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UC Berkeley Wellness Letter - Buying Guide for mattresses

From the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter......


"Have Swedish scientists really created "the world's best bed," guaranteed to give you "83% better sleep" and "recommended by 25,000 doctors and sleep clinics"? Is a hard mattress better for your back than a soft one? No and no. The idea that there is a "best" bed exists mostly in ad copy. A hard mattress might be excellent, but only if that's what feels comfortable to you. If you like a softer mattress, your back will be fine. There is such a thing as too hard. There is no scientific consensus on what makes a good mattress. Your mattress is a health issue only if it is uncomfortable and interferes with your sleep and/or leaves you with a backache.

Comfort depends on a balance of heat, moisture and pressure against points of the body. A small study published in Applied Ergonomics recently found that "most commercially available mattresses are likely to be rated at least 'reasonably comfortable' by most potential purchasers." Comfort is subjective. Around the world, people sleep comfortably on straw mats or the floor, in hammocks, and on mattresses of every description. This is one category, at least, where what feels good is good.


If your mattress has developed peaks and valleys or sags in the center, or if a coil is poking out, or if it's just not comfortable, you need a new one. Mattresses wear out at different rates.

If your mattress is too hard but in good shape, an inexpensive layer of foam or a down-filled liner (feather bed) may correct the problem and save replacing the mattress.

Many people find an inner-spring mattress atop a box spring most comfortable. Others like a foam mattress on a platform. Still others sleep well on a futon. Some people like water beds. Whatever works for you is okay. The trend today is toward bigger beds - king or queen size - and thicker mattresses.

When buying a mattress from a store, do the Goldilocks test before buying: stretch out full length and see how it feels. If you share your bed, take your partner along for the test. If you order a mattress from one of the 800-number services, make sure you have a comfort guarantee, so that you can return the mattress if you don't like it. A comfort guarantee is a good idea even from a store - though you can never be certain the guarantee will be honored.

Comparison shopping for a mattress is difficult. The cheaper generic mattress at one store may be identical to the pricer brand-name model at another store - but it's hard to know. There is no industry standard on the definition of "firm," "extra-firm," and so on. A salesperson in a bedding chain store is sure to tell you to "invest" in your mattress and to emphasize that you spend one-third of your life in bed. He/she may be right, and the most expensive mattress may turn out to be the most comfortable and durable. But it may not."

- UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, November 1999


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