Adulting is expensive, and when the bills roll in, blowing a chunk of your paycheck on a new bed can feel daunting. But a good-looking, comfy space to sleep is always a good investment.
The right frame, mattress, and bedding can promote better rest and pull together the look of your entire room with a lot less effort and money than you might think. Whether you’re starting from scratch or supplementing what you already own, Wirecutter, a product review site owned by The New York Times, can help you figure out which items you actually need — and what you can safely skip.
[ It’s Sleep Week at Wirecutter! Read more expert-tested bedding and mattress recommendations, and see the best sleep deals for your bedroom. ]
Choose the right mattress
The right mattress is crucial to a good night’s sleep, as anyone who has woken up with an aching back after spending the night on a saggy hotel bed or a friend’s rock-hard sofa knows. Luckily, we’re living in a golden age of mattress shopping: Nearly every online brand offers some sort of risk-free trial, which is nice, since finding a comfortable mattress can be hit or miss.
You can expect a new mattress to last you about 10 years (the length of a standard warranty), so don’t settle until you find one you want to sleep on long term. Wirecutter’s mattress buying guide is a great place to start your shopping. It’ll help you answer some basic questions you may not have thought to ask: How much bounce do you want in your mattress? Are you a hot sleeper? What is edge support? For ultimate convenience, consider a foam mattress, which can usually be delivered right to your doorstep. Wirecutter’s picks start at around $300 (for a queen), and most come with a 100-day trial period, though many offer more — so you’ll never get stuck with a bed you hate.
It’s not sexy, but we also suggest safeguarding your mattress with a SafeRest waterproof protector (if you’re worried about spills, leaks, or dust mites) or a Protect-A-Bed encasement (if bed bugs are a potential problem). Think of it like insurance — neither protector will cost you much, but they could save you from needing to replace your mattress before its time.
Add height and air flow with a bed frame
A bed frame is about more than making it look like you have your life together. It adds extra support to your mattress and places it at a comfortable height, making it easier for you to climb in and out of bed. It’s also healthier, since a mattress on a flat surface (like the floor) can retain moisture and become a breeding ground for mold. Every bed frame Wirecutter recommends uses slats — thin wood or metal beams laid across the frame — to support the mattress and increase air flow. Experts suggest looking for a bed frame with at least 3 inches between each slat, which lets the mattress really breathe.
A tight budget is no excuse to skip a frame. We found several sturdy and stylish platform bed frames for under $300. They don’t include headboards, but they’re simple enough to blend in with any existing décor. And if you’re ready to invest in a frame that makes a statement — or you want something that feels more luxurious — We also recommend six modern bed frames worth the splurge.
Spending more will usually get you something with extra personality and style, as most of Wirecutter’s picks feature details like unique silhouettes, tapered legs, specialized slat systems, or colorful upholstery. Pricier picks typically include headboards, too, which help protect your wall from damage, keep your pillows in place, and give your bed a more upscale feel.
Because they often come with substantial warranties, you can expect to use these bed frames for years (or even decades). Buying pricey furniture that lasts may feel a little risky — what if your tastes change? — but these picks have clean lines and classic styling, so they’ll never feel out of place.
Find bedding for all seasons
Start with the basics: Cotton sheets. Figure out if you like sheets that feel crisp and cool (percale) or soft and drapey (sateen). Our favorite percale set is made by L. L. Bean, and we also love these affordable sateen sheets from JCPenney.
Having a couple of sets will make your life (and laundry) a lot easier: To tailor the temperature of your bedding and add some texture, expand your repertoire with L. L. Bean’s cozy flannel sheets for winter and Cultiver’s luxurious and breezy linen sheets for summer. Cultiver also sells sheets by the piece, so if you can’t splurge on a full set quite yet, you can still mix some linen into your rotation. Don’t bother with sheets made from materials like microfiber, bamboo, or lyocell (the latter two are simply types of rayon). Brands may brag that they’re environmentally friendly, but Wirecutter hasn’t found any proof that these processed fabrics are any greener than cotton — and they’re not as durable or comfortable.
Most bedding we recommend comes in a wide range of colors, but we don’t suggest going too crazy. Classic white sheets work with any décor, and white is the easiest color to keep clean (you can wash white sheets in hot water or use bleach without worrying about fading). Everyone should own at least one set. For a look that’s brighter and more fun but still polished, try sticking to one color scheme, mixing a couple of similar shades that work together. It’s eye-catching without feeling like a hodgepodge.
Now take a look at your pillow. If you fold it in half, does it spring open or collapse into a mushy blob? If it’s the latter, it’s probably time for a new one. Since every body is different, pillows are notoriously difficult to buy. Wirecutter loves Nest Bedding’s Easy Breather for side- and back-sleepers. Its shredded-foam filling lets you adjust for the perfect fit: Simply unzip the cover and remove as much as you want. Similarly, Sleep Number’s PlushComfort ultimate pillow lets you layer one, two, or three inserts inside, a design that helped our stomach-sleepers customize their fit and get more comfortable than they could with the other pillows they tried during Wirecutter’s testing.
What size bed should I get?
Wirecutter’s rule of thumb: Buy the biggest bed that will easily fit your space. Realize that leveling up means you’ll also need to buy a larger mattress and bigger bedding, but if you share a bed with a partner, pets, or kids — and you have the room — consider a king. Chances are, you won’t regret giving your crew some more breathing room. Those extra inches often mean the difference between an all-night foot in your face and a solid sleep.
However, size up only if you truly have the floor space. If you bonk a knee every time you try to squeeze by, the bed is too big. Being a grown-up means being honest about your needs and making small adjustments until you land on the setup that’s right for you.
What to Buy is a new series in collaboration with Wirecutter, the New York Times company that reviews products. Want buying advice from the experts, or need help picking out the right thing for the right job? Email Smarter Living Editor Alan Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll look into it for you!
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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.