I'm Often Asked as a Chiropractor, "What is the Best Mattress for my Back?"
The answer is not simple, but actually varies from person to person. If you are familiar with the Sleep Number Bed commercials, they often show the husband setting the firmness preference for his side of the air bed to one particular number, while the wife chooses a completely different firmness setting. During my time in India, I've known people who did well sleeping on the floor with little or no padding, while others would awaken in severe pain if they ever attempted this.
A mattress should combine support with comfort, and I don't suggest one that is too hard or too soft, some "happy medium" will have to be found, and that may be especially challenging if you share your bed with a partner who is of a different build. I recommend at least a 30 day trial with any mattress you purchase - which is offered by many reputable mattress stores - before you make a decision. You can make a judgment based on how you feel, if you wake up stiff, unrested, with any aches or pain -- after a normal break-in period of several weeks -- there's probably a better mattress out there for you!
For the most up-to-date information, here are three absolutely excellent websites providing consumer and expert reviews and some guidlines for choosing a good mattresses:
Here is an excerpt from a guide from Consumer Reports which explains in words and with a video how to choose a mattress using several parameters. I recommend getting the most current information from their website to see exactly which mattresses and stores scored the highest through their independent testing -- the subscription is only about $6.95/mo which can be canceled anytime.
For families with kids or expecting kids, here is a very helpful link for most of your questions about children's sleep health...
Please also read my blog article on "Stomach Sleeping: Perhaps Your Back's Worst Nightmare" because even the best mattress is of no help whatsoever if we are not very conscientious about our sleeping posture! I have all patients promise to learn to sleep on their back or side, and have "zero tolerance" for stomach sleeping, which can cause arthirtis in the neck and back. On one's back, it's comfortable to use a pillow under the head and one under the knees to reduce pressure on the low back. One one's side, it's a good practice to double up or fluff-up the pillow for your head, so it remains more horizontal, while also using a pillow between the legs, to reduce pressure on one's hips and low back.
With regard to what is the best PILLOW to use, I recommend one which allows you to sleep on your back so your head sinks down to the mattress and is not wedged up do to too much firmness. It should also allow a bunching up or doubling up when you sleep on your side. For this, a down or ideally "down alternative" pillow is best. I just shopped around extensively and found a great pillow at IKEA for 12.99 called the "Arenpris" pillow which has all the qualities I like for back and side sleeping. I am not a fan of the contour pillows often recommended by chiropractors which try and change your neck curvatures... they really don't, and they often make your sleep unconfortable. A pillow cover which is soft, washable, and protects against allergies and dust mites is a great idea too in order to enhance comfort and better hygiene.