According to researchers, the average person spends about one-third of their life in bed, either sleeping or trying to. You’d think that with that kind of statistic, we’d be a little more diligent when shopping around for a mattress, but when they can cost thousands of dollars – and that’s before you add a frame, pillows and bedding – it’s understandable that not everyone can afford to be picky.
But a good night’s sleep can be life-changing for some. Being well-rested positively affects our mental and physical health, our relationships, and more. And having a quality mattress can make all the difference in achieving that.
The average mattress has a lifespan of about 7-10 years, though things like original quality and upkeep can influence this. It’s important to note if you opt for a spring mattress instead of foam, that there will be a lifespan to that spring, regardless of the overall mattress quality. If you find your spring bed getting uncomfortable after some time, you can opt for a topper as a temporary solution but know you might need to consider an upgrade soon. For foam beds, mattress toppers shouldn’t make much of a difference, but they can be used if that’s your personal preference.
If your mattress is sagging or causing you to wake up with back pain, it might be time to replace it. We spoke to Akhil Chhatre, MD, the Director of Spine Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins, about what to consider when purchasing a new mattress, be it for the first time or as an upgrade.
Good support is the biggest deciding factor
Per Dr. Chhatre, if you don’t have any extenuating health conditions, you’re probably safe to pick from the wide range of available mattress options, though he does note that “you want at least a medium level of support for the long term.” This is based on the principle of Newton’s second law of physics, meaning you want to be able to provide the same amount of support that your body is putting down.
If you do have a history of neck, back, or hip pain (or some other musculoskeletal ailment) it’s better to consult with your physician when choosing. As a general rule, though, you’ll want to look into something that provides more stability. “It doesn’t have to be the hardest thing like a plank of wood,” says Chhatre, “but certainly something that offers good support.” The key here is alleviating the tension in your body’s structure.
And if you’re wondering whether your sleep position should be a deciding factor when choosing, the answer is… not really. “We change positions during our sleep, believe it or not, so you could start out on your side and you might end up on the other side or your back,” so focusing on the level of support should be the priority.
What to look out for when buying a mattress
Between busy schedules and prioritizing convenience, a lot of people tend to shop online for mattresses and end up not knowing what exactly they are getting. A good starting point involves doing online research, but be aware that many reviews are incentivized by affiliate links. Some direct-to-consumer brands have showrooms, which makes it easy to try before you buy.
Aside from that, most companies offer a 120-day trial period. During this time, Dr. Chhatre says to look out for any change in sleep quality, pain, function, and soreness throughout the day, as those will be the best indicators of whether or not things are working out for you.
For those of us who happen to sleep with a partner, things can get a little more complicated if both people have different needs. To combat this, Chhatre recommends getting a mattress with customized side settings for individual needs or, if that option is out of your price range, two twin or full-size mattresses side by side. Lastly, he also notes that your choice of pillow will affect your sleep quality just as much as the mattress—so don’t invest in a good mattress without doing the same for your pillows.