How to get the best sleep of your life (and pay next to nothing for it)

Recently a friend asked about something I really hadn't thought much about since college, and I thought it might be something worth sharing in this blog.  After all, this is supposed to be a health and fitness blog, and one part of fitness that is often overlooked is the sleep and recovery time.  Just as important as it is to work hard in the gym, so is getting a good night's sleep.  After all, that is when your muscle fibers are rebuilding and recovering after being shredded earlier at the gym.

One thing that should be obvious to everyone is that you can't get good sleep on a bad bed.  The one simple trick I learned back in my college days, however, is that you don't have to pay thousands of dollars to get a great night's sleep.  The secret is a memory foam topper.

This alone will completely transform your bed and give you a quality of sleep that exceeds that which you may get from a bed that costs 10 times as much.  In fact, I found that this works best on a firm mattress, which tend to be the cheapest.  In short, the steps to getting the best sleep of your life are the following:

Step 1: Get a cheap, firm mattress 

Amazingly, the firmer your mattress, the better a memory foam topper will perform.  I don't know why this is, it just works like that.  It's almost like the mattress serves as a transition between the box spring and the topper, with the topper itself acting as the mattress proper.  It also happens that the firmer the mattress the more affordable they become, so this is perfect.  You can just go to your local mattress factory or some such similar store, and ask for something just slightly softer than concrete.

Step 2: Get a good quality memory foam topper.

This is what you'll actually sleep on and what will make all the difference in the world.  You'll need a minimum of 2", but for most people a 3" thick topper will be perfect.  It all depends on your linear density, or weight to height ratio.  For a 180lb, 5'8" person, a 3" topper is perfect.  If you are taller or lighter, a 2" topper will do, and heavier / shorter, you might want to consider a 4" topper.

This is actually a good use for the BMI chart.  If you are muscular, you know this is a completely worthless chart, but it works well to determine your overall linear density and mattress recommendation.  If your BMI is <25, go with a 2" topper.  If you are "Overweight" (BMI 25 - 30) go to 3", and if your BMI > 30 go to a 4" topper.  For instance, I am 5'8" and 170lb thanks to my fitness routine, so since I'm "Overweight" I'd get a 3" topper.  My goal is to get to "Obese" by the end of the year, but I think I'll probably plateau at around 190lb or so (and that's wishful thinking).  There is only so much you can do without steroids, and I'm just not going there.  So I think there's no need to go to 4" and a 3" topper would be just perfect for me.

In addition, you'll see pound ratings on memory foam toppers.  These refer to how many pounds they weight per square feet, or how dense they are.  A 3-pound 2" topper is slightly denser than a 4-pound 3" topper (0.010lbs/in3 vs 0.009 lbs/in3).  Meanwhile a 3-pound 3" topper is denser than a 3-pound 4"-thick topper.  As a rule of thumb, try to pick something that is at least as many "pounds" as it is inches thick plus one (eg. 2"-3lb, 3"-4lb, etc).  You can also take a look at this graph I made of volumetric density vs thickness and weight (click for full screen). Try to stay somewhere in the blue range.  Deep purple will be too soft and aqua might start to get a little too stiff.

   density 2density 1 

Where can you get these magical toppers you might ask?  Well, Amazon, of course.  They usually have the best deals you'll find anywhere on the internet. As an example, as of this writing, they are selling a 3" 4lb topper for a queen-size bed for $168.59. That's a 78% discount off the full $760 price.  You can of course pick what size you need. Here are some good options which ship free with Amazon Prime (to which you can get a free 30-day trial here).

And yes, they have lots of other brands to chose from as well, But the ones I linked to above are made in the USA (not China) and don't have the strong chemical smell you get from some of the other brands.

And while you're at it, you might as well get a memory foam pillow also.

Step 3 (optional): Get some new sheets

One common complaint from some people who have used memory foam toppers in the past is that some brands can feel hot.  While the reviews for the Memory Foam Solutions toppers linked above specifically stated that they are not hot, you still might want to get cooling sheets, especially if you wind up going with a different brand that might have some heat issues, or if you just simply generate a lot of heat while sleeping.


So there you have it.  All you need for the best sleep of your life is an uncomfortable mattress and a memory foam topper.  Now go get it.