When It Comes to Choosing Mattresses, People Often Don't Know What's Good for Them

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — When it comes to choosing mattresses, people don't know what's good for them in many cases, according to research conducted at RTI International, Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham and Duke University Medical Center.

In a study published by RTI Press, researchers discovered that the most common way to choose a mattress – by floor-testing various models – often results in people choosing a mattress type that is not best for their sleeping behaviors.

To conduct the study, researchers recruited 128 adults in the Raleigh-Durham area who did not have a sleep disorder.

First, the participants simulated a mattress shopping experience and selected one of seven mattresses they preferred.

The participants then slept on each of the seven test mattresses of different firmness in their home for one month. During the study, participants wore a monitor to measure sleep duration and efficiency and completed a diary questionnaire at the beginning and end of each day.

Researchers found that optimal mattress firmness varies among individuals and is reflected, at least to a degree, by overnight motion. However, the researchers also found that when people were allowed to test mattresses in a typical showroom experience, they generally chose a mattress that was opposite of what their body needed for a good night's sleep.

"This finding should inspire study into ways in which consumers can be better equipped to identify mattresses that lead to optimal sleep," said Gayle Bieler, a senior statistician at RTI and the paper's co-author. "It would seem that most of the general public may be sleeping on mattresses improperly suited to the individual owners and thus so many Americans are not enjoying the health benefits that come from optimal rest."

Based on the study, the researchers were able to identify which mattress was the optimal mattress for each participant's sleep quality. The best mattress led participants to improved well-restedness and daytime energy and reduced morning pain severity, daytime sleepiness and number of awakenings and minutes awake during the night.

Out of the seven mattresses, participants choose only one of the top three that would be best for them 38 percent of the time.

"Because people are choosing the wrong kind of mattress for themselves, both manufacturers and sleep scientists could improve sleep outcomes by testing means to aid consumers in their selection," Beiler said.