HEALTHY LIVING
02/28/2014 08:47 am ET | Updated Feb 28, 2014

The Secret To Finding The Perfect-Sized Mattress

Tanya Constantine via Getty Images

Along with his skates and his performance attire, figure skater Jeremy Abbott's luggage for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games included his very own queen-sized air mattress.

"I did not do well on the twin bed in Vancouver," he told NBCOlympics.com about 2010, thinking -- correctly! -- that better rest could lead to a better performance.

"You could run a race in flip flops and cut offs and a torn t-shirt, but your time probably wouldn't be too good," says clinical psychologist and sleep expert Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. "But if you ran with you running shoes and [wicking] wear and your iPod, your time would be good because you've got the right equipment for running. I believe the same holds true for sleep. If you've got the right equipment, you'll be able to perform better in the activity of sleep."

If only it weren't so confusing to not only find the perfect running sneaks but to find the perfect mattress, too!

First thing's first: "Very few people can sleep comfortably in a twin -- unless you're a child," says Breus. Full-size beds can work, but they're not really ideal. The most popular size is a queen, which "seems to fit the needs of most people," he says. However, he cautions, tall folks should make sure a queen is big enough that their feet won't hang off the end.

Here's a simple test he suggests trying before buying a new mattress: Lie on your back in the middle of the bed. If you can roll over onto your stomach in both directions, it's the right size for you. If you're sharing the bed, you should both get comfy, then make sure you can each roll to one side comfortably.

Once you've found the right size, the rest is largely about personal preference, says Michael Decker, Ph.D., a sleep specialist and associate professor at Case Western School of Nursing. Plan to "test-drive" a new mattress like you would a car -- spend at least 15 to 20 minutes lounging on your potential purchase before signing on the dotted line. Don't be shy about rolling around or taking your bed partner with you and getting cozy -- "within the limits of what you can do in the store!" he jokes.

Although a mattress can typically last five to 10 years, you'll probably know when it's time for a new one. Excessive tossing and turning and waking up feeling stiff and sore are both signals you could use a replacement. But some of us may need a new mattress more frequently, says Breus. People sleeping in pain -- for example someone with arthritis or a back injury -- may require greater support, he says, and mattresses of heavier people may break down faster, says Decker.

Once you're in the store, try not to balk at steep price tags. "How much did you spend on your mattress, and how much did you spend on your sofa?" asks Decker. "We probably spend more time on our mattresses, but people will spend thousands on a nice sofa in the living room and skimp when it comes to their mattresses. In many respects, you do get what you pay for."

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