I’m a mattress expert — the biggest mistake people make when choosing a mattress

 A man with dark hair and a woman with red hair go mattress shopping together
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As a sleep and mattress editor, I spend a lot of time helping people to choose the very best mattress for super-comfy sleep. There are many considerations to make when buying a new mattress and it’s important to factor them all in before you start shopping online or in store.

These factors include your sleeping position, body weight, whether you sleep alone or bedshare, and any health issues that may impact your sleep. All of these together will quickly lead you towards the right mattress.

However, there’s one mistake that people make over and over when choosing a mattress and I’m sharing it here in the hopes that you can avoid it. So if you’re planning on shopping this year’s Presidents’ Day mattress sales, here’s the one thing I’d love for you to avoid…

The biggest mistake people make when choosing a mattress

Buying a mattress based on price alone is the biggest mistake people make when choosing a mattress. I fully understand that we’re in a global cost of living crisis, and sometimes needs must when it comes to bigger purchases like beds, but with so many great value hybrid and memory foam mattresses around nowadays, you can shop smart on a budget.

If you buy a mattress based on price alone, you may get lucky and find it comfortable for a while. But, based on my experience as a mattress tester, chances are you’ll choose one that isn’t ideally suited to your body and sleep needs. 

So yes you’ll save money, but you’ll be at risk of the following:

  • Poor sleep quality – An uncomfy mattress won’t help you get into a deeper sleep state. Also, you won’t sleep as long as you could on a mattress well-suited to your specific needs.
  • Aches and pains – I know from experience that sleeping on a mattress that’s too firm for my side sleeping position and body weight will create too many pressure points. My sleep is then broken because I can’t get comfy, and I wake up sore and sleep deprived. Don’t let this happen to you.
  • Overheating – If you experience overheating during sleep, or night sweats or hot flashes (flushes), choosing a breathable mattress is a must. Unfortunately, a lot of cheaper beds trap heat, creating a mini oven for hot sleepers.
  • Motion disturbance – This speaks directly to bed sharers who sleep with a person (or a pet) who moves around a lot in their sleep. A mattress without good motion isolation will transfer all of those movements across to you and your sleep will suffer.

Image shows white sale tags on a red background

(Image credit: Getty Images)

These pitfalls aren’t solely related to cheap mattresses either – I see people snapping up popular mattresses in a box purely based on their sale price alone, even though that bed isn’t ideal for them. And I get it – bargains on popular items are hard to resist.

The saving grace here is that most mattresses sold online come on a mattress trial (also known as a sleep trial). This is a set period of time, averaging around 100 nights, that you can sleep on the mattress for and still return it if you feel it isn’t right for you.

If you try to return outside of the trial period, you won’t be successful. But 100 nights is ample – I recommend sleeping on a new mattress for at least 30 consecutive nights to give your body time to break it in and respond.

How to choose a mattress: 5 expert tips

OK, so now that you know what to avoid, what should you do when choosing a mattress? These are my top tips, based on my experience of researching and testing a wide range of traditional and boxed beds…

1. Consider your sleep position first

The position you sleep in has a big say in what type of mattress you should choose. Generally speaking, stomach and back sleepers are better off on medium-firm to firm hybrid mattresses and firmer memory foam mattresses. These will keep you on top of the mattress, instead of sinking down into it where your spine would dip out of alignment (ouch).

Side sleepers are normally better off on a medium-firm or plusher mattress, usually made of foam because it offers better contouring and a ‘body hug’ feel. Word of caution: if you bed share with your child, you must sleep on a firm, breathable mattress regardless of sleeping position to keep them safe on a flat, breathable surface.

2. Factor in your bed buddy (if you have one)

Sharing a bed is actually a big commitment as your sleep can be severely impacted by your partner if you’ve chosen the wrong mattress and they are a restless sleeper. For couples, the most important mattress feature to look for is motion isolation. This ensures that any motion either of you creates on your side of the mattress isn’t transferred to the other person.

A man with dark hair rolls his eyes in frustration and holds a pillow to his ears because his partner is snoring

(Image credit: Getty)

3. Choose a mattress that tackles your sleep issues

Overheating is one of the most common disturbers of sleep – I deal with it myself so I know how challenging it is. If you sleep hot and don’t have the budget for a top-rated cooling mattress (they’re expensive), look for cooling materials and features within the cheaper mattress you’re considering. 

I’m talking breathable cotton or Tencel mattress covers, gel-infused foams and wool liners. Cheap hybrid mattresses are your best bet as air circulates better in and around coils and springs.

Other issues that the right mattress can help alleviate during sleep: hip, back and joint pain, snoring (if paired with an adjustable bed base), and allergies (natural mattresses).

4. Keep your body weight in mind

Body weight isn’t something most people think about when buying a mattress, but it’s important when choosing the comfort / firmness level of a mattress. Brands can be allusive about what constitutes an average body weight, a lighter weight and a heavier weight, but here’s a rough guide:

For adults who weigh 150lbs or under – choose a softer mattress to cradle your body more when side sleeping, or a medium-firm if stomach and back sleeping or you enjoy a harder bed.

For adults who weigh between 160lbs and 240lbs – you have the most choice available to you, but I’d suggest starting with a medium-firm (it suits most people) and exchanging for a softer or firmer bed as needed within your trial period.

For adults who weigh over 250lbs – consider a firm mattress, and a hybrid at that, to keep your body on top of the mattress where it will be best supported.

5. Only choose a mattress that comes on a trial

I covered this above, but my number one golden rule when buying a mattress online or in store is to make sure it comes on a sleep trial. These usually run for around 100 nights, with some brands like Saatva, Nectar and Emma Sleep offering year-long trials. 

A mattress trial means that if you change your mind about the mattress you choose, you can exchange it for a different type (foam for hybrid, for example), a different firmness, or ask for a refund. Always use the best mattress protector you can during a trial period as you won’t be able to return a stained or damaged mattress. A protector helps keep your bed healthy for the long term anyway.

Today's best mattress sales to consider

Claire Davies
Senior Sleep Editor, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Claire Davies is Tom's Guide's mattress expert and main sleep product tester with over 15 years' product review experience, and she is responsible for all mattress and sleep coverage on the site. A qualified journalist, Sleep Editor and Certified Sleep Science Coach, Claire writes about all things related to sleep, from mattress reviews to the latest sleep techniques and research. Claire has interviewed a wealth of experts, from mattress designers and innovators to neuroscientists and doctors of sleep medicine. Before taking on the role of Sleep Editor, Claire worked as Health & Wellness Editor at Top Ten Reviews, and before that was a Senior Content Editor at T3. Claire is super-passionate about how consistent, good quality sleep can boost our physical and mental wellbeing, and would love to hear from PRs and brands regarding sleep products, services and research that can help our readers sleep better than ever.