So you need a new mattress — but what should you get?
That’s a great question! I just found myself in the same position. A few years ago I bought an expensive name brand mattress that felt great in the store…and slowly started killing me. When l I reinjured my back this past summer and it just wouldn’t heal, I began to suspect my mattress. A few weeks ago my suspicions were confirmed when I stayed in a hotel for a few nights, and my back pain got a lot better… until I got home. So it’s time for a new mattress!
So many mattress options confront us that it’s no wonder patients ask me which mattress they should buy. Soft, firm or something in between? Inner spring, memory foam, latex, air or some combination? Pillowtop or customer topper or feather bed? And just how much does a good mattress cost? Just like televisions (or wedding dresses), mattress models start around $500 but the scale goes up to premium models costing more than $5000! And no one mattress works for everybody: it’s a very personal choice.
Inner Spring: the plain old-fashioned mattress. These can range from soft to firm. Most innersprings these days are pillow top mattresses (I think so you won’t be able to flip it when it starts to sag and you’ll have to buy a new one). The classic innerspring is perennially popular, but you can also find hybrids with memory foam or gels.
Memory Foam: a polyurethane foam made from oil. Polyurethane foams have been around for a while, but memory foam was developed by NASA in 1966, eventually released to the public domain, and popularized for mattresses by Tempur-Pedic. Memory foam is exceptionally comfortable because it molds to the body in response to both heat and pressure. Of course, it also traps heat, which some people find uncomfortable, although newer mattresses include gels to dissipate that heat. Memory foams also come in different levels of density, viscosity, and resilience, which can be combined for different effects, so there are a lot of options available — some Tempur-Pedic mattresses have 9 different types of layered memory foam! Other issues to be aware of before purchasing a memory foam include off-gassing (when unwrapped they release chemicals for a few weeks), and their energy absorbency, which means they absorb motion, which can make it difficult for infants and small children to adjust position if sleeping on them. For this reason it is not recommended that you put infants down to sleep on memory foam mattresses. Companies like Tempur-Pedic and Serta are known for their memory foam mattresses, but smaller companies I never heard there mattresses to make them too. These mattresses can also vary quite a bit in price. A name brand will cost you quite a bit, while a less well known brand might cost you less than $1000. Consumer Reports provides mattress ratings that may help guide your choice, but always test the mattress before you buy.
Latex: the bounciest mattress around! Latex is made from rubber trees, a sustainable natural material. They have a really bouncy feel, but they don’t trap heat or smell. They can be layered or blended with other materials like memory foam or gels. All of those factors help make latex mattresses very popular, and it’s nice to know that according to Sleep Like the Dead, latex mattresses mostly have higher-than-average customer satisfaction ratings. However, these mattresses can be pretty expensive, and because the price point keeps some consumers away, they can be hard to find in showrooms for testing.
Air: adjustable air chambers surrounded by padding. The famous Sleep Number Bed is the most well known of these. The mattress can be inflated to your “perfect “ level of comfort. These mattresses can be good for couples who have different preferences in firmness.
Waterbeds: water chambers on top of a platform base, without additional padding. Water displaces at the heaviest pressure points of your body, relieving pressure but causing you to sag into the mattress. While some people find waterbeds comfortable, I do not recommend them.
Many people would prefer to find an environmentally friendly mattress. There are many options available, from latex to wool blends, and they can vary quite a bit. Most green options will be found at local vendors, so if that interests you make sure you do a local web search to find vendors in your area.