Lesson 8 – Try Before You Buy

So you’ve educated yourself on common mattress materials, you’re wearing your comfy clothes, & you’ve cleared some time in your calendar.

Time to shop! Hopefully, you’ll have a great customer service experience, with a sales person who will ask questions, listen closely to you, explain options, and give you the time and space to try out mattresses for yourself.

When you’re in the store, remember what you’ve learned through personal experience, what you’ve learned from this site, and what’s important to you. Don’t get sidetracked by super thick mattresses that look like layer cakes, and/or by impressive marketing lingo that makes chemical compounds sound like dreamy new sleep technology. Remember the facts and remember to look for two-sided mattresses.

Your goal: narrow down all the choices in the store to just two or three models at the most. Then, give those two or three mattresses a 10 to 15-minute test rest, where you lie down in your usual sleeping position(s) to see how the mattress feels on your body. And yes, you can ask for a pillow if one isn’t offered.

How do you narrow down the entire mattress selection to just a few?

We recommend this simple process:

  • Narrow by budget. If you want to spend under $1500 out the door, don’t look at $2000 mattresses, unless you truly have that wiggle room.
  • Narrow by materials. What’s important to you? If you’ve decided a natural, earth-friendly mattress is important to you, don’t look at memory foam, gel foam, or poly foam, even if the product bears the words ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ (those terms are misleading and probably only apply to one of the mattress components, not the entire mattress). Be wary of synthetic latex and natural latex; they both contain chemicals, and you’ll want to ask what percentage. If you love the support of an innerspring mattress, then specifically look at coil beds and don’t worry about fiber-only ones.
  • Narrow by feel. This is where it gets fun. What feels good to your body? Are you an extra firm aficionado, a firm fan, or a plush lover?


Let’s explore surface feel in more detail.

A word about surface feel

Surface feel refers to how the mattress, well, feels, when you’re lying on it. Typically ‘surface feel’ refers to how hard/firm or how soft/plush the mattress is.

Here’s the thing about surface feel: it’s highly personal and highly subjective. What feels good to one person is not necessarily going to feel good to another person. What feels firm to you may feel extra firm to your spouse, or even plush to someone else.

The only way to decide how a mattress feels is to lie down on it and judge for yourself.

Because mattress manufacturers need some way to help people gauge surface feel, the mattress industry uses density ratings. For instance, you’re probably familiar with the terms Extra (or Ultra) Plush, Plush, Cushion Firm, Firm, and Extra Firm? These terms represent the mass per unit volume of the mattress, expressed as kilograms per cubic meter (e.g. 75 kg/m3).

But density doesn’t necessarily feel the same from one person to the next. It’s body-dependent. Things like age, health status, body condition, weight, pregnancy, presence of injuries, body type, and preferred sleep position ALL affect the way a mattress will feel to you.

When it comes to surface feel, the only opinion that matters is yours.
And of course anyone who’s sharing your mattress. 🙂

So once you’ve found mattresses in your price range, in the materials you want, now it’s time to lie down on a few and see how they feel.

It’s best to start in the vicinity of the firmness on which you’ve been sleeping. If you’ve been sleeping on an Extra Firm mattress for years and want to try something softer, start with a Firm mattress. Don’t jump all the way to Extra Plush or Plush. The body adapts to whatever it sleeps on regularly. A significant change in firmness is going to be problematic for the body; a small adjustment can make a world of difference.

When it comes to testing out mattress feel, adjust your preferred feel incrementally. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a small change can make.

What to notice during your test rest

So you’re doing your 10-15 minute test rest on two different mattresses (three at the most). What exactly should you be noticing?

Mostly, you’re looking for any pressure points. Does the mattress support your lower back, or are you feeling a twinge? How do your hips feel relative to the alignment of your spine? Shoulder discomfort? If you can’t get pressure point relief on either of the mattresses you’re trying, be sure and mention these concerns to your sales person. It’s possible a different mattress may provide the right composition of materials to support you better. Or it’s possible that it’s just a matter of fine-tuning the feel through the addition of a mattress pad, topper, or lumbar support.

How size matters

Finally, let’s talk about mattress size. How big of a mattress do you need? Well, how big of a mattress do you want?

As you might know, mattresses are typically offered in a range of sizes. Be sure to check with your retailer to confirm the size you want is available, as not as mattress models come in all sizes.

Let’s take a closer look at what these mattress sizes really mean:

  • California King – 72″ W x 84″ L
  • King/Eastern King – 76″ W x 80″ L
  • Queen – 60″ W x 80″L
  • Full/Double – 54″ W x 75″ L
  • Full XL – 54″ W x 80″ L
  • Twin – 39″ W x 75″ W
  • Twin XL – 39″ W x 80″ L

Here are some factors to take into consideration when selecting a mattress size:

  • BODY FRAME & SIZE — If one or both sleep partners are especially tall or heavy, you will need more surface area.
  • SLEEP SPRAWL — If one or both partners sleep with arms and legs stretched out to the sides or overhead, it’s best to choose a mattress that accommodates the widest (or longest) sleep position of the largest partner.
  • PHASE OF LIFE/MEDICAL & HEALTH ISSUES – Consider life events such as pregnancy, menopause, weight gain, injuries, disabilities, surgeries, and medical conditions when choosing a mattress size. When dealing with health or physical challenges, additional space in the bed may feel like a relief.
  • CO-SLEEPING WITH KIDS — If your children share your bed, you’ll want to buy a larger mattress than you ordinarily might to accommodate extra bodies. Children may be small, but they sure can stretch out!
  • PETS IN THE BED — Ditto for animals sharing your bed. You’ll be glad for the extra room, unless of course your pets snuggle right up against you regardless of surface area.
  • ROOM SIZE — What size mattress will your space accommodate? A king size mattress can usually fit in all but the tiniest of spaces, though of course a king size mattress in a small space will dominate the room, visually. If you live in a building with an elevator or if your bedroom is up stairs, be sure to ask the retailer whether the mattress size you want will fit. (Some mattresses can be folded or rolled to fit through corridors, others cannot.)
  • INVESTMENT — How much mattress can you afford? When evaluating your potential investment, keep in mind that a quality 2-sided mattress made with natural, plant-based materials and/or high quality coils is likely to wear better over time (thus reducing your cost per night) than a 1-sided mattress made with chemicals. Chemical foams do not retain their loft and comfort well beyond the first few years. If you buy chemical-laden and one-sided, you’ll be back in the market in 3-5 years — or putting up with a lot of discomfort, aches, and pains.

So you’ve rest tested a few mattresses that meet your criteria. Finally, it’s time to make a decision. Before you hand over your payment, there are a few more things you’ll want to check out. Read on to learn more.

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