Mattresses are a must have for anyone looking to get a decent night’s rest. There are plenty of mattress reviews online that will rant and rave about nearly every option available. This guide will help you understand how to cut through all the marketing-speak and find the best mattress for your own individual needs. Each mattress type and each mattress brand bring something unique to the table. Knowing when to get excited about a promotion and when to ignore it completely can help you find the best mattress to meet your needs.
There are a lot of different mattresses out there to choose from. Every mattress brand has a lineup of what they consider to be the best mattresses on the market—and they aren’t afraid to advertise them as such. To find the best mattress for you there’s a long winding road that you must first traverse. This road is filled with mattress reviews, free giveaways, one-time-offers, and even FREE SHIPPING. This guide is an attempt to help walk those seeking a better mattress into the land of sand with a bit of level-headed supervision. We’ll talk about ignoring frivolous comparisons, understanding the different types of mattresses, and even point out some notable brands. Mattress stores and online retailers are hungry to sell you a mattress and they don’t always care if they leave you with enough change for dinner. We thought the best way to start was to dive into some of the common myths that are often used to advertise mattresses.
Common Mattress Myths
There’s a lot of bullshit out here when it comes to the marketing of mattresses. Getting hyped up in salesy-ads and selling points can distract you from getting something that’s going to be a good choice for you. Sometimes you’ll find paying an extra bit of money might get a truly beneficial feature while other times paying a chunk more won’t get you squat. Just like how new cars lose a ton of value the second you drive them off the lot—buying a mattress isn’t free of pitfalls either. You’ll hear marketers ranting and raving about gel foam this, cooling system that, or even bragging about their coil counts. To a degree, each of these considerations can have an impact but when it comes to comparing similar products—it’s usually just splitting hairs. Below are some of the most commonly over-hyped features of all mattresses that make it seem like you’ll never find the best choice.
The Cooling Effect of Gel
Gel materials are often used as a substitute for, or a complement to, memory foam. This squishy material is capable of contouring to the nooks and crannies of our bodies (elbows, knees, ear lobes). While you’re shopping for a new mattress you’ll hear all about how gel materials offer superior temperature control when compared to memory foam. In cases where gel is substituted for memory foam completely and used alongside innersprings—there is some notable difference. When it comes to comparing memory foam mattresses that use a gel layer on top however—you’re not going to notice much as far as temperature goes. Getting hung up on the benefits of gel mattresses, from a temperature control perspective, is a pointless distraction.
Lumbar Support Fixes Back Pain
Maybe you’re looking for a mattress to help with your back pain? If so, you’re among millions of others that report suffering from such chronic pain. Don’t get caught up feeling like you’re not alone—really the issue is that you’re a target now. Anytime millions of people share anything in common marketers set them in their sites. You’ll hear mattresses talking about lumbar support this, lumbar support that, and maybe even adjustable lumbar support. The truth is that no amount of lumbar support is going to offset the damaging effects that a low-quality mattress is going to have on your back. Read through mattress reviews and hear what people suffering from back pain have to say. Chances are, you’ll find the best mattress for back pain probably isn’t advertised as anything lumbar related. Just in case you’re having trouble getting started—check out our article on some of the research related to mattress types and back pain issues. Spoiler alert: firmer memory foam mattresses are the best choice.
Coil Counts are Crazy
Counting coils really is like splitting hairs. There’s nothing that 600 microcoils are going to do for you that 500 microcoils wouldn’t also do. If you’re plugging up some state-of-the-art weight distribution measuring robot to test—sure you might see something pop up on the screen. The big thing to pay attention to here is the coil type. Traditional mattresses are made up of these nasty inter-woven steel traps that look like something you’d see in a slasher flick like Saw. Modern mattresses, especially the bed in a box brands, started using individually-wrapped microcoils instead of traditional innerspring designs. This helps better distribute movement by ensuring all the coils are tangled up with one another. The real novelty here is that each coil is a separate unit—not that it’s a micro coil. While having 600 coils might be better than have 150 there’s little chance you’ll notice any difference between 600 and 700.
Sleeping Is Knowing
Regardless of what any mattress salesman ever tells you—falling in love with your mattress won’t happen at first sight. Just because you laid down on 10 different models in the store doesn’t mean you have a clue how any of them are actually going to sleep. Think of it like holding a cup extended out in front of you. It’s not a bother at first but quickly becomes a task even the Hulk couldn’t complete. Muscles get tired, sore, and start to cramp over time. Unless you talked a mattress store into giving you an overnight sample you’re never going to understand how well a mattress will meet your needs until your sleep on it. To help mitigate this risk make sure anything you buy—whether it’s from an online seller or local store—offers some type of in-home trial period during which you can return your mattress for a full refund.
Online vs. Shopping Local
Mattresses are big purchases and have the potential to make many people feel uncomfortable making a purchase online. Baby Boomers spend an average of $203 on online purchases which is a far cry short of what most mattress will cost you. Many online sellers will offer financing through reputable sources such as Wells Fargo (ok, so not reputable per se) that offer competitive rate structuring. Nonetheless, spending a thousand dollars or more with a click of a button can seem unsettling to anyone.
Online mattresses are often more than 50% less in cost to comparable in-store brands
When deciding whether to buy your mattress online vs. in store consider how much you’re saving compared to how much you’re spending. Online mattresses brands sell direct to buyers, often manufacturer their own products, and offer incentives like in-home trials, free shipping, and insane warranties. These brands know they must pull out all the stops to get buyers to make big purchases online and—if you’re willing to do so—can save you a tremendous amount of money. Just how much you say? Online mattresses are often more than 50% less in cost to comparable in-store brands. That’s MSRP of course—sales prices vary too much to even wager a guess.
Most newer mattress brands offer the option to buy directly from their websites. In most cases, this is a rough equivalent to what local retailers have historically paid in wholesale cost. The difference now is the Internet has allowed brands to cut out the middlemen—thus cutting out the markup! If you’re eyeballing a particular mattress brand there’s a strong chance you can buy it direct from the manufacturer’s website. This isn’t true for most traditional mattresses like TempurPedics, Stearn & Foster, and other in-store brands. For brands like Nectar Sleep, Amerisleep, and Casper however—they’ll sell to your manufacturer direct. To shop around different mattresses online you can check out retailers like Amazon or Wayfair.
Mattress stores have become nearly as common as Waffle Houses and Gas Stations in the United States. Business like Sleepy’s, Mattress Firm, and discount mattress stores continue to pop up everywhere. There’s a limited selection in each of these stores so you won’t be able to see many varieties. In many cases, you won’t even be able to shop around for better prices on similar models since manufacturers design unique styles for particular retailers. There are some factory outlet stores and other gigantic home-goods retailers such as the Furnitureland South outlet in High Point, North Carolina which offer near-wholesale pricing—even then you’ll find it hard to beat online pricing. The kicker is that the mattresses that you are looking at in stores aren’t likely to be the ones you’re looking at online.
Before you wade into the world of retail with mattresses on your mind take a step back and get a lay of the land. There are a lot of different types of mattresses out there to choose from and if you pull the trigger before recognizing the benefits—and drawbacks—of each type you’re like to find yourself flooding your house with a waterbed. Below you’ll find a quick rundown of the different types of mattresses on the market today and what the pros and cons are of each.
Several studies have shown that memory foam mattresses are able to noticeably reduce the symptoms of lower back pain. Without question; memory foam mattresses are likely the most popular type of mattress available today and are much-improved from their original designs. More porous foams such as the BioPur make by Amerisleep offer better temperature control than original memory foam materials.
Pros: Contours to your body, avoids pressure points, absorbed movements
Cons: Prone to heat retention, poor edge support, difficult to move (if that matters to you)
The inner spring design is a term used interchangeably with the term “coil” mattresses. These are the types of mattresses we love to hate and likely the type that’s been giving you back pain all these years. These mattresses are cheap to make without elaboration and don’t really do anything well other than providing nice open spaces for air to flow through. Modern uses of microcoil substitutes offer a better transfer of motion and overall support though are costlier. Many manufacturers will try to disguise their cheap innerspring designs with plush pillow tops to mask the jutting pressure points created by large coils. Don’t be fooled—these are the mattresses of days passed.
Pros: Cheap, promote airflow, easy to move
Cons: Poor motion handling, wear out over time, cause pressure points, poor contour support.
Hybrid Foam + Inner Spring
Mattresses are way better than they used to be. The crap that passed for acceptable 10 years ago isn’t worthy of being the packaging for modern mattress designs. Hybrid designs have become quite popular in their ability to capture the benefits of both innerspring and memory foam benefits while reducing the downsides of both. For example; Tomorrow Sleep’s new hybrid memory foam + micro coil mattresses have a layer of micro coils as a base support layer and contouring foam layers on top. This allows better airflow to keep the foam from retaining too much heat while providing a buffer between hard steel and your back.
Pros: Benefits of innersprings and memory foam
Cons: Usually a bit pricier
You’re not likely to find a mattress made entirely of gel—this material is often substituted for memory foam on the topmost layer. Gel is purported by many to be a lot cooler than memory foam but we just don’t buy into it. For gels that offer more porous form design with holes—sure. The majority of gel layers aren’t going to make a difference of more than a few degrees. If you like the feel of gel-topped mattresses these might be for you, but don’t buy into the hype that they’ll feel like sleeping in a fresh summer breeze. Gel materials are popular in mattress toppers which can be an excellent low-cost choice to make a mattress you already have a bit more comfortable.
Pros: Alternative to memory foam, less sinky than memory foam
Cons: Not the thermal saviors they’re often advertised as.
A pillow top mattress is the ultimate in consumer deception. These mattresses are essentially just a set of springs with some nice fluffy padding on top. There are plenty of luxury mattresses that are “pillow tops” that are better than comparable non-pillow top designs. The advantages offered by these mattresses are only seen in comparison to inferior designs such as innersprings without any top layer consideration. That’s to say; pillow top mattresses are better than traditional coil mattresses simply because they put something between your back and hard steel. If you’re not comfortable trying a modern design and just want to get the best of yesteryear’s designs—pillow top mattresses are your best option. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet had their price discounted in cadence to their overall value—you’ll still have to shell out for these mattresses.
Pros: More body contour and top-layer support than traditional coil mattresses
Cons: Just a traditional mattress with some cushioning on top.
Natural latex mattresses are some of the most underrated products on the market. Latex comes from the Rubberwood Tree and is naturally a in liquid form. By pouring in a few secret ingredients this compound becomes a springy, comfortable, and toxin-free material well-suited for sleeping on. Mattresses such as Spindle’s Natural Latex + Organic Cotton combo. Latex offers a bouncier experience than memory foam and has less likelihood of losing form as time goes on. This material can be formed so that it provides a good flow of air to keep temperatures under control.
Pros: Decent temperature control, great edge support, super responsive.
Cons: Costs more, weighs more.
Adjustable Air (Sleep Number)
Mattresses that allow for the adjustment of firmness have become quite popular—you’ve probably heard of the Sleep Number beds. These are usually sold as a “bed” product moreso than a single mattress but it’s beneficial to understand their basic features. These beds contain a range of top layers that might be foam, polymer, or even latex. Underneath they have cells which can be inflated or deflated to add extra resistance (firmness). These are particularly useful for couples that have a dramatically-different preference for mattress firmness. An adjustable air mattress such as the Sleep Number beds allow one side of the bed to be firm while the other side sleeps plus. If you’re interested in these types of mattresses just hope that the included bed matches your décor—don’t expect to cram these things into your existing bed frame.
Pros: Can accommodate multiple firmness preferences
Cons: Must buy a whole bed—not just mattress.
Air mattresses are usually what people run into when looking for something to take on camping trips. Newer more innovative designs are meant to be substitutes for traditional mattresses in homes though they operate in much the same manner. Air mattresses are considered pretty comfortable by most standards but the use of air-tight plastics usually causes uncomfortable sweating in the night. If air mattresses are your thing—pay attention to features such as separate air chambers, silent motors, and automatic pressure controls.
Pros: Comfortable, lower in price
Cons: Can be noisy, can deflate throughout the night, cause sweating.
There’s not much to say about water beds that people interested in water beds will listen to. They’re a hassle, they put a massive load of weight on your house structure, and when one springs a leak it is a disaster. If you have animals a water bed is one of the worst choices you could ever make. One stray toenail or claw and you’ll be mopping up soggy carpet and dust-bunnies for months. If you’re interested in water beds and there’s nothing we can do to dissuade you—we suggest taking your journey onto a site like Wayfair and looking at reviews of some of their top sellers. We’ve little experience with water beds and plan to keep it that way.
Pros: Comfortable, good for body contouring
Cons: Heavy, difficult to move, high potential for disaster
Keep an open mind about the mattresses you’re looking at. There are far more mattress types than there are easily-worded categories to place them in. Don’t worry if you find a mattress with great reviews but can’t determine if it’s a memory foam, memory foam hybrid, or air mattress combo—read the reviews and consider your needs. One of the best examples of mattresses that don’t fall into definitive categories are the hyperelastic polymer mattresses from Purple. These mattresses have been engineered using a patented material designed to distribute weight as you’d never believe. The mattresses are amazing—yet they don’t really fall into any single category. Don’t be afraid to discover something new and amazing.
Know Your Brands
Mattresses come in many shapes, sizes, materials, and textures. You could spend all day comparing the differences in the basic attributes of mattresses and still be uncertain as to which might best suit your needs. For every type of mattress out there are dozens of mattress brands offering their version of the design. Shopping based on mattress type and price alone can get you closer to finding the best mattress but paying close attention to brand name is also important. The only mattress brands that most people can rattle off when asked include Serta, Sealy, Sleep Number, and maybe something like Mattress Firm. Truth be told—these brands are all built on overpriced sales models that will keep you up at night, no matter how comfortable they are. There’s been a revolution in the mattress industry the past few years that’s resulted in much better pricing—the only catch is you must be willing to shop online. There’s a ton of options but the mattress brands below are great places to start your search.
Casper is regarded by many as being the father of the bed-in-a-box mattress revolution that’s swept the market in recent years. They’ve grown their business through Guerilla marketing campaigns and direct-to-consumer pricing models backed by free shipping and solid warranties.
Favorite Mattress: The Casper
Purple is a mattress brand like few others. Their products feature a hyper-elastic polymer material that was developed on the heels of aerospace tech. Its patented design allows an unprecedented contour and the foam support based provide weight distribution and all-night support. You might recognize them from the viral YouTube campaigns inspired by Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In our opinion, Purple mattresses are “just right.”
Favorite mattress: Hyper-elastic Polymer/Foam
Tomorrow Sleep is the new kid on the block but backed by the Serta-Simmons machine—so you know their products are bound to impress. They’ve done their research and decided they didn’t want to be just another bed in a box brand like all the rest. They’ve developed hybrid mattress designs that fuse the latest memory foam technology with individually-wrapped micro-coils for a balanced feel. If we were betting on mattress designs that’ll stand the test of time—we’d put some money under one from Tomorrow Sleep
Favorite Mattress: Micro-Coil + Foam Hybrid
Nectar Sleep has carved out a unique niche for themselves being priced in the $600-$800 range. They might not win any awards for pioneering new and innovative mattress designs but they offer a great product at an incredible price. Their memory foam mattresses blow most of the competition found in local stores out of the water—for half the price! Nectar Sleep mattresses are aptly named because in our opinion they are a pretty sweet deal!
Favorite Mattress: Memory Foam
Amerisleep boasts of being American-designed and American-made. Their mattresses incorporate truly unique materials such as the BioPur memory foam and Celliant heat-dissipating material. The cover of their mattresses, through use of the Celliant material, can control temperature by converting heat energy to light! That’s impressive for anything—especially a mattress!
Favorite Mattress: Amerisleep AS3
The word “foundation” is a bit of a buzzword in the mattress industry which refers to what you set your mattress on top of. Box springs are the most-common foundation for mattresses, though metal bases come in a close second. Mattresses are fine to be placed on all types of surfaces ranging from box springs and metal bases to platform beds and simply being placed on the floor. Every local mattress store is going to try and send you home with a mattress + box spring combo and many online retailers are starting to follow suit. Box springs are cheap as hell to make since they’re just empty space and sub-par lumber. It’s an easy payday for manufacturers and people often don’t recognize what a waste of money they are because they’re so big! The box spring you’ve been using will work just fine with your new mattress as well. There’s no law that says you must get a new foundation for your new mattress and—in most cases—you’ll be better off keeping what you already have.
Bed Sizes != Mattress Sizes
Most mattresses come in a range of standard sizes such as Twin, Queen, and King. Unless you’ve built your own bed frame, chances are a standard size is going to fit just fine. The minor differences in length and width rarely affect how well your mattress fits—assuming you order the right size. Before you even start looking at mattresses measure your bed and confirm what size you need. The next measurement you want to consider is the thickness of the mattress. Most mattresses range from 8” to 14” thick which, depending on your bed frame, might not be ideal. For thinner mattresses to be placed in bedframes you’ll likely want to ensure you get a thicker mattress or use box springs. If you have a platform bed you’ll likely find thinner mattresses to suit your preference. If you’re planning on placing your mattress directly on the floor then the only things you need to measure are your bedsheets and comforters. Check our our guide on bed and mattress sizes to learn more.
Free Shipping Myth
A pillar of marketing is to always have something free to give away. People hear the word free and they’re drawn to it like a moth to a street light. Everything costs money to make and when free things are given away they are only done so to incentivize the purchase of not free things. Free shipping is one of the best examples under the sun. Anything you get that offers free shipping has it built into the price somehow. Retail giants like Amazon can recover a lot of shipping cost in less direct ways but when most retailers offer you something with free shipping it really means “we already added shipping to the price.”
Everything costs money to make and when free things are given away they are only done so to incentivize the purchase of not free things
Free shipping is just a tax for living among a majority that gets confused by simple math. Now—we’re no hypocrites—we get caught hook, line, and sinker by the free shipping offers too! We’re using this as a more extreme example to illustrate how little actual value you’re getting with most free items—thought the perceived value is often high. The best example here is the free pillows that many brands give away with purchase of a mattress. These are just cotton sacks full of chopped up mattress parts that were going to be thrown away! Nectar sleep is a good example of this practice; their mattresses are great, priced perfectly, but they still offer 2 free pillows with every purchase to get people excited. It’s nothing to hold against them but make sure not to wind up believing they’re giving you anything you couldn’t make yourself with an empty pillowcase and the contents of your sock drawer.
Mattresses are essential to our daily lives and shopping for them shouldn’t be something you are afraid to do. Buying a mattress online is the best way to get a good deal on a quality mattress—hand’s down. Bed in a box brands have taken off such a slice of the market in recent years that some local stores are starting to offer more competitive pricing now but still can’t compare. Brands like Casper and Tomorrow Sleep offer some of the best mattresses on the market today and are the products of years of research and millions in product development. As you shop for your mattress keep in might the different types, different benefits of each, and know what to expect for your budget
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