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A woman lying on a mattress at a store while her husband smiles down at herWhen it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, there’s no question – the type of mattress you’re trying to get that good night’s sleep on does matter. But with so many choices, from traditional coil to air, and latex/memory foam, buying the one you need for the healthiest sleep can be a nightmare.

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Experts say that neither bells and whistles nor a super-expensive price tag necessarily mean one mattress is better than another. The most important detail is whether or not the mattress is firm enough to provide support to your back, neck, and legs, while still offering some cushion and recoil for comfort.

“You want a mattress that is firm enough to distribute your weight or you’ll wake up sore due to your shoulders sagging or your hips sinking,” says Charles Cefalu, MD, chief of geriatric medicine at Louisiana State University in New Orleans. “On the other hand, you don’t want to sleep on a board,” he says.

Tips for Mattress Shopping

Roger Herr, PT, a Seattle-based spokesman for the American Physical Therapy Association, recommends a mattress that allows you to relax but that also supports the normal S curve of the back.

Experts agree that you have to devote time (about 15 to 20 minutes per mattress) actually testing various sleep surfaces before making a decision. Don’t be shy: Lie on your back, your belly, your side. If you have a significant other, he or she should be along for the trip.

Clete A. Kushida, MD, PhD, director of the Stanford Center for Human Sleep Research in Stanford, Calif., and a spokesman for the American Association of Sleep Medicine, suggests this test: “Lie on your side. If your shoulders and hips are sinking, if you feel your spine is not aligned, it’s probably too soft. If you feel pain and discomfort, it’s probably too firm,” he says.

Herr recommends shopping as late in the day as possible. In the morning, when you’re perky, “a lot of things feel good that wouldn’t later,” he says. Even then, buy your mattress from a store with a 30-day refund policy. “That way you have time to really give it a chance.”

Coil

Coil mattresses still offer maximum comfort for many people, depending on their personal preference. One factor to consider is the density of the coils: In general, the more coils per mattress, the smaller they are and the more flexible and adjustable the mattress, Herr says. He recommends 680 or more coils per mattress. However, heavier people might want larger coils because they are stronger.

“Larger coils are found in the 400s per mattress.  They are more durable and preferred for heavier-weighted bodies,” Herr says.

Foam

Herr says that while some people may find that mattresses made from memory or latex foam are more comfortable, they’re not necessarily better for your health. The materials react to body heat and pressure, allowing them to mold to the body within minutes.

“It’s a good marketing tool and may be comfortable for some people that don’t move around much. But if you want to roll around, which can be good for your skin and body, what’s the point of a material that remembers your position? You have to make sure it’s accommodating to all your sleep positions,” he says.

On the other hand, people with joint sensitivity due to arthritis or other conditions may benefit from a mattress that adapts to the body contour, Herr says.

“People who tend to sweat should probably avoid latex, as it doesn’t absorb fluids, Herr adds.

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