Buying the right mattress for your sleep needs

How to Buy a Mattress

by Debra Karplus, MS, OTR/L

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Your sleep seems less restful these days; often, you wake up tired with a sore back that seems improved as the day progresses. Your chiropractor or physical therapist asks you if your mattress is old. You quickly respond, "No, I just bought it." But then you recall that it's really been a dozen or so years since you purchased the mattress that you are sleeping on.

The mattress looks fine. It is free of stains and shows no sagging or other visible signs of aging. You have been diligent about rotating or flipping it, but when you start exploring mattresses online, you discover that seven to ten years is their expected life, depending on the quality of what you have and how it has been used over the years. If your kids have used it as a sort of indoor trampoline or Fido leaps onto it after you do, your mattress is bound to have worn out quicker than others.

Expect to make many choices when selecting a mattress.

You devote a Saturday morning to mattress shopping and become instantly overwhelmed at how much more complicated it has become since you last chose a mattress. You'll find mattresses for sale at big box stores, department stores, mattress warehouses, or local mattress factories. There are name brands that you'll recognize like Sealy or Serta, and there are some lesser known names with high quality mattresses. Never let yourself get blind-sided into buying cheap. There are $400 mattresses and $2,000 ones, and truly you get what you pay for.

Like a car or an electronic device, there are umpteen features that you can opt for. Selecting the size is easy depending on your preference for king, queen, or something smaller. Then there's firmness. Like show or clothing size, firmness varies among brands and individual mattresses, so plan to shop when you have lots of time. The shop should encourage you to lie down and test out the mattress. If they don't make such an offer, leave and head to the next store.

Consider what features and materials you require for your new mattress.

Then there's the top of the mattress. Pillow top, Euro top and tight top mean different things among various brands, too. The mattress you currently sleep on may have pillow top on both the top and underside. That was a great feature, especially if you found it easier to flip your mattress than to rotate it.

The mattresses sold today typically have the cushiony cover on just one side. That means you can only rotate it, not flip it. Two disadvantages of that is if you live alone, rotating a mattress by yourself may be unwieldy and also the mattress has few options for changing where you sleep in it, making it last a shorter period of time than what you currently sleep on. But if you buy your new mattress at a local mattress factory, they can build it exactly to your specifications within just a few days. It may be worth it, and the price might not even be notably higher.

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Other considerations for your new mattress include the springs or coils, memory foam, or latex. The sleeping position of you and your partner will help determine your choice. Also, note that you'll want to purchase a new set of springs, now referred to as the mattress foundation. Typically, the mattress is priced to include the foundation. It is foolhardy to put a brand new mattress atop an old foundation, so don't be tempted to take this shortcut.

Today's mattresses typically include a ten to twelve year warranty or more on the more expensive mattresses. Most places selling mattresses expect that you'll need delivery of the new bedding, set up once it arrives at your house, and the removal of your old mattress. Prices may vary from free to $60 or more, depending on where you live and whether the delivery people will need to navigate around stairs once they arrive at your home. So be sure to ask.

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A mattress is an investment in your health.

Remember that you spend about one third of your life on the mattress you are buying. Also calculate that a $1,000 mattress with a ten-year life expectancy, for example, essentially costs you $100 yearly or $8.33 a month. Look at it as an investment in your health and well-being.

A good quality mattress is not a luxury, but rather a necessity. You'll forever regret the purchase if you're not comfortable at night, and though mattresses are refundable, returning an unsatisfactory one is much more involved than retuning a sweater that's a poor fit! Take the time and select wisely, and your new mattress may be one of the best investments you'll ever make.

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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