Five steps to your perfect mattress - Overview
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By now you will hopefully have read the overviews which talk about the different types of mattress cores, the different types of comfort layers, how the different layers and ways of combining them can affect your choices, and finally how your own unique needs and preferences play a very important role in your overall comfort and satisfaction. You will likely be developing some preferences of your own and are probably anxious to begin testing this new knowledge in real life. That means it is time to begin the last leg of the journey towards your perfect mattress which is the actual field testing of mattresses.
If you have read the overviews and perhaps some of the more detailed pages as well, you will quickly discover that you already know much more than the vast majority of salespeople you will encounter. You will also quickly discover that when you begin to ask questions based on what you now know, that you will get some very "strange" reactions as many of them will realize that they are about to lose a sale and have been trained to apply certain "techniques" before you walk out of their store. Now that you are no longer dependent on the information they will give you and have a way to find out the truth behind it ... this part of your journey can even be somewhat fun and certainly far less intimidating and confusing.
Now you have the basic information you will need, there are 5 simple steps to discovering and then buying your perfect mattress. We have separated them into separate steps because what most people will quickly find is that if they don't test each element separately, the different and sometimes conflicting information and terminology for each step can become confusing very quickly in a haze of information overload, false information coming at you faster than a machine gun, and the difficulty of remembering exactly what that mattress 2 stores ago really felt like. An example of this is using "firm" to describe a mattress. You may want a firm support layer with a very soft comfort layer and yet as soon as many salespeople hear the word firm you will not even be shown any mattresses with softer comfort layers. There are many other examples of how a single word (such as "supportive") has many meanings depending on which part of a mattress you are talking about and the knowledge of the person you are dealing with.
The quick version of these 5 steps are included here. More details or specifics are included in a separate page for each in this section for those who need it.
Step 1. Flop around on a whole bunch of mattresses in the stores (high end, low end, and in the middle) and get a sense of the intangibles which feel good to you. Do you like a "springier" mattress, do you like a more "stable and non responsive" mattress, do you like the feel of "cushy" on top ... do you like the feel of "firmer" on top. Narrow down your choices to 2 or 3 and then go home and take a look at the construction of the ones you liked (there are many websites which list the constructions of the mattresses they sell). You will likely see patterns that will give you a good idea of the overall general feel you like. You will know the general differences in feel between innersprings and the different types of foam mattresses. The differences in feel between firm and plush and pillowtop, the differences in feel between firm and softer lower layers or innersprings, and the differences in feel between different types of materials and methods used in the ticking and quilting of a mattress. This step is only about how you feel in the first few minutes of laying on a mattress and moving around on it. It also helps if you sleep with a partner to both do this at the same time so you can test different mattresses for "motion separation" if that is important to you.
Step 2. Testing for pressure relief. In this step you will be testing the top 2" - 5" of a mattress. This is the part that forms a cradle around your body and relieves pressure on the "bony parts" by spreading your weight around. Test different mattresses to see if you are sinking in enough and lay on the choices that feel the best (in terms of sinking in and relieving pressure) for 5-10 minutes, especially in the sleeping position that needs the most "sinking in" to see what feels the best in terms of pressure relief. Choose the 2 or 3 that seem to create the least pressure points in all your different positions and go home and look at the constructions that worked for you. You will also see patterns here in terms of the thickness and type of comfort layers that work best for you. The most important part of this step is that you focus only on pressure relief and not confuse this with "initial feel" and "support". You will discover here how thick your comfort layers need to be for your unique needs and also how soft and "point elastic" (or in the case of memory foam "point responsive") they need to be to create the perfect "cradle" for you.
Step 3. This is where you test a mattress for "support" or it's ability to keep your spine aligned in all your sleeping positions. It helps to have a partner here. Make sure you are testing mattresses with close to the same thickness and firmness comfort layers as you decided was best for your needs from step 2. When you lay on mattresses for this step, you are looking to see if your spine is straight when you are on your side or follows it's natural "S" curve when you are on your back or stomach. If any "parts" of you sink in too much (usually pelvic area) or too little (usually shoulder area) then you will sleep out of alignment which usually leads to pain in the lower back, upper back, or neck and shoulders (often from the wrong pillow for your sleeping positions). It can help if your partner has a yardstick to use as a reference point to check for straightness on your side. It also helps to "stand up straight with good posture" before you lay down on your back or stomach so they can "memorize" what your natural "S" curve looks like and see if it looks the same when you are laying down. They should also try to slide their hand under your "recessed areas" in all sleeping positions to make sure that they are being "filled in" and supported. If it is too easy to slide a hand under then it means that the mattress support layer could be too firm to allow for good support. If you are "hammocking" and the heavier parts are sinking down too farm then this too means poor support. Pay particular attention here to make sure that the pelvic area isn't sinking in too far, that the shoulders are sinking in far enough, and that the head and neck are in alignment (using the right pillow). When you have 2 - 3 mattresses that seem to provide the best support, then it's time to go home and put your ideal construction together "on paper" before you buy anything.
Step 4. This is perhaps the most simple and straightforward of all the steps and is where you choose between different mattresses that have similar feels, pressure relief, and spinal alignment based on quality and durability. For example, after the first 3 steps you may have discovered that 2 different mattresses seemed to be very close to perfect for you. The first had 2" of HD polyfoam over a bonnell innerspring and the second had 2" of latex over 6" of HD polyfoam. In comparing the two with the help of a little research on this site or on the forum, you would quickly see that the latex comfort layer is far higher quality and will last much longer than the HD polyfoam comfort layer. You would also know that the HD polyfoam in the comfort layer of the first mattress would be the weakest link and would wear out much more quickly than the same HD polyfoam material used in the support core of the second mattress since it is in the comfort layer which is more subject to stress and wearing out. Your choice would be simple if they were roughly the same cost or even if the second cost a little more since it is clearly a higher quality mattress and would be much more durable. This is the step that ensures long term satisfaction with your mattress so you won't find you are one of those who loves your mattress in the store and for a few months after only to discover you are writing a review 6 months later telling others that the mattress you loved is sagging and no longer comfortable and to stay away. If you have any questions about the relative durability of different materials, of course the forum is always there to help.
Step 5. Of all the different steps, most people consider this one the most fun ... and sometimes the most difficult. This is where you decide on exactly what to buy based on the combination of different features and the tremendous difference in value in buying a similar mattress from different sources. The difficult part can be making all the final decisions about the smaller details of your mattress and which ones you really want and which ones you don't. For example, do you want a wool quilting which is a natural fire barrier or would you rather have a thicker circular knit ticking which will let you sleep closer to latex and help it relieve pressure better, in which case you may choose a viscose/silica fire barrier. At this step you will have a clear idea of exactly what type of mattress is perfect for you and the details of its construction. You may have actually found one that you would buy or a couple that were so close that you know exactly what needs to be changed to make it perfect (such as ... this one would do but it would be perfect if it was just a tiny bit softer on top).
You now have several options. Usually the worst option is to buy a mattress from a chain store or larger outlet, even if this is where you tested it and found out it was perfect. This is because a very comparable mattress using similar and even higher quality materials is often available in your area if you know where to look ... and of course we can help you find them. The outlets with the best value and the greatest knowledge are usually factory direct outlets of smaller manufacturers or smaller specialty sleep shops that sell these same local and regional brand mattresses and order them directly from the factory. They will also have the knowledge to make minor adjustments that will refine it even more. Many of them will even make or order a custom made mattress for you and all of this for less than most chain stores will charge you for lesser materials. If you are confident enough, you may choose to go with a "do it yourself" construction that can be adjusted by exchanging layers afterwards if you are "not quite right" and be able to take advantage of the value that so many of these offer. Finally if you know "exactly" what you want, you could even order from a manufacturer in another state or province that could make your mattress exactly the way you wanted it at a value that many would have difficulty believing. Of course if one of these is in the city you live in and you have perhaps done your testing there, then you already have the best of all worlds and you may not even need this step as you may already have made your best decision. In any case, once you get past the difficulty of making all your final choices, then finding the best value for your particular circumstances is like a treasure hunt ... and once you find your "treasure", you will have your perfect mattress and can expect many years of kind of comfortable sleep that you were looking for when you began this journey.
If you'd like more details about any of these steps, then the separate pages for each are there to help you ... and as you know, our forum is always open.
We hope that when you have found and purchased your mattress, that you will also share your experiences with us and others in the forum and help them find their own version of their perfect mattress.