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How to choose the right mattress for your body and sleep style

Woman asleep with sleep mask on
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're wondering how to choose a mattress that suits you, there are several key things to keep in mind. We cover the basics in our best mattress guide, so here we’ll go into more detail for different sleeping styles and health needs.

Whether you need extra support for your back, something to cushion your pressure points, or something to help you sleep comfortably when hot, here we give you the insight you need.

What to look for in a mattress

Before you start shopping, it’s worth remembering that not all mattresses are created equal. First, there are different types of mattress to be aware of. These include: 

  • Innerspring – these contain coils and are ideal if you’re looking for a traditional-feeling bouncy mattress with extra support.
  • Memory foam – these offer deep pressure relief and ‘hug’ the body for higher levels of tailored comfort.
  • Latex – these come in organic or synthetic options (or a blend of the two) and are ideal if you want plenty of bounce, natural cooling and breathability, and greater durability. 
  • Hybrid – these typically combine springs with layers of foam or another material for the best of both worlds: good comfort and support, with increased airflow to keep you cool.

No matter what type of mattress you choose, it’s important to look for good-quality materials, as these offer superior comfort and help the mattress to last longer. For instance, look for a model with a strong base that’s made with higher-density foam for stability, or specific layers designed for comfort and support. 

Other factors to consider include cooling materials, which are essential if you tend to overheat at night. Look for cooling mattresses with a breathable cover, as well as innovations such as charcoal-infused gel foam that help draw out heat and promote healthier airflow. 

Our pick of the best memory foam mattresses can help you make a more informed choice if you sleep hot but still want the comfort of premium foam. 

How does your body affect your mattress choice?

How firm you find a mattress depends on a host of individual factors, such as your weight, height, age, and health. You can use the following guidance as a general rule for deciding which firmness might be right for you, but also remember that a good mattress will come with a decent risk-free trial period, so you can find out for yourself whether it’s a good fit for you.

  • If you weigh less than 150lbs – Lighter body weights usually feel more comfortable on softer to medium mattresses (4-6 firmness rating) with a plush top to cushion pressure points. If yours is too firm, it can throw your spine out of alignment and cause backache. However, adding a plush layer in the form of a good mattress topper is an easy fix. A snug, all-foam model is a good choice for lighter weight sleepers.
  • If you weigh between 150-200lbs – Medium-feel mattresses (6-7 firmness rating) are a good all-rounder here. Make sure there is a robust foundation layer and enough cushioning to support you in all sleeping positions. People in this weight bracket can pretty much take their pick of mattresses, as long as it offers equal layers of comfort and support.
  • If you weigh over 200lbs – If you are heavier in weight, then you will find that a firmer mattress (7-9 rating) will give you the proper support to keep your spine aligned. An innerspring model with a cushioning layer of foam will help you sleep more soundly without sinking in too far. 

If you suffer with physical health issues, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, keeping your spine aligned is essential to prevent tension and pain. Speak with a healthcare professional and ask them to help you choose a mattress that supports your health needs. 

How does your sleep style affect your mattress choice? 

A man in a blue t-shirt sleeps on a white pillow

(Image credit: Getty)

Sleeping position – whether it’s on your back, front, side, or combined – is another key factor to consider when choosing a mattress. Here’s a quick guide to which type of mattresses work better for each position: 

  • Back sleepers – A medium-firmness helps align the spine. If you sleep on your back you may put pressure on your spine all night, so it’s important to support it well. Hybrid mattresses offer balanced support with layers of coils and foam and are perfect for those who sleep face up.
  • Side sleepers – You need more support at the shoulders and hips, plus plenty of pressure relief. A medium-soft mattress that contours to your body is a good option and memory foam is especially comfy here.
  • Stomach sleepers – Sleeping on your front can often push your spine out of alignment, so you will need a mattress that keeps your hips level with your shoulders. So choose a firmer mattress, such as an innerspring or hybrid with a supportive base. 
  • Combination sleepers – A medium-firm offering is ideal if you tend to shift position as you sleep. And because combo sleepers need to be able to move around easily, a buoyant latex or hybrid mattress will help you change position, while also keeping the motion transfer to a minimum, which is good if you share a bed.

How to choose a mattress for back pain

Generally speaking, a medium-firm mattress is a good starting point if you suffer from back pain, as this provides support for the natural curves of your spine, while still allowing your shoulders and hips to sink in slightly for comfort.

Things to look out for when choosing a mattress for back pain include good-quality support. Springs and coils are excellent at providing this, but will need to be paired with a top layer that provides enough give for your pressure points. Also look for cooling top comfort layers – if you struggle to get into a comfortable position because you sleep hot, this could exacerbate your back pain as you toss and turn.

Firmness is also key. Sleeping on a bed that’s too soft isn’t recommended if you have back pain, as various points of your body could sink in too far and throw your spine out of alignment. And the same goes for a mattress that’s too firm – ideally you should be comfortably cradled into the mattress to some degree, rather than lying on top of it with no give.

Speak to your healthcare professional for advice, and consider buying from brands that have a Seal of Approval from the Congress of Chiropractic State Associations, such as Saatva. Read our Saatva Classic mattress review for more on our favorite model - it's currently up to $250 off in the Saatva mattress sale.

How to choose a mattress for kids and babies

Saatva Youth Mattress in a kids room with pillows and a cuddly toy

(Image credit: Saatva )

As kids grow, they need more sleep than adults to ensure they develop healthy bones, muscles and joints, so they will benefit from a comfy bed. However there are some safety considerations to think about when choosing a mattress for babies and children. 

Even though it might seem counterintuitive, you will need a firm mattress for your newborn and toddlers. If a mattress is too soft, it can be extremely dangerous if the infant sinks in too far, so using a firm mattress for the first few years of your child’s life is essential. Mattresses for kids must also meet strict safety regulations, such as CPSC standards in the US or British Safety Standards in the UK, so check for these before you buy.

A child or baby’s mattress should fit its cot or bed securely. It also needs to be well ventilated to keep the infant cool, dry and comfortable. Many toddler and baby mattresses are available with wipe-clean or removable covers or top panels that can be washed at high temperatures to minimize the build-up of bacteria.

As with adult beds, buy the highest quality crib mattress you can afford to ensure good quality and safety. Both Purple and Saatva offer plush children’s mattresses that will be a treat for little ones to sleep on.

How to choose a mattress for a guest room

Typically, guest beds are only used occasionally, and so the mattress won’t need the same level of support and comfort as your own. However, this doesn’t mean you should scrimp entirely, because a really cheap mattress won’t usually last long and will be uncomfortable for your guests. 

Many top brands have affordable mattresses suitable for different body weights and sleeping positions. The popular Nectar Memory Foam mattress, for instance, is well suited to every sleeping position and good value for money. Alternatively, you could upgrade your spare room mattress with a good mattress topper instead.

Now you know how to choose a mattress, you'll find our pick of the best options for all budgets in our expert best mattress guide. 

Jo is a mattress reviewer and sleep writer with several years' experience covering all things mattresses, pillows and slumber. What Jo doesn't know about a memory foam or hybrid mattress isn't worth knowing.