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How to Choose Your First Big Kid Mattress, According to Sleep Experts

published Aug 22, 2022
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Kids need a lot of sleep — around 10 to 13 hours for children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old and anywhere from 8 to 10 hours for teens 14 to 17, according to the Sleep Foundation. Because sleep is so vital for growth and development, it’s essential to create optimum sleeping conditions for your child, from creating a nighttime routine to choosing a comfortable and safe mattress.

Generally speaking, children start out sleeping in a crib and then graduate to a toddler bed. Toddler beds usually use a crib mattress. These mattresses tend to be on the thinner side and may be made of springs or foam. Once your child is ready to move on to their first big kid bed, with a larger mattress (twin, XL twin, or full), it’s important to choose a mattress that will serve them well. Here are some things to consider when choosing a mattress for your child.

Credit: Saatva

What are the three types of mattress construction?

The three types of mattresses are Foam, Natural, and Hybrid. Foam mattresses include memory foam, gel foam, and polyfoam. Natural options include spring (also known as innerspring), latex, and cotton mattresses. Hybrid mattresses are a blend of spring and foam. 

“It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each construction,” says Sleep Sherpa founder Ben Trapskin. “All foam mattresses are usually the least expensive but don’t always provide adequate support. Hybrid mattresses are the most popular because they strike a great balance between support and pressure relief. Natural mattresses are great because they are environmentally friendly and tend to last a bit longer due to the latex being used instead of foam. They also don’t contain any forever chemicals, but you will certainly pay a premium.” 

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Should a child sleep on a soft or firm mattress?

Some kids will have strong preferences about the feeling of their mattress, while others may not notice much of a difference either way. It’s useful to understand the differences between firm and soft mattresses to inform your decision.

Trapskin explains, “For kids under 7, it’s important to have a firm mattress to provide proper support, so choosing a mattress that skews firmer is the way to go. Kids older than 7 can go with a softer mattress but should still aim for proper support, just like adults.”

According to The Sleep Foundation, “A medium firm mattress with good pressure relief tends to be the best choice in the long term. Since children weigh less than adults, mattresses feel firmer to them and soft beds are more comfortable. As they grow, however, they will require a firmer mattress that can offer them support.” To accommodate for a child’s growing body and changing preferences, some mattresses (including the Helix Kids mattress, Nolah Nurture 10, and Saatva Youth) feature a flippable design with one firm side and one soft side.

It’s also important to identify your budget and desired construction before you begin shopping.

Which mattress size is right for your child?

“Most kids will use their mattresses until they leave the house as adults so it’s important to choose one that will still provide support and comfort as they grow,” says Trapskin. “Choosing a cheap mattress is a recipe for sleepless nights and tired, crabby kids.” 

Because you will have this mattress for years to come, choose one that has a little room to grow. Also, if your child is used to someone cuddling with them to read a bedtime story, you should look for a mattress that provides a little extra room — a full or an XL twin, the latter of which is the same width as a twin but 5” longer.

The last consideration is the bed itself. You’ll need to make sure whatever mattress you buy fits the bed you’re planning to use, so double check before you start mattress shopping to avoid frustration.

Should you get a ‘cooling’ mattress?

Cooling mattresses are built to help regulate heat during sleep. Any type of mattress construction can be considered ‘cooling,’ as there is no specific regulation of the term.

Innerspring mattresses tend to be naturally cool because they allow for more airflow between the springs. Latex mattresses are naturally cooling, and manufacturers may further aerate latex mattresses to make them even cooler. Foam mattresses are not as naturally cool as innerspring or latex mattresses, but manufacturers may add materials to improve airflow to make them cooler. Hybrid mattresses usually have good airflow due to the coil support core, which allows air to move within the mattress. Hybrids with thicker memory foam layers may tend to sleep on the warmer side.

Understand any return policies and warranties

When shopping for a mattress, make sure you understand the return policies,” Trapskin advises. Some stores may charge a restocking fee or insist on giving store credit rather than a full refund. “I prefer buying from companies that have truly free trials. If a store doesn’t have free trials, make sure to bring your kids along to try the mattresses so they feel empowered to make the right decision.”

Also take note of the mattress warranty. Warranties are meant to address any defects in the manufacturing of the mattress. Typically, mattress warranties are between 10 to 20 years. Some brands offer lifetime warranties, while others have considerably shorter warranty periods. Read the fine print to see if the warranty includes repair, replacement, or a refund.  

Shop for quality, durability, and adaptability

Trapskin says his go-to recommendation for kids’ mattresses is the Helix Kids mattress. “What makes it great is that a lot of thought was put into the construction,” Trapskin explains. “This is a two-sided mattress where you sleep on one side until age eight and then flip it to the other side. Helix understands that comfort preferences change as we age.” Trapskin says parents will appreciate the 100 night trial, which provides a full refund in the event that you don’t like your mattress. “[The Helix] also has an antimicrobial and water repellant design to help with accidents. Although I still strongly recommend a waterproof mattress encasement to keep it clean.”

The Best Foam Mattress for Kids

When it comes to foam mattresses, my research pointed me toward the Siena Memory Foam mattress, which hit the right balance of comfort and affordability for my child’s room and the guest room. Trapskin suggests checking out the Mlily Dream mattress, a top seller in his San Diego store. “It is competitively priced and firm enough for great support but still provides excellent pressure relief,” says Trapskin.

The Best Natural Mattress for Kids

“For a natural mattress, I recommend the Natural Escape mattress from My Green Mattress,” Trapskin says. “It provides great support for growing kids and the latex is durable enough to last them through high school and beyond. There’s no off-gassing to worry about and it also doubles as an excellent guest bed.” 

The Best Hybrid Mattress for Kids

As mentioned above, Trapskin recommends the Helix Kids mattress in the hybrid category. Its flippable design is a huge plus for growing kids, whose needs change as they grow. Similarly highly recommended, the Saatva Youth mattress also features a flippable design, and it includes a bacteria-reducing treatment called Guardin, giving it added protection from accidents.

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