Mattress Buying Guide

Every walk into a mattress store to try and find your dream mattress?  The problem is they all feel GREAT at the time – so how can you decide?  The greatest trick of the industry is that you can’t.  The correlation between trying out a mattress at a store and being satisfied with it long term is very low.

Not to mention that all of the incentives surrounding the sale of a mattress are not in your favor.  If you knew the profit mattress companies make on each mattress sold at a retail store, or the amount of commission that a salesman makes for selling you a certain brand or a certain model, you would feel even less certain that walking into a mattress store would lead to you walking out with the right mattress for your preferences.

Plus these days, there are plenty of options that sound great, but how do you know if they’ll improve your sleep experience?  Innerspring or memory foam?  Should you go gel infused?  How about a pillow top, maybe also in memory foam?  What is latex foam again?  Natural and eco-friendly I suppose?  The list goes on and on, and the decision gets more and more confusing.

So how do you buy the right mattress?
As crazy as it sounds, you can avoid the mattress store entirely.  You won’t know if you really like a mattress until you sleep on it, so use this guide to help identify what type of mattress you like.  Then find a company that really believes in their mattress – and proves this to you by offering a risk-free trial with no fees or penalties if you decide to return the mattress.  These days there are plenty of companies that offer a 30 day, 60 day, or even 100 day trial of their mattress, then provide you a full refund if you decide the mattress is right for you.  This gives you plenty of time to assess whether you want to spend the next 5-10 years with this mattress.

Where to start?
The two things that really drive a mattress decision initially are your sleep preferences and your budget.

Sleep preferences
Most people don’t even know what they’re expecting from a mattress, and unfortunately you can’t say which is the best mattress because it is not a one-size-fits-all type of product.  What I tell people is that you should look for a mattress that provides a great balance of comfort and support.  Comfort is important – you want to be able to sleep in your position of choice (on your back, side or stomach) with ease.  Your bed should be a welcoming place where you can lay leisurely and not feel too much pressure on any one point on your body.  Support is equally important – you want all parts of your body to be supported by the mattress so that you are not strained throughout the night.  Whether it’s springs that adjust based on your body position, or foam that contours to your body, you want to have great support that allows your body to truly rest.

Comfort and support preferences often translate quickly into a type of mattress, either innerspring, memory foam, latex foam, or air bed.  The best use of visiting a mattress store is trying out these various types of mattresses to see which one you prefer.

Innerspring mattress –  an innerspring mattress is currently the most common type of mattress, which consists of metal coils topped with foam and/or fabric.  Innerspring is the more traditional mattress form, and can vary greatly by the quality of coils, number of coils, and materials used in the mattress.

Memory foam mattress – a memory foam mattress is quickly increasing in popularity, and is known for conforming exactly to match the curves of the body.  The foam is made from polyeurthane and provides very targeted support.  This mattress type is thought to be extremely comfortable by many sleepers, though is traditionally quite expensive (less so these days) and can put off heat in some cases (known as sleeping hot).

Latex foam mattress – latex mattresses have many similar properties to memory foam mattresses, though in general they have more spring, tend to be firmer, can sometimes be more natural/eco-friendly, and are more difficult to find.  Latex vs memory foam mattresses are often debated, but currently memory foam mattresses are much more popular.

Air Beds – Modern air beds consist of chambers filled with are that are covered with fabric and foam.  These beds are popular for the ability to adjust the comfort of the mattress, sometimes even by side to accommodate partner sleeping preferences.

Other options might include hybrids of these types (e.g. a mattress with latex foam on top of memory foam, or an innerspring mattress with a memory foam top) or custom mattresses (reserved for the luxury market, can take many forms).

Most people realize that a mattress is an important investment – one third of your life will be spent on this purchase.  However budget is really broken down into two general groups:

1.)  You have a strict budget, and you will not exceed a certain number with this purchase

2.)  You’re budget is somewhat variable, but only if you’re certain that the amount you spend will really result in a higher quality product and better sleep experience

In case #1, the search is more straightforward.  If you know your mattress type preference and have a strict budget, your options are fairly limited.  I would suggest choosing a brand that you like that offers a risk-free home trial and go from there.

In case #2, it gets tricky.  The mattress market tries to upsell you at every turn with questionable value.  There are ways to spend your money wisely to get great value, and there are ways to just throw your money away with no benefit.  Read the next section carefully for Dos and Don’ts so that you invest your money wisely and avoid the scams.

DOs when buying a mattress

Buy Online
Like I’ve said again and again, you’re not going to find the best mattress for you by laying on it for 3 minutes at a mattress store.  Buying a mattress online is your best option.  Companies that sell mattresses online know that you haven’t had a chance to try the mattress out, so they will provide you a period of time to return the mattress with no penalty if you don’t like it.  Also, when you buy online, all of the middle-men are cut out of the process – no mattress salesmen, no retail store, no shipping the mattress around multiple times, etc.  Thus you almost always get more value when you purchase a mattress online.  On Slumber Sage we highlight a number of these companies that sell their mattresses for $500-$1500 online when a mattress of similar quality would be sold for $1200-$4000 in stores.

DON’Ts when buying a mattress

Do NOT buy a pillow top (initially)
Pillow tops sound luxurious, but really they exist to make an adjustment to the firmness of your mattress after the purchase, or to extend the life of an older mattress.  If you buy a mattress you like but you want it to be firmer or softer, you can go buy a pillow top to make the adjustment.  However buying a pillow top when you’re purchasing the mattress initially is just a gimmick to push up the purchase price with really no added value.

Do NOT buy gel infused
Gel infused is a term used for memory foam mattresses that supposedly brings down the temperature (prevents the mattress from sleeping hot).  Sounds great, right?  However, the gel actually only brings down the sleeping temperature a fraction of a degree.  Probably not enough for you to notice, certainly not enough for you to pay a premium.  Some foam mattresses have gel layers on top, which have a bigger impact.

BEWARE buying a brand name
Four big mattress titans dominate the industry (Simmons, Sealy, Serta, Tempurpedic) make a tremendous number of mattresses ranging in features, quality, and price.  However they are the main players that make up the traditional mattress industry, thus you will see a tremendous markup on these mattresses.  If you buy one of these brands, know that you are paying quite a premium for the name, and you can very often find a mattress of equal quality for a significantly lower price – particularly if you are buying online.

BEWARE of buying an “eco-friendly” mattress
Eco-friendly, natural, green, organic, etc. – these terms mean something in other industries, and many shoppers do want to consider the environment when purchasing a mattress.  However many/most of the mattresses that advertise themselves as green, organic, or natural are doing so in a very deceptive manner.  This aspect of the industry is not regulated, and in many cases we’ve companies straight out lie.  For example, a company that advertises a “natural” latex mattress may have a mattress that actually consists of 10% natural latex and 90% synthetic latex – not exactly natural.  Truly eco-friendly mattresses do exist, but they are quite rare, so do your homework before paying a premium for this type of mattress.

You may also want to consider whether you want a platform bed, box spring, or foundation to put under your mattress.

Final word
Buying a mattress is an investment, and is unexpectedly confusing for most buyers.  Make sure to do your research and really know what you want to get out of your mattress.  Hopefully this guide makes your purchase a little bit easier, please email me or comment if you have questions throughout the process.

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