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the strategist

With all the mattress brands and styles available these days, choosing one can feel overwhelming, whether you’re looking for a $259 budget queen or a $3,199 organic king. There are mattress-in-a-box options that can be delivered in just one business day, and companies that offer hand-tufted, dual-profile versions made to your preferred firmness and material requirements. You can also find models with biometric sensors, adjustable firmness and gel-infused foam.

“There’s new advancements that happen every year,” says Dan McKinley, vice-president of sales and customer experience at Sleep Country, a national retailer. At the moment, manufacturers are particularly focused on isolating movement and managing temperatures.

The options might be vast, but since we spend about a third of our lives in bed, it’s worth taking the time to find the right mattress for you.

Vancouver Island resident Lynda Burton found her “fabulous” forever mattress earlier this year, after trying “box spring thing,” a foam mattress, an egg-crate-style foam topper and a latex mattress. About six months ago, she upgraded to an organic, sustainably harvested latex mattress by Kakun that is 30 centimetres thick. “It was an investment, but I can’t tell you the difference it’s made,” says Burton, who has had back problems for decades. “It’s so wonderful to lay down, and I can now stay in bed all night, and that’s the first time in a couple of years now.”

How do I know it’s time for a new mattress?

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If you’re waking up sore and stiff but the discomfort tends to get better throughout the day, or you find that you’re sleeping much better in a different bed on vacation, these can be good indicators that it’s time for a new mattress, McKinley advises. He suggests replacing your mattress every eight to ten years, so you can take advantage of new advancements and ensure that your body is getting the best support possible.

“The minute you start thinking about your mattress is the time that you should be thinking about buying a new mattress,” says Neil Stanley, an U.K.-based independent sleep scientist. In his opinion, the age of a mattress is less important than how you feel sleeping in it. “A rubbish mattress will last maybe a year, an excellent handmade mattress will last a lifetime,” Stanley says.

How much should I spend on a mattress?

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“Try to find a budget that you can be comfortable with, but I would stretch it as much as you can because you’ll absolutely thank yourself for doing it,” McKinley says. According to him, the typical customer at Sleep Country spends between $900 and $1,500 on a mattress, although the company offers a $8,500 style that boasts gel-infused memory foam wrapped in wool and silk fibre.

“My view is if you spend less on your bed than you have on your television, then you’re probably got your priorities wrong,” Stanley says. “You get what you pay for, so if you buy a bed for $200 then you’re probably not going to get the best, most comfortable, most durable bed.”

At the same time, it’s not necessary to buy the most expensive option, either. “Very simply, it’s sort of like the law of diminishing returns,” Stanley explains. “The most expensive bed in the U.K. in a super king size is £106,000 pounds. I would defy anybody to say that they would notice that being 20 times better than a £5,000 pound bed, or 100 times better than £1,000 pound bed.”

So while price can be an indicator of quality, it is not necessarily a guarantee of comfort, he says. “Find the bed that is comfortable for you.”

What’s the difference between a foam, spring and hybrid mattress?

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Foam mattresses have a foam core, usually about 13 to 18 centimetres, which provides your body the support it needs so the mattress is not sagging in certain areas. Spring mattresses have various types of coils for support, which can be tied together or individually wrapped. Hybrid styles, which are increasingly common, combines both support mechanisms.

There are pros and cons to each type – for example, foam is notorious for retaining body heat and becoming too warm. But the main thing to consider is if you like the feel of a mattress. “When you go into a bed showroom and you lay on a bed, it will be very clear to you whether you like it or not,” Stanley says. Factors such as your height, weight, shape and any medical conditions are what will affect the comfort of the bed, more so than the material.

What type of mattress is best for my sleep style?

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Broadly speaking, North Americans – at least when they’re staying at luxury hotels – are looking for firmer mattresses that still offer some plushness and a little bit of a sink, says Andrea Torrance, a senior vice-president of guest experience at hospitality company Accor. It’s what she calls, “that instant luxury feeling.”

But your sleep style may be less important than you might think. “Science does not recognize side sleepers or back sleepers or any other type of sleepers,” Stanley says. “You move 12 to 20 times a night … and 30 per cent of people who claim to fall asleep in a particular position have been shown to get that completely wrong.”

What you will want to consider is your size, body shape, the mechanics of how you sleep and if you have any injuries or sensitive areas. Then, look for a bed that can offer you the type of support that you need. Another consideration is the comfort level that feels natural to you. “Some people want to just drop into bed and feel like it cradles you and it’s soft … and cozy, and others like it more firm,” McKinley says.

How should I test a mattress?

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“You need to shop around, you absolutely need to lay on that bed – don’t just sit on the side,” Torrance says. And make sure to lie down on both sides of that bed. “You want to know that it’s pretty uniform across,” she adds.

Stanley recommends an even more thorough test. “Get on the mattress, lay down. If initially it feels okay, then spend 10 minutes on that mattress, turning onto your side, onto your back.” You want a mattress you can turn easily in, that supports you and feels comfortable. Ideally, you should also be able to lie flat on the bed on your back without a pillow, and lift both your feet up without that movement hurting the small of your back.

Then, you want to look at the alignment of your spine. “When you’re lying on your side, your spine should be straight,” Dr. Stanley says. “If you are lying on your back then ... you should actually be able to push the flat of your hand underneath the small of your back.”

What if I’m buying a mattress online?

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Go with a reputable company, and look for one that offers some type of recourse if you don’t like the product, McKinley says. Then look for someone who can offer you some type of insight into the company’s range of options.

Stanley believes that “you cannot successfully buy a bed off the internet,” but he does suggest that if you have to, “make sure you buy one from a company that has a good returns policy.”