With so many mattress options to choose from, buying a new one can be overwhelming. This is especially true if you have back or neck pain—the right or wrong mattress can make the difference between spending the day feeling good or in pain.
While choosing a mattress is ultimately a matter of personal preference, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Learn about different mattress materials.
Before you buy, familiarize yourself with the most common mattress types and how they are constructed.
- Innerspring mattresses use coils, which often provide a traditional bounce feel and strong support.
- Latex mattresses typically offer more bounce and responsiveness than innerspring mattresses, and they tend to sleep cooler.
- Memory foam mattresses are designed to contour to the body, which may lead to pressure relief. Some users of memory foam report that the material sleeps warm.
- Hybrid mattresses combine memory foam or latex layers atop an innerspring mattress, often with the goal of providing a mix of softness and support.
- Air mattresses use an air pump to inflate the mattress to the desired firmness level. Typically, each side of the bed uses a separate chamber of air to accommodate two sleepers with differing preferences.
Mattresses are also rated based on firmness. In general, a mattress that is too old or too soft may not support the spine well enough.
2. See what your health care provider thinks.
If you have a back or neck condition, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about what he or she recommends. You should aim for the neck and low back to be in a neutral position while lying on the mattress. This promotes good spinal alignment. While doctors are not mattress experts, they know your medical history and may have good advice from that point of view.
3. Visit stores to test out mattresses.
Go to a mattress store and give yourself plenty of time to browse. Take off your shoes and lie down on a few different mattresses for at least 10 minutes each. Don’t worry about feeling self-conscious—this is an important purchase, so take your time.
4. Watch out for gimmicks.
While sellers will label mattresses as "orthopedic" or "medically-approved," there is no medical organization that officially certifies mattresses to carry these labels. Mattresses may have orthopedic-friendly features, but no medical group verifies these claims.
5. Be aware that firm mattresses aren’t always best.
Think twice before buying a hard or firm mattress. Some research has shown that the best mattress for low back pain is a medium firm mattress rather than a firm mattress. 1 Radwan A, Fess P, James D, et al. Effect of different mattress designs on promoting sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment in adults with or without back pain; systematic review of controlled trials. Sleep Health. 2015; 1(4):257-67. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2015.08.001 There is a difference between firm support and firm feel. You want firm support with a comfortable feel. Comfort will be determined by your personal preference.
6. Read reviews from real customers.
Pay little attention to what mattress companies say about themselves, as they have to market their own products in a positive light. Seek out unbiased reviews from people who have purchased the mattress you are interested in. Read a mix of positive, negative, and middle-of-the-road reviews.
7. Ask for recommendations online.
Announce on your social media accounts that you are looking for a new mattress, and ask friends and family members to post their suggestions. Consider including details about your health condition, as some people might have a similar experience and can give more specific recommendations. You could also visit Spine-health’s Back and Neck Pain Support Group on Facebook and ask people who are in a similar situation as you.
8. Think about adjustable beds.
If you find you are more comfortable sitting in a recliner than lying down, try an adjustable bed. This option allows you to elevate your head and knees slightly, which may relieve lower back pressure.
9. Look for generous trial periods and return policies.
Many mattress companies have a trial period, guaranteeing free returns within a certain time frame if you are unsatisfied with their product. Make sure you read the fine print and understand all the details.
10. Check the warranty.
Before you buy, verify that there is a warranty for the mattress, in case it breaks down or is defective. Often a good mattress will have a minimum of a 10-year full replacement or non-prorated warranty.
11. Protect your investment.
Don't forget some kind of waterproof mattress protector. Mattress stains will void your warranty, even if they have nothing to do with a future defect.
12. Remember: higher price does not always equal higher quality.
It is tempting to assume that the more you pay, the better the mattress. But a high price tag does not always guarantee high quality—and it certainly does not guarantee you will personally find the mattress comfortable. Research the materials, and let personal preference be your guide.
A mattress is an important investment that can affect the health of your spine and the quality of your sleep, so take the time to find the mattress that is right for you.