How to Choose the Right Pillow, Mattress, and Bedding for a Good Night's Sleep

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

With an ever-increasing number of products that promise to help improve our sleep, making the right choice can be a challenge. Even when you manage to narrow down your options to something relatively simple, like a new mattress, the huge selection of materials and technologies can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you make the right decision!

How to choose the right mattress for sleep

It can be helpful to start by thinking about what you like and dislike about your current mattress. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your mattress the right size?

  • Does your mattress feel hot when you sleep?

  • Is your mattress too firm, too soft, or just right?

  • Do you have a partner whose movements disturb your sleep?

If your bed feels too hot when you sleep, it’s likely you have a memory-foam or latex mattress, since these materials tend to retain warmth. In this case, you may want to look for a traditional inner-spring mattress.

That being said, memory foam and latex do help distribute body weight evenly, which can relieve pressure. These materials also minimize movement transfer — so a partner who tosses and turns is less likely to wake you.

Some modern beds offer adjustable firmness levels so your side may be firm, while your partner’s side may be soft. Other beds let you adjust the firmness by adding or removing layers or by simply flipping the mattress over. An online mattress-buying guide can help you choose the right mattress for your budget and comfort preference.

How to choose the right pillow for sleep

When choosing a pillow, it can be useful to start by selecting the filling that you find most comfortable. Feathers and down retain warmth and tend to offer more support. Memory foam helps distribute weight evenly, which can be helpful if you suffer from neck pain.

If you sleep on your back or stomach, a flatter pillow is usually best. If you sleep on your side, a bigger pillow can help bridge the gap between your head and neck. If you don’t know which position you sleep in, or regularly change position during the night, look for a pillow that has different fill chambers — these can help keep you comfortable regardless of your sleeping position. Some pillows allow you to easily adjust the amount of filling inside, too.

Finally, there are pillows on the market that claim to offer relief for a number of conditions such as PTSD and even tinnitus — yet the science behind these products is often unconvincing. It’s best to choose a pillow for comfort, rather than for treating a medical condition.

Additional bedding and bedroom accessories

Mattress and pillow protectors may be helpful if your sleep is disturbed due to allergic reactions to dust, mold, or mildew. They are less likely to combat hay-fever symptoms since pollen tends to be tracked indoors by people, animals, and wind. For maximum protection, look for non-porous fabrics that completely encase your pillow, mattress, and box spring (bonus: these are usually the cheapest). For more breathability — helpful if you tend to sleep hot — you can sacrifice a bit of protection by opting for microfiber polyester or tightly woven cotton.

Weighted blankets may improve sleep by reducing arousal and anxiety, but studies on their effectiveness have been mixed. Look for a blanket that weighs more than 10 percent of your body weight and make sure the weight is evenly distributed.

Sleep trackers can produce a wealth of interesting data but if you have any anxiety towards sleep, they may cause more harm than good.

Finally, humidifiers and dehumidifiers can help you maintain a bedroom humidity level of around 50 percent — which is thought to be the best for sleep.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.