Think I need a topper, but going in circles on what to get

I’m hoping for some advice in choosing a topper for our king bed. The mattress set is barely 2 years old, and looking back I think I was ganged up on a bit by the salesperson, who looked at my husband and never stopped pushing for a firm bed for us. I KNEW I needed a soft feel, as I am primarily a side sleeper and quickly suffer from pressure point pain in my shoulders if I can’t sink into the bed a bit. I’m about 145lbs, 5’6", and pretty bony in the shoulder area. My husband, on the other hand, is 5’11", 230lbs, and primarily a back sleeper. I know he needs firm support or he ends up with back pain. He also tends to get hotter than me at night (I often wear pajama pants in the summer because otherwise I’m cold). We ended up with a Serta with firm support + “super” pillow top. At first the pillow top was too firm for me once we got it home, then the padding softened up and it was great, and now my shoulder punches straight through the pillow top and into the firm support layers below. We’ve turned it and turned it, and my shoulder depression is in every quadrant, never to be avoided. In general I’ve been fighting shoulder and neck pain for months now (started after an injury). It’s bad enough that I can’t really sleep on my left shoulder, which is leaving my right to take the brunt of the too-hard bed at night. Needless to say I’m not sleeping much, and even with physical therapy my pain is not improving. SO, I know I need to change my bed, but I’m afraid of helping myself at the cost of undoing my husband’s current comfort. My hunt for a topper first landed me at looking at king memory foam toppers for about $140, with thousands of reviews. Then I worried they’d make my husband too hot, so I started looking at memory foam with gel added, and started worrying about the mess they can make w/ the beads coming out and sticking to everything if there isn’t a zippered cover. Then I realized that most of these places won’t let you return the topper if it isn’t right for you, and I began to have doubts about EVERYTHING. I found your site and have started combing your member companies for options, but at this point I’m totally lost on what is most likely the best fit for us. We’re tight on money at the moment, so I really don’t want to spend more than about $250 if I can help it, which turned me away from latex based on what I’ve found so far. But I also realize that buying something because it’s affordable can turn out to be a very bad deal if it isn’t the right product. I’m also not sure which would be better for my pain while minimizing the impact on my husband. I’ve never slept on memory foarm before to know what I like or dislike about it, nor has my husband. I’ve done nothing but research these toppers for the past 2 sleepless days/nights, and my head is spinning. Help is much appreciated!!

Hi emm0119,

Buying a topper can be somewhat tricky (just like choosing a mattress) because there are so many unknowns and variables involved (connected to the person as well as the mattress itself) that there isn’t a formula that can use “theory at a distance” to make the best choice. I would also be cautious because if the foam in the comfort layers of your mattress has softened then any topper will just follow the dips and soft spots which could be risky in terms of alignment if the foam in the upper layers of your mattress under your pelvis has also softened.

Since your biggest issue is pressure relief then a topper can help (as long as you are aware that a thicker topper also increases the risk of alignment issues) and post #2 here and some of the other posts it links to can help you make the best possible choice based on your actual experience and symptoms on the mattress.

I would choose a good quality material but the type of topper would be based on your preferences. The thinnest topper that you believe will provide you with the pressure relief you need for your shoulders so that the alignment risk is minimized would normally be the best choice. As you mentioned, toppers in most cases aren’t returnable so there is some risk involved unless you are able to test a specific topper with your mattress which is really the only way to know for certain that the topper is suitable for you outside of the guidelines I linked.

One of the ways to lower your risk is with more detailed conversations with a retailer or manufacturer that is knowledgeable and the more information you can provide them about your specific symptoms and the details of your mattress the better the odds that they can help you make the best possible choice that has higher odds of success. The other way to lower your risk is to purchase from a supplier that has a good return policy (some of the big box stores are examples) and some of the other listed options also have return policies as well that will vary in terms of the cost of returning a topper.

You can read a little more about all the factors involved in temperature regulation in post #2 here and the other posts it links to but in general gel materials will only have a temporary effect on your sleeping temperature when you are first going to sleep and once temperatures equalize then the foam will once again become an insulator. Materials and fabrics that provide good ventilation, airflow, and moisture wicking in the upper layers of your mattress (including the quilt and cover) and in your mattress protector, sheets, and bedding are the most effective way to regulate temperature over the full course of the night.


Thanks, Phoenix. I know there isn’t a single formula that will work for everyone, but without previous experience with a topper or foam mattress of any kind, I’m really feeling like I could throw a dart blindfolded, even after reading pages and pages in this forum (since my first post I’ve found most of what you linked for me). Outside of a cheap memory foam pillow, my experience is nada. I’ve seen you mention the utility of instinct, to which I would respond that what I want to get most out of a topper is the ability for my shoulder to sink more, with a feeling of softness, to allow my alignment to actually reach what it needs to and to avoid the awful pressure I have now. Right now I feel like I’m sleeping on a thin pillow on the floor, where my shoulder is just too high and stopped up against a rock. My hips are likely too high as well - I sometimes wake up with lower back pain in addition to the constant tossing and turning from my shoulder aching. To be clear the force I feel on my shoulder in our bed is uncomfortable the second I get in bed - it turns into pain that wakes me up every hour. In looking at 1 and maybe 2" toppers, my first thought is how on earth is that going to make any difference?? I’ve tried layering a comforter under the fitted sheet on my side of the bed (folded in thirds lengthwise), and it makes a positive difference but falls far short of what I think I need. I felt a 2" memory foam sample (one of those little pillow sized blocks) at bed bath and beyond, and leaning my elbow on it I got the sense I’d bottom it out with my shoulder and never feel a difference. I think it was this one: Is a person my size, hourglass shape with a lot of pressure on a small area in the shoulder, likely to bottom out a better quality 4-5lb 2" memory foam placed on a relatively firm mattress, do you think? By what I’ve read on the rest of the internet I was being led to believe I likely needed 3". However, that gave me pause given the likelihood of my husband getting the hammock effect (based on instinct given how he’s built and the impression he leaves on the pillowtop).

So, I have no experience, and the only way I seem to have to get experience is to bring something home. You mentioned big box stores with return policies. I’ve checked costco, but all they have at the warehouse is a gel particulate topper I don’t much like the sound of based on what I’ve learned about them. Can you think of any other stores (B&M or online) that take returns on toppers you would consider worthwhile quality for a graduate student’s budget ? I’m in SE Michigan.

Thanks so much for your help!!

Hi emm0119,

In cases like this if you don’t have any personal experience testing specific materials as a reference point and you don’t feel comfortable with the guidelines I linked then you would need to keep your expectations realistic and would be dependent on the results of more detailed conversations with the retailers or manufacturers you talk with (that I linked earlier) about the specific toppers they sell. If they are experienced and knowledgeable and you provide them with as much information as possible about your experiences, preferences, and your mattress then they may be able to give you some insights and “educated guesses” about which of their toppers may be most suitable based on “averages” of other customers that who may be similar to you and have similar circumstances.

The other way that you can lower your risk is with a good return policy so if you make a mistake then you would at least be able to return the topper and try again at little to no cost.

Post #2 here has some links to some of the theory as it relates to body type, sleeping style and other factors but these are only generic concepts and there are too many variables, unknowns, and individual preferences to make specific choices based on “theory at a distance”. You would also need to know the specifics of the layers in the mattress you have. The guidelines are a way to choose based on your actual experience based on whether you need “just a touch to a little”, or “a little to a fair bit”, or a “fair bit to a lot” in terms of pressure relief. This way you can use your best judgement because only you can feel what you are feeling on your mattress.

I can also tell you that outside of lying on the topper on your own mattress that samples won’t provide you with any sense of how a topper may feel and perform.

I’m certainly happy with helping with how to choose (your own personal testing first if that’s possible, connecting with more knowledgeable and experienced retailers and manufacturers along with the guidelines second, and making sure that if you don’t have a reasonable level of confidence after these that you only buy from somewhere that has a good return policy third) but what to choose is always up to your personal value equation and risk tolerance.

The most common big box stores are Costco, WalMart, and Sams Club but some of the retailers on Amazon and some on the list I linked also have return policies. I don’t have a specific list of the return policies of each retailer or manufacturer so you would need to talk to them or check their site.