What are the best mattresses and where to buy them

Tips that make the time-consuming process of finding a comfortable bed a little less painful

The law will tell you I entered adulthood at age 18. I’m not sure that’s true. It wasn’t until I was 20 and mattress shopping at Ikea that I felt like an actual grown up.

Mom wasn’t there to help me pick it out, and Dad wasn’t there to pay for it. That was probably for the best, though. My parents still sleep on a waterbed.

Thanks to several moves, a breakup and buying my first house, I have since bought a few more mattresses. Still, there are several things I wish I’d known before I bought each of them.

If you don’t have the good fortune of running into Amy Schumer — who bought an employee a mattress for letting her use the store’s bathroom — these tips may save you time and money.

9 tips for picking the best mattress

  1. May is the best time to buy a mattress: According to Consumer Reports, the mattress industry rolls out new products in June. In other words, by late May, around Memorial Day, most stores clear their inventory of older models. Keep in mind, though, that some mattresses feel different during different months. For example, in Montana (where I live), if the temperatures outside dips below freezing, my memory foam mattress feels as stiff as a board until I add body heat and give it a few minutes to soften.
  2. Cutting corners will cost you: During my first mattress shopping experience eight years ago at Ikea, I only spent $100. I was on a college student budget, so I went with the cheapest option. Today, I think it would be comparable to this model. I still shudder when I think about the nights I spent tossing and turning on something that felt about as comfortable as the bunk beds in my parents’ RV. I blame this mattress, which I slept on for about a year, for ruining my relationship with Ikea.
  3. Take your sweet time: One-third of your life will be spent sleeping. Keep that statistic top of mind when you’re mattress shopping for your specific needs. With so many models to test, it can be time-consuming. But, when you consider how much time you will spend on it, you won’t feel so bad for spending three consecutive weekends on the hunt.
  4. Empty your pockets: A few years after that Ikea nightmare, I had a bigger budget and spent a long day mattress shopping only to realize I didn’t have my apartment keys. Sometime during the day, most likely when I fell back and splayed out on a test model, they’d fallen out of my pocket. Fortunately, my boyfriend let me in. But going back and revisiting each mattress store the next day until I’d found them was embarrassing.
  5. If buying used, older is better: In this case, older refers to the age of the mattress’s previous owner. The one I sleep on, a life-changing $2,500 Tempur-Pedic (the mattress I have isn’t sold anymore, but the brand says this one would be a close match), used to be my grandmother’s. She didn’t have much to spend money on when she was in her 80s, and since she spent a lot of time in bed, she invested in a very comfortable mattress for her last days. The pillow-top mattress in my spare room — which Airbnb guests have never complained about — came from an estate sale.
  6. Get help picking the mattress, but assemble yourself:Last year when my friend Kayla moved her family from Hawaii to Montana she splurged on a Sleep Number. She got her number (how firm or soft her mattress should be) calculated in store and was sleeping soundly from day one. Her husband, who didn’t get his number calculated in store, spent about a month at home trying to find his on his own. She also said she wishes they’d saved the $280 they paid to have the delivery team assemble it for them. The setup instructions are in the manual (and online), and if you have a few tools and a little mechanical inclination, it’s not too bad.
  7. Read the fine print: I’ve never returned a mattress (although I probably should have). But, I’ve heard horror stories from friends forced to pay exorbitant removal and/or restocking fees. Most stores will let you return a mattress. But it might cost you. Also, that warranty may not be as worthwhile as it seems. Most warranties are prorated and many require you to use the mattress with a certain frame or box spring. They’re immediately void if you use things like heating pads or electric blankets. Also, remember that your warranty is only good as long as the manufacturer is in business.
  8. Cooling gel is worth the hype: When my boyfriend first bragged about his new cooling gel mattress, I laughed and rolled my eyes. I was convinced it was just a gimmick and that, if he really wanted to avoid waking up in a sweat, he should ditch his Eddie Bauer duvet. But, after sleeping on it, I agree that it’s great. The cooling gel isn’t cold to the touch like I initially thought. It’s more breathable than traditional memory foam, so body heat doesn’t get trapped and make it too warm for comfort.
  9. $200 can be all it takes: After experiencing that $100 Ikea nightmare, I made sure the next mattress I bought was at least $600 — as if price was the best reflection of quality. Almost a decade later, mattress technology is better than ever, and thanks to online shopping, pricing is more competitive. The idea of getting a comfortable mattress without dipping too deeply into your savings isn’t unheard of. In fact, 6 of Amazon’s top 10 best-selling mattresses have price tags under $200. Sure, you may not get to test the Zinus Memory Foam Green Tea Mattress before getting out your credit card. But that’s where more than 25,000 online reviews come in handy. Plus, one TODAY staffer slept on the best-selling Zinus for six months and said it’s the best mattress she’s ever owned.
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