By Tom Barlow, dealnews contributor Do you wake up in the morning feeling tired or with an aching back and a creaky neck? These issues might not be caused by getting older or by over-exerting yourself during exercise; they could be the effects of your mattress. Most of us don't give due credit or attention to this vital piece of furniture, although we spend a up to a third of our lives sleeping on it. Mattresses wear out within 10 to 15 years, according to sleep expert Michael Brues, PhD. Does your mattress collapse beneath you when you sit on the edge to put on your shoes? Is its covering worn thin? Does the pillowtop permanently carry the imprint of your torso? Does it squeal like a piglet when you climb into bed? If your bed suffers from any of these issues, then it's time to scout out a mattress sale for a new and improved model. For many people, though, the mere thought of shopping for a new mattress is intimidating, and for a good reason: the industry wants it that way. As Consumer Reports found, much of the mattress industry intentionally works to prevent consumers from comparison shopping by making different-but-similar lines of mattresses for a variety of distributors. Manufacturers also bury their products in an avalanche of vague, undefined terms like "firm" or "ultraplush." How does one gauge firmness when there is no standardization? J. Talbot Sellers, DO from Spine Health also notes that orthopedic or medically-approved mattress claims mean nothing. The Basics of Mattress Shopping Most mattresses are made with an inner-spring construction; that is, the core of the mattress is devised from a set of steel springs that support the structure. Often, a single line of mattresses uses the same springs, regardless of price point. On top of this foundation of springs is a foam pad, which provides much of the springiness of the mattress. Encasing the pad is the cover or ticking, the quality of which increases with the mattress's price tag. In pillow top mattresses, there's a second pad sewn into the top of the mattress. There are a couple of other popular mattress types. The first is made of memory foam; Tempur-Pedic is the market leader of memory foam mattresses, which are composed of a solid brick of polyurethane foam that manufacturers claim provide better support for your body. But nowadays there are more brands available today than ever before. Traditional mattress manufacturers like Sealy, Simmons, and Serta have their own lines of memory foam beds, and also offer combo memory foam and inner-springs mattresses. Air-filled mattress are a popular alternative to spring mattresses. Sleep Number is the most well-known brand that offers this type of mattress, which features individually adjustable firmness on either side of the mattress. However, most showrooms don't offer air-filled mattresses for testing. When it comes to price, there is a marked difference between standard inner-spring mattresses and their two more expensive competitors. The leading memory foam and air-filled mattress providers rarely, if ever, discount their products; but the inner-spring mattress market is extremely competitive and full price is a price no one should every pay. What to Look for When Shopping for a New Mattress Before setting out to buy a new bed, consider this checklist of mattress questions from Good Bed: Was your mattress comfortable when it was new? In what position do you sleep most often? If you share a bed, are you both comfortable? What type of body do you have? How old is your mattress? How much space do you have for your bed? Will your mattress need to go up stairways and through doorways? While this checklist is good to keep in mind, no one's mattress decision should be reached by simply adding up sales points. It all boils down to something very subjective: how you feel lying on the mattress. But testing out mattresses can of course be time-consuming, since you'll want to spend more than a moment on each candidate bed. Consumer Reports recommends spending a full 15 minutes on each prospective bed: five on your back, five on your side, and five on your stomach. It's also smart to wear loose-fitting clothing, but avoid shopping in your pajamas! First, however, we recommend spending 15 minutes on your old bed before going shopping. This will remind you of your bed's weaknesses and give you a baseline for comparison. Know What Your Money Can Buy There isn't a great correlation between price and quality in the mattress game, according to Consumer Reports. So, it's advisable to start testing out cheaper brand name mattresses, and work your way to the more expensive beds. According to a study referenced by WebMD, people who slept on a more-firm mattress suffered less back pain. A good mattress will offer support from your spine to your toes, helping keep your head, neck, shoulders, butt, and feet in alignment. Because every person is shaped a little differently and has different sleep habits, it's a no-brainer than that mattress buying is generally a showroom shopping experience. Also, shipping costs can be hefty when buying a mattress online. For example, the Ikea Sultan Hansbo Memory Foam Pillowtop Mattress from IKEA is only $399, but shipping can cost up to $299, depending on location. However, there are fairly regular shipping deals to be had from department stores, if you know in advance what model you're interested in. When shopping for your new mattress, don't limit yourself to just department stores. Mattress-only stores like The Original Mattress Factory offer competitive prices and may, according to Consumer Reports, provide more knowledgeable, attentive salespeople. Speaking of mattress salespeople, it's likely that they will also try to promote buying a new box spring while you're mattress shopping. According to Consumer Reports, though, box springs don't necessarily age in lockstep with a mattress, so you might not need a new one, provided that its springs are still firm and don't creak. Rest Easy and Don't Pay Full Price When you're shopping for an inner-spring mattress know that you don't have to pay full price. Wait for sales, which can often take up to as much as 50% off. Did you know that May is the best time to buy a mattress? If you opt for a memory foam mattress, be sure to comparison shop new products from traditional mattress makers like Sealy, Simmons, and Serta. If an air-filled mattress is what you're after, you'll likely have to shop exclusively online or over the phone to order. But in case you don't love your new bed, some stores offer hassle-free return policies. You may have between 30 and 90 days to test out your new mattress and decide if it's right. Keep in mind, though, that each store has its own guidelines and associated restocking fees. While there's inherent fun in shopping for a new mattress, it can be a daunting task. But given the amount of time we spend in bed, an investment of $500 to $4,000 will likely pay itself forward with a good night's sleep. Front page photo credit: Mattress 1st Photo credits top to bottom: Bed Mart, Groupon, We Know Mattresses, Daily News, and Mattress All Related dealnews Features: How to Find the Right Rain Gear for Any Outdoor Activity How to Pick the Right Road Bike: Bike Basics and Beyond Choosing the Right Tree Can Add Value to Your Home and Cut Energy Bills Tom Barlow formerly wrote for AOL's WalletPop and DailyFinance, and in addition to his dealnews contributions, he currently writes about lifestyle topics for Forbes.com. 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