What You Need To Know Before You Buy A New Mattress

Shop smarter and get better sleep because of it.
Experts say the most important part of picking a new mattress is that it feels comfortable to you (and your sleep).
STUDIO BOX via Getty Images
Experts say the most important part of picking a new mattress is that it feels comfortable to you (and your sleep).

You’ve had an active day, eaten right, taken a bath, donned your favorite PJs, and banished your phone and other screens from your bedroom ― just like experts say to do for optimal sleep. But you’re still tossing and turning.

Turns out, your mattress may be to blame.

“The sleep surface is critical to sleep quality, and unfortunately is too often overlooked,” Terry Cralle, a certified clinical sleep educator and author of “Sleeping Your Way To The Top,” told HuffPost. Too many people reach for sleeping pills or an over-the-counter sleep aid without even considering what they are sleeping on, she said.

One study published in Applied Ergonomics found that new bedding systems improved measures of pain, stiffness, sleep comfort and quality across the board in a group of 62 men and women compared with their old beds, which on average were more than nine years old.

Want to know more? Here’s a five-point guide to picking out a new mattress:

1. Know when it’s time.

It’s time to buy new “when you sleep better away from home (in a hotel room or elsewhere), or if you prefer to sleep on your recliner or sofa,” Cralle said. Additional signs your mattress needs replacing include waking up with aches or pains, not feeling as refreshed in the morning or waking up in the night because you’re too hot or restless, she said.

Worn or sagging spots in the middle of your mattress or at the edges are physical signs your mattress has seen better days, according to recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation ― and you should be able to sleep undisturbed on your side of the bed if your partner rolls over or gets up in the middle of the night. Though there is no hard and fast rule on how long to keep a mattress, most have a lifespan of about eight years, the NSF states.

Cralle suggested evaluating how well your mattress is meeting your sleep needs after about seven years, or if you’ve had an injury or illness, a significant weight change or a new bed partner: “You may have forgotten how good a new comfortable mattress can feel.”

2. Understand what your mattress needs are.

In addition to everybody having their own body type and sleep needs, our bodies and those needs change over time. A mattress that was comfortable when we were 35 will not be as comfortable at 45, Cralle said. Factors like pain, weight loss, weight gain, and chronic disease can all affect our sleep preferences.

“The mattress that is comfortable for a 98-pound woman with arthritis may not be comfortable for a 250-pound man who sleeps hot,” she pointed out.

“Just remember: The mattress that your neighbor raves about may not be the mattress you rave about.”

- Terry Cralle, a certified clinical sleep educator and author

But the good news is that new bedding technologies and materials means mattresses have come a long way, and there really is a mattress out there for everyone, Cralle said. “Just remember: The mattress that your neighbor raves about may not be the mattress you rave about.”

3. Make sure to pick the right mattress for you ― not the fanciest, most-hyped one.

Experts stress that expensive mattresses are not always superior, and some mattresses are better suited for your sleep position than others. Overall, your mattress should feel comfortable to you, bed expert Dan Schecter, former senior vice president of sales and marketing at the cushioning product company Carpenter Company. “The most important factor is comfort.”

So it’s important to spend enough time looking and shopping for the mattress that’s right for you, he said.

4. Before you shop, think about everything from health to budget and bedroom space.

Know your budget, what size mattress you need and any health concerns or personal needs that might be affected by your mattress ― like arthritis, back pain, sleep apnea or allergies.

Try taking the Better Sleep Council’s mattress shopping quiz for a breakdown of everything you should know before you hit the mattress showroom. The quiz doesn’t recommend a specific brand or type of mattress, but it does prompt you to answer a series of questions to make the mattress-shopping experience more productive.

“Consumers have been reluctant to make mattress shopping a priority,” said Cralle, who is also a spokesperson for the non-profit group. The information from the quiz can really help empower the consumer in selecting a mattress that best fits their needs, she said.

5. Yes, you can try out a mattress.

Lay on it for at least 15 minutes in the store, or longer if you can, and be sure to lay in the position you sleep in, Cralle advised. Also try changing positions ― is it easy to roll over and change positions? Is it easy to sit up and get out of bed?

And be sure you’re trying it out with a pillow ― either bring your own, or ask to try one in the store that is similar to yours.

Pillow top fans rest easy: A firmer mattress is not always better, Cralle said. “People always tell me they hear that, but that is not always the case and not a hard and fast rule.”

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