Customize Your Mattress
Like so many things these days, mattresses can be adjusted to suit just you.
Split the difference: If you and your partner can't agree, pay a little more and order a mattress that's half firm and half less so. Another solution would be to check out our round-up of the best mattresses for couples, some of which offer two firmness levels in a single bed!
Pump it up: One maker, Select Comfort, uses side-by-side air pockets and an electric pump to allow separate adjustments in firmness in its Sleep Number beds. Its new smartphone app will monitor your sleep, helpful if you want to tweak the setting.
Fill out a form: New online company Helix will customize a foam-and-microcoil mattress based on your age, height, weight, and favored sleeping position. Over time the company's Netflixesque questionnaire and algorithm should become ever keener. Till then, there's a comfort guarantee.
What's Your Body Type?
Sleep style is important, but so is your physique.
Big + heavy:
You need extra support from the core, especially if you sleep on your back. Curvy bodies, heavy or light, need a thicker, softer comfort layer.
Thin + bony:
Look for a softer, thinner comfort layer so you don't float too high over the support layer. If you are a stomach sleeper, slightly firmer will do.
Latex, Foam, or Both
Mad scientists are cooking up fresh latex and foam formulas and sandwiching them in artful new ways so that a mattress can omit springs altogether.
Natural latex, made from rubber-tree sap, is prized for its resilience and durability and is a good choice for the comfort layer. There are two ways it is molded, called Dunlop and Talalay, but more important is to test it for a buoyant, not bouncy, feel.
Foams are typically made from petroleum, though alternatives like soybean and other vegetable oils are increasingly going into the mix. Some makers also add gel.
Latex-foam blends are common because all-rubber latex is expensive. Don't assume a "natural latex" label means 100 percent rubber.
Memory foam responds to body heat and weight by "melting" around pressure points (while remaining firm, for better support, deeper down). It has its fans, partly because it doesn't jiggle, though others find its slow response to changes in sleep position and "sleeping hot" a problem.
Safety Check Look at the label to see whether the materials used in the mattress meet independent organizations' standards. CertiPUR-US certifications mean the foam in the mattress has been tested for formaldehyde and other chemicals. For latex, there are Global Organic standards. Bear in mind that both of these apply to components used to make mattresses, not for the mattress as a whole.
Innovative foams are rated for such things as their ILD (indentation load deflection) and open vs. closed cells, but never mind: Manufacturers do the thinking so you won't have to, and what's key is your comfort. (Note: Old-school springs are said to be better for, ahem, romance.)
Mattresses are made with a softer top, or comfort layer, and a denser middle core, or support layer, which traditionally holds steel springs. Watch out for springs that allow motion transfer from one side of the bed to the other, a.k.a. "partner disruption." Lower-gauge springs offer the most support, so they may be best for folks who are big and heavy. Thinner, higher-gauge springs can be more responsive, or springier. But when talk turns to coil counts and springs that are "oven-baked," "tempered," or made of titanium, keep in mind that what matters is how your body responds when you give the mattress a whirl: The goal is to feel both supported and cushioned.
Shown: It's best to have springs encased in separate pockets, or even "socks," as seen in this sample from Room & Board, so they can flex separately to respond to shifting positions and provide support where it's needed.
Chemical-Free, Fire Resistant Options
Used to be that mattresses met fire-safety standards by blending scary chemicals into the flammable foam. But starting in 2007, manufacturers shifted to thin barriers made from fire-resistant natural or synthetic fibers, so if you're buying a new mattress, you can rest easier.
Some fibers, such as wool (shown), sisal, and thistle, keep you cool while also providing fire resistance.
You're away from the usual stresses and strains and find yourself sleeping like a baby. Convinced you'd sleep better if you could just take that hotel mattress home? Maybe you can. Ask at the front desk—major brands like Simmons supply many hotels. The website shophbd.com offers Stearns AP Foster and Sealy mattresses made for the Hyatt and the Ritz-Carlton. Saatva is a luxury brand that offers hotel-style sleep at an affordable price.
Add a Base
• Traditional mattresses are designed to lie on a stiff wire foundation, which acts as a shock absorber, extending the mattress's life. Many of today's models do fine on slats, platforms, and boxes covered with foam and fabric.
• Ask what the mattress maker recommends; the long-term warranty may depend on using a certain base. That doesn't mean you have to buy them as a set.
• Flexible bases, like Sleep Number's, here, can elevate your head, knees, and feet and turn your bed into a chaise longue. Sleeping with a snorer? Sleep Number's remote control allows you to raise your partner's head.
Integrated pillow tops are giving way to free-floating toppers that are purchased separately. While they can be pricey, they are a way to experiment with new-age options like gel honeycombs (IntelliBed) or plastic yarn spun into washable springy slabs (Airweave). Note: You still need a good-quality support layer underneath.
Find the Right Pillow
Now that you've found a mattress that keeps your spine aligned, don't forget the supporting player: a pillow that will continue that alignment by keeping cricks out of your neck. Unfortunately, pillows generally don't come with comfort guarantees, and it may take a few tries to get the combination of softness and support that's right for you. Now all you need is the perfect set of sheets.
This originally appeared in Read This Before You Buy a New Mattress, the comprehensive buying guide.
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