How We Test Sleep Products

At Sleep Doctor, we know that the sleep products you use can directly impact the quality of your sleep, so we take product testing seriously. We personally test every product that appears in our guides and reviews using a comprehensive testing methodology that incorporates a wide range of performance factors, real-world feedback, and a unique set of criteria for each product type.

Below, we’ll dive into each performance category in detail to help you understand the most important factors when choosing a new mattress.

Meet Our Product Testing Team

At our helm is Dr. Michael J. Breus, Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He has been in private practice as a sleep doctor for nearly 25 years and has seen the benefits and drawbacks of thousands of sleep products first-hand. 

“Optimizing your sleep system is essential to getting high quality sleep. This includes choosing the right mattress and pillow for your body and sleep position as well as creating a consistent routine and adopting other healthy sleep habits,” Dr. Breus says. 

The remaining testers on our 10-person team are seasoned sleep experts who have spent years researching and evaluating sleep products both in our Seattle Test Lab and their homes. To ensure our ratings and recommendations are inclusive of all sleepers, our testing team is comprised of a wide range of body types and side, back, stomach, and combination sleepers with a variety of personal preferences.

Integrated Product Research

Our research integrates hands-on testing with customer reviews and real-world feedback to give us a holistic view of each product we evaluate. 

We test mattresses by doing the things you routinely do on them at home. We lie on them, get on and off of them, sit along their edges. For certain performance categories, we also lean into technological tools to take quantitative measurements of things like heat retention, pressure buildup, and VOC emissions.

These analyses allow us to generate insights that go beyond manufacturer specifications to help guide you towards the best sleep products for you.

How We Test Mattresses

We take several factors into consideration to determine how a mattress will sleep for you today, tomorrow, and five years from now.

Below is our criteria for testing mattresses.


Everyone is different when it comes to their mattress firmness preferences. Generally speaking, heavier sleepers tend to sleep best on a firmer mattress, while lighter-weight sleepers prefer a bed that gives more of a hug. Our research has also shown that more side sleepers prefer softer mattresses than back or stomach sleepers, but that doesn’t mean all side sleepers enjoy softer beds. 

We measure firmness using a 10-point scale, with 1 as the softest and 10 as the firmest. We’ve found most mattresses sold today fall between a 3 (soft) and 8 (firm) on this scale.

Softer mattresses contour (conform to your body) more deeply, while firmer models contour very little. To determine the firmness level of a mattress, testers of various weights and sleeping positions take turns lying on the bed to measure how closely the surface contours. We also use weights to measure compression to see how far you’ll actually sink in the bed.

Our 10-point firmness scale breaks down as follows:

  • 1-2: Extra soft
  • 3: Soft
  • 4: Medium Soft
  • 5: Medium
  • 6: Medium Firm
  • 7-8: Firm
  • 9-10: Extra Firm

Sleeping Positions

The three standard sleeping positions are side, back, and stomach. Combination sleeping refers to people who switch between positions during the course of a night. Side sleepers typically need extra cushioning to cradle their shoulders and hips, as these two areas tend to experience pressure buildup. For side and back sleepers, extra reinforcement around the midsection helps maintain an even surface and prevent uncomfortable sinkage.

When testing each mattress, we call upon team members across sleeping positions to lie on the mattress to evaluate how comfortable it feels and perform various other tests specific to their preferred position.

Sleeper Weight

When you lie on a mattress, the weight of your body is absorbed by the bed and distributed across its comfort (usually foam or latex) and support (coils) layers. Sinking too deeply into the mattress may lead to uneven spinal alignment and pressure points in the neck, shoulders, lower back, and hips, while a mattress that feels too stiff may also feel uncomfortable because it lacks the cushioning to reduce aches and pains in these areas.

Based on our testing outcomes, we use three categories when discussing sleeper weight:

  • Less than 130 pounds: Sleepers in this category typically don’t sink too deeply into their mattress and tend to prefer beds that fall between soft (3) and medium (5) to ensure ample cushioning and even support.
  • 130 to 230 pounds: Sleepers in this range often fluctuate between soft and firm mattress preferences but often find medium (5) to medium firm (6) to be the sweet spot. A mattress with moderate cushioning and a strong support system is ideal for most people between 130 and 230 pounds.
  • More than 230 pounds: We’ve found that most people in this weight group usually need a mattress that falls between medium firm (6) and firm (8). These models usually have robust support cores to stabilize the sleep surface and comfort layers that provide very little contouring.

Dr. Breus takes it a step further. “For heavier sleepers, support is incredibly important, and you probably want to stay away from all-foam beds. Individually pocketed coils are designed for people on the bigger side, and sometimes these will even be zoned to help keep your spine aligned,” he says.

The results of all our hands-on tests may not apply specifically to you, so we encourage everyone to take advantage of sleep trials when choosing a mattress. These test periods allow you to sleep on a new mattress for at least three months, giving you plenty of time to decide whether it feels too soft, too firm, or just right. If you aren’t satisfied, you can return the mattress for a refund.

Movement Isolation

Much like the suspension on your car or bike, mattresses can absorb the shock of your body weight and either contain it, distribute it, or perform a combination of the two. When you change sleep positions or get in and out of bed, your movement can transfer to the other side of the mattress, potentially disturbing your sleep partner. We’ve found that softer mattresses with thicker foam layers isolate the most motion because they respond slowly to movement. Beds with latex layers and thick springs tend to be much bouncier, and potentially more disruptive

We evaluate motion isolation by mimicking what you do at home. We have two testers lie side by side and one person changes positions while the other feels for movement on their side; then they switch. Then we do the same thing with kettlebells, leveraging SensorTag technology (similar to a seismograph) to measure waves of movement across the surface. Lastly, we place a glass of water on the mattress next to a tester, then record whether the tester’s movement causes the water to spill or the glass remains upright.

Perimeter Support

Do you ever find yourself rolling over in the middle of the night to find a cool spot on your sheets or mattress only to be startled awake by a near-miss with the edge of your bed? 

The perimeter of your mattress is an oft overlooked and unsung bed hero.  If your perimeter lacks adequate support, you may not feel safe lying near the edge of your mattress, leaving you confined to the middle of the bed. Weak edge support also makes it more difficult to get in and out of bed. 

Our testing team evaluates edge support by lying and sitting along the mattress perimeter and doing everyday movements like changing sleep positions, tying our shoes on the edge of the bed, and getting in and out of bed. We record how stable the perimeter feels based on how deeply we sink into it. Heat Retention

Keeping the temperature cool in your bedroom is essential to promoting quality sleep. Sleeping cool is so important that many people look for a mattress with cooling tech like breathable covers, ventilated foam and latex layers, and coil systems that promote air circulation, resist heat retention, and wick moisture away from the body. 

We evaluate heat retention using two separate tests. First our testers take turns sleeping on the mattress at home to see how warm it makes them feel in each sleep position. Then in our Test Lab, we place a heated water bottle on the bed and measure the surface temperature after 15 minutes.


The average mattress lasts 6-8 years before it needs to be replaced, and quality materials often indicate better durability. High-density foams, organic latex, and thick or zoned coils can help ensure a mattress will hold up well over time without developing deep surface indentations, trenching in the middle, or sagging along the edges.

The durability of a new mattress can be difficult to predict, so we estimate its lifespan based on the quality of materials and design. We’ve found that firmer mattresses don’t compress or develop impressions as easily as softer models. Additionally, all-latex mattresses and latex hybrids tend to last longer because latex is more resilient than foam. 

Pressure Relief

You may notice pressure builds up when certain areas of your body sink into a mattress more than others. The shoulders, lower back, and hips are especially vulnerable culprits in this arena because people tend to carry more weight there. Many of the best mattresses for pressure relief feature zoned layers that feel firmer around the middle and softer around the perimeter. This helps ensure even alignment from head to toe.

One way that we test pressure relief is by having our testers lie in different positions – focusing especially on side sleeping since this position places an undue amount of weight on the shoulder and hip – to see if they notice excessive sinkage. Typically, softer mattresses with thick foam layers provide the best cushioning to reduce pressure. 

Dr. Breus explains the significance for a mattress as such: “Support is the mattress’s ability to keep your spine aligned, which allows your muscles to relax and recover, while comfort is its ability to keep you in that position. You need both to relieve pressure,” he says.

Odor Emissions

You may notice your bed has a “new mattress smell” after unboxing it. Sometimes these odors are stronger than others. They’re associated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are released by synthetic foam (latex can have an initial rubber-like smell). While mostly harmless, VOCs can emit a chemical odor many liken to plastic. These usually go away within the first 72 hours. Mattresses purchased online tend to emit stronger odors because they are vacuum-sealed for shipping, essentially locking in the smell until it’s opened.

Our testing team does several smell tests over a 24-hour period after unboxing the mattress. We’ll record how strong the smell is up close, as well as from a distance, and whether the intensity of the smells decreases during the first 24 hours. We also use a meter to measure the concentration of VOCs in the air before and after the unboxing.

Ease of Movement

Ease of movement refers to how easy it is to get on and off the mattress. Firmer mattresses with bouncy layers are usually easier to move on than those with softer, squishier layers. Coil cores can also help you move on a mattress by pushing back against your weight. Speaking of weight, yours is an important factor. People who weigh less than 130 pounds tend to have an easier time moving around on a mattress compared to individuals who weigh more.

To evaluate ease of movement, our testers take turns getting on and off the bed. They also lie in different positions, noting how much the mattress sinks as they roll onto their side, back, and stomach. We also place kettlebells in the middle of a mattress, then record how long the top layers take to regain their original shape. Quick shape recovery indicates a responsive layer that promotes easier movement, while slow recovery may mean you’ll have a harder time moving on the mattress.

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