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The Pain-Free Guide to Buying a Mattress




Photo: West Elm

If you’ve lost some sleep over mattress shopping in the past, you’re not alone. In fact, the whole process is actually designed to be tough! According to Consumer Reports, mattress companies intentionally try to prevent consumers from comparison-shopping by making different-but-similar lines of mattresses and shipping them to different stores. Then, they use vague terms like “firm” and “super-duper plush” to make things really fun.

We say it’s time to demystify mattress shopping! After all, you’ll spend a third of your life on that bad boy. You should probably enjoy it.

Note: Mattresses last for about ten years. Beyond that, they stop offering the support you need for a good night’s sleep. If you watched Clinton’s inauguration from the comfort of your current bed, it’s time to let it go.

Know Your Terms

There are a slew of mattresses on the market, but these three are most popular:

1. Inner-spring – this is the most common (and least expensive) type of mattress. Inner-spring means that the core of the mattress is made from a set of steel springs that supports the structure. If you (or your partner) like to sleep on your side, then this is your best bet.

2. Memory foam – these mattresses are made from a solid brick of polyurethane foam. Manufacturers claim that memory foam provides better support for your body, but that’s really only the case if you sleep on your back! Keep in mind that memory foam mattresses may be a better fit for sleepers that don’t toss and turn. Active sleepers risk a higher body temperature (read: sweat), which can eventually lead to mold in the foam.

3. Air-filled – these are new to the scene, but they are becoming a popular alternative to spring mattresses. People like them because they usually have adjustable firmness options on either side of the mattress. However, most showrooms don’t offer air-filled mattresses for testing. If you want to test one before buying, see if a friend has already taken the plunge!

Know Your Price

Before you walk into a store, decide what you’re willing to spend. In the mattress game, Consumer Reports says there isn’t always a direct correlation between price and quality. We think $1,000 is the sweet spot – you’ll be able to find some high-quality, comfortable mattresses for this price. We also say it’s not worth going over $2,500 – the extra money won’t buy extra comfort. Also, keep in mind that most mattress-store salesmen work on commission, so they’re going to try to add bells and whistles. Be firm about your price point, and let them know what you’re willing to spend upfront. But remember, you’ll have this mattress for about ten years. That means that if you spend $1,000 for your mattress, you’re really spending less than $2 per week of use. Not so bad, right?

Know Your Body

Do you get hot at night? Then look for a mattress with natural fibers like wool or silk. Avoid polyester – it will only make those night-sweats worse!

Listen to Your Back

Lay on your current mattress for fifteen minutes. Note what you like and dislike about your mattress. When you hit the store, the salesperson will usually have you test expensive mattresses. For those, just focus only on hardness/softness and get a sense of what you like. Once you’ve narrowed down the type and price range, spend a full fifteen minutes on each prospective mattress: five on your back, five on your side and five on your stomach.  

Make Sure There is a 30-Day Trial-Period

Think of the mattress store as an interview, and the first month with your mattress as an internship. You don’t really know if you want to hire it full-time yet, so test its sleep-comfort capabilities. Most mattresses take 4-5 weeks of sleep to really break in, so you need some time to test them out. Remember, stores won’t take back a stained or ripped mattress, so go easy!

Skip the Mattress Pad

You’re spending money and time picking out a new mattress that’s perfect for your back, so why cover it up with a mattress pad? Mattress pads cost about $80. If you’ve used, and liked, mattress pads in the past, consider buying a mattress with more padding this time around!

Pick the Right Time to Shop 

You almost never have to pay full-price for a mattress. If possible, bide your time and wait for sales. Unless your mattress has spontaneously combusted, another few weeks won’t hurt you. Expert Tip: May is the best time to buy mattresses!

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