Mattress Guide for College Students

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Moving to college is an exciting chapter in your life, and one that can feel overwhelming. One of many challenges you have to figure out: what kind of bed should you sleep on?

This may be your first time buying a mattress. So, how do you pick the right one at the right price? Whether you’re moving into a dorm that doesn’t provide a mattress or you’re finally moving into off-campus housing, this article will walk you through the variety of factors to consider, such as figuring out the right materials and level of firmness to fit your budget.

Buying a great mattress isn’t just about comfort, it’s also about a deep night’s sleep that allows you to feel alert and study well. Most college students live in shared quarters, which often means there will be all kinds of night time disturbances. Parties at all hours, shared sleeping spaces with other roommates, or noise from the neighbors down the hall can all keep you from sleeping well.

Besides helping you pick the right mattress, we’ll also walk you through sleep products that will help you block out any distractions and ensure you’re ready to ace that next exam.

What Are Your Mattress Needs in College?

Your college mattress needs will largely depend on your living situation. Students in dorms, fraternities, and sororities will often have beds and mattresses provided, so all that’s needed is bedding. But students living in off-campus housing will need to purchase a mattress as well as bedding. Students staying home may just stick with what’s already there, or take an opportunity to upgrade their bedding, mattress, or both. Whatever your situation, you should find a mattress, bedding, and accessories that fit your needs and help you get a good night’s sleep to take on the challenges of college life.

Living in On-Campus Housing

Dorms and Greek house rooms usually come with a bed and mattress. However, you’ll be responsible for bringing your own bedding, including sheets and a pillow. You may also want to bring a mattress topper and/or a protective mattress cover for comfort and hygiene.

Choosing a Mattress

If your room doesn’t come with a mattress, you’ll need to bring one for yourself. Typically, dorm beds fit twin XL mattresses, but you should check with your school or organization before making a purchase just to be sure. These range in price from $100 to more than $600.

Choosing Bedding

Even if you have a mattress waiting for you in your room, there’s still a lot you’ll need to bring for bedding. This includes a fitted sheet, flat sheet, pillowcases, comforter, and blanket.

Most often, you’ll need to find bedding that will fit a twin XL mattress. Of course, you should check to confirm the mattress size before you buy sheets and other size-specific items.

When choosing your bedding, look for durable, easy to wash sheets. In a small dorm room or Greek housing, you’ll use your bed for a lot of things, including studying, sitting, and even eating. Consider buying dark colors or prints to better camouflage any small spills.

Living Off Campus in an Apartment or House

Unlike dorm or Greek life, you’re usually on your own for a bed and mattress in an off-campus apartment or house. Rarely, off-campus housing is furnished, but most of the time, students bring in their own furniture, mattress, and bedding. This means you’ll need to buy more, but it also gives you more options for making your space comfortable.

Choosing a Mattress

If you’re moving into off-campus housing, you’re probably starting fresh with an entirely new bed and mattress. That means you can choose the size and type of bed that’s most comfortable for you, ranging from twin or twin XL to king, even California king. Of course, you may be limited on size, as some off-campus housing bedrooms may not be large enough to accommodate queen or king size beds.

Mattress prices can range from $100 or less to thousands of dollars. The price of the mattress you choose will largely depend on the size, brand, and type of mattress. A twin innerspring mattress may cost as little as $100, or you can choose a full memory foam mattress for $4,000 or more.

Take a look at all types of mattresses, including innerspring and memory foam mattresses. Consider firmness and comfort, and especially how you like to sleep at night. Firm mattresses are good for back support, while softer mattresses are better for side sleepers. A memory foam mattress can offer more support and a restful night’s sleep.

Unlike dorm or Greek housing, the mattress you buy for off-campus housing is likely be the one you use throughout your college years — possibly even beyond. While you may be limited on a college student’s budget, it’s a good idea to buy the best quality mattress you can afford. You’ll be sleeping on it for at least four years and it may even be the mattress you take with you to your first post-college apartment or home as well. You should plan to use this mattress for its entire eight year lifespan and buy accordingly.

Choosing Bedding

In addition to a mattress, you’ll need to find bedding including a fitted sheet, flat sheet, pillowcases, comforter, and blanket for your off-campus room. Your mattress size may dictate your choice of bedding, as you may find more variety in twin and full sizes.

In off-campus housing, you’ll have more of an opportunity to coordinate your bedding with your entire room. Often, students start with a comforter or sheet set they like and then plan the rest of the room around that color scheme.

Living at Home

Living at home during college, you probably already have a bed, mattress, and bedding. But transitioning to college is a good time to upgrade, as existing bedding may be several years old and outdated. Getting a fresh start for college can refresh your room and make the move into this new phase of your life more exciting. All new bedding can even prepare you for when it’s time to move out on your own in a few years.

Choosing a Mattress

If your parents got you a new bed as a child, chances are it’s time to replace it by the time you’ve made it to college. A good night’s sleep has never been more important. This is a good time to get a new mattress that will help you feel refreshed and ready to take on college.

Depending on your room size, you can choose anything from a twin to a king. Of course, you should keep in mind that you’ll probably be moving into your own apartment or house either during college or right after. Your new room may not have as much space as the one at your house right now.

Just as you would in off campus housing, carefully consider all of your mattress options, as there are many available today. Mattresses come in innerspring, memory foam, hybrid, and other models. They also have varying levels of firmness and support depending on your needs. Generally, if you sleep on your back, you’ll benefit from a firmer mattress, while side sleepers do better of soft yet supportive mattresses.

Choosing Bedding

When you upgrade your mattress, it’s only natural to get new sheets and bedding to go along with it. Start out with all new bedding on your college adventure with a fresh set of sheets, comforter, blanket, and pillow.

Bedding Choices for Every College Bedroom

Whether you’re staying on campus, off campus, or living at home, you’ll have lots of options when it comes to sheets, pillows, comforters, and other bedding. They’re available in a variety of sizes, materials, styles, and price ranges to fit the tastes and budget of every college student.

Buying Sheets

Cotton is the most popular choice for sheet sets. This is because it’s durable, comfortable, easy to care for, and often inexpensive. You can find cotton dorm sheets in a range of thread counts (the higher, the better) and cotton types including Egyptian, Supima, and MicroCotton. Many students find shopping online offers the best selection.

Flannel is another popular choice, particularly in winter months for its soft warmth. Polyester sheets are often found in dorm mattress sizes and at inexpensive prices, however, they tend to be stiff and scratchy. Bamboo dorm sheets are environmentally friendly and soft, but may be more expensive.

There are also a variety of blends of each fabric type, often combining cotton and polyester or cotton and bamboo. These fabrics are often a good choice, as they are inexpensive, comfortable, and durable.

Thread count matters, of course, but don’t assume that the higher, the better. Usually, a thread count between 200 and 800 is ideal. A thread count higher than 800 may sound better, but the difference is minimal. Most students find that sheets around 300 or 400 thread count are comfortable and durable.

You should also pay attention to the fabric weave, as this changes the finish and feel of your sheets. Combed cotton sheets are strong and soft, while Percale is crisp and durable. Sateen is very soft, but may be less durable.

Sheets are typically chemically treated to avoid wrinkles and shrinking, but some students prefer sheets with little or no chemicals due to allergies or sensitivities. Organic sheets will be untreated. You can also look for pure finish sheets that either don’t use chemicals or have either removed all chemicals from the sheets.

Buying A Pillow

In addition to sheets, you’ll need to bring your own pillow along. You can choose from foam, memory foam, latex, wool, cotton, down, and feather pillows. Foam, memory foam, latex, cotton, and wool pillows tend to be firm and adjustable and may even be hypoallergenic or resistant to mold and dust mites. Down and feather pillows are softer and easy to adjust while remaining firm, but may cause allergy problems.

Most students choose to purchase pillowcases that coordinate with their sheets. Some pillowcases come in sheet sets, while others will be a separate purchase. You may also want to consider a study pillow or decorative pillow to add to your bed.

Buying Blankets and Comforters

Just like sheets and pillows, there are many choices for blankets and comforters. Like pillowcases, some sheet sets will include a comforter, particularly bed in a bag products. Or, you can purchase a separate comforter.

Consider fill type, power, weight, and thread count when choosing your dorm comforter. Down filled comforters will be soft and warm while down alternatives eliminate allergens. Comforters with a higher fill power will have greater loft, adding thickness and warmth, so a higher fill power is better for staying warm. Fill weight indicates a comforter’s heaviness. A comforter with a high fill weight and low fill power is good for warm climates where you may want the weight, but not warmth, of a heavy comforter. And as with sheets, the higher the thread count on your comforter, the better.

Even with a comforter, it’s best to add a light blanket to your bed. This will allow you to switch to a lighter cover if you’re too hot under your comforter, or add extra warmth if you feel too cold.

Consider the climate of your school when choosing your comforter and blanket. If you’re going to school in a chilly location, you’ll want to invest in covers that are heavier and will keep you warm even if your bedroom is drafty.

Buying Mattress Toppers

Dorm and Greek house mattresses are notoriously uncomfortable, so many college students find that a mattress topper offers more comfort as well as hygiene. Mattress toppers come in a variety of materials and prices, ranging from expensive latex to inexpensive egg crate foam. Even if you’re buying your own mattress for off-campus housing or

Latex mattress toppers are firm, supportive, and comfortable, but can be expensive and retain heat. Memory foam mattress toppers are less expensive while still offering comfort and support, though they also retain heat. Wool is soft and comfortable with good temperature regulation, but less cushioning. Feather and down mattress toppers are soft and luxurious, though they may need fluffing to keep their shape. Cotton mattress toppers offer a range of price, softness, and materials, however they often compress faster and are not as durable. The most inexpensive, egg crate foam mattress toppers are light weight and transportable, but are less durable and may retain heat.

Tips for Purchasing Bedding

  • Get a mattress cover: You probably don’t want to think about it, but in a dorm or Greek housing, plenty of other students have slept on the mattress you’ll be using, leaving sweat, bacteria, and who knows what else — maybe even bed bugs. Use a mattress cover or mattress encasement to create a barrier between you, your sheets, and the dorm mattress.
  • Invest in a good mattress topper: Make an uncomfortable mattress bearable with a good mattress topper that can make a difference between tossing and turning all night and getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Buy two sheet sets: It’s best to buy two sets of sheets and pillowcases, as you may not have time to wash them often at school.
  • Choose durability and quality: Cheap sheet sets for college students are easy to find, but unless you want to change up your style every year, it’s best to invest in a quality set that will last all four years or longer. A good sheet set will be more comfortable, too.
  • Get extra space with bed risers: Take a look at the bed you’ll use in your dorm or fraternity/sorority bedroom and consider whether you can prop it up with bed risers. These will allow you to use the space under your bed for storage, which is perfect for extra sheets, blankets, and out of season clothes.
  • Consider a duvet instead of comforter: If you’re worried about fitting an entire comforter into your dorm’s washing machine, get a duvet. With a duvet, you’ll be able to simply remove the covering and wash it rather than putting the entire duvet in the washer and dryer.

Buying a Mattress Online

Some college housing automatically comes with a mattress, which means you won’t have to worry about selecting one. If that isn’t the case, you may not know where to start.

Back in the day, mattresses were only bought at mattress and furniture stores. Now, it’s increasingly easy for consumers to buy mattresses directly online. Several startups have become popular for their level of quality, convenience, and affordability. Buying directly may be the easiest way to receive a new mattress at your college housing.

We’ve gathered a comprehensive set of resources on direct-order mattresses available online. If you do need a new mattress for your move, you can check out this curated list of the best mattresses.

Important Considerations When Picking a Mattress Online

Ordering a mattress online has one major pitfall — you usually don’t get to try out the mattress before you buy it. For that reason, it’s a good idea to do your research and check out consumer reviews on a mattress before you buy it. Additionally, it’s a great idea to find a brand that allows for a trial period and free returns if you’re not satisfied with the mattress. Here’s what to look out for:

Material

One of the largest factors in whether a mattress is right for you is its material. Each mattress material has different qualities that will suit different sleepers. The table below outlines the pros, cons and construction of each of the common mattress materials.

PRODUCT TYPE PROS CONS CONSTRUCTION
COMFORT LAYER Support Core
Innerspring
Pros

Easy to find
Affordable
Quality edge support
Large variety of firmness options

Cons

Problems with motion transfer
Issues with durability
Owners usually less satisfied
Might be noisy

CONSTRUCTION – Comfort

Typically less than two inches of memory foam or polyfoam

CONSTRUCTION – Support

Has one of four coil systems (continuous, pocketed, offset, bonnell)

Memory foam (Visco Elastic Foam)
Pros

Affordable options
Excellent conforming ability
Isolates motion well

Cons

Retains heat
Off-gassing possible
Poor edge support
Not easy to move on

CONSTRUCTION – Comfort

At least two inches of polyfoam, visco elastic foam

CONSTRUCTION – Support

HD polyfoam

Hybrid
Pros

Conforms and supports extremely well
More temperature neutral than all-foam mattresses
Isolates motion well
Wide variety of firmness options
Excellent edge support

Cons

Off-gassing possible
More expensive than many mattress types
Heavier than foam and innerspring beds

CONSTRUCTION – Comfort

At least three or more inches of polyfoam, visco elastic foam, or other materials such as micro-coils and buckling column gel

CONSTRUCTION – Support

Pocketed coil

Latex
Pros

All natural options
Bounces better than all-foam mattresses
Conforms closely
Highly durable

Cons

More expensive
Less availability
Can be very heavy
Little edge support
Odor potential

CONSTRUCTION – Comfort

Latex

CONSTRUCTION – Support

Latex, HD foam and/or coils for Latex Hybrid Mattresses

Airbed
Pros

Firmness is adjustable
Split beds common
High potential for pain relief

Cons

Expensive
Very noisy
Prone to breakdowns
Expensive to fix
Setup can be hard

CONSTRUCTION – Comfort

Visco elastic foam (select models), Polyfoam (select models)

CONSTRUCTION – Support

Air Chambers

Firmness

Your mattress’s firmness level can play a big part in a quality night’s sleep. It’s also subjective: for example, depending on your preferred sleeping position, a medium-firm mattress may be more preferable than a very firm mattress. The table below acts as a general guide for which level of firmness fits your sleeping style.

Though this table serves as a general guide, firmness preferences are ultimately subjective. We recommend you try laying on mattresses of different firmness levels before purchasing.

Sleeping Position/Weight Class Side Back Stomach
Lightweight (less than 130 pounds) Soft-Medium Soft Medium Soft-Medium Firm Medium Soft-Medium Firm
Medium Weight (130-230 pounds) Medium Soft-Medium Firm Medium Firm-Firm Medium Soft-Medium Firm
Heavyweight (230+ pounds) Medium Firm-Firm Firm-Very Firm Medium Firm-Firm

Budget

There are all kinds of expenses to consider when you’re going to college for the first time. Tuition, textbooks, room and board and registration fees — just to name a few. Many college students will opt for the most budget-friendly mattress possible, but buying a lower-cost mattress doesn’t always mean you have to sacrifice quality.

Additionally, you may not worry about some factors as much if you’re attending four years of school. For example, some people splurge more on durable mattresses that last over seven years. The graphic below illustrates the average price of different types of mattresses. One thing to remember: buying a smaller mattress (Twin XL, for example) will help reduce the price.

More Online Mattress Resources

While online direct to consumer mattress companies have become a popular choice for college students, they’re not the only option out there. Top e-commerce stores sell mattresses online — sometimes at better prices than you can find elsewhere. These are some of the best places to buy mattresses online if you’re not going direct.

  • Amazon.com: Amazon sells practically everything, mattresses included. Buyers love Amazon for its available free shipping excellent return policies, and overall superior customer service. Selection can be overwhelming, so be sure to use search modifiers like size, price, type, and brand to narrow down to the mattress you really want.
  • Mattress.com: The leading name in online mattress sales, Mattress.com has top brands available that you’d expect to see at most mattress stores. They offer free delivery for most orders and offer competitive pricing for most brands.
  • Costco.com: Costco is a popular place to shop for bulk groceries, but it’s also a mattress outlet. Buyers often find above average consumer satisfaction and service, an excellent return policy, and often, the ability to see a few models in store if you feel like you really need to try them out first. Of course, you’ll need a membership to purchase from Costco, even online.
  • Walmart.com: Walmart.com has a wide variety of brands, types, and sizes in mattresses online, with plenty of selection and often, excellent prices and specials. Walmart.com is a particularly good source for inexpensive mattresses and bedding. Walmart accepts mattress returns within 30 days, but you’ll have to ship it back instead of returning it to a local store.
  • Overstock.com: Overstock.com is a popular outlet for buying home goods at a discount, and mattresses are no exception. Carrying popular brands, buyers like the variety of mattresses available on Overstock as well as their prices. Overstock even has a mattress finder tool to walk you through finding the best mattress for your needs.
  • Wayfair.com: Another hot online outlet for furniture and decor, Wayfair.com has an extensive mattress selection at good prices. The e-commerce website is known for its excellent customer service and money back guarantee, and Wayfair offers a perk not often found online: same day delivery. Through a partnership with Mattress Firm, Wayfair.com customers can purchase a mattress online and receive premium same day delivery in most markets.

Other Sleep Products for College Students

College living quarters aren’t exactly known for being quiet or luxurious. If you’re worried about sleeping in a space that is shared with a lot of roommates, subject to loud parties, or lacking home amenities, some of these products may help.

Earplugs

Earplugs are a simple and low-cost way to help you sleep in environments that aren’t as quiet as you’d hope. Of course, they’re not all made like they used to be. While you can still find classic foam and silicone shaped earplugs, many different types of earplugs have entered the market. Some are designed for multiple uses, depending on the brand and material.

Some options include:

  • Bell shaped foam – Fit comfortably and come out of the ear canal easily.
  • Silicone circles – Easily mold, reusable and comfortable. Swimmers enjoy using them but they’re great for sleep as well.
  • Cotton-encased wax – Highly moldable and more secure around ear canals. Reusable and another popular product for swimmers.

White Noise Machines

White noise machines are a great alternative or addition to help you sleep in a quiet environment when earplugs aren’t doing the trick. These machines use a deliberately-pitched static that helps block out some of the bothersome noises around your home or from outside.

They usually run on the market from between $20-$80. A battery-powered option may be ideal if you don’t have many outlets in your room. Some options are more travel-friendly and compact, while others have features like natural sound options, sleep timers, and even alarm clocks.

Be sure to test out the best area to place it in your room — as well as the best decibel volume — to get the best results.

Bedroom Fans

Not every dorm room or apartment is outfitted with central air. Choosing a great bedroom fan can help you keep the heat away instead of tossing and turning at night. Fans now come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from the little ones that fit on your desk to tower fans that oscillate from side to side.

Additionally, some fans won’t force you to leave bed to get comfortable. Newer models come with remote controls, multiple settings, and even sleep timers with automatic shut off. Nicer fans can clock in near $150 and up, whereas smaller fans may be priced as modestly as $20.

Humidifiers

Humidifiers accomplish many different jobs at once. They can decongest your lungs if you have a cold, keep your nose from bleeding when it’s dry, and even treat dryness on your lips and skin.

Best of all, they can help you sleep better at night if you’re feeling sick or uncomfortable in the current climate.

It’s important to note that there are two different types of humidifiers: warm mist and cool mist. Warm mist humidifiers boil water that releases steam into the room. Cool humidifiers use cool water that produce a mist. Humidifiers usually go from $30-$140, depending on how fancy you want to get.

Alarm Clocks

Many people have stopped using alarm clocks because they can just use the alarm clock on their phone instead. That said, there are some benefits to buying a legitimate alarm clock. In addition to modern features intended to make waking up easier, alarm clocks are generally more reliable than a phone, which you can forget to charge or set.

Modern alarm clocks also have a lot of fun features, like smart-home automation with Alexa and high-resolution displays. Or if you hate a jarring sound waking you up in the morning, look no further than lights that help you wake gently to increasing brightness instead of beeps.

Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene as a College Student

Sleep hygiene doesn’t have to do with cleanliness, but instead with routine. While college life definitely comes with its sleepless nights, getting into good sleeping habits will help you feel better and perform better in school.

Sleep hygiene practices are used to help ease insomnia and even help in cognitive-behavioral therapy. If you wake up often feeling unrested, have trouble falling asleep, or feel fatigued during the day, implementing some good sleep hygiene practices will likely help out.

Unfortunately, a lot of the daily habits we’ve developed are bad for sleep, such as looking at your phone late at night or doing homework on your bed. Here’s how you can improve your sleep hygiene.

  • Know how much sleep you really need – Most adults need about six to nine hours of sleep a night. But as an adolescent, your body and brain are still developing, which means you may need more. Learn how much leaves you feeling rested.
  • Follow a bedtime routine and go to bed at the same time every night – Doing this can be really hard when you’re tempted by friends who live near you. While your weekends might entail a little more fun, try to integrate a regular sleep schedule and routine during the weekday to keep you feeling fresh.
  • Find cool and dark place to sleep – Bright lights, noise, and heat are the enemies of good sleep. Make sure your curtains are closed and lights are off before you go to bed. Having a fan, earplugs, or white noise machine can also help.
  • Dedicate your bed only to sleep and sex –  You may feel tempted to read for homework on your bed, or even lie down with your laptop while playing games. But this messes with your brain’s ability to rest when it’s actually downtime. Instead, devote your bed to the purposes it was made for.
  • Limit screen timeBlue lights from laptops and cell phones do you no favors before bedtime. They actually trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime, making it harder to sleep. Avoid screens for an hour before you go to bed and you’ll sleep better.
  • Eat well, exercise, and get sunshine during the day – You don’t have to stop eating fruits and vegetables because you’re finally on your own for college. Getting in exercise, sunshine, and general body movement outdoors will always help you sleep better at the end of the day.
  • Avoid substances like caffeine and alcohol before bed – Try not to crush that Monster to help you study late at night. Both caffeine and alcohol before bed can lead to poor sleep and even nocturnal awakenings.

Additional Sleep Resources for College Students

A great mattress and bedding is the foundation of good sleep, but there’s more to it than what you’re sleeping on. These sleep resources explain good sleep habits, how to create a routine, can help you identify sleep disorders, and more.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep Disorders

Sleep Facts and Studies

Creating a Sleep Routine

Stress Relief Resources

Mental Health Resources

  • ULifeline: ULifeline is an online resource specifically focusing on mental health for college students. Get facts, take a self evaluation, and learn how you can get help for yourself or for a friend.
  • Active Minds: Student Resources: Get connected with mental health resources for students and young adults as well as multicultural organizations and resources on Active Minds.
  • National Institute of Mental Health: Help for Mental Illness: The National Institute for Mental Health shares resources for getting help with mental illness.
  • MentalHealth.gov: Visit MentalHealth.gov to learn the basics of mental health, what to look for, how to get help, and find opportunities to talk about mental health.

Additional Tuck Resources

Still looking for tips on how to navigate sleep in a new college environment? Our tips below will help.