Buying a mattress is a tricky thing: Not only are there hundreds of styles to choose from, but ultimately, the only person who can decide if it's comfortable is…you. Here's what to consider when you're making this investment.
When to Buy
A few signs that you need a new mattress: You're not sleeping as well as you have in the past, you're waking up with aches and pains (especially in your lower back and spine) or the mattress looks saggy or lumpy (both are signs of overuse). If you realize that you sleep better in someone's guest room or at a hotel, that could be a sign, too. Experts recommend changing your mattress every 5 to 7 years, and more frequently as you get older, since after middle age, your body becomes more sensitive to pressure points.
A twin-size bed is 38 x 75 inches; a full-size bed is 53 x 75 inches; a queen is 60 x 80 inches; a king is 76 x 80 inches; and a California king is 72 x 84 inches. Generally, couples are advised to choose a queen or larger, and you want it to be at least 4 to 6 inches longer than the tallest person in the bed (a full-size is recommended only for a single sleeper less than 5'5" tall, says the Better Sleep Council).
An innerspring mattress (made from coils with layers of padding on top) is the traditional choice. Solid-foam mattresses, including latex foam and visco-elastic "memory" foam (which reacts to your body heat to mold to your figure), offer different feels, and can resist some allergens. Air mattresses (like Select Comfort) allow you to inflate or deflate the bed to adjust its firmness. Waterbeds (filled with, you guessed it, water) are also an option.
How to Shop
Go to a showroom (often the staff is better informed than at a department store) and try out various options. Lie on the bed, with your partner if you have one, in the position you normally sleep in, for at least 15 minutes. You may feel silly, but Consumer Reports found that more than 70 percent of people who like a bed during the trial period end up being satisfied with it at home! Ideally, a mattress will keep your spine aligned just as straight as it would be when you're standing with proper posture, so pay attention to pressure points as you're lying there. "If your hips are sagging or your shoulders are being squished, it's not a good fit," says Karin Mahoney, Director of Communications for the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA). And move around a little; you shouldn't roll toward each other or feel motion if your partner gets off the bed.
What to Pay
Prices can vary widely; just beware of paying too little (the crazy-cheap mattresses they use to lure you to the store are low-quality) or too much (the super-high-end ones are pretty much the same thing as the better/average ones). Start by trying out the least expensive model from a brand you trust and work your way up the price scale; there's no reason to pay extra for add-ons if you find a comfortable one without them. Once you find a model you like, try to get it on sale. "Never buy a mattress that's not at least 50 percent off," says Tod Marks, senior project editor at Consumer Reports. Mattresses are almost always on sale, so make sure you have a low-price guarantee from the retailer (which might give you a refund if the same model goes on sale within 30 or 90 days of your purchase). Finally, don't be afraid to negotiate: Among the buyers Consumer Reports surveyed for their May 2010 article "Latest on Mattresses," 72 percent were successful at finagling a lower price.
Box Spring & Other Considerations
Even though it's an investment, you really should buy the box spring. The mattress is built to work in tandem with the box spring, and just like your mattress, it wears out. In some cases, not using the box spring (or using your old one) could invalidate the warranty. Before you make the purchase, measure the path to your room (you may need to get a split box spring if you have narrow stairs or doorways) and the furniture you'll fit it into. Since some mattresses are deeper than or a few inches off from standard size, both might not fit into your current bed frame.
When You Get It Home
When the mattress is delivered, check it (and the box spring) thoroughly to make sure it hasn't been damaged in transit before you accept it. Be aware that some companies now offer a "comfort guarantee" on beds if you find that you don't like it as much once you start sleeping on it, though these often come with time restrictions (30 to 90 days) and penalties (up to $400) to dissuade you from returning it. Additionally, most mattresses offer a warranty of 10 to 20 years, but that's meant to protect you against defects (which usually occur within the first month), not against gradual loss of comfort through normal use.
Caring for Your Mattress
Cover it with a mattress pad for an extra layer of protection. What you cover it with is more of a personal preference: For little ones, you'll want something waterproof, but for the rest of us, anything that adds a barrier between the mattress and your body is an extra layer of defense (though you might opt for one that's hypoallergenic or provides extra padding). Many mattresses these days are one-sided, so you don't flip them like you used to, but you should rotate the mattress once a month for the first few months, then every six months over the rest of its life, to make sure it wears evenly.
How to Buy a Pillow
Your pillow's job is to keep your spine aligned while you sleep-but because you use it every night, you need it to be not only supportive, but also cool and breathable. Here's how to find a pillow that will work for you.
When to Buy
How do you know when your pillow is kaput? Squeeze out all the air, then fold it in half-if it doesn't instantly spring to life, it's time for a new one. Even if it's not that far gone, if it feels lumpy, shows signs of dirt or you're waking up with neck or back pain, it could be time for a new one. Assuming normal use and proper care, the average feather pillow lasts 8 to 10 years, down pillows last 5 to 10 years and polyester pillows last 6 months to 2 years, says David Davila, MD, of the National Sleep Foundation.
Pillows can be made of many different materials, including foam, synthetic fills, feathers or down. "Manufactured materials tend to be stiffer and provide more support," says Dr. Davila, "while feathers or down tend to be softer and more pliable." Goose down is the standard for pillows because it naturally wicks moisture and breathes, but there are synthetic materials that imitate this effect and can be a great option for people with allergies. Expect to pay at least $50 for a down pillow and $30 for a quality synthetic pillow.
How to Shop
First, know how you sleep: Side sleepers need a fairly firm pillow to give their head and neck extra support; back sleepers need a medium-firm pillow to cradle their head with more give; and stomach sleepers (though this sleep position isn't preferred by physicians) need a soft pillow to reduce strain on the neck. "Start by knowing how you sleep, then pick up the pillow, squeeze it, and look for indicators of its quality, including the price, construction and brand. You're not going to find a great down pillow for $9," says Brandon Palmer, president of United Feather & Down. Some stores allow you to try out various models, so bring a pillowcase with you to test them out.
Caring for Your Pillow
Over time, your pillows fill with body fluids and oils, causing odors and bacteria to build up-so your first line of defense is to use a pillow cover. A bed pillow that is a year old and hasn't been cleaned could have up to 50 percent of its weight in mold, mildew, fungi, bacteria, dust mites and dust mite feces. Gross, right? The Better Sleep Council recommends that you wash synthetic pillows about every 60 days (in hot water; tumble dry with tennis balls) and down pillows every 120 days (dry-clean to preserve the natural oils in the down). Foam pillows should be spot-cleaned with mild soap and warm water. If you're waking up with a headache or stuffy nose, you could be allergic to what's living in your pillow-another sign that it's time for a new one!
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