The mattress industry is rife come-ons and gimmicks aimed at unsavvy consumers. For instance, we recently heard about the so-called Smarttress, whose "Lover Detection System" is supposed to help you catch a cheating partner.

Here are five things to know about mattress shopping that will increase your odds of getting a bed that delivers a good night's sleep.

Bargain in a Box

Because mattress models are specific to retailers, it's nearly impossible to comparison-shop at department stores and mattress retailers. This and other tricks have spawned a host of online mattress sellers. These mattresses-in-a-box, which are shipped compressed, are delivered by FedEx or UPS. Hassle-free returns after months-long trial periods mean you can try out the beds for more than the 10 to 15 minutes we recommend you lie on a bed when mattress shopping in a store.

A few of these foam beds from Casper, Leesa, and Tuft & Needle have done well in Consumer Reports' tests. The growing competition has apparently awoken the bigger players—Sealy, Sleepy’s, and Mattress Firm (which owns Sleepy’s) have come out with their own mattress-in-a-box foam beds. Considering one? Check out mattress return policies, including who pays for shipping, and expect to dispose of the old mattress yourself.

Go to 
Consumer Reports' Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.

Stepstool Not Included

Thicker mattresses and box springs are the new norm. So you might need to climb up just to sit down on the bed. If your mattress is more than 14 deep, you might also need to replace your sheets with ones designed with “deep pockets” to accommodate the new mattress. But the box spring itself doesn’t need to be tall to be supportive. Many manufacturers sell low-profile foundations—as low as 4 inches. European-style mattresses, which combine bed and box spring into one and are lower, are another option. (Consumer Reports hasn't yet tested any of those beds.)

Mattress shopping on Helix Sleep's website.
When you buy a mattress from Helix Sleep, you fill out an online questionnaire to customize your mattress.

Have It Your Way

Adjustable-air beds such as Sleep Number’s let you set the firmness of individual sides of the bed. Bob’s Discount Furniture is among retailers with foam beds you can order firm on one side, soft on the other. And the $7,595 Duxiana Dux 515 has three compartments per side into which you place the included firm, medium, and soft spring "cassettes" in any order you like. (Regardless of the arrangement, we judged the mattress soft.)

But Helix Sleep is the latest, most extreme example. Helix says it will sell you the perfect mattress, but the ordering process takes some time as you have to fill out a questionnaire covering your age, height, weight, body shape, firmness preferences, and other criteria for both you and a sleep partner. You can buy one mattress ($900 for a queen) that blends both partners’ specs or, for $100 more, get a mattress with customized halves. We’re testing a Helix Sleep mattress and will report our findings.

Retail Prices Are Bogus

Especially on holiday weekends, you can count on mattress sellers offering "sales" of 50 percent off the usual price. But paying $1,500 for a $3,000 mattress might be no bargain, because prices are overinflated to begin with. Most people pay $800 to $1,200 for a mattress, and paying more doesn't necessarily buy better support. So haggle: Don’t feel shy about asking for 50 percent off the price even when there’s no sale. And ask for free delivery for your new bed and haul-away of your old mattress.

More Green Buys Green

The more stringent the standard, the more you’re likely to pay. Queen-size mattresses with green claims typically cost $2,000 or more.

But keep in mind that not all green mattress labels are meaningful. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and, for mattresses made with latex, the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) require 95 percent of the mattress to be certified organic, with restrictions on the other 5 percent. Also meaningful is the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, which sets limits of harmful emissions and also bans the use of certain chemicals.

But CertiPUR-US, Greenguard and Greenguard Gold, Organic Content Standard 100, and even the descriptor “organic” are only somewhat meaningful, and none address the sourcing of raw materials. 

Need a New Mattress?

If you're mattress shopping right now, consider the Denver Mattress Doctor's Choice, $500, the only tested innerspring to offer impressive support for both back and side sleepers. (All prices noted are for queen-size beds.)

Among foam beds, that distinction goes to the Novaform 14" Serafina Pearl Gel, $800 at Costco, and The Casper, $850 from Casper.

The two adjustable-air beds in our Ratings, the $3,000 Sleep Number i8 Bed and $800 Sleep Number c2 Bed, were fine for both back and side support.