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Pick a Mattress

If you do find yourself in the market for a new mattress, there are still some useful tips to keep in mind. Follow these guidelines for a better shot at getting that elusive good night's sleep.

  • Replace a mattress approximately every eight years. Keep it longer than that, and the materials might start to degrade, which might make the mattress less comfortable to sleep on. If you're waking up in pain every day, sleeping poorly or feeling disgruntled all the time, consider upgrading sooner.
  • Replace the box spring on a similar time frame. Over time, the compression of the springs (resulting from having a mattress and human bodies on top of it all the time) will start to change the structure of the spring box. Or avoid springy situations and just ditch the box spring altogether.
  • Make comfort your goal. Purchasing a mattress is all about finding the best one for you. Some people like a firm mattress; some like a soft one; others, like Goldilocks, prefer somewhere in between.
  • Try before you buy. Test "sleep" on a mattress for at least 20 minutes in a normal sleep position before making a decision.
  • Look for a mattress that fits your body. Chiropractors advocate finding a mattress that's designed to conform to the spine's natural curve and distribute pressure evenly across the body. This can be tricky, because the surface curve on the mattress doesn't necessarily represent the way your spine will curve while sleeping on it. Everyone's pressure points are different, so the best way to figure out if a mattress correctly supports the body is to bring a friend along to the store. Lie on the mattress in your normal sleeping position and ask your friend to observe whether the spine remains fairly neutral. If the spine is obviously sagging or curved exaggeratedly in any given direction, then keep searching for a mattress that helps maintain neutral spine alignment.
  • Avoid the sag. While researchers are challenging the idea that a firm mattress is essential for anyone with back pain, most experts still agree a saggy mattress isn't the way to go. To determine if a mattress has too much sag, perform the same “spine alignment observation” outlined above.
  • Don't buy vintage. This ruIe's especially important if you're worried about your bed catching on fire. Only mattresses made after July 2007 must meetregulations for fire resistance.
  • Ignore brand names. Virtually all mattress coils are made by the same manufacturer. Likewise, don't be duped by dollar signs: A higher price doesn't necessarily mean better quality.
  • Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. Thickness is often just a visual ploy designed to get people to think they're buying a comfier mattress. Listen to your body and find the bed that feels the most comfortable (not the one that just looks that way).
  • Beware of allergens. If you have allergies (particularly to dust mites, mold and certain bacteria), read the mattress' label to make sure that the materials don't contain any sneaky allergens -- or, better yet, look for a hypoallergenic mattress (natural latex and wool are both decent options) or a mattress cover. Worried about dust mites, bacteria, and fungi but don't want to pay for an expensive mattress cover? Daily vacuuming might help.
  • Do not disturb… your partner. If you share a bed, look for a mattress that allows two people to adjust the firmness on their respective sides.
  • Give peace a chance. Even if you loved your new mattress in the store, you might not sleep better on it the first night you bring it home. It can take a couple of days to adjust to a new sleeping surface. If the first night on a new mattress doesn't transform your sleep quality, give it a few more nights before giving in to buyer's remorse.
  • Look for a return policy. This way, you won't be stuck with an expensive mattress that doesn't provide the sleep of your dreams.