What Mattress Is Best for Me? Unbiased Science-Backed Advice

The best mattress for you is one that keeps your head, neck, and spine aligned, and the one that’s the most comfortable.
Published
2023-04-19
22 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Woman shopping for the best mattress

Buying a new mattress can feel like a minefield. Do you go for firm or soft? King size or Queen? A latex mattress or a pocket sprung one? 

Mattresses affect how well you sleep, and therefore have a knock-on effect on your energy, health, mood, and productivity. But you often buy one after a brief two-minute test in a brightly lit mattress store. Or worse, you buy one after visiting several websites that are driven by affiliate sales, with mattresses that all seem the same, which you can’t try before you buy. 

Add in the fact that mattresses are pricey purchases and it’s easy to see why mattress shopping can, ironically, cause some sleepless nights. 

Below, we attempt to make mattress buying easier. We’ll share what science has to say about the best mattress and how you can cut through the noise online. Plus, we’ll cover how the RISE app can help you get a good night’s sleep, no matter which mattress you choose. 

Heads-up: We’re not affiliated with any mattress companies. That means we can offer unbiased advice on the best mattress for you. In this article, we’ll share what science has to say on the topic to help you make the most informed decision.

Advice from a sleep doctor:

“There’s not a lot of conclusive research on mattresses, so it can be confusing when shopping for a new one. Look for a medium-firm mattress. These seem to be best at keeping your head, neck, and spine aligned, which is important for pain-free, comfortable sleep.”

Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

What Should I Think About When Buying a New Mattress?

Buying a new mattress can be overwhelming. Your sleep — and therefore your energy, health, and well-being — feel like they’re on the line, after all. 

In simple terms, here’s what you need to consider when buying a mattress: 

  • Firmness: For good sleep posture, you want your head, neck, spine, and hips to be aligned. A mattress that’s too hard may cause pain in pressure points, the points pressing into the mattress, like your shoulder and hip. A mattress that’s too soft, however, will cause you to sink too much into it, leading to spinal misalignment. The right level of firmness will depend on your sleep position (more on that below) and body weight (heavier builds may need more firmness than lighter builds). 
  • Material: The right material mattress can keep you cool and reduce allergens, both of which contribute to a good night’s sleep. Foam and latex may be cooler than wool and gel, for example. And foam can help with motion isolation, which stops bed partners from feeling each other's movements during the night. 
  • Size: In general, if you share a bed with someone, a larger mattress will make it less likely you’ll disturb each other at night. But a bigger size mattress isn’t always better. You need to think about your bedroom size and budget, too. 
  • Price range: The cost of mattresses can vary wildly. And while good sleep is worth the investment, the most expensive mattress isn’t always the best one for you. Mid-range priced mattresses work well.
  • Comfort: Getting enough sleep is the best thing you can do for your energy levels and overall health. There’s not a lot of research into the best mattress types, so go for something you find comfortable. 

When thinking about what’s important to you in a new mattress, think about how you wake up each morning. Do you have any neck or shoulder pain? Did your partner wake you up when they rolled over in the night? Or did you feel hot and sweaty? 

Getting the right mattress is important as it plays a huge role in how comfortable you feel in bed. And comfort plays a huge role in how easily you can fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.

Getting and staying comfortable becomes even more important as we age or if we have health conditions or areas of pain. But comfort is subjective. What an online mattress quiz or mattress brand article tells you is the best mattress for you may not be the most comfortable for you. And therefore may not help you maximize your time in bed. 

Think about firmness, material, size, and cost, of course, but remember that comfort should be your number one priority. 

There are some comprehensive guides out there to help you when you’re further along in your buying journey. We’ll be diving into the science of mattresses and offering unbiased advice so you know what to look for (and what to avoid), but we won’t be linking any products specifically. More on those resources soon.

What is the Best Mattress?

The short answer is: there is no one best mattress. There’s not enough scientific evidence to say which mattress is best, and the ideal mattress all depends on your sleep position, body type, and if you have any aches, pains, or health conditions. And that’s not even taking into account price, size, and material preference. 

And when we turn to science for answers? There aren’t many. There isn’t a lot of research into mattresses, and the research we do have has a few problems. Studies are often small and observational, and many look at mattresses for those with health issues (like back pain) and not the general population. Many studies also take place in sleep labs, so results may not carry over to sleeping at home in your own bed. 

Many studies don’t take into account how different our body sizes and shapes are, and there are even conflicting results across the research. They often use self-reported sleep quality data, and when measuring comfort, again, this is subjective. Plus, studies on mattresses are short — sometimes under a month — compared to the years and years you’ll be sleeping on one. So, it’s hard to say for sure what the best mattress really is. 

One 2019 review even states there’s not enough evidence to state the ideal spinal alignment or body pressure distribution, making it hard to evaluate mattresses. And some mattresses on the market have never been compared scientifically.  

All this may sound confusing, but it’s actually good news! There is no one best mattress, so you’re free to pick the one that’s the most comfortable for you. 

Here’s a roundup of some of the research we do have on mattresses highlighting which features can improve your sleep: 

A 2021 systematic review (with a focus on back pain) looked at mattress research and found the most comfortable mattresses that lead to better sleep quality: 

  • Maintained a higher body temperature during sleep 
  • Supported the “column curve,” or natural curves of the spine and neck 
  • Minimized unnecessary body movements 

A small 2006 study found that when sleeping on a “comfortable” mattress, participants’ skin temperature, sleep efficiency (the percentage of time you spend in bed actually sleeping), and percentage of deep sleep was higher. Body temperature, time awake during the night, and light sleep were lower. The study also notes that there’s no evidence supporting the fact that mattress firmness can make a difference on sleep quality. 

A 2012 study found mattresses with poor stability made people move more at night, which wasn’t ideal for sleep. But highly compressible mattresses (mattresses that compress a lot when you lay on them) could put pressure on nerves and blood vessels by keeping you too still. 

A 2009 study — on healthy participants, but only 32 of them — compared latex and spring mattresses. Both types of mattresses improved sleep, including sleep efficiency, sleep onset latency (how long it takes to fall asleep), and motor activity (body movement). But despite this, self-reported sleep quality didn’t improve. The study concluded: “Future studies should investigate if sleep quality improvement is merely due to the introduction of a new mattress or prevalently to the technological features of the mattress.” 

Again, this takes the stress off. Your sleep may improve just by getting a new mattress, no matter what mattress that is. 

What Mattress Do Sleep Doctors Recommend?

We turned to our sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, to get a sleep doctor’s take on the subject. Here’s what he had to say: 

“There’s not a lot of conclusive research on mattresses, so it can be confusing when shopping for a new one. Look for a medium-firm mattress. These seem to be best at keeping your head, neck, and spine aligned, which is important for pain-free, comfortable sleep.” RISE Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

How Do I Know if I Need a New Mattress?

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day.

Before you go mattress shopping, make sure you actually need a new one in the first place. There’s no set rule, but in general, you should consider replacing your mattress every eight years. But many factors influence how long mattresses last, and while the industry seems to agree on the eight year mark, there’s not much evidence behind this number. Some materials, like foam or latex, may last 10 to 15 years.

But if you’re regularly waking up with new aches and pains, your mattress shows signs of wear and tear or sagging, or you’re uncomfortable, you might be due a new mattress. 

There’s not enough evidence to say whether you need a new mattress as you age, but comfort may become harder and will be even more important as sleep gets harder, too. You may need a different mattress if health issues (like back pain) develop.  

If you’re looking into a new bed setup because you’re struggling to sleep or you’re experiencing pain, there are a few (cheaper) things you can try first: 

  • Sleep in a different position: Sleeping on your front? You might get neck and shoulder pain. Sleeping on your back? That can make snoring, sleep apnea, and acid reflux worse. Try switching up your sleep style to suit your needs. We’ve covered the best side to sleep on here.
  • Try different pillow placements: Where you place your pillow can make a difference to pain and comfort, and pillows can keep you in the right sleep position. We’ve covered more on proper pillow position for sleeping here and whether you should sleep without a pillow here. You can also try a weighted blanket, which research shows may help those with insomnia.
  • Improve your sleep hygiene: Your mattress may not be to blame for your sleep struggles. Poor sleep hygiene will make it hard to sleep, even on the perfect mattress. We’ve got advice on what to do below and RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits daily.  

If you’re considering a new mattress to deal with a health issue, we’ve got advice on: 

Do I Need a Mattress Topper?

Need a new mattress but can’t afford one? Try a mattress topper. There are many different types and, again, the best one for you will be the one you find most comfortable. 

A 2020 study found a soft topper that was 30 millimeters (about an inch) thick was best. It helped to reduce body pressure and temperature and keep the spine aligned. 

Another study found high rebound mattress toppers (think firm and supportive, or the opposite of memory foam, which is low rebound) created a larger decline in core body temperature. You need a drop in body temperature to help you fall asleep. This body temperature decline was linked to an increase in deep sleep.   

Mattress toppers can even help those with lower back pain. One study found a low-pressure inflatable mattress topper helped those with chronic pain have fewer sleep disruptions, feel less pain, and get more sleep overall. 

What is the Best Mattress for Side Sleepers?

If you’re a side sleeper, you’ll be putting pressure on your shoulder and hip. You want your mattress to be soft enough that it doesn’t cause any pain on these pressure points. But you don’t want a mattress that’s so soft you sink too far into it, causing your spine to be out of line with your head and neck. 

Your best bet is probably a mattress that’s medium or soft, depending on your personal preference. The softer the mattress, the more it can conform around your hip and shoulder, providing pressure relief. But you want to find the right level of contouring so that your back stays aligned.

Latex, gel, and memory foam mattresses can mold to your pressure points without being too firm.

Pillow tip: Choose a pillow that’s thick enough to fill the space between your head and the mattress when your neck is straight. A pillow between your knees can help keep your spine and hips aligned. 

The best mattress for side sleepers: Medium or soft firmness. Memory foam, latex, or gel materials. 

What is the Best Mattress for Back Sleepers?

Just like in any position, it’s crucial back sleepers keep their head, necks, and spines in alignment. As you’re laying in a relatively straight line already, a good mattress for you may be one that’s medium, firm, or very firm. A soft mattress can cause your back to sag into it too much, creating a bad posture. 

Memory foam, pocket sprung, or innerspring mattresses can provide support. 

Pillow tip: Choose a pillow that’s not too thick so you don’t push your head forward too much. A pillow under your knees can promote the natural curve of your spine. 

The best mattress for back sleepers: Medium, firm, or very firm. Memory foam, pocket sprung, innerspring.  

What is the Best Mattress for Front Sleepers?

Most experts recommend you avoid sleeping on your front. It puts a lot of pressure on your neck and spine, and your head is often twisted at an unnatural angle, or pushed back into an uncomfortable position by a pillow. But if you can’t sleep in any other position, don’t sacrifice shut-eye. 

When choosing a mattress, try medium or firm. This should keep your spine as aligned as possible, stopping you from sinking into the mattress too much and creating an unnatural arch in your back. 

For stomach sleepers, memory foam or pocket sprung mattresses can provide support for pressure points. 

Pillow tip: Choose a thin pillow or skip the pillow altogether to keep your head as low as in line with your spine as possible. A thin pillow under your hips can also help with alignment. 

The best mattress for front sleepers: Medium or firm. Memory foam or pocket sprung. 

What is the Best Mattress for Combination Sleepers?

Bad news for combination sleepers, you’re the hardest to mattress shop for as you move between different positions during the night. But most of us are combination sleepers to some degree. 

It can be tricky to choose a firmness level if you’re tossing and turning all night. Your best bet is to go off of feel. For example, if you often wake up with shoulder and hip pain, you might spend more time on your side during the night and need a softer mattress. If you get back pain, a firmer mattress might be better. 

Try medium firmness, which may be a good compromise. Avoid going for either extreme — very soft or very firm — if you’re a true combination sleeper. 

Hybrid mattresses, which contain both springs and foam, latex, or gel, can help provide enough support without being too firm. 

Pillow tip: Keep an extra pillow nearby to grab if you wake up in the night and need to get comfortable in a different position. 

The best mattress for front sleepers: Medium firmness, or go off feel. Hybrid materials can offer support and softness.  

What is the Best Mattress for Back Pain?

Back pain is not only a problem during the day. It can stop you from falling asleep or wake you up in the night. And as sleep loss can make pain harder to deal with, getting the right mattress for back pain is vital. 

A medium-firm mattress may be best. Too firm and you’ll put pressure on sore areas. Too soft and you’ll sag into the mattress, creating bad posture and possibly more pain. 

A 2021 systematic review on mattresses for back pain concluded: “Based on data reported by literature, it can be claimed that medium-firm mattresses offer more advantages to subjects with non-specific low back pain. Studies have demonstrated, indeed, that these mattresses improve sleep quality and reduce risk of developing low back pain.” 

Another study found when participants with minor back discomfort slept on a new medium-firm mattress for 28 days, their sleep quality, sleep efficiency, and back discomfort improved. This was compared to their old mattress. 

If you’ve got back pain, it’s even more important to think about your sleep position and getting a mattress to suit this. One study looked at participants with low back pain. They were prescribed a medium-firm mattress layered with foam and latex to suit their primary sleeping position. After four weeks, participants reported an improvement in pain and stiffness, and the pain got even better after eight to 12 weeks. At the end of the experiment, the number of days when participants experienced poor sleep and discomfort had decreased significantly.  

A customized mattress may also help. A small 2022 study looked at those with chronic lower back pain. Participants spent a night on their own mattress, three nights on an experimental mattress designed to reduce spinal curvature in the side sleeping position, then a final night back on their own mattress.

The results showed the experimental mattress reduced pain scores by 18% and improved comfort scores by 25%. But there was no change in pain and stiffness when getting up in the morning and no change in sleep quality. 

Example of configuration of zonal support mattress
The experimental mattress that can help reduce back pain. Source: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s41606-022-00073-x

If you don’t have back pain currently and you’re trying to avoid it in the future, there’s even less evidence on which mattress is best. The 2021 research we shared above states more research on prevention needs to be done as no one answer has been found. But the paper does highlight that a medium-firm mattress, once again, may help those with occasional stiffness, but not necessarily pain. 

Pillow tip: Aim to keep your neck, spine, and hips in line. Try placing a pillow in between your knees on your side, under your knees on your back, or under your hips on your front.

The best mattress for back pain: Medium-firm. 

What is the Best Mattress for Allergies?

Ever crawled into bed only for your allergies to kick in? You’re not imagining it. Allergies do get worse at night and your mattress can be one of the triggers. 

Dust mites thrive in mattresses — as well as pillows, bedding, carpets, and soft furnishings. But you can buy hypoallergenic mattresses that stop dust mites from getting in. 

Mattress with layers of foam or latex can resist allergens, including dust mites, mildew, and mold. And in general, man-made materials are best as natural materials can trigger allergies. 

Don’t want to buy a whole new mattress? You can buy an anti-allergy mattress cover that can act as a barrier against mites. Beyond the mattress, you can keep dust mite populations under control by washing your bedding once a week in 130-degree Fahrenheit water. 

Pillow tip: Go for hypoallergenic materials and wash your pillowcases once a week in 130-degree Fahrenheit water. 

The best mattress for allergies: Man-made materials like foam or latex.

What is the Best Mattress for Overheating?

Being too warm at night isn’t just uncomfortable, it can stop you from falling asleep as your body temperature needs to drop for you to drift off.

If you’re a hot sleeper, spring mattresses can provide more airflow and stay cooler than all-foam mattresses, which can trap heat. Gel mattresses can also conduct heat away from your body. 

You can also buy special cooling mattresses, although there’s not a lot of third-party research into how effective these are at improving your sleep. 

The 2021 systematic review we mentioned above found some results for body temperature, too. It concluded that a high heat capacity mattress can reduce body temperature increases at night, which can increase deep sleep and reduce nighttime awakenings. Again, this research had a special focus on back pain. 

A small 2018 study had similar findings, though. It found high heat capacity mattresses increased deep sleep, subjective sleep quality, and sleep stability (staying asleep) compared to a low heat capacity mattress. High heat capacity mattresses created a greater drop in core body temperature, reduced the increase in skin temperature on the back, and delayed the increase in mattress surface temperature.  

To help counter any warmness from your mattress, be sure to set your thermostat to 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal temperature for sleep. 

We’ve got more tips on staying cool for sleep here: 

Pillow tip: Choose a pillowcase made of breathable materials like cotton or latex.

The best mattress for temperature: Spring or gel mattresses. 

How to Get Better Sleep?

RISE app screenshot showing you when to limit caffeine intake
The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits daily.

Having the right mattress is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. And while there’s not a lot of research backing up the best mattress, there is plenty of scientific evidence behind other aspects of sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene is the name for the set of behaviors you can do to help you fall and stay asleep each night. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get bright light first thing: Aim for at least 10 minutes of light as soon as possible after waking up or 15 to 20 minutes if it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window. This resets your body clock, helping you feel sleepy come bedtime. 
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: Dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses about 90 minutes before bed (we recommend these). Bright light in the evenings can make it harder to drift off. 
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: Check RISE for when to avoid each one daily.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Beyond your mattress, perfect your sleep environment by setting your thermostat to 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, using blackout curtains, and wearing earplugs and an eye mask

The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day to make them easier to stick to. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.

Don’t Let Mattress Shopping Keep You Awake 

The world of mattresses is a confusing one. There are so many features to choose from and styles to consider. But despite being important for our sleep and health, there’s not a lot of scientific evidence pointing towards the best mattress. 

Our advice? Focus on finding the most comfortable mattress for you. Take your time when testing in-store mattresses, think about how the mattress feels, and which one can keep your spine in alignment when in your preferred sleep position. Make the most of any trial periods where you can test out a mattress in your own home and overnight. 

To help you fall asleep, no matter which mattress you choose, maintain excellent sleep hygiene each day. The RISE app can help by reminding you when to do 20+ healthy sleep hygiene habits. 

With good sleep hygiene, you’ll already be on your way to better sleep and more energy on any mattress. 

Next Steps 

Want to get product recommendations? We read through many online guides that dig into the nitty gritty of mattress buying. Here are some of the most useful.

But be aware, many of the mattress-buying guides you’ll find online come with affiliate links to certain mattress companies. That means the advice can be biased. They can be great for gaining an understanding of the products out there and going over your final considerations before buying. 

Summary FAQs

How do I know what kind of mattress is best for me?

There’s no one best mattress. Look for one you find comfortable and one that helps keep your head, neck, and spine aligned. Side sleepers may benefit from a softer mattress, whereas back and front sleepers may need a firmer mattress.

How do I know what firmness of mattress I need?

There’s no one best firmness of mattress. Look for one you find comfortable and one that helps keep your head, neck, and spine aligned. Side sleepers may benefit from a softer mattress, whereas back and front sleepers may need a firmer mattress. Heavier builds may need a firmer mattress, too, compared to lighter builds.

Is it better to sleep on a hard mattress or soft?

There’s not much evidence on whether it’s best to sleep on a hard mattress or soft. Opt for what you find most comfortable and what helps keep your head, neck, and spine aligned. Side sleepers may benefit from a softer mattress, whereas back and front sleepers may need a harder mattress. Heavier builds may need a harder mattress, too, compared to lighter builds.

What to ask when buying a mattress?

When buying a new mattress, ask about firmness, material, size, and price. But the most important thing is how comfortable you find it and how well a mattress can keep your head, neck, and spine aligned. Test this out for yourself.

Best type mattress for side sleepers

There’s no one best type of mattress for side sleepers. Choose the one that’s most comfortable for you. In general, side sleepers may benefit from a medium or soft mattress. This should be soft enough to not cause pain on pressure points, but not so soft or hard that it causes your spine to be misaligned.

How to choose a mattress for back pain

There’s no one best type of mattress for back pain. Choose the one that’s most comfortable for you. In general, medium-firm mattresses can help those with back pain get more sleep and feel less pain.

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