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Best mattress: 9 top mattresses for respite and relaxation

Homes & Gardens logo Homes & Gardens 9/21/2021 Jaclyn Turner
a bedroom with a large bed in a hotel room: country style bedroom by Sims Hilditch © Provided by Homes & Gardens country style bedroom by Sims Hilditch

Finding the best mattress to meet your sleeping needs is vitally important for your overall wellbeing. It's no secret that when we wake up from a decent night's sleep we feel rested and refreshed and, if you have the right mattress, you could even feel relieved from any aches and pains.

The essential first step to preventing disturbed nights, aching joints and general irritability is to invest in a quality mattress. But with current estimates showing there are hundreds of brands and thousands of different mattresses in this burgeoning market, how do you pick the one that’s going to be your ‘Goldilocks’ bed – not too hard and not too soft but just right – especially a place where you'll spend at least a third of your time, given you get the recommended eight hours of shut-eye each night. 

Happily, our research has tackled all of these issues and we highlight who this pick of the best mattresses will suit most in each mini-review. We've even been fortunate enough to try out some of these mattresses for ourselves so you can take it from us that we are confident you'll rest easy after buying one of the mattresses in this guide. You deserve the luxury of a fabulous night's sleep. 

If you need a pillow (or two) to go with your new mattress, our guide to the best pillow offers up-the-top buys. 

Best mattresses of 2021

A perfect option if you’re unsure whether a pure memory foam mattress is for you, a hybrid combines traditional pocket spring coils with a memory foam layer for comfort and all-around sturdiness. 

Far from a compromise, this mattress provides the best of both worlds with quality features such as an organic cotton cover, recycled steel coils, and CertiPUR-US foam. The coil construction creates good airflow, perfect for those who get hot at night, and it also offers excellent side support, so the mattress doesn’t tend to sag at the edges. While the steel spring layer adds support for aching limbs, the cozy pillow top layer is soft and comfortable.  

As the mattress comes in three options of firmness – Plush Soft, Luxury Firm, and Firm – it’s also suitable for all styles of sleeper. 

Most opt for the Luxury Firm, which is actually rated as a medium-firm, as we did, and it seems to suit side, front and back sleepers alike. 

Handmade in LA, the Avocado is the mattress of choice for those searching for one with top-notch eco-credentials. 

Made with a combination of GOTS-certified cotton and wool, plus latex that has been responsibly and sustainably harvested it is certainly a quality choice, something that’s reflected in its price. 

It is made without fire retardants, chemical adhesives – that’s achieved using wool a natural fire-retardant – or petroleum-based foam layers, so it’s a good choice for those with allergies or sensitivities to certain chemicals. 

As there’s no foam, another benefit is that there will be no off-gassing or an initial odd smell when you unbox your mattress– something prevalent in the memory foam market. 

The top latex layer is gently yielding and sits on top of a layer of tempered steel coils, while five zones support different areas of the body to give overall comfort and prevent motion transfer. 

As far as sleeping goes, it’s on the firm side of medium, the company puts it at 7 out of 10 on the scale, so a good option for back and lighter side snoozers as well as front sleepers.  We noticed it offers great support on your back and stomach and when you flip to the side, the mattress molds to you without that sinking feeling that makes it hard to get back out.  

It's also ace at sleeping cool and offers relief from aches and pains.

If you do want a tad more comfort, it’s also available with a soft cotton pillow top. 

Anyone who suffers from hot flashes, night sweats, or generally runs warm when they sleep will want to indulge in a mattress that will keep you cool all night long. The Casper Wave Hybrid Snow uses Casper's newest cooling upgrades, dubbed Snow technology,  with big claims (that have been rigorously tested) that it'll keep you cool for at least 12 hours and lower sleep temperature. It's an extension of its pre-existing Wave Hybrid Mattress, which offers the most support of any Casper mattress. Support plus cooling sounds like the ultimate sleep combination. 

But, back to the real star of the show. The Snow tech, featuring details like a QuickCool Cover infused with Phase Change that delivers a 24% cooler to the touch feeling upon climbing in bed. Or new HeatDelete Bands featuring graphite that work to remove more heat away from the body for sustained temperature regulation for 12+ hours. 

That's not all, to keep you cool and comfortable, the Wave features three layers of Casper's AirScape layers that help ventilate heat with tiny holes in the foam that let body heat and humidity flow out and away from the mattress.

For support, Casper's Zoned Support Max utilizes 3 different zones to keep your spine aligned, with slightly softer foam toward the top to gently sinks shoulders and a denser foam in the middle cradles your waist and lower back.  It also uses gel pods under the waist and lowers back that add further support. To finish off the design,  individually wrapped coils add the right amount of lift, airflow, and support for the ultimate in sleep. 

Early reviewers have described it as "that other side of the pillow feeling" and "next-level" when it comes to talking about cooling. We have noticed, however, that its not the best at motion isolation, thanks to the inclusion of bouncy latex, which might not make it ideal for sensitive sleepers. It ships in a box for those who order Queen sizes or smaller, while King and Cal King sizes qualify for in-home setup and delivery. At this price point, we'd really appreciate seeing all sizes receive the option for an in-home setup.

Nectar is so confident about the quality of its mattress, that you have a full year to trial its product. A whole 365 nights to see if you like it and if you decide you don’t, well, just send it back. 

The three layers — memory foam, pressure-relieving foam, and a seven-zone base layer for support— all sit below the outer cooling cover which adapts to body heat keeping night-time temperatures down. 

This means that even the most feverish sleepers will stay cool all night. It’s slightly on the firmer side of medium-firm – with the website ranking as a 5.5-7.5 on a firmness scale of 1-10, making it a top choice for front and back sleepers but probably not best for heavy side sleepers or those that prefer a mattress you can really sink into. 

Having said that, the more we slept on it the more comfortable it became, so given time would probably even suit those who want a sleep experience that’s slightly more giving. 

Erring on the side of medium-firm also ensures there’s no pesky motion transfer to speak of. As with some other memory foam mattresses, there was a faint, lingering odor. However, it wasn’t at all noticeable by day two and certainly didn’t trouble our sleep. 

We can’t attest to some online comments that claimed the mattresses filled unevenly as we had no problems there. 

Leesa has a One-10 program, which promises that for every 10 mattresses sold, it donates one to charities that serve the homeless and those at at-risk. 

Also worth noting, is the company’s partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant one tree for every mattress they sell, with a goal to plant one million trees globally by 2025. 

All well and good but how does the mattress itself stand up to testing? 

It comes well packed in a box, like many of its memory foam competitors, and is super simple to place on the bed and unfurl. The padded cover is gloriously soft and contains three sandwiched foam layers. 

The top Avena foam provides airflow to keep you cool, the pressure-relieving memory foam contours gently to your body and the dense 6” core adds support and durability for joints. Initially, it feels quite firm but becomes more giving as it warms to your body temperature. 

A stereotype often leveled at memory foam mattresses is that they can contribute to overheating but most reviewers agree it provides a sweat-free night, probably due to the cooling cover and Avena layer, and it gets a healthy four and five-star rating on many sites. 

There’s free delivery, a 100-day sleep test, and free returns if you’re not 100% happy. It’s also a good idea to keep a lookout for regular promotions with money off the regular price.

If you're looking for the pressure relief of memory foam, but with an environmentally friendly touch that is naturally cooling and has a bouncy, responsive feel, you'll want to consider a latex mattress. The PlushBeds Botanical Bliss offers one of the most customizable options in terms of depth and firmness, and even size, to find the best mattress for your sleep needs — and it's completely organic. 

The mattress is hand-crafted with a GOTS certified organic cotton cover, over 10 pounds of temperature-regulating GOTs certified wool, and three layers of latex, including a Talalay latex layer for comfort, followed by two Dunlop latex layers for pressure support. The depth of each layer depends on the mattress thickness you choose, with the thickest 12" mattress also featuring a layer of latex. While the mattress is available in both medium and firm comfort levels, you can also unzip the cover to further customize the layers of latex. 

Now, that we've covered all the amazing non-toxic materials featured in the Botanical Bliss, how should the mattress feel? Latex offers a buoyant feeling that gently cradles the pressure points of your body for a responsive feel that won't leave you feeling like you're sinking.  However, you may experience some motion transfer. The interchangeable layers make it a top pick for all sleep styles, and those unsure about which mattress firmness to choose. And if you have a partner who prefers a completely different mattress feeling, the availability of split queen, king, and California king models ensures that everyone can sleep happy. 

The original Avocado Green mattress is our top pick when it comes to an eco-friendly mattress, but its latex design has been said to be too firm for some. Sure, they offer mattress latex toppers, that are also highly regarded, but if you want to be enveloped in that certain cloud-like feeling, their brand new (and softest design ever), appropriately named the Organic Luxury Plush Mattress, features up to 21 layers. That's not a typo, with premium organic materials including organic and natural latex, wool, mohair, silk, flax, and cotton. At its base, you'll find up to 3,136 individually pocketed coils arranged in five zones for support and motion isolation. 

The mattress is rated at medium-soft, but if you want a full-on soft mattress, you can add on an additional pillow top, which pushes the mattress to 18" thick, and also features a second layer of low-profile pocketed coils in the topper for added contouring support.  Both versions will require deep-pocketed sheets. 

This top-of-the-line Stearns & Foster is definitely not your grandmother's mattress. The legacy mattress maker brings the most immaculate attention to the comfort and support of its mattresses featuring Intelli Coil HD, densely packed stainless steel coils that provide adaptive support for every type of sleeper, Indulge HD Memory foam engineered by Tempur-Pedic scientists for comfort and pressure relief, and a stretch-knit cover made with Tencel to wick away moisture and keep you comfortable. 

A ventilated coil system works with external air vents to increase breathability and promote cool, comfortable, deep slumber throughout the night.

The 15" Reserve Hepburn is available in extra-plush or extra-firm, depending on your personal preference, with the plush version featuring an additional layer of Indulge HD Memory Foam for maximum cushion. 

The exclusive to Stearns & Foster Intelli Coli system features a dual-stage design nestled in a honeycomb pattern where the outer coil extends above the inner coil, with the outer coil providing softness to your curves, and the inner coil gives you the support you need. 

If you attest to the belief that there is a science to sleep, or love to be at the forefront of sleep technology, the Eight Sleep Pod is truly like no other mattress on the market. Whether you sleep hot and are constantly kicking off the blankets - or the complete reverse, the Pod allows you and your sleeping partner to control the bed's temperature range from a  chilly 55°F  to a toasty 110°F.

The mattresses' temperature is controlled via a special hydro-cooling technology, that requires the use of an external black rectangular tank filled with water, referred to as the Hub. Here, water flows through the Hub's hydro-engines to the cotton cover known as the Active Grid to keep the bed as warm or cool as you desire. It's designed to fit next to your nightstand and needs to be refilled every two to three months, though the app will notify you when the water level is low.

Amp up the tech faster even further with personalized stats straight to your smartphone about your sleep including sleep tracking including time slept, deep sleep, and REM, as well as HRV monitoring with health reports on respiration, and heart rate. Here, the Active Grid cover also has sensors that track your biometrics and surrounding environment and will adapt temperature accordingly. It's sensitive enough to detect heartbeats and breathing patterns, yet thin enough to remain imperceptible while you sleep.

Another feature, if you detest the blaring nature of an alarm clock, the scheduled GentleRise feature uses a gentle vibration at chest level to wake up without any sound, while gradually cooling or warming the bed minutes before the set wake-up time.

Now, let's talk about the memory foam mattress itself with five layers of cushiony support, including a 1-inch Comfort Blend topper that is integrated into the Active Grid for enhanced comfort and pressure-point relief. Below deck, you'll find an AirFlow top layer, Supportive Air technology layer for pressure relief, a FlexSpring Technology core for cradling support, and a premium base. Interestingly enough, Eight Sleep doesn't mention its comfort-rating, but we believe the Pod Pro to fall between a medium and a medium-firm level. 

How to choose the best mattress for you

What is the best type of mattress? 

Mattresses are generally split into four main types:

  • Traditional innerspring mattresses use a steel coil support system with natural or man-made fillings and covers. The greater the number of coils, the more points of support and the better the bed can contour and support the sleeper, usually described as springy
  • Foam mattresses, including polyurethane, memory, or gel foam, usually contour to the body, isolate motion and offer different comfort, feel and heat dissipation features. 
  • Latex Mattresses: offer similar qualities to foam, but are usually described as bouncier and more breathable, all-natural latex is considered to be more environmentally friendly too
  • Hybrid mattresses are a combination of foam or latex with coils and offer the best of both qualities with the right amount of firmness and support, and a slight bounce. They're typically described as responsive and can sleep cooler than standard memory foam. 

Hot sleepers tend to prefer traditional coil or hybrids while those with specific aches and pains appreciate the levels of support that zoned memory foam can provide. Light sleepers with restless partners will enjoy memory foam which is more efficient at combating motion transfer. 

What mattress firmness do I need?

To find the right level of comfort, you first need to discover your sleep position, as that’s key to making the right choice. 

While comfort level is subjective, an industry-wide scale between 1 and 10 is used to determine firmness level, with a 1 being extremely soft and a 10 being extremely firm.

As a general rule, back sleepers and those carrying more weight will find a better level of support with a mattress that errs on the side of the firm – around 7-7.5 on the scale. 

Side and stomach sleepers need some support but of a slightly softer kind, so should opt for a medium or medium-firm 5-7 out of 10. Sleep Advisor estimates that 80 percent of adults prefer mattresses categorized as medium. 

Lighter and some stomach sleepers might suit something a little more cloud-like. However, there are very few mattresses out there with a 1-2 rating simply because they are so soft and don't offer enough in the way of support. 

That said if you have particular issues with muscle aches and joint pains, a mattress that is zoned with varying levels of firmness to help different areas of the body may be the better choice. 

The good thing is that many brands recognize that sleep styles vary and so many offer 100-night plus trials with free returns to make sure you get the one for you.

What's the difference between a mattresses' firmness and support?

A mattresses' firmness is referring to the immediate feeling you get when climbing into a bed, while support refers to a mattresses' ability to offer an even surface. A soft bed will feel soft to the touch and respond to your body as you move, while a firmer one will offer less give and feel harder.  

Meanwhile, depending on your sleep preferences, a soft mattress can offer the same amount of support as a firmer one. For instance, side sleepers will want a softer mattress that can cradle and cushion their side, whereas back sleepers will seek out a mattress that wouldn't sag as they sleep. 

How to care for a mattress

First things first, you'll need a good mattress protector as added insurance against spills, stains, and dreaded dust mites. Most offer easy care instructions, and the best designs should not disrupt any special cooling features your mattress may have or even be noticeable. 

For when you do need to clean your mattress, and from time to time you will, even with a protector you'll want to spot clean any visible stains or odors and leave plenty of time for it to air dry. A good vacuuming with an upholstery attachment is also beneficial for pulling out inevitably embedded dust mites, dead skin, and other allergens.  

Do all mattresses require turning?

Not all mattresses are made equal. Most traditional innerspring mattresses – featuring a core of covered springs surrounded by a comfort layer top and bottom – will need turning to ensure they don’t start to dip and sag where you sleep. 

This should be done around every three months or so, as well as rotating – turning the top of the bed to the bottom. Be sure to check your mattress' warranty for the brand's care guidelines.

Many memory foam mattresses by their very nature should retain their shape and most have a ‘right’ or ‘top’ side as the layers are arranged in a very specific order to give comfort and relieve stress on the neck, shoulders, and hips. 

Those won’t require turning, just regular rotating will be enough to keep them in tip-top condition.

How much sleep do I need?

Although seven to eight hours are recommended the kind of sleep stages experienced within that is important – there five stages, ranging between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). 

Stages one, two and REM are light and dream sleep, while three and four are important levels of restorative deep sleep. With the best mattress you can buy – and that means one that really suits your body rather than one that you buy purely based on price – you can be sure to get the quality of sleep you need.

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