A while ago we explained how important it is to spend your money where you spend your time, and considering we spend at least a third of our lives asleep or in bed, skimping on your mattress or sleeping surface can be detrimental to your health. At the same time, not everyone has the budget for the top of the line, state of the art mattress. We asked some chiropractors and orthopedists what they suggest you look for when shopping for a mattress. Here’s what they said.
Do Your Research, and Go In With a Budget
The first thing you should do before you even head out to shop for mattresses is know how much you’re willing to spend. Going into any major purchase with a budget and spending cap in mind will help you avoid spending too much, and will also help you buy the best mattress you can afford while avoiding the extra fluff and accessories that mattress stores are notorious for trying to load you up with. Keep those add-ons and accessories in mind when you head to the store. As soon as you select a mattress, the salesperson will try and sell you on mattress covers, extended warranties, bedframes, and other accessories that you may or may not actually need.
Mattress stores are notorious for making it difficult to impossible to comparison shop, so don’t expect to be able to go from store to store and see the same mattress there for different prices. You’re better off paying attention to mattress brand and mattress type when you go shopping. Don’t put too much stock in model names or “line” names. One store may have a line from a prominent manufacturer under one name, and another store will have a line from the same manufacturer under another name, and in reality the mattresses are the same and simply marketed differently for different retailers.
If you’re trying to stick to a budget, check out your local mattress stores’ circulars or web sites to see what’s on sale. Make notes of model names and numbers that are in your price range, and when you get to the store, ask to see those specific models. In some cases, mattress stores only stock a few of the models on sale (so you don’t find out they’re out of stock until you’re in the store), so find out early if they have what you’re looking for.
Understand What Type of Mattress Is Right for You
Mattress manufacturers and retailers have dozens of names for different types of mattresses, but there are only really a few basic types:
- Tempur-Pedic/Memory Foam – Tempur-Pedicmattresses are actually a brand name, but many people use them to describe any mattress type that uses “memory foam,” or another type of foam that molds to the shape of your body while you sleep, and offers even support all over your body. You essentially sink into it, and the mattress applies even pressure to your body at all points. Tempur-Pedic and memory foam mattresses tend to get warm over the course of the night, so if you need a cool sleeping surface under you, they may not be right for you.
- Sleep Number Beds – Sleep number beds use inflatable air pressure chambers inside of the mattress that you can customize to suit the level of firmness you want in your sleeping surface. You can, at any time, make the mattress firmer or softer, and depending on the model you get, you can tilt the bed up into a reclining position, or you can get sleep number beds that have different chambers on either side of the bed, so you and your spouse or partner can enjoy different levels of firmness. “Sleep Number Bed” is a trademark of Select Comfort, who makes most of the beds that fit this description. They tend to be fairly pricey.
- Firm vs. Plush – Firm and plush, as their names imply, indicate the firmness or softness of the mattress in question. You’ll see some mattresses described as “extra firm, firm, plush, ultra plush,” to denote how hard or soft the mattress actually is. In some cases, to get to the “ultra plush” end of the scale, manufacturers add thick pillowtops and cushions to the tops of a standard matress to make it feel softer. You can also find mattress types in between like “cushion firm” or “pillowtop” or a firm mattress that has extra padding on the sides and top or a pillowtop on it that makes the mattress softer when you lay in it, but still is firm enough to provide support while you sleep.
Photo by jon.
Try Everything that Interests You, Start on the High End and Work Your Way Down
If you have a mattress salesperson who’s trying to get you on and off a floor model quickly, run—don’t walk—to the exits. You won’t be able to judge whether a mattress is comfortable if you only get to lay down on it for 30 seconds. Get the sales person to bring you a test pillow so you can try the mattress in the same position you sleep, and rest on it for a good few minutes. Give yourself time to relax and settle into the mattress before you make a decision about whether it’s too firm or soft or just doesn’t feel right.
One great way to find a mattress that you’ll like is to start with the high-end mattresses in the store and work your way down from there. You may be leading your salesperson on a little bit, but the point is that you get to experience the super high-end top-of-the-line mattresses first to get a feel for how comfortable they are, and then you start to step down in features and padding until you start to test mattresses that are less comfortable than you’d like. Then you’ll know where the balance is, and you can make a decision based on comfort and budget.
What Our Experts Said
A number of the chiropractors and orthopedists that I spoke to for this story had specific brand suggestions for people looking for the most comfort and a mattress designed with health in mind. Massachusetts chiropractor Dr. Benjamin Ryan tells his patients that if you can afford it, the Sleep Number bed by Select Comfort is the way to go, especially if you and the person sleeping next to you prefer different levels of firmness in your sleeping surface. He suggests spending a little less money to get a model without a fancy control or pillowtop, and then going out and buying a pillowtop from your local bed and bath store if you want a little more softness. He explained to me that he went to a department store for a memory foam layer and added it to his mattress when he decided it was too firm. He rightly notes that you can always make a firm mattress a little softer by putting something on top of it—you can’t make a soft mattress firmer.
Maryland -based Chiropractor Dr. WIlliam Bleam on the other hand, suggest you look into Tempur-Pedic mattresses. He warned that Tempur-Pedic mattresses can be “warmer” than others and retain heat overnight. He explained he’s proud owner of a Tempur-Pedic mattress, but notes that if you’re on a budget and don’t want to spend the money on the brand name, there are a number of more affordable “memory foam” mattresses that offer the same style of sleeping and comfort. It’s also worth noting that “form to fit” style mattresses can be difficult to get in and out of, and definitely aren’t for everyone, but they do offer even support while sleeping (as opposed to “innercoil” mattresses, which Dr. Bleam recommends against), and can be perfect for people who fall asleep in one position and stay in it for most of the night.
Photo by Dave Matos.
Dr. Jon Donshik, an orthopedic surgeon based in Aventura, Florida, dismissed the notion of brand loyalty entirely. He explained that while brand name mattresses are definitely the standard, he tells his patients to go with what “feels right,” and not to blow the bank on a mattress unless you’ve tried it in the store for a good long test and you’ve fallen in love with it. He explained that expensive mattresses may feel better, but they won’t instantly cure back pain, which can be caused by a number of factors, so be careful with your money.
Whatever mattress you choose, our experts agree that you should try the best and work your way to a level that meets your needs for comfort and support but also fits in your budget. That said, don’t set your budget unreasonably low—you’re going to spend a lot of time in bed, you at least want to be comfortable, and an uncomfortable night’s sleep can lend itself to other problems during your waking hours.
Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle
You’ve tested several mattresses, and you’re ready to pick one. Now it comes down to price. Some mattress stores offer no-haggle pricing, and they’ll try and get more money out of you on accessories and warranties, but if you’re shopping in any of the major chains, the price is almost always flexible. Don’t be afraid to ask for a price, and then propose something different, or let the salesperson know that you really like this model but you’re not willing to spend X-amount of dollars on it. You won’t get a yes every time, but you may be able to negotiate an acceptable price on a mattress that you initially thought was out of your price range.
Pay attention to sales and holiday weekends where you’re likely to get a good price. Mattrress retailers tend to do a lot of business on weekends you may not expect, like over Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day. If you are vet, don’t hesitate to mention it when you go shopping, you may be eligible for a discount.
Take Advantage of Your In-Home Trial, and Lock In a Good Warranty
Before you seal the deal, make sure that the mattress comes with delivery and disposal of your old mattress (often something you can negotiate in for free), a solid warranty and your retailer has an in-home trial period. Most reputable retailers will give you 30 to 60 days to try out the mattress in your home, and if you hate it, they’ll refund your money or exchange you for another mattress. Make the most of that period of time, and pay close attention to how you’re sleeping and how you feel when you’re awake.
You won’t be able to tell much from the first couple of days, but once you get used to it, Virginia-based chiropractor Dr. Eugene Su says you should start feeling better overall. If you have more energy and getting up in the morning is easier than it used to be, you may be on to something good. He also warns against falling in behind a specific brand, model, or type, and encourages his patients to try different types of mattresses to see what they find most comfortable. If you have the mattress at home already, he suggest you pay attention to a few specific things:
- When you wake up, do you have less energy, or more?
- After you’ve been up for a while, do you have any unusual soreness, or aches and pains, specifically in your back or sides?
- When you do get up and get ready, what’s your mood like? Are you ready to take on the day, or do you find you’re suddenly really grumpy in the mornings (compared to your usual self, of course?)
- Are you tossing an turning, or frequently waking up to shift position during the night?
Dr. Su notes that all of these symptoms are also warning signs that it’s about time to replace your mattress, but if you’re trying out a new mattress at home for the first month and you see these signs getting worse and not better, it may be time to call the mattress store and trade for a different model.
If you’ve had your mattress for a few months and you still notice you’re uncomfortable, or the mattress is suddenly uneven, don’t hesitate to call the manufacturer and make a warranty claim. A warranty claim will net you the same mattress you already have, most likely, but if the problem is a defect, you’ll be happy you have it. As we’ve said before, make sure an extended warranty or protection plan is worth it before buying. A good manufacturer’s warranty will serve you better than a retailer’s replacement plan in many cases, and instead of spending the extra money, consider an extended warranty fund with the money you would have spent on a protection plan in case issues come up.
Photo by Joel Washing.