By Emma Stessman
When it comes to mattress shopping, everyone hopes for a Goldilocks-like scenario. You know the story: she tries a mere three beds before landing on the last one that feels “just right.”
But most of the time, it’s more of a nightmare than a fairy tale. In fact, it usually involves days of trying out all different types while aggressive sales people throw around words like “memory foam” and “temperature control” and try to upsell you. And now, there are also a million delivery brands—from Casper to Leesa to Yogabed—that promise to make the process easier…except you have no idea which of those to choose, either. (Makes you want to curl up in bed, right?)
The thing is: finding one that gives you the best foundation (literally!) for a good night’s sleep is super important, since how much shut-eye you get is tied to stress levels, immunity, mental clarity and even appetite.
RELATED: 4 Reasons to Get More Sleep
So, to help, we consulted two top sleep experts to give us the low-down on how to make the mattress buying process as simple and easy as possible.
When Should You Buy a New Mattress?
Considering the hefty price tag and stressful shopping process, it might be tempting to put off buying a new mattress and stick with the one you’ve been sleeping on for the last eight years. But sleeping on a mattress for too long, or sleeping on one that’s not right for your body can cost you some crucial ZZZs throughout the night.
Sleeping on a bad mattress can lead to a slew of health problems, including a lack of REM sleep, stress, sleep-related anxiety, and most commonly, pain, explains Rajkumar Dasgupta, M.D., an assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. “Having a bad mattress leads to a lot of chronic pain, especially back pain,” says Dr. Dasgupta. “And pain is something that causes you to have those multiple awakenings and arousals throughout the night and not get to those deeper stages of sleep.”
Plus, your mattress can accumulate all kinds of dander and dust throughout the years––which can cause serious sleep disruptions for those with asthma or allergies. According to Dr. Dasgupta, reactions to these bits of dust and dander can cause people to breathe through their mouth when they sleep. This can lead to snoring, which then leads to arousals throughout the night––for you and anyone you’re sharing a bed with.
So, when it comes to your mattress, you want to stay ahead of the curve. To put it in perspective, Dr. Dasgupta says, “My wife is a marathon runner and her big thing is her shoes. She doesn’t wait until she has a hole in her running shoes until she buys a new pair, nor should you wait until you have a hole in your mattress to buy a new one.”
There is no magic number, per say, when it comes to the amount of time you should have a mattress for. But one study found that participants whose mattresses were an average of nine years old reported significantly improved quality of sleep when they slept on a new one. So if you’re creeping up on a decade, toss that old mattress.
Finding the Right Mattress for You
Mattress shopping is all about personal preference––a mattress that feels perfectly firm for one person could be way too soft for someone else. So we asked W. Christopher Winter, M.D., author of The Sleep Solution, to walk us through some of the typical mattresses you’d see on a showroom floor, and the pros and cons of each.
Innerspring: This is the most common kind of mattress, and also tends to be the most inexpensive. It uses metal coiled springs to provide support and a certain level of bounce. With spring-based mattresses, Dr. Winter advises that you should make sure to find one with individual springs, because if the coils of the mattress are interlocked––which they sometimes are––you’re more likely to feel movement from someone on the other end of the bed. AKA in the classic mattress commercial scenario, if you’re jumping on the bed, the precariously placed glass of wine on the other side will likely spill.
Memory Foam: Memory foam mattresses are popular for those with pain because they provide orthopedic support, says Dr. Winter. And for those who normally sleep on their side, the extra support can alleviate some of the hip and shoulder discomfort that they might experience. He does note that there are some downsides to this kind of mattress. It’s often not ideal for someone who gets hot at night, and because of the way you sink into the mattress, it can limit mobility––particularly when it comes to the more physical activities of the bedroom. “A lot of couples don’t like intercourse on a memory foam mattress,” says Dr. Winter. (Duly noted!)
Latex: “Latex mattresses are sometimes the last mattress you’ll buy,” explains Dr. Winter. “Simply because, if you need a change or the mattress is not the way you like it, you can unzip it and put a different layer inside. So, it’s always changing to what you want it to be.” Latex mattresses tend to be the most natural and customizable option, but also the most expensive (here’s where you typically might be spending a couple of thousand dollars on a mattress). Often they come with an outer layer that can be unzipped, and inner layers that can be switched out. In the case of a company like Casper, an expert has pre-determined the layers for maximum comfort. But companies like SavvyRest allow you to customize your layers and the firmness of each one to fit your specific needs.
Other Things to Consider
Lying down on a mattress fully clothed under the fluorescent lights of a department store is not going to give you a good feel for what actually sleeping on the mattress for eight hours a night is going to be like. That’s why Dr. Winter suggests always asking about the store’s return policy. “You’re supposed to lie there on your back and make a decision about how you’re going to sleep on something for hours and hours, years and years on end, and that can be difficult,” says Dr. Winter. “You want to not be locked into something and not get a hard sale.”
Or, if you want to avoid the in-store process altogether, many online companies, like Leesa and Casper, offer 100 night risk-free trials, so you can get the real at-home feel for a mattress and return it if you realize it’s not the right one for you.
All-in-all, a new mattress can change your sleep experience for the better. But if you’re not quite ready to drop a pretty penny on your sleep setting, there are other aspects of your bedroom that you can change to improve the quality of your sleep. Dr. Dasgupta advises looking at the temperature of the room and what you’re wearing to bed to help with heat-related issues. And before you make that big jump to buying a new mattress, try experimenting with a new pillow, because after all, “You can’t have a Batman without a Robin,” says Dr. Dasgupta, “and that’s what the pillow is.”
(All Photos: Shutterstock)