Brand new member asking for mattress selection advice

Dear Phoenix,

Thank you for offering such a wonderful web site and for all of the information you provide!

I am asking for your recommendations in choosing the right type of mattress. My husband and I have done a great deal of research, including on Mattress Underground (the general articles, your comments and user comments) and Sleep Like the Dead. We have tried out a number of mattresses, including at Sleep Train, Nest Bedding and Mattress Discounters. We’d love to buy from Nest if we can determine that they have the right choice but we don’t want the choice of store to push our mattress selection, and we’re not certain what will work best or whether there are types we haven’t considered enough. The more we research and the more we try out beds, the more confused we are. Since you are so amazingly generous with your thoughts and knowledge, I thought I’d run our situation by you and ask what you suggest we try out.

My husband is mostly a side sleeper by choice but often ends up on his back during his sleep. When he wakes, he returns to his side as it is more comfortable.

Regrets for including so much detail here, but it’s critical to our choice. Due to very severe shoulder problems, I have to sleep on my back. However, I also have even more severe cervical and lower back degeneration. Although I have to sleep on my back, it is uncomfortable (even with a pillow under my knees.) I’m assuming that part of this might be a worn out mattress. During the night, I have to lay on my side for periods to ease the pressure on my lower back, so I need something to accommodate my shoulder also.

For nine years, we have slept on a Gentle Firm combination McRoskey box spring and mattress, the last couple of years with an LL Bean Supportek foam topper off and on at times. In purchasing something new, we are thinking more of a platform bed and good mattress.

We had not previously considered memory foam as I had read that it’s too difficult to move, and I need to be able to shift without pressure on my shoulder, but I’ve been told by Nest that not all memory foam creates that problem. We had thought the Serenity Gel mattress might be an option, but I’ve read your comments on Bed in a Box foam; plus I wondered when we tried it if it might be a drop soft for my back. Even if you lay on a mattress for a while, it’s hard to predict. We’re not sure if latex would be too hard or if we should look at more latex types. Basically, we’re at the point of being overwhelmed by knowing too much rather than not enough.

I would appreciate any thoughts you have to offer. We are located about ½ hour south of San Francisco.

Thanks so much!

Hi ergopower,

The first place I would start your research is post #1 here (just in case you haven’t read it) which has all the basic information, steps, and guidelines you will need to make the choice that is best for you.

Unfortunately there are too many unknowns and variables for anyone (including me) to make any specific mattress recommendations for someone else out of all the many thousands of different types that are available (see mattress firmness/comfort levels in post #2 here). Only your own personal testing and/or experience can know with any certainty which material you prefer or which mattress is most suitable for your specific needs and preferences in terms of PPP (Posture and alignment, Pressure relief, and Personal preferences). Of course no matter what type of mattress or material combinations you prefer … knowing the quality/durability of the materials inside the mattress are an important part of making meaningful comparisons and an informed purchase decision because no matter how comfortable or supportive a mattress may be in a showroom … if a mattress only maintains its comfort or support for a short time then it would have little “value” for you. In effect you can test for comfort and support/alignment but you can’t “feel” the quality of the mattress so for this you need to know the specifics of all the components and materials in the mattress.

In general the most effective approach is to choose the retailers or manufacturers you are dealing with as carefully as you do your mattress so that you are dealing with an “expert” who is knowledgeable, experienced, and transparent about the mattresses they sell and can help you make more informed choices that are the best quality available in your budget.

You have some good options in the San Francisco area that make or sell good quality and value mattresses of every type. The better ones I’m aware of are listed in post #2 here.

Once you’ve done the basic reading (steps 1 and 2) the next step is to start testing different types of mattresses and materials so you are familiar with the differences between them and which combinations you prefer. The read first post also has some guidelines that you can use for testing mattresses to make sure they are suitable for you regardless of which type of mattress you prefer.

If you only spend time testing mattresses at retailers or manufacturers that will disclose the specifics of all the layers in their mattresses and focus on materials instead of brands then you will end up making much better quality and value choices and most importantly will be able to make more meaningful comparisons between them in terms of durability and “value”.


Thanks, Phoenix,

I realize it is difficult to recommend specifics; I was thinking more of types of material. Since I wrote earlier, we’ve read a bit more and are now leaning toward trying out the multi-layer latex mattresses at Nest, which we really didn’t give a chance when we were there. I looked at Post #2 and actually found the discussion above the retailer listings quite interesting. We want a softer comfort layer with firmer support layers below, so we’ll explore that further. I see there are a number of posts discussing the ILD factor, so I’ll get started reading those.

Thanks again.

Hi ergopower,

Even the types of material are strictly a personal preference. There are people who strongly prefer comfort layers that use latex, memory foam, polyfoam, or natural fibers (or any other materials used in comfort layers) and others who don’t like the same materials at all. The same is true of support layers such as innersprings, latex, or polyfoam. All of these are personal preferences.

The only common denominator is that no matter which materials you prefer that it’s high quality, good value, and suitable for your specific needs and preferences. More than that is really a matter of knowing which materials and components you prefer because one isn’t “better” than another for any specific person or circumstances unless it’s a personal preference.

If you are testing mattresses locally I would tend to avoid ILD information because it’s a “comfort spec” not a “quality spec” and it’s only one of many factors that is involved in the perceived softness or firmness of a mattress (see post #2 here). ILD is also not directly comparable between different materials or even different types of latex and with many materials (including innersprings, memory foam, or fibers) ILD information is not relevant or available anyway. Careful and objective testing for PPP and the “feedback” from your body will tell you what you need to know about whether a mattress is firm enough in the support layers and soft/firm enough in the comfort layers to keep you in good alignment and relieve pressure in all your sleeping positions. ILD will generally do more to confuse or in many cases lead to “paralysis by analysis” than it will help when you are testing mattresses locally and I would stick with knowing the “quality” specs of a mattress instead of “comfort specs” (which may not be available in many cases anyway).


Great advice. Thanks.

We decided on The Starling, a three layer latex mattress at Nest Bedding and are getting the Gotcha Covered organic waterproof mattress protector. We’ll start out with the firm layer on the bottom, the medium in the middle and the soft on top. We still have our 2" memory foam topper if it feels too firm against our shoulders. Or we have the option to swap out one of the layers if needed during the first six months. The mattress will sit on a platform bed, which we are also purchasing at Nest.

If anyone else has purchased The Starling, I’d be interested to hear about your experience. We’ll be getting our bed in a couple of weeks, and once we’re used to it, I’d be happy to share our experience.


Hi ergopower,

I think you made a good quality/value choice and as you probably know I think highly of Joe at Nest Bedding.

You also have some great options available after a purchase to re-arrange or exchange layers so you can further customize the mattress if you need to although the S/M/F layering is the most common.

I’m also looking forward to your feedback once you’ve slept on it and most importantly … congratulations on your new mattress :slight_smile:


Thanks much!

Hi, I am looking for suggestions from anyone who is a back sleeper and suffers back pain. Overall, we like our three layered Starling mattress, but I am having a lot of lower back pain. I think I am not getting the right pelvic tilt but that I am sinking in a drop too much. On the other hand, I can’t tolerate a firm bed.

Right now, we have the soft layer on top to accommodate shoulder problems, the medium layer in the middle, and the firm layer on the bottom. We have a very small space and it will be quite difficult for us to move the layers around as they are heavy. One of the sales reps at the store suggested we try the medium on the bottom, firm in the middle and soft on top. Before we try to find folks to help us switch, I wanted to see if anyone could suggest something that I put under the lower back area on my side of the mattress that won’t disrupt the portions above and below and that won’t tear the foam.

Thanks for your help!

Hi ergopower,

The first suggestion I would make is the same one they made which is moving the firmer layer closer to the surface and increasing the support of the mattress. I understand that this may be difficult with your cramped space but it’s the logical first step.

If you do decide to go in the direction of zoning then you are getting into much more complex scenarios that may involve some trial and error. There is more about zoning and some of the theory behind it and suggestions in post #11 here.


Thank you. We will try that.

We also still have the option, for a very short time longer, to trade in one of the layers for a different one. Since we need the soft on top, I assume we would then trade in the medium for a firm, depending upon our experience with the new configuration of the current layers.

I appreciate the help!

Hi ergopower,

One of the big advantages of the type of mattress you have is of course that you can re-arrange or exchange layers if you need to to some fine tuning or customizing.

I would focus on one step at a time and make sure that you test each combination for long enough that your body has time to “catch up” with the changes but if you need to go firmer yet then one of the logical choices would be to replace the medium layer with a firm.

I know that Joe is also a great source of guidance and is always just a phone call away :slight_smile: