How to Choose a Mattress: Expert Guide to Sizes, Firmness & Stores

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We spend a third of our lives sleeping and roughly that same amount of time in bed each day. So why is that we tend to consign one of the most important elements of that setting to an afterthought? Maybe it’s because picking out a mattress isn’t the most exciting task — or that a mattress is rarely seen without layers of bedding and thus deemed not that significant. And how often do we default to a choice that’s just “good enough” or the least expensive? 

Let’s face it. Finding the perfect mattress is no easy feat. The sheer array of choices compounded by high price tags and the long-term commitment of owning one is enough to deter even the most determined shopper. It’s like buying a pillow but with so much more at stake. The silver lining is that if you arm yourself with the right knowledge, buying a mattress can be as easy as clicking an add-to-cart button. 

What to Consider Before Buying a Mattress

Avocado Mattress co-founder and CMO Mark Abrials likens a good mattress to good food: “They’re both only as quality as the ingredients that go into them.” Making an informed decision comes down to understanding the ins and outs of what makes an excellent product. Here’s what to consider.

1. The Type of Mattress 

A mattress is more than just a series of springs covered in layers of fiber and foam, and just testing one out by sitting on it in the store won’t cut it. You need to dig deeper. There are unique hybrid combinations geared toward various sleepers, organic alternatives, and those densely layered ones that are magically rolled and stuffed in a neat box. The inner makeup of a mattress is what will set it apart from the rest.

One of the distinguishing markers of a mattress is how firm it is. The scale is typically divided into three categories — plush, medium, and firm — but most brands break it down even further into extra plush, medium firm, and extra firm. It’s important to note that “firmness” is not the same as support. The former refers to the topmost layer of a mattress, which determines if a bed feels soft or not. Support, on the other hand, is based on the construction and core of the mattress, which can have an impact on spinal alignment. A bed with a weak support system that does not adequately conform to your body will override the firmness of a mattress.  

3. Mattress Certifications 

Given the investment of purchasing a mattress, having some assurance beyond customer reviews can make the process a little easier. Cue industry certifications. You’ve probably seen them, but do they actually matter? “Short answer is yes,” says Leesa co-founder and CPO Jamie Diamonstein. “Certifications like CertiPUR-US, “a non-profit that ensures foams are made without heavy metals, such as mercury, formaldehyde, flame retardants, and boast low VOC emissions, to name a few, “can be a great method to give the customer peace of mind that they are making a good purchase.” The most common certifications are:

Pro tip: “GOLS, GOTS, MADE SAFE, GREENGUARD Gold, B-Corp, and Climate Neutral are the most rigorous, independent certifications available to verify social and environmental responsibility through an extensive auditing process,” notes Abrials. 

So, how much should you spend on a mattress? It depends on where the mattress is intended for (a starter studio you’ll spend a year in versus a forever home), what your specific needs are (medical, comfort, posture), and how much you’re willing to shell out. Above that, the quality of materials, core structure, size, and construction will influence the price. Hybrid and latex mattresses often run significantly more than innerspring or all-foam ones. 

A mattress made with affordable materials usually rings in around or less than $1,000 for a Full or Queen, while “greener” alternatives composed of organic materials can average around $1,200+ and grow higher as you get to the luxury models. “Finding the right mattress for you might be expensive up front, but a quality mattress can support your health and wellness for years,” says Abrials.

5. Buying a Mattress Online vs. In-Store 

Nowadays, it’s harder to make a case for buying a mattress in-store. While one of the major benefits is having the opportunity to physically test the mattress, your options are fewer and you’ll likely pay more due to added showroom costs. 

“Be patient,” says Abrials. “Some people love a new mattress after the first night. For others, it takes a little longer. Depending on the type and condition of mattress you’re transitioning from, your body might need time to adjust.” 

So you found a mattress, but a week later it’s just not right. Now what? Reading the fine print on return policies is crucial. While each retailer has its own system, online purchases tend to be easier to return than in-store ones. Most retailers encourage consumers to try out a mattress for at least 30 days. Certain DTC brands, such as Casper, Purple, and Tuft & Needle have a 100-day trial period (Nectar and IKEA offer a whopping 365 days) and a full refund if you’re just not that into it. Most mattress-in-a-box brands make returns easier with free pickups that are then donated. If you’re purchasing from a retailer such as Walmart or Amazon, you’ll have to abide by their policies. With the latter, there will be a difference between products sold and shipped by Amazon (lenient refund rules) and third-party sellers (could be harder to get a refund). 

“Choose a mattress that has a trial period,” advises Leesa’s Diamonstein. “The ultimate test is sleeping on it in the comfort of your own home, dressed how you are when you go to sleep, with your thermostat set at your perfect temperature.”

How to Choose the Right Mattress for You

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to mattresses. Here are a few key components that will help you identify what’s right for you.  

1. What makes a good mattress?

While a good mattress can be defined by a host of characteristics, it comes down to how it’s made and how comfortable it is. “The quality of the foams, springs, cover, and building process will have a significant impact on the support, comfort, and durability,” says Diamonstein, who adds that the number of layers of foam and thickness of a mattress do not determine its performance. Beyond that, firmness, texture, and overall comfort inform the fundamentals of a good mattress. 

2. Which size is right for you?

Our lifestyles tend to influence the size of our beds. A King probably isn’t the best choice for a small-space dweller, while a family of co-sleepers (kids, pets, and all) could benefit from the added inches. If you sleep alone, a Full or Queen will do — a Twin might be too cramped. Think about the amount of space you’re willing to allot for the bed in a room and the number of people sleeping in it. If you and a partner share the mattress, are you okay with snuggling close or do you prefer room to roam? Your answer will dictate which size mattress is right for you. Make sure you’re going with a choice that will allow you to soak up all the R&R you can get. The most common mattress sizes are:

3. Which mattress is best for your sleep style? 

How you sleep can help determine the type of mattress that’s best for you. 

The Best Time to Get a Deal on a Mattress 

If we know one thing to be true, there’s always a sale around the corner, especially online. From Cyber Monday and Black Friday to Labor Day or an ordinary Tuesday, there are no shortages of flash sales, store clean-outs, or promos to cash in on. While you can always expect a good bargain around holidays or long weekends (President’s Day and Memorial Day are the big ones), there are also seasonal periods worth keeping an eye out for.  

The Best Places to Shop for a Mattress

If You’re Looking for Variety

If You’re Looking for Something Organic

If You’re Looking for a Deal

If You’re Looking for a Solid Innerspring

If You’re Looking for Something Personal/One of a Kind



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