We all have one. Many of us need a new one. Yet shopping for a new mattress is about as much fun as shopping for, say, a coffin. But at least when you buy a coffin it never has to be replaced.
“The process was a complete nightmare,” Mike Magnuson recalls of his experience 10 years ago when he and his then-new wife went mattress shopping. “We encountered a sea of white rectangles indistinguishable except for their extreme price differences with no way to find information other than from a super-aggressive salesperson who didn’t inspire any trust whatsoever.”
Only, unlike most of us who simply swear off ever buying a mattress again, Magnuson founded Goodbed.com, a sort of mattress matchmaking service and clearinghouse, to help buyers find their way.
I caught Magnuson on the phone and recounted the last time I shopped for a mattress the traditional way, by going to a mattress store. “Here’s this big, important purchase that you want to last a long time,” I said. “You want to get it right because you spend a third of your life in bed, if you’re lucky, and by that, I mean, you get enough sleep. But you have no idea what’s inside, and the seller snows you with puffery, and prices seem arbitrary, and sales are final, and you’re stuck.”
“That pretty much sums it up,” he said. Buying a mattress is not like buying a washing machine or a lawnmower, where everyone wants the same thing. For that you can turn to “Consumer Reports.” Mattresses are highly personal. “Your one star may be my five star.”
“Finding a reliable voodoo doll is easier,” I said.
“Unfortunately, a number of bad actors have left a legacy of trickery that includes name games, worthless warranties and phony mark downs,” Magnuson said, which is why he set out to pull the covers off the mattress industry.
He pointed me to a study out of Duke University, which confirmed my doubts. Researchers set seven unlabeled unidentifiable mattress sets in a mock showroom, and invited 128 participants to shop for the one best for them. They could take as much time as they liked. (Most took between 10 and 15 minutes.) Afterward, they sleep tested the seven mattresses in their homes for several weeks, while researchers measured their “actigraphic motion,” or how often they stirred. (Less tossing equals better sleep.) Every participant got matched to a mattress that provided the best sleep. However, in almost every case, that mattress was not the one they chose to buy in the showroom.
Researchers concluded: “The typical showroom experience does not lead to people choosing the mattress that is best for them.”
However, the good news buried in that discouraging finding is that a “best mattress for you” does exist. You just have to work to find it.
So I asked Magnuson for ways to help us navigate this squishy business. “If I could get any single point across it’s that buying a mattress is highly personal. It’s like buying a pair of jeans. You have to try on a bunch to find what fits you, and it’s probably not what fits your neighbor,” he said, then offered the following tips:
Find your fit. Because every body is different, look for a mattress that suits your curves, weight, size, shape and preferred sleep position (stomach, side or back). If you share your bed, you need to find one that suits your partner, too, which may mean a bit of compromise.
Figure out your feel. Some people like to sink into a bed, and have it hug them like a cradle, others prefer to float, to sleep on rather than in. Similarly, some like to feel as if they are melting into their mattress, and think memory foam mattresses are the stuff of dreams. Others think they feel like quicksand, and find rolling over at night a struggle. Finally, some like bounce; others like squish. “You simply won’t know what you like until you try,” he said.
Fill in your features. If you’re easily awakened when your partner stirs, look for a mattress that has motion isolation, meaning when your partner stirs, your side of the mattress stays still. If the kids and dogs get in bed with you, and push you to the edge, consider a mattress with more edge support. If you run hot, look for mattresses with air flow, gel or other cooling features. You like to sit up and read while your partner sleeps, look into connecting two twin mattresses with adjustable bases.
Pick your price. Generally speaking, less expensive mattresses are made of less and lesser materials, which is why a bedset can range from the low hundreds to several thousand dollars. Consumers can find a good, supportive comfortable mattress for a moderate price, he assured. However, the more you spend, the more bells and whistles you will typically get.
Focus on foam. Foam density is a good predictor of longevity. The greater the density, the longer the mattress will last. That’s why better mattresses often weigh more.
Don’t focus on warranty. “Consumers put too much stock in the number of years on a mattress warranty,” Magnuson said. “The number of years is the least important part of a mattress warranty, because most warranties have these huge loopholes and out clauses.”
Make a mattress match. “To find your match, look across the universe of choices, and find mattresses that match your budget and what you want in terms of fit, feel and features,” he said. Don’t go by what your neighbor, brother or home columnist likes. “Narrow the choices down to ones that fit your criteria, then try them out, if possible, overnight.”
Join me next week to find out whether the mattress I impetuously ordered online after discovering it at a nice hotel turns out to be the stuff of dreams — or not.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of five home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go and the forthcoming Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One (Sterling Publishing, Dec. 2019). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.