a painful mattress situation

My husband and I bought our first queen mattress when I was pregnant with my younger daughter. It was excellent — firm, yet soft, and quiet (no residual jouncing from a partner’s tossing and turning) — but after fifteen years, it started to get a little lumpy and misshapen, and we noticed we weren’t sleeping as well. 

Reluctant to spring for a new mattress — they’re pricey! — we got a secondhand one from a friend for free. Right away we noticed that there were dips in the mattress from the two previous sleepers, but the much more serious problem was the hump dividing the two halves. I’d never thought of my husband and me as cuddly sleepers, but after a few weeks of sleeping with Mount Everest between us, I began to feel lonely and disconnected. The thought of sleeping without touching each other, for months and months and months, kind of broke my heart. 

So then we bought one of the foam puff-up mattresses from Costco. It had great reviews and was on special for $500 (with free returns). It’d be great if we could love a cheaper mattress, I thought, but within a couple weeks I started to notice a pronounced sinking. There might not have been a mountain between us any longer, but not matter: I could hardly extricate myself from my foam hole, let alone climb mountains. We returned the mattress (and knowing that most returned items, at least Amazon returns, end up in a landfill, it was not a good feeling). 

Next, a mattress store. My husband and I played like Goldilocks for awhile before finally settling on a Kingsdown Le Claire Queen. It was quite firm: my husband thought it was too firm but I was still traumatized from that sinking-hole feeling I’d gotten from the Costco cheapie, and besides, I pointed out, You nap on the floor so you obviously like firm sleeping conditions. The salesman said we shouldn’t notice each other’s restless tossing since the two halves of the mattress had separate spring networks — they weren’t connected at all.

“But we’re not going to notice an actual divide, right?” I said. “We want the bed to be completely flat between us.”

“Oh no, absolutely not,” he said. “There’s no way you can feel that.” 

Long story short: we absolutely do feel a dividing hump, and the bed is so firm we wake up sore. So here we are, out 1500 hundred dollars for a back-(and marriage)-breaking mattress, no returns.

The thought of sleeping separately, and uncomfortably, for the next twenty years is truly unbearable, so for a few months I refused to think about it. We’d adjust, or somehow the bed would magically improve, but three months later, I’m done. The mattress is a problem and we have to fix it.

My solution: a mattress topper. From my research, I see there’s the memory foam kind (like this) or the fitted sheet kind (like this). My husband can hardly stand the thought of spending more money, but what else is there to do? I can only wallow in regret for so long. Plus, good sleep is a necessity. (And it occurs to me that there might be a silver lining: top our high-quality, uncomfortable mattress with a nice soft pad and the mattress might last us a good thirty or forty years, which means that, even with a fluffy, new mattress pad every ten years or so, we’d still be saving money, take that, Kingsdown Le Claire.

Anyway. Long, LONG story short: have you ever attempted to improve a too-hard mattress with a soft topper. If so, did it work? Any recommendations or advice? We’re aiming for something that’s soft but not too soft, durable, and — considering summer and menopause are just ahead — not too hot. 

This same time, years previous: for the love of pie, the quotidian (3.9.20), another adventure!, Shannon’s creamy broccoli soup, the singing bowl, the quotidian (3.9.15), black bean and sweet potato chili, perfect pretzels, with a side of poison, honks, chirps, and coughs.


  • Michelle

    Combining two recent topics, menopause and mattresses, this was my path to a hard won Goldilocks’ topper solution for a too firm bed. I found that memory foam was too deep, hot and sweaty – down and alternatives compress and shift too much and you end up sore, lumpy and sweaty – thick carded wool fleeces sewn into cotton ticking fabric (Amish made) was soft, supportive and breathable but I was allergic – and the 2 inch Talalay natural latex has been juuust right for the last decade. The latex is soft, supportive, springy and perforated so it breathes as you move, and it doesn’t smell chemically weird like the synthetic foams. Good luck with the hunt! We all deserve a comfortable night’s sleep everyday!

  • Jennifer G

    Yes they are stinkin’ expensive but Select Comfort, where you can adjust each side are really wonderful & we kept ours for 20+ years making the cpu smaller than many conventional, cheaper mattresses.

  • Thrift at Home

    Oh man, we got our queen mattress 20 years ago as a hand-me-down from my husband’s aunt. And when my hips started getting sore a few years back, I bought a topper for it and it solved the problem (along with doing starting more regular exercise, I realized!). I truly have no idea what kind of topper I got. And then 2 years ago, in our chilly old age, we got a heated mattress pad and it is DIVINE. Just warms up the cushy bed and then we hop in and turn it off.
    I’m reading all these comments with interest and a little dread since I guess we will be mattress-shopping sometime in the future :/

  • Camille

    Finally woke up and smelled the coffee after YEARS of enduring crummy, lumpy, sagging mattresses. Got ourselves a reversable (ie: flippable) double sided mattress. Just like in the OLD days. Yes! You pay a bit more and it’s usually a special order (Our last one was constructed in PA and shipped to NH) Go figure. Best thing we ever did. We flip that Queen size son of a gun over once a month. Three years in and NO lumps, bumps, sags, etc. I feel your pain. Mattresses are expensive. Toppers work for a while but in the end…not so great.

  • Rebecca L Miller

    I tried a topper and it didn’t help at all. Still had sore shoulders and hips. I ended up going to a mattress store that offered a 4 month trial and 100% free exchanges or returns. Yes, I spent a good bit of money but it’s worth it to be sleeping soundly without waking up sore.

  • suburbancorrespondent

    Buying a mattress is so stressful, they are so expensive! I currently have the perfect mattress (bought in 2012 and yes, we did have to return a too-soft mattress first) and I dread the year I’ll have to try to find another one like it.

  • KC

    If it’s an option: thin, dense foam layer (think half-inch yoga mat, but queen-sized), topped with a thicker soft layer.

    (but yeah. Not memory foam. Closed-cell foam for the bottom layer, open-celled foam for the top layer, get them in two separate layers so you can rotate and flip and replace them separately when they die; the open-celled will generally die faster.)

    Also: have you tried calling the mattress store to complain? Because that’s definitely something they should be aware of.

  • Linda

    We spent thousands on our last mattress and it was too firm for us. I bought the cheapest egg carton topper and it works great, we’re very comfortable.

  • Shoshana

    We got a mattress that my husband thought was too firm. got a topper (not foam, more like a thick comforter) with fitted bands at the corners. It works! provides a bit of cushion and has not gotten too flattened. IKEA also had free returns for up to a year, which we used on a previous mattress failure.

  • Lissa

    Hate to break it to you, but you’re supposed to get a new mattress every 8-10 years….especially as you get older. (Hard on joints, filled with mites and debris) 7 years ago we bought a super firm mattress and it had developed that awful mountain in the middle and we were sore every morning. Noticed that we slept great whenever we visited our kids! Bought a new one about a month ago and are so happy. (Years ago we bought a foam one and hated it–felt like sleeping in canoe). My friend in Minneapolis enjoyed her topper until menopause and then bought a new bed since she was having night sweats and having to change PJs and sheets etc. Best of luck….

  • Becky R.

    Yes, I have fixed several mattress problems with latex toppers. I really hate memory foam toppers. I find they are very hot, and I don’t like to sleep hot. I recommend that you research latex toppers. You can get them in several thicknesses, and they are available in firm or soft. There are 2 different kinds of latex, talalay and dunlop. I prefer talalay. I don’t know how much they cost these days, but I think the last one I bought was a 2 inch thick talalay that was about $200 for a queen size. They have consistently improved any mattress problems I have. I have found it is almost impossible for me to find a good mattress these days. I am like Goldilocks, they are all too hard or too soft! Having said all that, sleeping surfaces are very subjective, so YMMV. Good luck!

  • Melinda Armentrout

    We have used a down/down alternative topper on a too firm bed with great success. Memory foam toppers tend to be hot as they retain heat.

  • melodiemillerdavis

    We love toppers, and used them on our own bed before we got a mattress we liked (yes at Costco). Now we put the toppers on the spare beds and when the kids and spouses come home, no one complains. Good luck! I feel your pain, but frankly I kind of like the little dip between us because then we know if/when one of us is hogging the bed…. (old retired folks that we are).

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