How to Pick Your Perfect Mattress

Ready for a new mattress? Here's how to find the one that suits you best.

From the WebMD Archives

Getting a good night's sleep depends on a lot of different factors -- comfort, stress level, room temperature – but to get it right, you've got to start with the basics and your mattress is the first building block to a restful slumber.

If you're in the market for a new mattress and have recently taken a stroll down the aisle of a bedding store, you know that there is a dizzying array from which to choose. How do you know which mattress is best for you?

To start, says Arya Nick Shamie, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center, the mattress needs to support your body in a neutral position, one in which your spine has a nice curvature and your buttocks, heels, shoulders, and head are supported in proper alignment

"If the mattress is too firm, it will push on those main pressure points and take you out of alignment," Shamie tells WebMD. "If it's too soft, those pressure points won't be properly supported, so your whole body flops back." Both of these scenarios can lead to an achy morning.

Generally speaking, one type or brand of bed isn't better than another, says Michael Breus, PhD, a WebMD sleep expert and author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep. But he does find that a firmer bed seems to be better for people with lower back pain.

In fact, researchers in Spain studied people with long-term back pain and found that on a 10-point hard-to-soft scale people who slept on a medium-to-firm mattress (5.6 on the scale) had less back pain than those who slept on a softer mattress.

Is It Time for a New Mattress?

How do you know if the bed you're sleeping on is the right one?

"If you wake up in the morning and have some low back pain and can stretch and get rid of it in 15 or 30 minutes, that means you're on an inappropriate mattress for you," Breus says.

The right mattress, on the other hand, is one on which you feel no pressure, almost like you're floating in air, Breus says.

If you're looking for a new mattress, experts suggest testing it in the store and laying down on each mattress in the position in which you normally sleep. Breus suggests spending at least 10 to 15 minutes on the bed. And, bring your own pillow! The more you can replicate the way you'll be sleeping on the mattress once you get it home, the better your chances of picking the right one.

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