Choosing the Right Mattress

Mattress Cushioning
The top layers of mattress cushioning are often what sell the customer. Comfort is what most people look for. But consider what the padding is made of. A cotton-polyester blend on top of polyurethane foam doesn't breathe well, yet this is the material used in many mattresses. Wool is a better material for layers closest to your body. Wool whisks moisture away from your body and keeps you dry while you sleep.

Most of us don't put enough thought into choosing the right mattress, especially considering how much time we spend using it.

We spend about one-third of our lives asleep, and most of this time is spent on a mattress. Despite the amount of time we spend in bed, many of us ignore our mattress until the springs start poking us through the mattress pad. But a mattress has a lot to do with the quality of sleep and, therefore, with how we feel during the day.

So give some thought and attention to the type of mattress you use to ensure a good night's sleep and a well-rested feeling the following day. When selecting a mattress, you need to make decisions about firmness, type of mattress and bed, and size.

Firmness

Don't assume soft and fluffy is best. Poor support can lead to muscle stiffness as well as neck and back pain. Make sure your mattress isn't too soft and doesn't contain bumps, valleys, or depressions. Of course, too stiff isn't great, either. A mattress that is too hard can put pressure on the shoulders and hips. The ideal surface is gently supportive and firm, not rock hard or squishy. The mattress should mold to your body while supporting it.

Keep in mind that mattresses don't last forever. Gradually, over time, they lose their firmness and support. The average life of a mattress is 10 years, although most people keep them much longer. Once your mattress has developed lumps and sags, it is definitely time to replace it.

Type

Mattresses come in different types. What are your options?

  • Polyurethane foam mattresses. These come in different degrees of firmness but often make people hot while sleeping. As you sleep, your body loses a pint or more of moisture per night. When a mattress doesn't "breathe" well or allow air to circulate, it can make you feel hot and sweaty.

  • Innerspring mattresses. These mattresses consist of rows of tempered steel coils layered between insulation and padding. Firmness and durability is based on the thickness of the wire and number of coils. The higher the coil count, the firmer the mattress.

  • Waterbeds. Waterbeds don't breathe, and they tend to sag under your body's heaviest parts. Some people love waterbeds and wouldn't sleep on anything else. But before you buy one, sleep on someone else's to see if it meets your expectations.

Most people choose innerspring mattresses because they offer many options for firmness, are cooler and drier because the air circulates around the coils, and are widely available.

Size

Along with deciding what kind of mattress you want, you need to figure out what size. As a rule, bigger is better. You don't want to fight for space every night or get kicked, elbowed, or shoved on a regular basis. A healthy sleeper moves around 15 to 30 times during the night, and cramped conditions can make sleeping awkward, uncomfortable and altogether frustrating. Indeed, some decades-old research suggests that sleeping in the same bed as someone else is less restful than sleeping alone. Also, as you and your bed partner get older, your sleep will become more restless and you may require extra room in bed.

So, you can either consider sleeping in separate beds or get the largest mattress that fits in your bedroom and your budget. You might also want to try one of the newer mattresses that, according to their manufacturers, are designed to minimize the movement and disruption one bed partner feels when the other tosses, turns, and gets in and out of bed.



Regardless of which mattress or bed you buy, always try it out in the store before making it yours. Salespeople expect you to lie on their beds as part of your decision-making process. Assume your normal sleeping position, and stay there for a while to determine how it feels. If you have a bed partner, have them join you on the mattress. Even better, ask if the mattress comes with a trial period that allows you to exchange or return it if it's not right for you. And remember: Be picky -- you'll be spending a lot of your life on that mattress.

Now you have the right mattress, but what about your pillow? Learn how to pick one on the next page.

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