The Ultimate Guide to a Good Night's Sleep
With this guide, you’ll have the knowledge to find the best mattress with the right firmness and features to suit your needs and deliver great sleep night after night.
Picking out your perfect mattress is one of the most important decisions you can make for your home — after all, it's the key to a good night's sleep — but the number of options, when you shop can make it seem like an impossible task. Between navigating the wide range of materials and marketing lingo, sorting through all of the sizes and specs and figuring out how much you should spend, it can be downright exhausting.
What to consider when choosing a mattress?
First and foremost, your spine stays aligned when you lie down. Your sleep position, body type and personal preferences for the feel and materials will all play a role in determining which mattress is best suited for your needs. You also want to consider cost, convenience, durability and any sleep issues — i.e., whether you're a hot sleeper, have back pain or get woken up by your sleeping partner. We'll break down these topics (and more!) to help you decide.
If you’re just getting started looking for a new mattress, you’ve probably noticed that the number of options can be dizzying. A helpful way to get your bearings is to start by thinking about mattress types.
Almost all mattresses can be identified as one of five types — foam, innerspring, hybrid, latex, or airbed. Innersprings are the most well-known and traditionally were the mainstay in homes nationwide. In recent years, though, other mattress types have surged in popularity.
These other mattress types have expanded their reach primarily by offering a more dynamic performance. They’ve also become more affordable and accessible with the growth of the online mattress industry.
Foam: These mattresses are made entirely with foam and no coils. They tend to provide above-average contouring to the body, pressure relief, and motion isolation, making them a good fit for side sleepers and couples. Among the foams that are used in these mattresses, memory foam is the most well-known.
Innerspring: An innerspring mattress has a coil-based support system and a few other layers. While the coils offer some support, the innerspring often lacks pressure relief. Their sleeping surface is bouncier and has limited motion isolation. With a lower price point, these are more popular among budget shoppers.
Hybrid: Hybrids have two central elements: an innerspring support core and a substantial foam comfort system. The comfort layers can include foam or latex and sometimes will even include a shorter layer of coils (called micro-coils). These mattresses provide a blend of bounce and contouring with low heat retention and can be a good fit for sleepers in any position depending on exactly how they are built.
Latex: When all of the layers of a mattress are made with latex rubber, some call it an all-latex or true-latex mattress. For simplicity’s sake, we just use the term latex mattress. These offer top-notch bounce and durability with moderate contouring. When made with natural and organic latex, they are a top pick among eco-conscious shoppers.
Airbed: Airbeds are built with an air chamber as their support core. A pump — controlled by a smart phone or remote — is built into the mattress to add or remove air with the push of a button, giving sleepers the utmost firmness and flexibility. Couples love airbeds because each side can be set to a different firmness level.
If you’re not sure what firmness level is right for you, there are a few ways to help identify what might be the best fit:
How Much Do You Weigh?
Weight is another huge factor to consider when choosing a new mattress as the sinkage, hug, feel, cooling, and support of a bed can be highly affected by how much you weigh. In fact, depending on your weight and overall body type, you may find that you need a specific type of mattress to satisfy your unique slumber needs.
Consider your sleeping position to narrow down a range.
Reflect on whether you’ve found yourself wishing for a harder or soft mattress when using your current mattress at home or if you’ve recently stayed at a hotel. For reference, most hotel mattresses are Medium to Medium Firm, which has the widest overall appeal.
Visit a local mattress store as a research mission and try out some beds. Make sure to stay on a mattress for at least 10-15 minutes to evaluate what’s comfortable.
How to Choose a Mattress for Back Pain
There are myriad potential causes of back pain, but an unsupportive mattress is one factor that should not be underestimated. In people without back problems, proper support may prevent pain from arising, and in people who already have back issues, the right mattress may help with cushioning and comfort.
Choosing the best mattress for back pain means considering the nature of that pain alongside other needs and preferences of the buyer. Some back pain is short-term and comes on suddenly. This is known as acute back pain. Other times, the pain persists over a long period of time and is known as chronic back pain. Back problems can start out as acute, such as from an injury, and become chronic.
A person with acute back pain may need only temporary relief from their mattress. This may mean using extra pillows or adjusting their sleeping position. For chronic back pain, more significant steps may be needed, such as choosing a mattress that is firmer or softer. Finding the right levels of comfort as well as pressure relief can help keep the spine properly oriented during sleep.
The optimal mattress may also depend on where a person experiences back pain.
Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain affects the bottom five vertebrae (L1-L5) in the lumbar area. It is the most common type of back pain and one of the leading reasons why Americans visit their doctor. This back region is vulnerable to bending and twisting which can harm the muscles and the spine itself.
Spending too many hours in a bad sleeping position can cause lower back aches. For side sleepers, this can arise if the shoulders and hips aren’t supported, throwing the whole spine off-kilter. For back and stomach sleepers, it may occur because of a mattress that is too soft or too firm, putting pressure on the natural curvature of the lumbar spine.
In general, side sleepers should look for Medium Soft to Medium Firm mattresses that can cushion their impact points. Back and stomach sleepers should look for Medium Firm to Firm beds that have only light conforming.
Middle and Upper Back Pain
Middle and upper back pain is far less common. The anatomy in these regions is more stable, reducing the likelihood of sprains and strains from twisting movements. Pain in these areas can be tied to more serious problems and should be checked out by a doctor.
In some cases, poor posture can create undue tension in the middle or upper back. A pressure-relieving mattress that contributes to spinal alignment can reduce the risk of this kind of pain. Having a quality pillow with the right amount of loft can also ensure that the neck and upper spine have adequate support.
What position are you in when you normally tuck in to fall asleep? And in what position do you find yourself when you wake up?
The answers to these questions can provide key insight to help choose a mattress. The parts of your body that need more support in order to maintain spinal alignment vary based on your sleeping posture. For that reason, choosing a mattress to suit your sleeping position can boost comfort and help avoid aches and pains.
Back sleepers put the greatest pressure on their lower back. If a mattress is too soft, the torso can sink in more deeply than the upper back and lower body, and this U-shape can create strain. If a mattress is too firm, there won’t be any accommodation for the slight curve in the lower back. As a result, back sleepers do best with a Medium Firm to Firm mattress with light to moderate contouring.
Side sleepers have sharp pressure points where the body is the widest, most notably at the shoulders and hips. On a too-soft mattress, those points will dip out of line with the rest of the spine. On a too-firm mattress, they will feel the impact at those points and be prone to misalignment. Consequently, side sleepers do best with Medium Soft to Medium Firm mattresses.
Stomach sleepers are like back sleepers and put the most pressure on the lumbar spine. They usually do best with a Firm mattress that can keep them out of a U-shape and that won’t feel suffocating when lying face-down on the mattress.
Combination sleepers find themselves in more than one position through the night. They typically should choose a mattress based on the position they spend the most time in. If there’s no primary position, Medium Firm offers the best bet across the sleeping positions. These sleepers should also look for a responsive mattress that facilitates easy movement on the bed.
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