How to Buy the Best Mattress for a Good Night's Sleep
As you'll know if you've listened to any podcasts in the last decade, buying a mattress is one of the most important purchases you will ever make. We spend roughly a third of our lives in bed – about 25 years on average – making sleeping in hotel-style luxury easy to justify.
Comfort is king, and knowing how to choose the right mattress for you is the key to the throne, which is why we’ve put together the comprehensive mattress buying guide below. Read on, make an informed choice, and enjoy sleeping like royalty. You deserve it.
Types of mattress
There isn’t a ‘best’ type of mattress, but there may be a type of mattress that suits you best. Let’s run through your options:
The traditional choice, pocket-sprung mattresses feature springs enclosed in individual ‘pockets’, each filled with natural material such as wool. These springs respond to your body’s pressure independently, making you less likely to roll towards the middle of the bed and disturb your partner (a common problem with cheaper open-spring mattresses).
Memory foam mattresses
For a more modern buy, consider a memory foam mattress that moulds to your body for optimum support. This won’t be the best choice if you tend to get hot and bothered at night, as memory foam isn’t breathable. It can feel restrictive, too, if you tend to toss and turn during sleep. There's good news for allergy sufferers, though, as memory foam is hypoallergenic.
Hybrid mattresses offer the bouncy support of an innerspring system, coupled with a layer of memory foam or latex for softness. Some feature a special gel that absorbs and releases body heat to help keep your bed cooler. They're a smart choice if you tend to shift sleeping positions during the night (more on that later).
These online-only mattresses are sold by the manufacturer directly to the consumer, reducing their cost. They arrive vacuum-packed, in a box, just as their name suggests. They tend to come with a generous 100-night trial period, meaning you can test yours out at home, obligation-free, before either returning it or committing to keep it. Most brands will collect an unwanted mattress free of charge and recycle it, eliminating any tiresome faff.
What is the best mattress for my sleeping style?
Spine alignment is at the heart of the firm vs soft mattress tension debate. Your mattress should provide enough support to keep your spine in the ‘neutral’ position – as straight a line as possible running through your head, neck, shoulders and back, as it would be were you standing or sitting with good posture. Different sleeping styles call for different firmness levels to maintain a well-aligned spine.
Choose a mattress that is soft enough for your hips and shoulders to sink into, so as not to put too much pressure on these joints. Hybrid or memory foam mattresses are good for side sleepers, as they offer both support and softness.
Keep the gap between your body and bed to a minimum by picking a firmer mattress, perhaps a pocket-sprung model. Opt for a flat pillow, or go without one, to keep your neck and spine aligned.
Look for a mattress with medium tension, be it pocket-sprung or memory foam. There shouldn’t be a big gap between your lower back and the mattress. If you can easily slide your hand between the two, the mattress may be too firm (or you might need to do some stretching to loosen out tight hips). If there’s no room at all, it may be too soft and unsupportive.
Regardless of whether you plump for a firm or soft mattress, it’s crucial that you find it comfortable. That ‘firm’ mattress you have your eye on won’t necessarily feel more supportive than a ‘soft’ one, not least because brands describe firmness differently. What feels firm to you may feel too soft for someone else, and vice versa. It’s highly subjective and heavily linked to the pressure exerted onto the mattress by your body weight.
Not helpful? Remember that all sellers are legally obliged to offer a ‘cooling-off period’ of at least two weeks, should you need to renege on your purchase.
Features to look out for
Avoid mattresses with plentiful bells and whistles – they only really have one job to do and anything beyond that is just extra cost. That said, there are few features to look out for while whittling down your shortlist.
If you share your bed and have a different sleeping style to your partner, divorce is not your only option. Split tension mattresses have a softer half and a firmer half, while zip-and-link mattresses are two separate mattresses that can be zipped together to make a full bed.
If it’s a natural filling that you’re after, you’ll need a pocket-sprung mattress, which typically features layers of wool, cotton or horsehair. Note, though, that many ‘natural’ mattresses also contain synthetic layers, so look for ‘natural only’ labelling.
Likewise, a memory foam mattress may only feature a thin layer of memory foam. Look past those sneaky marketing tactics and be sure you’re buying what you think you are.
Flipping your bed can be physically challenging, but handles along the side of your mattress make ticking off that chore much quicker and easier. Memory foam mattresses don't come with handles as the memory foam is only on one side, meaning they can't be turned over.
How much is a good mattress?
Mattresses vary wildly in price from as little as £100 to well into the thousands. The cost depends on the size, material and brand, but the most expensive mattresses aren’t always the most comfortable or longest-lasting.
Expect to spend anywhere between £250 and £800 for a good mattress that will support you through many years of sleep. Considering how rarely you need to replace a mattress, that equates to pennies a night.
What are the top mattress brands?
Given how much you will likely be spending on your new mattress, it’s important that you trust its quality. Browse the ranges of well-known, established brands with generally positive reviews, such as Emma, Simba, Eve, Silentnight and John Lewis.
How often should I change my mattress?
Expect to change your mattress every seven years, or up to ten if it's particularly durable. Memory foam mattresses tend to last the longest, whereas pocket-sprung mattresses are prone to sagging over time. If you start experiencing aches and pains, or waking up feeling groggy, it's likely that your old mattress is no longer offering adequate support
Our top tips for buying a mattress online
There’s a lot to be said for traipsing around bed shops, trying out mattresses, but it’s time-consuming, tiring and, in any case, the lockdown has forced non-essential retail to close its doors . Buying online might feel risky, but it needn’t be if you’re well prepared. Consider our top tips for a stress-free virtual shopping experience:
Do your due diligence
There are so many mattresses on the market that shopping can quickly become overwhelming and frustrating. Narrow down your search from the off according to what you’re looking for, be that a soft memory foam mattress or a firm pocket-sprung one.
Most websites now offer filters, meaning you only see the products that match your budget and requirements. Save time and minimise stress by deciding what those are before you open all those tabs.
Measure twice, cut once
Mattresses sizes can differ slightly between brands. Play safe by measuring the base of your bed frame and checking it against the listed dimensions. This is especially wise if you haven’t bought a mattress in years, as sizing systems may change.
Check the guarantee
Nobody wants a mattress that will start sagging after only a few months. Check that there is a guarantee in place to protect you against any faults and be careful not to invalidate it. Bear in mind that standard wear and tear is unlikely to be covered, so you’ll need to look after it well.
Use a mattress protector to keep it stain-free, wash your bed linen weekly and pull back the duvet every morning to let it air. Rotate or flip it monthly, or according to the manufacturer’s advice, to aid its longevity.
Make use of cooling-off and trial periods
Consumer law dictates that every brand must offer you a cooling-off period of at least 14 days, during which you can cancel your order at any point and receive a full refund. This period starts from the date you receive your mattress. If you think you’ll need longer to decide whether a mattress is a good fit, look for a trial period offer, some of which run for 100 nights. Just remember to read all the terms and conditions carefully before signing up.