncy structure. 

Worst For: Innerspring mattresses aren’t going to do a lot for those in need of pressure relief, so if you deal with hip, shoulder, or back pain, you may want to consider another type of mattress.

Take a look at our best mattress for back pain, best mattress for shoulder pain and best mattress for hip pain roundups to find the best mattress that fit your pressure relieving needs.

Popular Innerspring Mattresses: You can find innerspring mattresses pretty much anywhere, but I’d suggest starting off your search with the Saatva, WinkBed, and Layla Hybrid mattresses. 

See more options at my full Best Innerspring Mattress guide! 

Hybrid 

One of the newest mattress types is the hybrid mattress, which combines top layers of foam with coils or springs for a one-two punch of pressure relief and support. These mattresses differ from innerspring models in that they have a more “balanced” feel.

Best For: Hybrid mattresses can work well for a wide range of sleepers, but I tend to recommend them for back sleepers and combo sleepers. These folks should appreciate both the added support of these beds as well as their bounce and mobility. 

Worst For: There are so many different types of hybrid mattresses on the market that I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re bad for anyone. The key here is to focus on the types of foams used in the top layers — side sleepers will want a hybrid with memory foam while back sleepers may want a hybrid with latex, for example. 

Popular Hybrid Mattresses: A few of my favorite hybrid mattresses include the DreamCloud, Leesa Hybrid, and Casper Hybrid mattresses. 

Explore even more hybrid options at my Best Hybrid Mattress guide. 

What Is Your Budget?

MattressBudget

After considering all of these different questions, we’re left with one final quandary: What is your budget? Every shopper is going to have a different answer for this question, but it’s important to think about it before you start your search. Luckily, there are incredibly comfortable options all across the pay spectrum, so finding a bed you love at the price point you need shouldn’t be a problem. However, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind. 

  • You Get What You Pay For: Though I wish I could say that you’ll be able to get an ultra-luxurious mattress for under $200, you and I both know this isn’t true. So, adjust your expectations to the budget you’re working with. And remember that there are plenty of wallet-friendly mattresses that are just as comfortable as their pricier siblings. 
  • Name Brand, Shmame Brand: Don’t be fooled by flashy advertisements! Just because you see a certain type of mattress popping up all over the place doesn’t mean it’s comfortable. Long story short, don’t get distracted by cheeky ad campaigns; instead, do your research and focus on your specific slumber needs. 
  • I Spy A Warranty: There are plenty of ways to increase the value of your mattress purchase. One of the easiest is to land on a brand with a super solid warranty. Many bed-in-a-box mattresses come equipped with lifetime warranties, which ensures that your bed will be fixed or replaced if it’s ever damaged. Read the fine print to find out what the actual life expectancy of your mattress could be! 
  • Shop Around the Holidays: If you’re dealing with a very strict budget, I recommend shopping around the holidays. Most mattress brands host huge sales around President’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day, so keep your eyes peeled for special discounts and bargains. 
  • Sleepopolis Secret: Pssst… we here at Sleepopolis actually have a ton of year-round discounts on some of the most popular mattress brands on the market. Check out our special deals page to see if your favorite mattress is on the list! 

 

Final Word

If I could offer one piece of advice as you attempt to find the mattress of your dreams, it would be to keep things focused on what YOU specifically need. This is a personal journey, so pay attention to the factors most important to you and how you sleep. If you do that, I have no doubt you’ll land on a mattress that’s totally right for you. 

 

Logan Block
Logan is the content director of Sleepopolis, which means he not only reviews new mattresses every week, but also curates all the comparisons, best of pages, and video guides on the site. He takes a straightforward, honest approach to his reviews and endeavors to give viewers an objective look at each new product he tries out. Logan has perfected his method by personally testing over 200 different mattresses, so he’s not only able to discern the overall vibe of a specific bed, but to contextualize its feel within the bed-in-a-box market as a whole. When he’s not hopping on a new bed or working with our editorial team to whip up an engaging sleep education guide, you can find him reading books on world history, walking his dog Pepper, or searching for the best cheeseburger in New York City.