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Buying a Mattress Without Trying the Mattress

BY: Jolene Gilbert | Aug 22, 2016

Woman Sleeping on Mattress

Buying a mattress is a major decision. After all, you’ll be spending 33% of your life on it, whether you get the recommended eight hours of sleep each night or just surf your smartphone under the covers. But many people are reluctant to purchase a new mattress online. How do you know you’re getting the right one if you can’t stretch out on a floor model at the store first?

Overcome this reluctance, however, and the rewards are great—often in the form of a better price and a much more convenient delivery. And so long as you know which questions to ask, you can get the right mattress for your needs on the very first buy-click.

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Getting Started

The best place to begin your search for a new mattress, ironically, is your old one. Check the tag for the manufacturer and model number. If it’s a fairly recent model, you can use this information to find detailed specs online at the manufacturer’s website, including where the mattress falls on the industry's soft/firm spectrum:

Soft —> Pillowtop —> Medium/Plush —>  Firm —> Extra Firm

For older or discontinued models, you may need to contact the manufacturer to determine a comparable recent model.

Next, determine what you like about your mattress—and what could be better—by answering these three questions:

How is the Mattress Support?

Support is the first and foremost job of any mattress. You want the mattress to fill in the contours of your body so that your spine is supported no matter what position you snooze in. If you tend to wake up feeling sore, you’re likely not getting enough support. If your shoulders or hips are out of alignment, you’re likely getting too much support.

Is It a Comfortable Mattress?

Here’s an easy test: lie down on your current mattress and time how long it takes before you feel the need to shift positions. You should be able to lie comfortably for several minutes. If not, your mattress is either too firm or too soft for your personal preferences, which brings us to the final question …

Is It a Firm Mattress or a Soft Mattress?

A firm mattress and a soft mattress can both offer the same support, but have a very different feel. For side sleepers, a soft mattress tends to put less pressure on their shoulders, hips, and knees. For stomach or back sleepers, however, a firm mattress is usually preferable, as it helps keep the neck in alignment.

If you determine that you need a firmer or a softer mattress, be careful not to over-correct. For example, if your current mattress is considered soft and you want something firmer, make your next one medium/plush rather than jumping up to firm. Only jump two levels if you’re extremely unhappy with your current mattress.

Choosing Your Mattress Type

The five most popular mattress types each offer their own benefits in terms of isolating motion and controlling temperature. Here’s what you’ll need to keep in mind:

Innerspring Mattress

Innerspring Mattress

Most people’s conception of a mattress—the foundation is a series of metal coils that compress when you lie down and spring back when you get up. Because the coils are tied together to produce strong support, they move in tandem. As such, you'll likely experience some side-to-side transfer when your partner shifts. Generally considered very good. The materials used are often light and breathable, which helps air flow throughout the night. Consider upgrading to individually wrapped coils. They contour to your body better and help reduce side-to-side motion transfer.

Pillow Top Mattress

Pillow Top Mattress

An innerspring mattress with a soft, plush layer of padding on top that looks (and functions) like a giant pillow. Beyond providing comfort, the pillowy layer helps diffuse your partner’s movement, making you less likely to feel it. The thick cushion naturally retains heat, so if you tend to sleep hot, you may find this less comfortable than other mattress options. Breathable or temperature control materials: look for a gel-infused foam or breathable wool to help you stay cool.

Memory Foam Mattress

Memory Foam Mattress

This high-density material gives way when pressure is applied and quickly comes back when it’s relieved. Memory foam tends to get higher satisfaction ratings than innerspring, partly because the material absorbs a lot, so you don’t feel your partner’s every move. If you tend to sleep hot, you may find that the material can get warm overnight. Multiple layers: different types of foam will do different things. A gel-infused foam will help with temperature control, whereas a higher-density foam will be more supportive.

Gel-Infused Memory Foam Mattress

Gel-Infused Memory Foam Mattress

An upgrade from the basic memory foam mattress, you get the benefits of the high-density, supportive materials with better temperature control. The gel options are just as good as the standard memory foam ones at minimizing movement from one side to the other. Cooling beads are injected into the foam, which helps draw heat away from the body and keep you cooler and more comfortable as you sleep. Some manufacturers offer air flow foam. Found underneath the gel-infused layer; it further promotes air circulation and cooler sleep.

Hybrid Mattress

Hybrid Mattress

Can’t decide? A hybrid mattress treats you to a mix of 50% innerspring and 50% foam, giving you the best of both worlds. If the mattress contains individually wrapped coils, you can expect minimal disturbances throughout the night. The memory foam here matters: go with a gel option and the results will be fewer night sweats. Individually wrapped coils and gel-infused memory foam. It really can be the best of both worlds.

Choosing Your Extras

Congratulations! You’ve pinpointed the mattress type and firmness that suits you best. Before you order, though, see if you can sweeten the deal with any of the following:   

Is It Made to Order?

Made to order” means that the mattress is not packed and finished until the customer buys it. It’s a really nice extra because padding or coils can shift if a mattress is stored on its side for too long, creating lumps or unevenness that become nearly impossible to correct. Made to order mattresses ensure that you get the smoothest mattress possible upon delivery.

Is There Edge Support?

Higher-quality mattresses often include reinforced edges for added support. This will help you sleep better, especially if you find yourself pushed to the edge of your bed by your partner, and it makes it easier to sit on the edge of the bed when putting on socks or shoes in the morning.  

How Easy is the Delivery Process?

Very few people have the ability to move a mattress on their own. But play your cards right online and you’ll work with a seller that lets you a schedule a convenient delivery window, includes the setup of the mattress, and even takes your old mattress away.

How Long is the Warranty, and What Does It Cover?

A good mattress warranty will be at least 5 years, but they can be as long as 20. Check if the warranty is prorated, as this means the coverage declines over time. Finally, make sure the mattress you buy is covered in case of defects like sagging or broken coils.

Have You Considered an Adjustable Base?

Adjustable bases have been an increasingly popular add-on in recent years and it’s not hard to see why. They make watching TV or reading books blissfully comfortable, and users have also reported experiencing reduced back and joint pain. Confirm that your choice of mattress works with an adjustable base before you buy, however. Memory foam mattresses tend to work best, but more and more innerspring options are being designed with adjustability in mind. If you’re planning on purchasing an adjustable base, make sure your mattress is no more than 12 inches in depth and spring-free for best results.

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