Of all the elements that comprise a well-made bed, your mattress may be the most important part. When it does what it's supposed to do, this foundational bedding component provides the proper balance of support and comfort that you need to sleep restfully in proper body alignment.
These two things are actually technical criteria — according to Terry Cralle, RN, a clinical sleep educator and sleep consultant for Saatva. "Comfort is the ability of the sleep surface to distribute a person's body weight to relieve pressure," she says. "Support refers to the ability of the sleep surface to maintain spinal alignment during sleep."
Conversely, a worn-out or overly stiff mattress can severely affect your sleep hygiene and potentially exacerbate body aches and even allergies, depending on the firmness and type of material of the product. But how do you know when it's really time to start shopping for a new mattress? Most of the sleep experts we talked to about the lifespan of a mattress gave a range around 7 to 10 years, along with other variables to be on the lookout for.
The lifespan of a mattress ranges around 7 to 10 years.
"There are a number of other signs that your mattress may need replacing," says Allen Platek, vice-president of new product development at Tempur Sealy International. "First, there are visible body impressions that are over 1.5 inches deep. Body impressions will develop in all mattresses, but when they get to be too deep, they will interfere with your sleep. It's also an issue when you start waking up with aches and pains that weren’t there when you went to bed."
The aches and pains that one experiences from sleep can be attributed to myriad causes, from inheriting an old mattress that was never quite the right fit, to body changes due to aging and weight gain, to chronic conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia. Sharing your bed with a partner (along with any pets or kids who wiggle their way in) can also unfortunately cause achy or groggy mornings.
Lorenzo Turicchia, Ph.D., a sleep scientist at Bedgear, advises buyers to hone in on the exact location in the body that you're experiencing the most discomfort. He says: "Those who suffer from hip and shoulder pain would be best-suited to look for soft, yet supportive mattresses that can help to elevate pressure buildup and support proper alignment while sleeping. Neck and shoulder pain, however, could be associated with one’s need for a more supportive pillow."
While upgrading your sleep surface may not be a cure-all, the difference in restfulness and overall well-being can be considerable. And fortunately, there are plenty of materials and firmnesses to choose from on the mattress market today.
We're breaking down the differences between the most prominent types below, so you can narrow your search for the mattress of your dreams.
Memory-Foam and Latex Mattresses
Foam mattresses comprise multiple layers of memory foam and support foam to help alleviate pressure on the body. Latex mattresses, though not as common on the market, have a similar feel to foam, but the material is usually naturally derived, very durable, and more hypoallergenic than synthetic foam.
"Memory foam tends to offer more orthopedic support and it conforms to relieve pressure points," says W. Christopher Winter, MD, a sleep medicine subspecialist. "It also tends to prevent the transmission of motion well." The flexible nature of foam can feel great to those who'd prefer to sink into their mattress a bit, rather than lie flat on top. They are also a good choice for those with a bed partner who tends to sleep in a different position, to prevent motion transfer.
"Both memory-foam and latex mattresses are known to help prevent 'roll-together' when sleeping with a partner," notes Cralle, the sleep consultant for Saatva.
Just keep in mind that while many memory-foam mattresses are engineered for enhanced airflow, this material tends to be very dense and prone to heat retention.
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Innerspring mattresses offer a different support structure than memory foam, and are usually more breathable. "By design, innerspring mattresses have a buoyant feel," Cralle says. "Innerspring mattresses at their core contain a series of steel coils or springs — anywhere from a couple hundred to a thousand — that give shape and support to the bed. The more coils there are, the more the bed can contour to a person’s body type and weight."
Though these types of mattresses usually err on the taller side and tend to not be available in bed-in-a-box form, they still offer a lot of versatility in their construction. They are springier but not necessarily firmer than memory foam, and they usually have better edge support. Some innerspring mattresses have very flexible springs for more contoured support or a pillow-top surface layer for added cushiness, so users can still experience a cozy, tucked-in feeling combined with the active support of springs.
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As the name suggests, hybrid mattresses comprise a combination of foam and coils, and this construction is pretty unique from brand to brand. "They have more support than a standard memory-foam mattress and commonly feature pocketed coil technologies, which reduce motion transfer caused by tossing and turning for a more restful night’s sleep," Turicchia says.
Hybrid mattresses, unlike innersprings, are widely available in bed-in-a-box delivery for added convenience (meaning that you don't have to schedule white-glove delivery or transport the mattress home from a showroom yourself). Their balanced feel is a good starting point for people who'd like something a little more low-profile than innerspring, but want something more bouncy and breathable than memory foam.
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