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4 signs you should get a new mattress

Bumps, lumps, sagging, and other indications your mattress should be put to bed.

an old and stained mattress outside Credit: Getty Images / nathan4847

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You may be familiar with the ballpark expiration date for mattresses, somewhere between 8 and 12 years. Most recommendations land right in the middle, claiming if your mattress has been with you for a decade, it’s time for it, and you, to move on.

But there are so many variables that can change the recommendation: Cheaper mattresses might not last as long, well-made mattresses that have been impeccably cared for could eke out another couple years, and some materials stand the test of time better than others. Beyond the few hard-and-fast rules, how can you tell when it’s actually time for your bed to go? Here are four signs.

1. Your mattress fails the yardstick test

the corner of a new mattress
Credit: Getty Images / Ratchat

Mattresses with a level, flat surface provide better support than those that sag in one place, or have bumps.

Grab a yardstick, or something else that’s long, straight, rigid, and lightweight and lay it on top of your mattress running vertically—from the head of the bed to the foot—in the area where you usually sleep. Get down to eye level with the bed’s surface and inspect how the yardstick is resting. You want to see that the mattress is in full contact with your tool from top to bottom. (You may also want to start at the top and move the stick incrementally down, as most adults are more than 3 feet tall.) Contact demonstrates that the mattress is still providing a level and smooth surface for sleeping, and there aren’t any permanent deformations.

Gaps between the surface and yardstick likely mean your mattress is either sagging (from springs or foam that aren’t as resilient as they once were) or lumpy (from materials compressing unevenly and bulging in areas that aren’t under pressure). If the mattress is sagging, there may be a slope down from the stick and the surface. In contrast, if your bed is lumpy, the yardstick may be boosted above the surface unevenly and, depending on how bad the lumpiness is, could even teeter on a bump. Both are signs of general wear-and-tear, but will also make for a less-than-stellar nightly rest.

2. You’re sniffling or sneezing all night or in the morning

a woman sneezes with a tissue in bed
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If you've addressed other potential sources of allergens and still feel sniffly, it may be worth considering your mattress.

Mattresses are a central hub for dust mites in your bedroom. You might think that you’re in the clear because you’ve always used a mattress protector. While protectors help, they don’t block and prevent dust mites entirely. In fact, one research study found that over 25% of covered foam mattresses in a sample of 150 still had detectable levels of dust mite feces. (The uncovered foam ones fared worse, with 40% of the sample containing detectable evidence of dust mites.)

This spells bad news for the 20 million Americans who suffer dust and dust mite allergies. Other bedding sources could be to blame for allergy symptoms, such as duvets or an old pillow, but if your mattresses is getting on in years, and you wash or replace other bedding that might be making you sneeze, it may be time to consider investing in a new bed.

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3. You frequently wake up stiff or in pain

a woman puts her hands on the small of her back sitting in bed
Credit: Getty Images / fizkes

Pain in your joints or back can be an indicator you need a new mattress.

If you’ve noticed that you routinely feel creaky or sore each morning when you roll out of bed, it’s a sign your mattress isn’t providing sufficient support and overnight comfort. Side sleepers may notice pain in their shoulders and hips, which are the bony pressure points that take the brunt of their weight as they sleep. If a mattress’s support is inadequate, those points may sink in, which can misalign the head, spine, and neck overnight. Stomach sleepers and back sleepers may feel the effects of a mattress’s diminished support in their lumbar spine or neck.

What’s more, a lot can change in just a few years, let alone a bed’s 10-year suggested lifespan. Your need for a new mattress could have nothing to do with the bed itself, and may be more related to your own changing sleep preferences over time. Maybe in the past you liked to sleep on your side, but an injury or surgery means you now sleep on your back. Stomach sleeping inherently strains the neck and back, so the position itself may be to blame for morning discomfort. If your position has permanently changed, your mattress might not be the right fit anymore, given each position has different needs for support and spinal alignment. You could try modifying how you sleep, swapping your pillow for one that’s more appropriate for side sleeping or back sleeping, but if those changes don’t help, you may want to go mattress shopping.

4. You have a hard time falling asleep or toss and turn all night

a woman awake in bed with her hands on her forehead in exasperation
Credit: Getty Images / AndreyPopov

Old mattresses can contribute to thrashing, tossing and turning at night.

If you find yourself squirming and struggling to find a comfortable position when you lie down on your bed, your mattress may be the problem. Aside from just being unpleasant, tossing and turning also makes you more likely to fall asleep in a position that’s not conducive to keeping your spine and joints comfortable throughout the night.

In one study, 59 people slept on their personal beds for a month and self-reported on their comfort and sleep quality each night. Then they were given a new mattress for another month of in-home sleep testing. Researchers found that the new mattress improved sleep quality and reduced back pain, coming to the (probably obvious) conclusion that a new mattress can improve your time in bed each night.

How to get rid of a mattress

stacks of different materials sit outside ready to be recycled
Credit: Getty Images / cnicbc

Many mattress components can be recycled or repurposed.

Mattresses, as it turns out, are often made of recyclable materials and as much as 95% of the components can be reused. Bye Bye Mattress, the consumer branch of the Mattress Recycling Council, offers a zip-code based tool to find mattress recycling locations and drop-offs near you. The database includes results like Goodwill locations that accept mattresses, as well as businesses that offer mattress drop-off options.

Salvation Army also offers a pick-up service if you don’t have the ability or resources to transport a mattress yourself. Habitat for Humanity has pick-up services in some cities, like Boston, sometimes through partnerships with local movers that provide the service at lower cost to you.

Tips for taking care of your new mattress

a woman's hands pulls a mattress cover down over her mattress
Credit: Getty Images / penkanya

When you do invest in a new mattress, use a protective cover to make the most of its lifespan.

So many variables contribute to getting a good night’s sleep. Your nightly routine, if and how you use your phone before bed, whether you have the right pillow for your sleep position—the list goes on. But once you’ve handled the above and replaced your mattress, here’s what you can do to maintain your investment for at least the decade you hope to get from it.

  • Use a protective mattress cover to prevent stains from seeping through and causing damage to the mattress itself. If you have allergies, look for one that’s certified by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to prevent dust mites from permeating as much as possible. Mattress covers are also machine-washable and far cheaper to replace than the mattress itself.

  • As mattresses are a hot spot for dust mites and other dirt and grime that transfers from your body or settles from the air, keeping bedding clean is essential. Experts recommend washing your bedding, including the blankets, sheets, mattress cover, and even duvets every seven to 10 days, optimally in hot water (or however directed by the care label).

  • Keep indoor humidity in check. Researchers at BYU found that the semi-arid air in the mountain west isn’t humid enough for dust mites. If you live in a more humid climate, use air conditioning or get a dehumidifier for your bedroom to keep relative humidity around 50% and bugs at bay.

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