Your mattress is an important component of your sleep experience and bedroom designs. When it comes time to purchase the piece of furniture where you’ll probably spend a third of your time, don’t skimp on the research, and rather consider it an important part of your bedroom remodel. Carefully consider your options for comfort, material and cost. Read on for more detail about mattress sizes, whether you need a memory foam mattress, and other mattress and bedroom ideas. 

Mattress sizes

Mattress sizes vary slightly by manufacturer, but generally fall close to these ranges:

Twin mattress: 38 inches wide, 75 inches long

Twin XL mattress: 39 inches wide, 80 inches long

Full size mattress: 54 inches wide, 74 inches long

Queen size mattress: 60 inches long, 80 inches wide

King size mattress: 76 inches long, 80 inches wide

California king size mattress: 72 inches wide, 84 inches long

How firm should my mattress be?

Mattresses come in five grades of firmness:

Firm: Like sleeping on a carpeted floor

Cushion firm: Like sleeping on grass

Plush: Like sleeping on stack of comforters

Pillow top: Like sleeping on a stack of pillows

Ultra pillow top: Like sleeping on a cloud

Each person will have different preferences, but sleep disorder specialists make these suggestions:

If you sleep on your stomach and weigh more than 150 pounds, firm or comfort firm.

If you sleep on your side, you should consider going one level softer, as weight gravitates in this position and can lead to numbness.

Plush, cushion firm or firm are ideal for people with lower back pain. 

Basic types of mattresses

Mattresses come in a variety of types, each of which handles your body weight in a different way, including coil and memory foam mattresses. Some provide greater support, some offer longevity, while others claim to do both. The most common type found in stores is what's known as "innerspring." Just as the name says, this type has wire coils underneath mattress padding which act as springs to keep you comfortable and supported. Coil types have four subsets: Open, offset, pocket and continuous, each of which offers different benefits.

Open coils are the oldest design, and use vertical hourglass-shaped coils which are connected to adjoining coils using small wire springs. This allows the coils to evenly disperse weight, but also causes them to wear relatively quickly - as a result, open coil mattresses are one of the least expensive options. Offset coils use square heads and cylinder shaped coils rather than an hourglass design; this makes them both more durable, and more expensive.

Pocket coils, meanwhile, are individually wrapped in fabric sleeves. This lets them contour more effectively your body, and won't cause other parts of the mattress to sink or deform. Without the benefit of surrounding coils, however, heavier users may find this type of mattress provides less support. Finally, continuous coils use rows of wires all attached to each other by helical springs. This allows a significant deflection of weight across the mattress as a whole, making it one of the longest-lasting types.

Spring mattress construction

Spring mattresses are among the most common mattress styles. (Photo by David Massey)

Memory foam mattress options

A memory foam mattress is a common alternative to the coil style. Memory foam was developed by NASA, debuted as a consumer product in the 1980s, and quickly became a popular material for bedding because of its ability to precisely match body shape and then bounce back to its original form when not in use. Memory foam mattresses come in a variety of firmness levels, and are typically more expensive than coil models, but are not for everyone. Because of their pliable nature, these mattresses can seem hotter than other types, and some people find them uncomfortable to lie on for extended periods. Over time, this type of mattress can also experience "cratering," which occurs when depressions in the foam are slow in returning to their original shape.

Latex foam is another option. With greater elasticity than memory foam, a latex product seems springy as opposed to solid, and often feels as though it is "pushing" against you when you sleep, trying to uncompress. Some people like this sensation as it provides a sense of firmness, while others find it uncomfortable. Even if you have latex allergies, it is usually possible to enjoy a latex mattress, since it shouldn't contact your skin directly, and the materials blends used by manufacturers have a far lower chance of triggering a reaction.

Other types of mattresses

An air mattress is filled with pressurized air, which offers adjustable firmness.

The hybrid mattress blends two or more kinds of beds, such as memory foam and innersprings or memory foam and air. An adjustable mattress, such as a sleep number bed, often uses a hybrid design, with changes in air pressure altering firmness.

A memory foam mattress topper, while not providing all the benefits of a complete memory foam mattress, nonetheless provides an affordable alternative and still increases comfort. 

Do I need a new mattress?

Before you buy a new mattress, consider why you need one. If you’re sleeping poorly, make sure you’re not dealing with sleep apnea or other kinds of sleep disorders. Also consider your environment. Is your bedroom too light or too noisy? Do kids and pets try to take up valuable sleeping real estate? Is it too hot or too cold for comfort? Even the choice of the best bedroom colors for sleep can affect your rest. The mattress is just one component of a restful night’s sleep, so be sure your bedroom decorating or sleeping room design isn’t contributing to your problem.

Customers at mattress shop

Consider all your options when buying a new mattress. (Photo by David Massey)

Shopping for the right mattress

While reading about mattress types gives you the basics, to really find what works you need to try some on for size. Major department stores and specialty bedding stores both carry mattresses, and have showrooms where you can test out a new mattress before you make a purchase. Local mattress stores often offer unique experience, first-hand knowledge and value. 

Try more than one type, and spend more than a few minutes on each bed to find the best mattress for you — 10 to 15 minutes is recommended to really get a feel the product. This will let you evaluate not only firmness but temperature and overall comfort; be wary of any mattress store salesperson who tells you to "hurry up" or claims that all beds are essentially the same.

Try not to overthink price. A more expensive mattress doesn't necessarily mean a better night’s sleep. The best mattress for you is the one that’s most comfortable, even if it’s the least expensive.

Don’t be fooled by mattress myths. Advertising scares of dust mites adding weight to beds or ambiguous lifetimes such as every eight to 10 years are meant to get shoppers in the door. Your body will tell you when you need a new mattress – when you’re not getting good sleep, then you know it’s time to start looking.

By the way, don’t forget about the frame, either. The best mattress in the world won’t make a difference if an unsupportive frame allows a dip in uncomfortable places. Make sure you invest in a solid bed frame with a center support, a rail down the middle and a leg going down to the floor, not just slats across the frame.

Getting a great sleep means having the right mattress, and that means knowing what types are out there, how they support you, and taking the time to test before you rest.

Mattress warranties

Also make sure to ask about warranties. Most big mattress companies attach guarantees to their products for five, ten or twenty years, and will replace them in the event of faulty coils or torn memory foam. General wear and tear won't be covered, nor will things like pet or food stains, but because you'll typically own the same mattress for at least five years (and up to a dozen) companies are very interested in making sure you purchase from them again, rather than switching to a competitor. 

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