Best Mattress Features to Look For

Last Updated April 2024

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If you’ve done any mattress research on your own, you’ve likely run into one of the many industry-specific terms that mattress companies use to describe their features, like “responsiveness” and “motion isolation,” not to be confused with “motion transfer,” which is similar but not exactly the same. Is your head spinning yet?

No need to worry. We’re breaking down the key characteristics of a good mattress—minus the industry jargon, to help you understand why they’re so important when it comes to finding the best mattress.

Comfort

The comfort system of your mattress determines how well the mattress conforms and reacts to your movements and how well it regulates body temperature while you sleep. In the comfort category, the three main features to define are responsiveness, motion transfer and temperature control. Here’s what you need to know:

Responsiveness

What it means: How well the mattress reacts and adjusts to your body’s movements while you sleep. Responsiveness is an important feature for combination sleepers or anyone who changes positions frequently throughout the night.

The metal coils in a mattress are designed to change their tension as your weight shifts around. In the most basic mattresses, the coils are connected to each other, which typically causes all of them to move any time you do. A better option is a mattress with coils that are individually wrapped instead of connected to each other, so each spring reacts to your body independently. The Saatva Latex Hybrid has a “pocketed coil unit” with each steel coil wrapped separately. The Helix Luxe model, which has 1,000 individually wrapped coils, is another great option.

Motion Isolation 

What it means: How well the mattress absorbs movement. Motion isolation is important for couples and light sleepers who don’t want to be disturbed by their partner’s movements at night.

You’ll also see references to motion transfer in the mattress world. Motion transfer is the measure of how much movement is shared from one part of the mattress to another. A mattress that has high motion transfer moves all over when there is movement on one part of the mattress, whereas a mattress with low motion transfer isolates movements to the part of the mattress they occur on. A mattress with low motion transfer is also referred to as a motion-isolation mattress.

Foam mattresses are popular because they embrace your body when you lay on them. This type of mattress also tends to contain the impact of your movement as you sleep or when you get in and out of bed, so you are less likely to disturb your sleeping partner. Saatva’s Loom and Leaf mattress has dense “memory foam” and it comes in firm and extra-firm options, as well as a complete range of sizes. The Nectar memory foam mattress features a three-inch-thick “transition” layer designed to reduce motion transfer.

Temperature Regulation

What it means: How well the mattress promotes airflow and breathability. Temperature regulation, also referred to as temperature control or heat transfer, is an important feature for many sleepers, but especially those who tend to sleep hot. If you’re sensitive to the heat or cold, look for a temperature-controlled mattress. 

While foam mattresses are effective at motion isolation, their density can inhibit air from circulating around your body. Mattresses with coils or springs allow air flow, so people who tend to sleep on their stomachs or otherwise overheat while they sleep should check out options that include both foam and coils. The DreamCloud Hybrid offers you the benefits of both foam and coils. Along with a combination of foam and coils, the Saatva Latex Hybrid has a natural latex cover that allows air to permeate it. 

Support

The support system of a mattress is engineered to provide durability and added support to the comfort layers above it. Pressure relief, spinal alignment, edge support and durability are some of the key features of support that we’ll break down in this guide.

Pressure Relief

What it means: How well the mattress relieves pressure at key points, especially the shoulders and hips, and provides even body weight distribution. Side sleepers and heavier sleepers should pay attention to pressure relief, as they tend to need a mattress that pushes back more significantly when pressure is applied.

With innerspring mattresses, steel coils provide sturdy support for your body when you’re lying down. The more coils, the better the support, in most cases. The best designed models add extra support where it is most valuable. The Saatva Classic, for example, has extra-strong coils in the center-third of the mattress, where most of your body weight rests. This reduces the pressure on your shoulders and hips.

Spinal Alignment

What it means: How well the mattress keeps your spine in its natural position. A healthy spinal alignment allows your muscles to rest, meaning you’ll wake up feeling more refreshed in the morning.

The lumbar region of your back, between your ribs and pelvis, needs to maintain its natural shape while you’re lying in any position on your mattress to keep you feeling aligned. A mattress that sags in the middle will throw off your spine’s shape. If you’ve had back problems or are just dealing with the aches and pains of a busy life, you want to be sure your mattress has lumbar support. Saatva Latex Hybrid and Helix Elite models both feature “lumbar zones” designed to provide essential support for your spine.  

Edge Support

What it means: How much support there is on the edge of the bed. It’s what prevents you from rolling off the bed if you sleep too close to the edge. 

Innerspring mattresses typically have a strong, built-in edge support system, while foam mattresses do not. But that doesn’t mean you’ll roll off a foam mattress since they have a considerable “sink in” quality to help keep you in place. This feature is important for those who prefer a firmer edge to the bed, especially anyone who sits on the edge of the bed to put on socks or shoes in the morning.

Hybrids with both foam and coils, such as Nectar Premier Copper Hybrid and Saatva Latex Hybrid, have sturdy edge support and a plush feel. 

Durability

What it means: How durable the materials of a mattress are, the quality level of its structural support and its expected lifespan. This feature should be top-of-mind for all shoppers. You want to get the highest level of quality that you can afford in a mattress, so it maintains its support and elasticity for as long as possible.

Buying a mattress is a substantial investment in both cost and in your comfort. That’s why more and more people are choosing premium mattresses. Once you make that investment, you want your mattress to stay sturdy and sag-free for years after you buy it. Saatva, Dreamcloud, and Nectar all offer a “365-night” trial on their mattresses so you have time to determine if you’ve made the right choice. Saatva mattresses also come with a lifetime warranty against defects, including body impressions deeper than 1.5 inches.  

Firmness

What it means: How stiff or soft a mattress feels. Firmness may be the single most important feature of a mattress, as it determines both comfort and support.

Firmness is measured on a scale of one to 10, with a 10 being the firmest. Mattresses that are medium or medium-firm fall around five to seven on the firmness scale.

While all sleepers are different, sleep position generally helps determine the ideal firmness for you. Side sleepers tend to prefer a slightly softer mattress that contours the body while supporting the shoulders and hips. Back sleepers need more support around the lower back and tend to prefer a mattress that’s on the medium-firm side. Stomach sleepers also prefer a firmer mattress to better support their midsection since this position puts more stress on the lower back.

The best mattress brands offer you a choice of firmness options. For two people who share a bed but have different styles and needs, the right answer may be a mattress with independently adjustable firmness. Saatva’a Solaire Adjustable Firmness Mattress offers you more than 50 distinct settings for each side of the bed (queen size or larger), so each of you can set it at exactly the right firmness for you.