Testing advice

Hi mattress underground,

We’ve been sleeping on a (higher quality) futon the last 5 years or so. Unfortunately life in the Pacific northwest has done it in and some mold developed on the bottom. Time for a new mattress and fortunately there seems to be some quality options nearby…

We’ll be purchasing a queen mattress. My SO and me are about the same size - 5’ 9" with her being a little lighter than me at 125ish lbs as opposed to my 135ish. We sleep every which way on any given night.

We have been to Parklane and expect to be purchasing our new bed through them (kudos to them for sending us here!). At this point though we feel like we could be happy on a few of the mattresses they make - namely the Thurman, Hoyt, and Macadam. All are very different in terms of construction, cost, and (advertised) level of firmness though.

I have two main questions - Firstly, as the nearest showroom is about 1.5 hours away and a hassle to get to, is there a strategy anyone has employed to maximize the effectiveness of mattress testing? After an hour in the showroom trying different mattresses it seems to become more and more difficult to discern what’s best. I’ve seen the ‘15 minute’ guideline, but how does one account for multiple sleeping positions without spending the weekend in the store? We will take as many trips as necessary, but any pointers on minimizing that number would be really helpful!

Secondly, from what I’ve read I would expect there to be longevity differences in the mattresses we’re currently considering. I’ve seen material comparisons done for heavier people/couples, but not for smaller people. I’d still expect, for example, a 100% Talalay mattress to last longer than one with a 4lb/ft^3 memory foam layer, but is the difference in materials (from a longevity standpoint) as pronounced for a lighter person/couple?

Thanks for sharing the wealth of knowledge and clarifying our choices in an otherwise very convoluted industry!

Hi Spiff,

The tutorial post here has several links (in step 4) about testing mattresses that should be helpful.

The key with successful testing is as far as possible to duplicate the conditions of your bedroom when you are going to sleep. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes for your muscles (and mind) to relax so that the mattress is doing the work instead of your muscles and you can feel how the mattress is supporting you instead of your muscles. Even though it will feel odd to “prepare for sleep” in a showroom … I would test a mattress as if you are going to sleep for the night.

I would also make sure that you bring a suitable pillow (the alignment of your head and neck will make a difference in how a mattress feels and with shoulder pressure if you sleep on your side), wear loose and comfortable clothing (tight clothing or thick clothing can mask the feel or pressure relief of a mattress), make sure that if you are part of a couple that you test the mattress with both of you together, and pay close attention to the more subtle cues of your body because what you feel when you are testing can be amplified over the course of the night.

I would also make sure that you focus on testing for pressure relief, for alignment, and for overall “feel” as independent parts of your testing so that you don’t just test for the overall subjective “feel” of the mattress as well as testing for motion isolation and for how easy it is for you to change positions.

There is more in post #4 here about the many variables that affect the durability and the useful life of a mattress relative to each person. As you can see … the most “useful” definition of durability is …

“How long does a mattress remain suitable for the comfort and support needs and individual preferences of a specific person”.

Once you are beyond about 10 years or so on the same mattress … it becomes increasingly likely that the limiting factor in the useful life of the mattress is the changing needs and preferences of the person themselves (our bodies don’t stay the same indefinitely :)) as much as it may be the softening, breakdown, or compression of the materials themselves so a mattress may need to be replaced after that even though it isn’t “worn out” just because it isn’t suitable for our changing needs and preferences any longer. The longer you go past a decade or so … the more likely it becomes that the person themselves is the limiting factor in the useful life of a mattress.

Lighter body weights or body types where the weight is more evenly distributed will tend to put less stress and wear and tear on a mattress than higher body weights or less evenly distributed weight so less durable materials in a mattress design that is a good “match” and is well inside the “range” of a specific person in terms of PPP (not on the edge of being too soft) can still be durable enough to last a decade or longer while for someone else it may only last a few years before they cross the “fuzzy line” when they begin to experience some vague symptoms and start to tolerate a mattress a little more and sleep well on it a little less. Like aging in general … this is a gradual process that creeps up on everyone gradually over time until something happens that we become aware of changes or discomfort that we didn’t really notice sooner even though in retrospect it’s clear that it has been happening for some period of time.

The most important part of the “value” of a mattress purchase is how well it matches your specific needs and preferences in terms of PPP and how well you sleep on it over the years. If you make durability the biggest priority then the mattress may last longer but you may not sleep as well over the years and no matter what the price or durability of a mattress … if you don’t sleep well on it then it would have little value to you.

The next most important part of the “value” of a mattress purchase is how long you are able to sleep well on it before the gradual loss of comfort and support or your changing needs and preferences over time leads to the need to replace the mattress. As I mentioned … this may be a process that you don’t really notice until something happens where you realize that you haven’t been sleeping well for some time. No matter what the “value” of a mattress purchase or how well it matches your specific needs and preferences … if it doesn’t maintain the PPP that was the reason you purchased it in the first place for a reasonable length of time relative to the price you paid for it then it would also have little value to you (there are not many people that would be happy paying say $3000 for a mattress that they were only able to sleep well on for 3 or 4 years but if they only paid $500 for a mattress that lasted that long they wouldn’t be as unhappy).

So I would make PPP first, durability second, and then the other parts of your personal value equation that were important to you including the relative cost of one mattress vs another (assuming they were both in your budget rangge) would come after this. In other words … I would look for “weight appropriate durability” and prioritize PPP over durability rather than looking for “absolute durability”. If everything else was equal then of course I would choose more durable materials over less durable materials even though there is always the risk that the materials and the mattress may soften or break down more slowly than your needs and preferences may change over the years.

I would also avoid the temptation to think of a more costly or even a more durable mattress as being “better” or “more suitable” for you than one in a lower budget range or that uses less durable materials if it’s not as good or better in terms of PPP and as long as the materials are “durable enough” relative to your body type and the price you are paying it may still be the “best” mattress for you.