mattress buying guide

Necessary Utility: The Mattress Buying Guide

Want to look and feel good in the morning, work productively and be nice to the people around you? Then it’s time to throw away the literal nighttime thorn in your side, your mattress.

The foundation of a good night’s sleep is your mattress. It’s one of the most practical and necessary things a man can own, and it’s deeply connected to your wellbeing. A great suit will do nothing to hide the bags under your eyes!

Traditional Mattress Showroom

Traditional Mattress Showroom

A few years ago my wife and I were in the market for a new mattress, and so we analyzed the market carefully and tested numerous mattresses. Eventually, we purchased a brand-name Sealy mattress from Macy’s for $2,000 after markdowns. It seemed like a lot of money but the pillow top mattress promised comfort, support, and a long life span. Less than two years later, it had sagged so badly that my wife and I constantly slid into the middle and getting out of bed felt like climbing out of a hole. Since used mattresses are not a hot commodity on craigslist, we wasted our money.

Ideally, you have to shop for a mattress once every 10 years. The trouble is, mattress shopping and buying simply sucks. It really does. Trying to make a decision about something you will use everyday for the next 5-10 years after trying it for 2 minutes (in a public place, fully clothed, salesman hovering) is a recipe for disaster. Not only that, but mattresses can be insanely expensive. I am all for spending money on quality, but it can be hard to separate marketing speak from the real pros and cons you need to know. When we tested the $7,000 Tempurpedic mattress, we both were not happy with it. So money doesn’t always buy you quality.

To help you find a mattress that works for you, we decided to put the knowledge we gathered over the years, and put it into a guide so you can forego buyer’s remorse and make the process as painless as possible without having to make a return.

Comfort Is The Key To a Great Mattress

So, let’s start with the goal first: you want a good mattress for your needs. But what exactly makes a good mattress? A good mattress supports you and feels comfortable to you, no matter if you sleep on your back, your side or your belly.

Sounds simple, right?

Why is Buying a Mattress So Difficult?

We did some research, and here are the biggest issues out there with regards to buying mattresses:

  • It doesn’t live up to the claims (your back still aches, it sags)
  • Minimal warranties
  • Comparison shopping can be impossible – even major brands private label special editions for stores
  • Descriptors aren’t regulated (super plush, ultra firm)
  • Meaningless marketing gimmicks (500 coils per mattress! cooling gel! 25 layers!)
  • Negotiating the price
  • Fake pricing (originally $4500, now $1699!)
  • Doesn’t negate motion transfer (you can feel your partner’s every move)
  • Evaluating price relative to quality
  • It’s hard to know what your back needs without trying it first
  • Not all people are alike. A person that weighs 120 lbs has different needs than a football player with 350 lbs
  • If you sleep on your back, you have different needs for a mattress than if you sleep on your side
  • Chances are your partner is not the same weight and sleep type as you are

In the end, it is challenging to determine what will work for you because so much of what is said or promised about mattresses is wrong or meaningless.

Understand Different Types of Mattresses

To find a great mattress for you, it is important to understand key differences in construction. Today you can find 5 main types (though many hybrids are popping up).

Sealy Plush Pillow Top Mattress

Sealy Plush Pillow Top Mattress

1. Innerspring Mattress

This is probably the most well-known type of mattress (particularly in the U.S.). The inside of the mattress is filled with coiled metal springs. Pillowtop mattresses are usually innerspring.

  • PRO
  • Familiar bouncy feel
  • CON
  • Even tightly packed coils will leave gaps in support, and pillow tops often don’t bounce back after a year (hence the getting out of a hole anecdote)

2. Foam Mattress

This type of mattress uses only foam as the main material. Different densities, materials and layering techniques will create different levels of support.

  • PRO
  • Budget friendly option known to retain it’s shape and support over time
  • CON
  • Often thinner and more insulating causing you to overheat
Temperpedic Mattress with Memory Foam - Feels like laying in mud

Temperpedic Mattress with Memory Foam – Feels like laying in mud

3. Memory Foam Mattress

Commonly know by the brand name Tempur-Pedic, a memory foam mattress uses high-density polyurethane foam that slowly conforms to the shape of the body.

  • PRO
  • Personalized feel because it adapts to the shape of your body
  • CON
  • Famous for feeling like mud – difficult to move around and get out of due to the slow contouring process; cheap memory foam can be hot
Boyd Mattress with Air Chamber

Boyd Mattress with Air Chamber

4. Air Mattress

You may think this is only the inflatable variety for guests and sleepovers, but in fact, many mattress makers are using air chambers to offer “customizable” comfort in their mattresses.

  • PRO
  • Dual adjustable air chambers are a great option for couple with different sleep styles

  • CON
  • Can experience same sagging or compression issues as coil mattresses due to top cushioning layer
Waterbeds are still around

Waterbeds are still around

5. Waterbed

Popular in the 80’s and 90’s in the US, these waterbed mattresses use water to support the body and are now virtually extinct.

  • PRO
  • Removes pressure from the spine, allows for unique distribution of support
    Creates fewer pressure points on the body via unique distribution of support

  • CON
  • Expensive and so heavy a reinforced floor is usually required; large amount of water needed that needs to be heated constantly; always a risk of popping

How To Buy a Mattress That Works for You

First, you need to figure out a few things.

How do you sleep?

Stomach sleepers

They require more support, and will feel less and less comfortable as a mattress compresses over time. Firm foam mattresses are usually the best choice because they offer a consistently flat sleeping surface and firm support.

Side sleepers

Need medium-firmness for both comfort and support, as a hard mattress will cause joint pressure, but a too soft mattress will not support back alignment. Innerspring mattresses are considered a good choice for side sleepers, but a medium firm foam mattress will work just as well.

Combination back and side sleepers

Need the best of both worlds regarding firmness.

If you shift around frequently, a firmer surface will make it easier to move around while a super responsive surface such as memory foam will make it much more difficult; this is a group that is suited towards medium firmness to accommodate both movement and comfort.

Ikea Sultan Mattress

How does your partner sleep?

If your partner tosses and turns, it is important that your mattress helps to isolate movement so that you are not disturbed by the movements of your partner. Foam, latex, and memory foam mattresses are great for this purpose, while the “bouncy” nature of innerspring mattresses is not. Many new innerspring mattresses claim to have pocket coil systems to reduce “motion transfer”, but they generally aren’t considered as good as foam options for this purpose.

Also, many couples have different firmness preferences, which can make it challenging to find something that works for both people. Dual-chamber air mattresses are an option though they are usually on the expensive end of the price spectrum. For a less expensive solution, consider buying a mattress that suits the partner with the hardest firmness needs and then adding a soft eggshell on one-half of the mattress for the other partner. This can be accomplished by trimming a twin or cutting a larger eggshell topper in half.

What other needs do you have?

If you have allergies, latex and foam are naturally antimicrobial and are well suited to sensitive noses. Innerspring mattresses can be covered with an anti-allergen cover, and it’s a good idea to get these for pillows as well.

How To Save Money and Be Happier with Your Mattress

A mattress is definitely worth the time and money spent to get a good one for your needs, but it doesn’t need to break the bank. Here are our top tips for saving money on mattresses.

  • Sorry showrooms, but skip the middleman – they add a markup that you don’t need to pay if you buy directly from the manufacturer.
  • Don’t believe the gimmicks – they are nearly all unsubstantiated ploys to make you believe it’s worth more money
  • Do your research beforehand, and read reviews. Note that these can be really hard to find for traditional mattress companies because of their sales model, but the new entrants have lots of reviews to read
  • Don’t be afraid to take companies up on “money back guarantees” – despite the hassle, if you bought a dud, send it back and try again!
  • Avoid pillow top and “euro top” mattresses; often this is the part of the mattress that sags, but since it’s attached, you will have to get an entirely new mattress. Skip this feature and buy an aftermarket eggshell foam or a mattress pad to add the desired softness, and replace them as needed.
  • Buy a slightly too hard mattress rather than a slightly too soft one; as we said in the previous point, you can always add soft layers to the top, but you can’t increase firmness
Leesa - Our Winner

Leesa – Our Winner

Tested & Recommended  Picks

Over the past ten years, I have owned and slept on air mattresses, two innerspring coil mattresses, and three foam mattresses. Yes, that sounds like a lot, but first, I moved from Germany to the U.S., which meant I switch from a foam mattress to a coil mattress. The problem we had then was sagging and constantly sliding towards the middle of the bed. So we invested in another mattress – the $2,000 Sealy innerspring mattress. After two years we had the same problem as with the old mattress, and we had to throw it away. Then we switched to a foam mattress from IKEA for $600, and finally LEESA provided us with one of their queen size mattresses which retails for $890. We also purchased a $300 IKEA mattress for a lake cabin.

Our Problem: Different Sleep Styles & Softness

The biggest problems we experienced was the difference in sleep styles. My wife likes soft mattresses and sleeps mostly on her side while I prefer harder mattresses, and I sleep mostly on my back but also on my belly and sometimes on the side until I feel uncomfortable, and I return to my back. So in the beginning, both of us had to compromise. I was comfortable sleeping on my back, but it was only a matter of minutes before my shoulders start to hurt when I slept on my side.

Pillow Top Plush Mattress

Sealy Pillow Top Plush Mattress

Not recommended: Sealy with Pillow Top $2,000

Then the Sealy started to sag in the middle, but we could not do anything about it and propping up the middle was impossible due to the stiff and rigid base of the mattress.  So even though we had spent $2,000 we couldn’t sleep on it any longer. When we got rid of it, we disassembled it and found out that the problem was the pillowtop. It seems like they used an inferior foam that was prone to sagging. Since it was sewn to the mattress, we could not just exchange it.

Recommended: IKEA higher-end foam mattresses

After the experience with Sealy, we were open to other mattresses and came to the conclusion that we should give foam mattresses a try especially since I had good experiences with them when I lived in Germany.

Once we purchased the $600 IKEA mattress, I could comfortably sleep on my back, but my wife felt like it was too hard for sleeping on the side. The mattress was 8″ thick, and so we got an extra 2″ layer of foam that we placed on top of the mattress. However, that turned out to be too soft for me, so we cut the extra foam in half, and we both were happy. Because of the way the bed base is built, and the fact that two people gravitate towards the middle, the IKEA mattress started to sag a little bit but not as bad as the Sealy. Since it was a foam mattress, we folded a blanket and placed it, so it was about 6 inches wide, all along the middle line between the bed base and the mattress. That way everything remained even and comfortable.

However, I was still never able to sleep on my side comfortably for more than 5 minutes. Still at less than one-third of the cost, we had a decent queen size mattress that did the job much better than the Sealy before.

When we needed a mattress for a lake cabin, where we just spend a few weeks each year, we decided to go with IKEA again because we had good experiences with our old mattresses. Of course, when we got there the model we had purchased four years ago was not available anymore, and so we looked at other options.

Because we would not sleep on it year round, we decided to get a $300 mattress in queen size. It was a little thinner than our old one, but it seemed to be ok. However, once we started sleeping on it, we clearly noticed the difference. When I got up in the morning, I could feel my back and overall the mattress felt less supportive. If this were our everyday mattress, I would definitely get a new one. This just proves that not all foam mattresses are alike even if they are from the same manufacturer. Also, thickness does matter, and I would recommend getting a foam mattress with at least 8 inches / 20 cm in thickness.

Unwrapping the Leesa Mattress

Unwrapping the Leesa Mattress

Our Top Mattress Pick: Leesa

Then the mattress company Leesa contacted us and expressed an interest to work with us on a Leesa mattress review. Of course, we wanted to thoroughly test their product first because after all we knew what a challenge mattresses could be and while other mattress manufacturers offer a wide range of different mattresses, Leesa offered just one.

It seemed impossible that one mattress was the answer to all sleeping styles, and so we were eager to test it but more than 2000 positive reviews implied it could, so we were curious. Considering that I switch up my sleep styles from back to belly and side, I felt fairly confident that we could determine any shortcomings of the mattress and so we decided to work with them. So here is our review:

First, bear in mind that Leesa is a manufacturer that sells its mattresses directly to the consumer, without a middleman. As such, all mattresses are delivered free of charge to your doorstep. Note it weighs close to 100 lbs. So bear that in mind if you have to carry the mattress up the stairs once it is delivered. I placed my order on a Saturday and received the mattress on the following Thursday making it a 4- Business Day Delivery – not bad at all!

Specs

The Leesa is a layered USA-made foam mattress that is 10″ thick. It is made of a 6″ support foam, 2″ memory foam and a 2″ Latex alternative foam so you can safely use it even if you have a latex allergy. 

It comes with a ten-year warranty but, more importantly, it comes with a 100 Day Trial period, which makes the purchase risk-free. That means you can test it yourself for up to 100 days. In case you do not like it, Leesa will send people who take your mattress away, and you get your money back. So the entire process is hands-off, and you have no risk. Personally, I find that to be a huge advantage.

Leesa Mattress Expanding

Leesa Mattress Expanding

Firmness

In my experience, European mattresses are generally firmer and harder than American mattresses. That being said, the Leesa mattress is somewhere in the middle. It felt softer than our $600 IKEA mattress on its own but firmer than the Ikea mattress with the additional foam layer. It is probably also a bit firmer than most pillowtop mattresses. That being said, my wife who likes soft mattresses find the Leesa comfortable without an extra layer of foam, and I do not find it too soft either.

The compression when you lay down is about 1.5 – 2″ which feels very comfortable. Overall, I would rate it as a 5 on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the firmest.

It’s for you if you like a neutral, balanced mattress that is soft but supportive and somewhat firm at the same time. It is probably not the mattress for you if you like super hard or extremely soft mattresses.

Sleep Quality

For the first time in ten years, both my wife and I are comfortable sleeping on the mattress without any additional foams, and that’s simply great. I can comfortably sleep on my side without aching shoulders, and even my belly sleep is excellent. I also have no issues with my back sleep. After the first week, we had Leesa, my wife remarked on how well she slept and how comfortable she was, and overall, we are very pleased.

We noticed that after a while we experienced a bit of minor sagging towards the middle, but it’s less than with other mattresses. We remedied that by adding a folded planket along the center between the bed frame and the mattress. It’s the same thing we did with all other foam mattresses we have had, and it works just as well with the Leesa.

Leesa Mattress in Carboard Box - Weight 95 lbs

Leesa Mattress in Carboard Box – Weight 95 lbs

Price & Pros and Cons

In terms of price. Leesa is positioned at the lower end. Of course, you can get a mattress for $100 or $10,000 but these are extreme. A twin mattress costs $525.

  • PROs
  • Takes 10% the effort of a traditional mattress to order & receive
  • Quick Delivery – 4 Business Days with Free Shipping
  • Packaged in a relatively small box, which makes it easy to maneuver it around tight corners, stairwells and doorways with 2 people
  • Risk Free: 100 Day No Questions Asked Return Policy – With Pick Up By Leesa
  • Very comfortable 10″ latex free foam – that is soft and firm at the same time making it comfortable for majority of people
  • Works for back, side and belly sleepers
  • 10-year warranty
  • $525 – $890
  • CONs
  • Leesa offers just one firmness and the website does not offer a firmness assessment. We rate the firmness at 5/10
  • Requires a preexisting bed frame with slatted platform or a box spring
  • More expensive than other foam mattresses on the market
  • Mattress smells faintly at first. If you can, let it air out before use. It’s not unbearable by any means but noticable. We slept on it from day one and we were fine.
  • We notice some minor compression in the middle of the mattress, but it can be remedied by propping up the middle.
  • Works for back, side and belly sleepers
  • 10-year warranty
  • Use ZZZZ for $75off on their website

Verdict

Overall, the Leesa is the best mattress we had in the last 10 years and it now is our everyday mattress. It costs less than half of what we paid for a traditional innerspring mattress and more than our IKEA one, but it’s the best compromise of our needs.

At the end of the day, it’s easy to get frustrated with all the hype, claims and pricing shenanigans surrounding mattress buying. If you are tired of the traditional store model, give Leesa a try (risk-free!) and if you don’t like it, they will pick it up and refund your money.

Summary
Article Name
Mattress Buying Guide
Description
Discover How You Find The Best Mattress For You Sleep Style & Habits no matter if it is a foam, latex, innerspring or air chamber mattress.
Author
Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette
Publisher Logo
17 replies
  1. K. George says:

    Once again Sven, you saved the day! My wife had just called telling me she had found the perfect mattress so I asked her “[w]hat kind is it?, innerspring, foam, memory foam etc.” She couldn’t answer, at which point I recommended that she read your article and take some time before making a decision.

    Thank you for taking the hard work and heart ache out of the process and sorry that you had those unfortunate experiences.

    -K. George

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      We sleep in a cold room of 64 degrees Fahrenheit. We did that with all of our mattresses and did not experience any temperature differences. I found them to be all very comparable and similar. Are you prone to overheating ?

  2. Rupert B says:

    What has this to do with a supposedly Gentleman’s Gazette? Maybe you have run out of suitable ideas but:
    If you have nothing to say, say nothing (Mark Twain)

  3. Walter Wade says:

    I have a Beckley mattress (link: http://www.chbeckley.com/products-mattresses.html which is what my grandmother and parents have always had. A horsehair mattress that’s hand-built is always a good bet. As in any mattress, steer clear of those attached toppers, buy a separate one if you want that plush feeling and that way you can easily flip it and later, replace it as needed.

  4. Walter Wade says:

    Oh, I should have mentioned, I have a Beckley horsehair mattress. For generations, prior to foam and other technologies, horsehair has traditionally been the luxury standard for quality mattresses.

    • Fred Bessinger says:

      Walter, my wife and I would like to find out more
      About your mattress. Do they have a web site? Thanks for your honesty.

      Fred and Melissa

  5. Matthew E says:

    I have been selling beds and mattresses for over 11 years in the UK. My job is to match the person(s) to a product that works for them. With regards to the best solution it is definitely a personal choice that is best made over multiple visits if possible. One thing I think is not given a chance in the article is the benefit of pocket springing. A mattress with a decent quantity of Independent pocket springs hand nestled, with reinforced sides and layered with either traditional fillings such as wool, cashmere, horse hair, silk or modern materials such as cool gels, visco elastic (memory foam) or engineered latex will provide excellent support. Also due to the lack of connection between springs across the bed movement is not transfered between sleepers like an innerspring or open coil mattress. Pocket springing traces back to 1901 and it is still the method of choice for manufacturing the worlds finest mattresses. Companies like Savoir produce beds that cost upwards of $50,000 have always used pocket springing at the core of their beds. These mattresses often have pillow tops that work extremely well. I have sold Sealy for years they have a huge range of products that encompass all types of mattresses so a not recommend based on one product is a little harsh. Their contract beds are often used in 5 star hotels. One such example is the Las Vegas Wynn hotel “Dream bed”. You can actually buy the same bed from the shop downstairs in the hotel so try before you buy is and option. With regards to the price being described as extreme for products over $10,000 I’m not so sure. I read about watches and other items on this site that cost so much more than that but a mattress is your recharge point it helps keep your spine straight, surely a worthwhile investment?

  6. Tom says:

    We bought a Tuft and Needle mattress a few months ago and really love it! Great price and they make the buying process really easy.

  7. David says:

    The Denver Mattress Co. operates like Leesa in that they are direct to the buyer. I don’t remember if they had a warranty. We loved it to the day we sold it to my brother-in-law when we moved overseas. We now sleep on an Ikea mattress which is great, although, we have thought about buying another mattress from the Denver Mattress Co. and having it crated over. Don’t get confused by the name of the company. We bought ours in Arkansas while visiting my grandma.

  8. Tony says:

    30 years ago I bought a VI-Spring bed (www.vispring.com) at Harrods in London. At the time it was the second most expensive bed being sold at Harrods (I forget what it cost but it was not cheap). The bed size is 210 cm X 210 cm (83 inches X 83 inches).

    During these 30 years (and still going strong) I have enjoyed a restful sleep in this bed every night. I have had plenty of occasions to compare my bed with those of hotels, or beds of friends and family. This is the RollsRoyce.

    It is generally said that a mattress must be changed every 10 years. My mattress, which needs 4 strong men to turn it over, is still as comfortable and gives me the rest I need after all these years.

    I say the above being a person who believes that its worth spending money on a top notch bed given that we spend one-third of our lives in bed sleeping or otherwise. The same goes for a good ergonomic chair if you spend one third of your life in front of a computer as I do – but that’s a story for another day.

  9. James says:

    I found that the best way to sleep was alone after she left me! Only kidding, hope she doesn’t see this!
    We got a pocket sprung after probably about 10 years on our old mattress (I know it should’ve been changed sooner) and we seem to sleep soundly, when the TV is off at least.

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