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Foam or innerspring: tips for choosing a new mattress

Selecting a mattress can seem daunting — especially if you and your spouse share a bed and have different preferences for sleeping. Here is some information to consider when upgrading your sleep options.
FILE - Choosing a new mattress is a major decision and warrants careful consideration. (Source – depositphotos)

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Getting enough restful slumber is a critical component of good health. People deprived of sleep show significant reductions in performance and alertness, according to WebMD.com. In fact, losing 90 minutes of sleep for just one night can reduce daytime alertness by as much as 32 percent. In addition, lack of sleep is a contributing factor in a wide range of illnesses.

Because sleep is so vital to health, choosing the right mattress is an important decision. After all, in the U.S. many people change their cars more often than they buy new mattresses. You’ll literally be spending years on a mattress, so you want to get it right.

Selecting a mattress can seem daunting — especially if you and your spouse share a bed and have different preferences for sleeping. Fortunately, a wide variety of mattresses are available, and chances are you can find one that works for your needs. Here is some information to consider when upgrading your sleep options.

Memory foam

Memory-foam mattresses mold to the shape of your body and return to their original shape when you get up. The Better Sleep Council explains they use one or more types of foam including polyurethane foam, memory foam or latex foam. Some also include gel or other materials. Foam can be manufactured in a variety of shapes and densities to provide different comfort, feel and heat dissipation features.


An innerspring mattress has a steel coil support system. The council notes there are many types of spring systems, including units with connected springs and individually wrapped pocketed coils. While a higher number of springs is generally good, the shape and design varies as does the thickness of the steel in the coils.

The coil layer is covered by padding or upholstery materials, which can include various foams, fiber and even additional layers of smaller steel springs.

Hybrids and others

Hybrid mattresses typically have a steel coil support system as well as some type of foam: polyurethane, latex, memory or even gel. Then there are pillowtop mattresses, inflatable mattresses and adjustable mattresses.

Whether you prefer foam, springs, a blend of both or something else is a matter of personal preference. There is plenty of research about which type of mattress is best and many of the conclusions are contradictory.

“The reason for all this controversy is that sleep quality and comfort are so darn subjective,” explains Laura Newcomer in an article about choosing the best mattress. “When buying a mattress, the most important consideration is probably personal comfort.”

One way to get a feel for each is to visit a reputable, experienced mattress retailer where knowledgeable staff can explain the differences and answer any questions.

Take time to test

“When shopping for a mattress, try to lie on the mattress in the store for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Don't feel self-conscious or let the salesperson hurry you along,” advises Spine-health. Couples should test out the mattress together. A mattress is a big purchase, so you want to make sure you give yourself enough time to see how it feels to you.

When making your selection, ask about the return policy, advises Newcomer. You don’t want to be stuck with an expensive mattress that doesn’t give you the peaceful sleep you need. As a result, it makes sense to buy from an established mattress retailer and not from a discount wholesaler or a big box general retail store.

Once you’ve made your choice, allow yourself time to adjust. It might take several nights before you feel comfortable sleeping on a new mattress.

Flint Stephens has a master's degree in communication. He writes regularly on business, financial and medical topics.