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Mattress Shopping Without Nightmares

Updated on May 31, 2010

If you've been sleeping on the same mattress for the past seven or eight years, and you're having trouble sleeping, then you may need a new one. Sleep experts advise never letting a single mattress reach its tenth birthday. If it's been at least that long since you've shopped for a bed, be prepared to find a whole new world out there. With technological advances in materials and coil construction, today's innerspring mattresses are better made than they were a decade ago. But before you buy, it's a good idea to decipher the confusing terminology used by manufacturers.

Do you want a "premium," "super-premium," "ultra-premium," or "luxury" mattress? And what about the firmness level? Do you want to sleep on a surface that's "pillow soft," "plush," "cushion firm," or "superfirm?" While you're busy puzzling over these labels, keep in mind that one manufacturer's "firm" may be even firmer than another's "superfirm."

Also note that some superfirms can equate to sleeping on concrete. Unless you like to cuddle up on a slate pool table to go to sleep, you might find these versions far too stiff for anyone but a featherweight. Yes, it’s definitely true that a harder mattress will help prevent back problems but that’s only if you’re used to sleeping in a hammock. Moderation in all things, including moderation!

You'll have to put in some leg work when comparing brands — manufacturers and many retailers don't make comparison shopping easy. Retailers often insist on exclusive lines, so manufacturers comply by changing the outward appearance of their mattresses for each outlet — but the construction is the same. Look for mattresses with the same basic components, but expect them to differ in name, ticking fabric, and quilting pattern from store to store. Competition is fierce, so price is often a good measure of similar-quality items.

Don't let the lack of industry standards give you nightmares. Focus on coils, padding, and edge construction.

The typical problems solved by high-quality mattress construction are the ones that keep you tossing and turning at night: “roll-together” (Fancy meeting you here . . .), edge breakdown, and the permanent impression of your silhouette on your side of the bed. A little knowledge about what manufacturers actually tuck in between the ticking will help you make an informed decision about which mattress you want to sleep on night after night, year after year.

To start with, think of a mattress as a giant sandwich — a double-decker, actually — because the mattress and box spring work in tandem. You should never buy one without the other. At the center of this mattress “sandwich” are the coils, the “meat” of the mattress. Above and below these steel springs are anywhere from four to 10 layers of padding, identical on the top and bottom. Encasing all of this is the covering, or ticking. Finally, some top-of-the-line mattresses have a full-length body pillow — a soft cushion attached to one or both sides of the mattress — for a really plush, opulent, luxurious, extremely comfortable and cuddly feeling.

Continued In Mattress Shopping Without Nightmares Part 2

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