If you’ve watched one (or three, or a dozen) of our product review videos, you might’ve wondered: How exactly does the Sleepopolis team figure out what makes a product good or bad? Well, that’s a great question! So, allow me to fill you in.
Below, we’re going to discuss our Sleepopolis reviewing methodologies, explain the tests we use, and provide some insight into how we utilize the data we collect to make our recommendations.
One of the things that sets us apart from other reviewers on the Internet is our preference for personally testing out the products we include on our site. We value a hands-on approach because it allows us to assess items on our own terms. We use a variety of tests and processes that give us (and you!) a full picture of what a product is actually like. At the end of the day, we believe the best way to understand a mattress (or pillow or blanket or sheet) is to roll up our sleeves and feel it for ourselves.
This is invaluable for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most important is it allows us to figure out the pros and cons of every single product. We want you to know all the details about whatever item we’re testing (and you may be considering buying), so we’re not going to hold back. In our opinion, there’s no such thing as a “good” or “bad” product, but simply ones that are better for certain individuals than others.
The Sleepopolis Expert Network
In addition to developing and utilizing a rigorous methodology for testing out the products on our site, we also rely on an extensive Expert Network of physical therapists, doctors, psychologists, neurologists, dieticians, other medical professionals, and writers to verify the information we put out there.
That means that if we claim a particular mattress could be great for those with back pain, we might chat about it with physical therapist Dr. Keith Poorbaugh to ensure the statement’s validity. And when it comes to writing on topics like REM sleep or circadian rhythms, we could check in with neurologist Dr. Joseph Krainin or clinical psychologist Dr. Janet Kennedy before hitting publish.
By tapping into these fantastic resources, we’re able to create dynamic content that’s not only interesting, but powered by actual professionals in the sleep space.
General methodology aside, let’s get into some of the details of how we review mattresses. Below, I’m going to walk you through my favorite tests and explain why I use them and how I interpret the results they yield.
Firmness is an important component of a bed’s feel, as it’ll tell you how much support and pressure relief you’ll likely get on a mattress. We like to rate mattresses on a scale from 1 to 10 for firmness, using 6.5 as the standard for medium firm. I like to rate the bed myself, ask my coworkers to rate the bed, then average our scores for my final firmness rating. During every review, I have multiple testers try out the mattress to help solidify a firmness score, but to also show how different bodies can have different experiences with the same bed. Different weights, sleeping positions, and personal preferences will all bring different results.
For this reason, I don’t like to stop with just a number. If my testers and I agree a mattress is soft, I’m going to explain what’s going on in the bed’s layers to make it that way. If we agree it has a ton of firm support, I’m going to pinpoint where that’s coming from. With every firmness scoring, I’m going to go over who might benefit from it most.
Once we’ve got firmness sorted, it’s time to dive into pressure relief. This section is particularly beneficial for those sleepers who need to alleviate tension, either at the shoulders and hips for side sleepers, at the lumbar region for back sleepers, or at the hips for stomach sleepers. When I review a bed, I want to know exactly where pressure is likely to form, so I can tailor my recommendations to those who might benefit (or really not benefit) from its specific amount of relief.
To show where these tension spots might pop up, I use a pressure map. This device uses heat mapping technology to show where pressure’s building across my body (or my coworker’s) in various positions. When you see this graphic in my videos or write-ups, you can easily tell where the high pressure spots are (lit up in orange and red) compared to where the low, or no, pressure spots are (lit up in green and blue). While I’ll always describe the pressure I experience on a mattress, this graphic is super helpful to show where it’s forming.
Next, I like to assess a bed’s motion transfer, or the amount of motion that’s detectable from one side of the mattress to the other. Though this test is important for all sleepers, it’s especially beneficial for those who share their bed with a partner or pet, as it’ll demonstrate whether or not you’ll be bothered by movements while you slumber.
To gauge a bed’s motion transfer, I conduct a bounce test in which I drop a 10 lb steel ball from heights of four, eight, and twelve inches. Before letting the ball fly free, I set up a seismograph on the other side of the bed to measure the intensity of these bounces, which it does by producing a line graph marking their frequencies. On top of using this graph, I like to have a coworker lay on one side of the bed and tell me if they can feel me making movements on the other side. These tests together help me better understand how bothersome a toss and turn in the night could be for someone.
Sinkage and Responsiveness
And finally, it’s crucial to a test a bed’s sinkage and responsiveness. Sinkage refers to how much you’re likely to sink into a mattress, while responsiveness shows how easily you can move around on it.
Although sinkage is always going to be dependent on an individual’s height and weight, I like to first get an idea of it by using a 10 lb ball and having my coworkers on standby again. For the ball assessment, I simply drop it at different heights and see how much it sinks into the bed. As for my coworkers, I like to see what their experiences are with sinking into the mattress since we all have different body shapes and weights.
I use a smaller lacrosse ball to test for responsiveness. I drop it at different heights to see how much bounce it gets. I also have my coworkers move around in different sleeping positions on the bed and tell me how difficult or easy it is.
After I get the above results, I can see whether you’re more likely to feel as if you’re sleeping “on top” of the bed or “in” it. I also can see how easily it’ll be to change sleeping positions in the night, which is especially helpful information for combination sleepers.
Sure, most sheets look great when they’re fresh out of the package… but how are you supposed to know which sheets are best for you just by looking at them? To figure that out, I spoke with our accessories expert Amelia Jerden, who shared her method for assessing the quality of new sheets.
For her, it really comes down to three main factors: Materials, feel, and temperature. She also always makes sure to consider the care instructions. Below, you’ll get an idea of her step-by-step process for analyzing each of these factors.
Amelia tells me she likes to start by looking at the materials. Here she looks at what fabrics are used, the thread-count of the sheets, the weave, how the fabrics are made and processed, and whether or not they’re organic.
Once Amelia feels she has the materials down, she then likes to assess the feel of the fabrics. Sheets can feel extremely different based on their materials. Some are going to feel soft, smooth, silky, rough, crisp, or even airy. To further test the feel out, Amelia will lay under them and see if they cling to her body or if they’re lightweight.
When she’s testing weighted blankets, she likes to let our readers know if it’s a fuzzy, furry, or fluffy material — or if it’s more smooth and soft.
“I try to be really specific to give an idea of what exactly it feels like,” says Amelia.
Amelia says she also likes to see if the bedding will have a tendency to easily wrinkle, along with what color options you have when ordering.
And while looks aren’t everything, some people do prefer their sheets to look a certain way. Our pro tip: If you prefer a lustrous sheen, aim for sateen. If you like a solid matte look, try percale! For more on the differences between the two finishes, check out our full Sateen vs. Percale sheets guide.
After Amelia’s tested the materials and feel, she looks to the temperature. We all have our preferences when it comes to sleeping cool or warm, so the temperature can be a deal breaker for some people.
In order to get an idea of temperature, Amelia starts by assessing the weight of the material. If it’s a thick, heavy fabric, it’s probably not going to be cooling. But if it’s light and airy, that’s a better indicator they will be. Then, she looks at the materials. She says in general, cotton is very breathable, Tencel is breathable and moisture wicking, and synthetic fabrics are usually not breathable. To really bring this test home, she literally brings the sheets home and sleeps with them to see if they keep her warm or cool.
Another pro tip: If you’re prone to night sweats, check out materials like bamboo, Tencel, and other fabrics known for their moisture-wicking capabilities.
Amelia doesn’t just test out sheets and weighted blankets — she’s also our go-to pillow expert. Though sleepers can get extra picky about their pillows, Amelia says there are a few general characteristics to consider when testing out a new pillow: Loft, firmness, and materials.
The loft refers to the height of a pillow, and lets Amelia know which body types and sleep positions will be the most compatible with a specific pillow.
Here’s what typically works best for certain sleepers:
- High Loft (6+ inches) – Ideal for side sleepers or folks with broader shoulders as it helps to relieve pressure at the neck and keep the head in neutral alignment with the spine.
- Medium Loft (4-5 inches) – A good zone for back sleepers as it keeps the head lifted, but not so aggressively that it causes the neck to crane out of position.
- Low Loft (2-3 inches) – This last category is best suited for stomach sleepers as it helps to prevent the upper body from dipping out of alignment with the hips.
However, Amelia says it’s ok to change up your loft based on your personal preference.
“For example, I almost always like my pillows a little lower in loft than average, even though I’m a back sleeper,” she told me.
As with mattresses, the firmness of a pillow can make or break it for certain sleepers. Amelia says she likes to determine firmness by first feeling the pillow. She’ll check how easy it is to press into it, how much her head sinks into it, and whether it conforms around her head.
“A soft pillow would be like a traditional down pillow,” says Amelia. “Most of the ones I review are around medium, and firm might be a solid block of foam.”
To round out her reviews, Amelia dives into a pillow’s materials. She says the materials can really alter the feel of a pillow and can also be a good indicator of its cooling capabilities.
There are a lot of materials you can come across with pillows, like shredded foam, solid foam blocks, latex, down, and fiber fill down alternatives (just to name a few!). They all have different feels and will offer different amounts of support, bounce, and conforming.
A quick tip from Amelia: Anything that uses latex will likely be pretty cooling. Anything with a shredded fill will do well for allowing airflow.
She also points out what the pillow covers are made of can help with cooling — is it a breathable cover or is it all synthetic materials? Of course, you can find those answers in her reviews.
Though the bulk of our reviews center around mattresses, pillows, and bedding, we pride ourselves on testing out a diverse range of sleep accessories, including eye masks, blackout curtains, sleep trackers, bed cooling and heating devices, adjustable frames, and night lights. We’re always looking for the latest, greatest sleep technology to test out and see if it really works.
While each product category calls for a unique review methodology, there are a few questions we try to answer with every single item:
- Functionality – Does the product work? If so, how can we demonstrate the full scope of its functionality? For an eye mask, it might involve rolling around in multiple positions while wearing it to test its wearability. For blackout curtains, it could entail multiple tests in different rooms with different amounts of light.
- User-friendliness – If we can assess that a product is functional, we’ll then work to figure out its use-ability. Is the remote with the adjustable frame easy to read or are the buttons too complicated? Does the sleep tracker sync automatically with your smartphone or does it require another device? Ultimately, this good needs to add something to your life without too much fuss, so these questions help us to better understand the user experience you’ll likely have.
- Value – And finally, we come to value i.e. is this product worth the money? Answering this question is as subjective as any of the others we pose, so it’s not about us providing a simple yes or no; rather, it’s about us giving you all the information you need to decide if it’s going to be a worthwhile purchase for yourself.
At the end of the day, our methodology is rooted in both personal experience and hard data to give you a 360° view of a product. It may not be possible for you to test out all the bedroom accessories you’d like to buy, but that’s why we’re here, to equip you with the knowledge you need to make the purchasing decisions that are 100% right for you!