You unplugged an hour before bedtime. You ditched the caffeine before that. You made your bedroom a dark, quiet sleep sanctuary, and you even established a firm sleep schedule. You understand the value of good sleep, and so you've perfected your sleep hygiene.
But you're tossing and turning, waking up when your partner subtly shifts and still feeling admittedly crabby on your second cup of coffee. These may be your cues to buy a new mattress.
"The mattress is often the last thing people tend to think about when it comes to getting a good night's rest," says Karin Mahoney, the spokeswoman for the Better Sleep Council based in Alexandria, Va. "People will turn to quick fixes like over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids, but they don't think about their mattress that's 15 years old. The mattress is quite literally the foundation of a good night's sleep."
If you've had your mattress for more than the standard lifespan of seven to 10 years, if its surface has lumps or indentations or if you're waking up with aches and pains, it's likely time to buy a new one.
Below, Mahoney and Tom Clifford, director of development at the National Sleep Foundation, share tips for choosing the best mattress for you.
Your pre-store homework:
Take note of comfortable mattresses you've slept on. Do you always sleep like a baby on your mother-in-law's guest bed? Did a refreshing sleep at a hotel leave you waltzing (at 7 a.m.) to the continental breakfast? Take note. Find out what type and brand of mattress it was that you enjoyed so much and use that as the starting point for your search. For that dreamy hotel mattress, Mahoney suggests calling the hotel to ask what type it fits rooms with, since most hotels are partnered with specific mattress manufacturers.
Ask friends and family for mattress store suggestions. No luck? Consult review sites like Yelp to help determine the quality and trustworthiness of whatever mattress stores you're considering.
Set a budget. Investigate mattress prices online so you have realistic expectations when you step into the store, and review your personal budget to determine how much you can afford to spend on a mattress. Remember that cheaper isn't always better. You'll probably spend about seven to eight hours on this new purchase most nights for the next several years, and the quality of that sleep can affect your health in numerous ways. So think of this mattress as an investment. "Making a decision simply on price is probably not the best strategy," Clifford says. "Be determined to get the best mattress you can afford."
Look for sales. Mahoney points out that many mattress stores and manufacturers will have substantial sales on patriotic holidays, such as Independence Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. She's unsure of the mattress-to-America connection – maybe retailers figure consumers have extra time on these weekends to shop, she says – but whatever the reason, these sales can often mean major savings from discounts, free delivery and more.
Your in-store game plan:
Bring your partner. If you'll be sharing this mattress, bring your partner along to test the mattresses. The sleep health of both of you is at stake. Plus, the pressure of your partner on the mattress next to you affects the way the mattress feels for you.
Chat with the salesperson. Tell him or her how much you're looking to spend, and share whatever intelligence you've gathered on your own, like how you slept so well on the extra-firm foam mattress at your mother-in-law's house, or how your current innerspring mattress has been killing your back.
Plan to spend a lot of time in the store. Again, this is an investment that will likely last for the next several years, and there will be many mattresses to choose from. Squeezing mattress shopping between other to-do list items may force you to rush an important decision, especially given that you should…
Spend at least 15 minutes on each serious mattress candidate. In this amount of time, you'll likely be able to gauge if the mattress is supporting you correctly, Mahoney says, so ask your salesperson to leave you be and check back in 15. Lie on the mattress in your typical resting position. A good mattress will support you as if you were standing upright with proper posture, she says. If you're a side sleeper, check if you can fit two fingers together between your waist and the mattress. If so, that's likely a sign that the mattress isn't supporting you fully. Also take note of any discomfort, pain or numbness – all signs that this probably isn't the mattress for you.
"It can be awkward, I'm not going to lie," Mahoney says, pointing out that you'll be lounging with strangers nearby. "But aside from spending the entire night in that bed resting, this is the next best thing to get a good idea of how the mattress feels," and that little bit of awkwardness will hopefully prevent buyer's remorse in the future.
Test the mattress at home. Many retailers offer a policy in which you can buy the mattress, take it home for a certain number of days, and if you're not happy with it, return it to the store and purchase another. This service, typically called a comfort guarantee or something similar, is often free, but some stores do charge a fee.
Read the fine print. You found your dream mattress – congratulations! As you sign the contract for the purchase, be sure to carefully read the fine print, Mahoney suggests. Every store differs in their policies regarding comfort guarantees, warranties, returns and such. Ask exactly how many days you're given for the comfort guarantee, what the fee is for returning and everything else the deal entails. Also clarify what is covered (and not covered) by the warranty. By paying close attention to the details of your purchase, you can rest easy on your new mattress knowing nothing nightmarish slipped through the cracks.