Go behind the scenes of our mattress testing process and learn what we look for when we test each bed.
McKenzie, a Certified Sleep Science Coach and proclaimed mattress expert, has been writing sleep content in the wellness space for over four years. After earning her certification from the Spencer Institute and dedicating hundreds of hours to sleep research, she has extensive knowledge on the topic and how to improve your quality of rest.
Having more experience with lying on mattresses than most, McKenzie has reviewed over 150 beds and a variety of different sleep products including pillows, mattress toppers and sheets. McKenzie has also been a guest on multiple radio shows including WGN Chicago as a sleep expert and contributed sleep advice to over 50 different websites.
Testing mattresses is a rough gig, but somebody has to do it. All jokes aside, we thoroughly review mattresses to give consumers an honest opinion of the beds before they commit to buying. For each mattress review and roundup, we put them through a series of tests to learn the ins and outs of each bed. That way, we can tell you the beds that are worth the money and the ones that are total snores.
We have a small, dedicated team of mattress testers who know a lot more about beds than your average Joe. They have tested out many mattresses (over 100 and counting), and have dedicated hundreds of hours to the job. Below is the criteria we look for when they test and insight into what the process is like. And to answer the question you must be wondering about, yes -- we
on mattresses for a living!
All reviews and "best list" product rankings share the same commitments to excellence:
Independence: The products recommended in our reviews, roundups and other stories are independently chosen for review and recommendation. We don't accept compensation for placement on CNET.
Expertise: Our team of five mattress experts and seven Sleep Science Coaches has years of expertise within the sleep and bedding space.
Hands-on testing: We personally unbox and hand-test the products we write about, whenever possible.
Research: If we're unable to test a product ourselves, we make recommendations based on extensive research, customer reviews, brand reputation and expert opinions.
Value: We take price into account when making product recommendations and aim to find the best products with the most affordable prices.
How CNET gets the products we review
Mattress and bedding companies are always introducing new things, whether it be a new mattress model, an updated cooling pillow or a complete branding revamp. Brands keep us in the loop on new product launches and often send us editorial samples for testing prior to release. We keep a majority of the mattresses we receive and store them in our facility so they can be referenced for videos, best lists, comparisons, and so on.
Our editorial team also requests editorial sample products from brands. If we can't get our hands on a product that we want to test, we'll often purchase it.
Our team of sleep science coaches
We have a small but mighty group of certified sleep science coaches who've dedicated many hours to researching sleep and mattresses. A sleep science certification from the Spencer Institute means that our experts have undergone over 20 hours of learning and studying the intensive science behind sleep and have passed the final exam. This certification qualifies our experts to speak knowledgeably on all things sleep, the relationship between the brain, body and sleep and offer helpful advice to those in need of better quality rest.
We also have resident mattress experts who have tested and laid on more beds than what's stored at your local mattress firm. Seriously, they've physically had their hands, backs, sides and stomachs on top of over 150 mattresses. With this extensive knowledge of beds, they're able to offer insights on highlights, pros and cons and select best mattress picks that are actually worth the money.
How we test mattresses
Mattresses we recommend are tested at our in-house mattress facility. We have two bedroom setups, each furnished with a bed frame, two nightstands and decor, and we unbox the mattresses we're sent as a customer would theirs.
Our team spends an average of seven hours per mattress as we cycle through our testing process, analyzing metrics such as firmness, feel, and performance. If a mattress has special capabilities and features, such as sleep tracking, a team member will test those in their own home after initial processes are finished.
A mattress' level of support or pressure relief is one of the most important factors to consider when shopping: It means the difference between a good night's sleep and waking up feeling like you've slept on a concrete slab or something too soft that failed to support you. We get a feel for a bed and, using all the mattresses we've tested in the past as a gauge, determine where it falls on the spectrum from soft to firm.
We rate numerically on a 1 to 10 scale, as well as industry terms such as "medium" and "medium-soft." We also collect multiple opinions on firmness from people with different body types because it's valuable to get different perspectives on this: The heavier you are, the more support you'll want from your mattress. If you're a back or stomach sleeper, you'll especially want a more firm mattress. But lighter individuals might find that a firm mattress is too hard and that a softer mattress is more comfortable, especially side sleepers who are petite.
All firmness ratings are displayed from the perspective of a weight between 150 and 230 pounds.
Support vs. pressure relief
Firm beds are supportive and prevent your back from sagging into the mattress. Instead, you sleep more on top of the bed rather than sinking into the foam. Soft beds, on the other hand, offer more give and contour around your curves. They offer more pressure relief than support. Medium beds offer the best of both worlds; enough pressure relief for side sleepers and ample support for back or stomach sleepers.
Does the mattress feel like memory foam, which remembers our shape as we nestle into the mattress? Is switching positions during the night difficult? Or is it like neutral foam, which responds more quickly to pressure and offers a nice, plush feel? Does the bed feel like latex foam, which is very bouncy and supportive? How about the innersprings, can we feel them poking through the bottom layer? We try to let you know how each bed feels in a descriptive, honest way. We know you can't feel the mattress yourself through the computer screen, so we do our best to give details on feel.
If it's not a luxury bed and we have no plans to donate it, we've been known to cut mattresses open to check and see what's inside. That way, we get a look at the layers and what the foam looks like underneath the cover. Otherwise, we'll study the brand's description of the construction for a good understanding of the different foams and materials used.
The construction of a mattress also helps determine how supportive it's going to be. Foam beds offer less support than hybrid beds made with a coil support layer.
Using construction as an indicator, we try to determine how supportive and durable a bed will be for different body types. Typically, people over 230 pounds require hybrid mattresses, with both foam and coils, because those mattresses are more durable. They also tend to find that beds feel softer than advertised. On the flip side, smaller people in the under-150-pound range tend to find that beds feel firmer. We always try to take these factors into consideration when we're testing mattresses.
We test the mattress by sleeping in every different position: side, back, stomach and switching between positions. If it feels too firm for our side or soft for our back or stomach, we make note of it in our review.
There are other factors to take into consideration when picking a mattress, and these performance indicators are more objective than features like firmness and feel. Regardless of your size or sleeping position, mattresses typically perform either good, average or poor in these categories.
There are a few methods we like to use to test motion isolation. The first is just regular co-sleeping. Our tester will ask their partner to "sleep aggressively," tossing and turning for a while like they can't sleep, to see how much motion the bed absorbs.
The second is placing a glass full of water near the end of the bed. We roll around, getting as close to the glass as possible, to see if it will tip over. This is a nod to the OG commercial with the woman jumping on the memory foam mattress with the wine glass sitting on top.
We sit and lie on the edge of the mattress to see what kind of sensation it gives. Is it supportive or do we feel like we're going to roll off the edge? We'll let you know! Hybrid mattresses tend to be more supportive because they contain both foam and steel coils, rather than all foam. As you could imagine, steel is stronger than foam and offers a bit more support. With that being said, a lot of foam beds these days have really stepped up their edge support game and support better at the edge than foam beds used to.
Disclaimer: discussing mattress temperatures can be tricky because people sleep in different climates, pajamas and have differing home temps. We pay a lot of attention to materials and personal experience to determine how hot a bed sleeps, but it can also depend on where you live and how warm you keep your home. If you live in Arizona with a broken AC or North Dakota during the winter, there are more external factors at play for you than what we can conclude during testing.
In the same room, at the same temperature, with the same bedding (cotton sheets or no sheets), we test the temperature of mattresses by seeing how hot we feel. Sometimes we'll break out the temperature radar gun, but we've found that we get the point across better by describing, in detail, how hot we felt while sleeping.
Be wary of claims from mattress brands that their beds are cool. We've found that more often than not, beds sleep more neutral than cold. There are only a handful of beds that actually live up to the claim of being a cooling mattress.
Online and bed-in-a-box mattress brands recognize their customers may be hesitant to order a mattress over the internet before testing it, so they offer a range of company policies. Some policies are much more generous than others, and it's something to take into consideration if you get a better sense of security from a long risk-free trial and warranty.
The average deal is a 90 to 100-night trial with a 10-year warranty
A better deal is a 120-night trial and a 20 to 25-year warranty
The best company policies offer a 365-night trial and a lifetime warranty
A lot of bed-in-a-box mattresses emit an interesting smell once they are unboxed, kind of like a new car. The foams have been manufactured, compressed and packed in plastic, so you'll notice an odor when you unroll it from its packaging. It's not something to be concerned about, and it should go away in anywhere between a few hours to a few days. But we'll make sure to mention obvious smells in our review, especially if the odor is overwhelming.
The only way to avoid the off-gassing smell is to purchase an organic and natural mattress made with latex foam and certified organic materials like cotton and wool.
Nobody likes a squeaky, loud mattress that wakes you up every time you switch positions. So, we also keep a lookout, or rather an ear out, as we flip and flop around the bed we're testing.
Why you can trust CNET reviews
CNET editors, writers and staff value integrity and un-biased coverage. We refuse compensation for placement or positive coverage. We also don't guarantee a best list spot to all brands who send editorial samples. All recommendations are based on our personal experience, from expert mattress testers with a range of different sleeping position and body type perspectives.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.