7 Steps to the Perfect Mattress
Buying a mattress can be complicated—especially if it’s been a while since the last time you went mattress shopping. To make things easier, we’ve put together this simple guide to set you on the path to sleep enlightenment. Like all journeys, it begins with a single step. Let's get started.
Step 1: Decide how you want your mattress to feel
There’s no “best mattress” for everyone—the right mattress for you is a matter of personal preference. You probably have an idea of how you want your mattress to feel. Do you prefer a firm surface or something with a bit more give? Do you like the bounciness of innersprings or the body-hugging embrace of memory foam? Or perhaps something in between? Each mattress material has a distinctive feel:
- Innerspring mattresses feel, well, springy.
- Memory foam mattresses feel huggy.
- Latex mattresses feel floaty.
That said, any mattress type can accommodate a wide range of sleep preferences. And many mattresses these days combine features of more than one type—innersprings with memory foam, for example (often called “hybrid” mattresses).
Take our quiz to find out which Saatva mattress is right for you.
Step 2: Take special requirements into account
How you want your mattress to feel is the main thing, but it’s not the only thing. Depending on the way you sleep, certain mattress types may not be a good fit. For example, do you tend to sleep hot? Do you suffer from back pain? Do you jolt awake every time your partner tosses and turns?
The answers to those questions will point you in the direction of your best mattress match.
If sleeping cool is your top priority, then you’ll likely be happiest with innerspring; its open construction allows for more airflow through the mattress than any other type. But if you care most about cutting down on motion transfer, nothing beats memory foam. And if you want a “greener” option that is all-natural and environmentally sustainable, you’re looking at latex.
Step 3: Consider your sleep style
The next big decision is comfort level, which is a fancy way of saying how firm or cushiony a mattress will be. Most mattress types come in a range of comfort levels; the right one for you depends on the way you sleep: on your back, side, stomach, or some combination.
Here’s why that matters. The weight in our bodies is not distributed evenly, so your sleep position will affect the amount of pressure you’re exerting on the surface underneath you. Sleeping on your side, for example, creates pressure points at your shoulders and hips, since your body weight is concentrated within a smaller surface area. Sleeping on your back, on the other hand, spreads your weight out more evenly across the bed. (Pressure equals force divided by surface area. Who said science was boring?)
That’s why side sleepers generally prefer softer mattresses, which cushion pressure points, while back sleepers like firmer mattress that don’t mess with natural spinal alignment.
The right mattress for you depends on the way you sleep: back, side, stomach, or some combination.
Body type matters here too: Heavier people tend to need the support of a firmer mattress, and lighter people might be more comfortable on a softer surface.
If you’re a combination sleeper (i.e., someone who switches between positions), consider a medium firmness level. That way your mattress will be neither too soft nor too firm for whatever position you take throughout the night. If you’re a stomach sleeper, though, you’ll want a firm mattress to keep your lower back from hurting. (It’s worth noting that this is considered the least healthy sleep style, so try other options if you can, ahem, stomach them.)
- Back sleepers: firm
- Side sleepers: softer
- Stomach sleepers: firm
- Combination sleepers: medium firm
Step 4: Evaluate mattress quality
So now you have an idea of the kind of mattress that might suit you. Let’s say you’re a 35-year-old woman who sleeps on her side and prefers a bouncy feel. In that case, you’d go for a soft (a.k.a. “plush”) innerspring mattress. Simple, right? Not quite. There are dozens of plush innerspring mattresses on the market. What sets them apart? When comparing mattresses, here are some key questions to ask.
What’s inside the mattress?
Every mattress has multiple components, and you should know what goes into each one. A good mattress company will provide diagrams with detailed descriptions and precise specifications for each layer. For example, a memory foam mattress isn’t made just of memory foam; if it were, it would be too mushy to sleep on. Instead, it’s made of multiple layers of foam of varying densities. Make sure the company or salesperson can explain each part of the mattress and its function.
How does the mattress provide lumbar support?
Lumbar support is important for everyone, but especially anyone who is prone to back problems. The human spine has a natural curvature that needs to be maintained, even when we lie down. A mattress without adequate support in the lumbar region will cause the hips (where most people’s weight is concentrated) to dip down, pulling the lumbar spine out of alignment. To ensure proper lumbar support, a mattress should have stronger, firmer material in its center third.
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Will the mattress keep me cool?
All mattresses will absorb body heat throughout the night. The question is whether the mattress is able to disperse that heat efficiently so you stay cool under the covers. Innerspring mattresses are naturally good at this, since springs and coils have lots of space between them where air can flow.
Memory foam, on the other hand, is very dense, so heat gets trapped because air can’t flow through the material. To combat that natural tendency, memory foam mattresses often contain cooling gel layers or other technology that helps transfer heat away from the body. Other foams, like latex, are naturally more porous and so sleep cooler than traditional memory foam (though not as cool as innersprings).
Is the mattress eco-friendly?
Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental and health impacts of the products they wear, eat—and sleep on. If you’re looking for something eco-friendly, ask: Does it use organic components? Are the foams certified to be non-toxic and low-VOC? Does it use a natural flame retardant? Questions like these will help determine not only whether the mattress is manufactured sustainably, but also whether it’s likely to affect your health (especially if you are sensitive to chemical smells or prone to allergies). Where it’s made matters too: Mattresses made in the U.S.A. must meet strict health, safety, and environmental standards.
How much does the mattress cost?
Mattress prices are all over the map, from as little as a few hundred dollars into the tens of thousands. A higher price tag doesn’t necessarily translate to a better night’s sleep. A quality mattress that has the features above and is made with premium materials generally costs in the range of $1,000 to $3,500. As a rule, memory foam and innerspring mattresses tend to cost roughly the same amount, while latex carries a higher price tag—a result of the expense of harvesting and processing the natural material, which is derived from the sap of the rubber tree.
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Step 5: Pick a size
This one might seem simple, but even here you have more options than you might realize. Couples who prefer different comfort levels, for example, can have a king size bed with two separate firmnesses by pairing two twin XL mattresses side by side.
Mattresses come in the following standard sizes:
38 x 75 inches
38 x 80 inches
Taller children, dorm rooms
54 x 75 inches
60 x 80 inches
Couples with limited space
76 x 80 inches
Couples with pets or children
72 x 84 inches
Step 6: Decide on a base
Unless you’re planning to put your mattress on the floor (which is a perfectly acceptable choice), a mattress needs a base to (1) raise it to a comfortable height and (2) provide adequate support for the interior components. Without a firm base, a mattress is more vulnerable to sagging and general wear and tear.
There are three main types of bases:
You probably know these as “box springs.” Foundations are simple rectangular structures, usually made of wooden slats, foam, and quilted covering. Depending on the size and type of mattress, the manufacturer will recommend—or in some cases require—a particular style of foundation. A latex mattress, for instance, requires a solid foundation, or one with slats a specified distance apart.
As its name implies, a platform bed is made of a solid surface or a base of wooden slats, raised from the floor on legs. The mattress rests directly on the platform, without the need of a traditional foundation. The choice to go with a platform is an aesthetic rather than functional one.
Controlled via remotes or smartphone apps, adjustable bases let you raise or lower the head and foot of the bed. They’re great for sleeping—especially if you have back pain or other conditions that keep you from finding a comfortable position—and also reading, watching TV, or just lounging. Most mattresses these days are compatible with adjustable bases, but make sure to check before purchasing. (Read more about the benefits of an adjustable base.)
Step 7: Read the fine print
A mattress is what’s called a “considered purchase.” Which means people do their research before buying (that’s why you’re reading this guide after all). You’ll be investing a fair amount of money and time in the process—and living with your choice for a decade or more—so it pays to know what else you’re getting in terms of ongoing customer service and fine-print policies. Here are some question to ask.
Does the company offer free delivery? Will it set the mattress up for you and take away your old one? If your mattress comes packed in a box, keep in mind that it’s going to be very heavy, and you might need help carrying it up the stairs and unpacking it.
Most online companies will give you at least 30 days to try your mattress at home. Saatva offers 120 days. We know that it can take a while to get used to a new mattress, and you won’t know if it’s really right for you until you’ve slept on it for a while.
The best thing you can do is find out—before you plunk down your credit card—everything about how the company handles returns. Is there a waiting period before you can return the mattress? Will you pay a fee for pickup or restocking? What happens to the mattress after it’s been taken away? Does the company donate or recycle old mattresses? Check reviews online to see what experiences other customers have had with returning a mattress.
Like any big-ticket item, a mattress should have a robust warranty, and the company should be willing to stand behind it. Look for a warranty period of at least 10 years. Ideally, you want a warranty that is not prorated, which means the amount of coverage doesn’t change the longer you own the mattress.