Mattress buying guide: how to choose a mattress

From open spring to memory foam, we explain the ins and outs of mattresses

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The Independent Online

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to staying happy and healthy. But buying a mattress without doing your research first can lead to sleepless nights and achy mornings, if you aren’t sleeping on a supportive base. And mattresses can cost anything from a few hundred pounds to thousands, so you’ll want to make sure your chosen mattress is worth the investment, before you buy. 

Here, we’ve put together everything you need to know before you hit the high street (or browse the web – online only mattress companies are on the rise). So whether you’re a side sleeper or suffer from chronic back pain, read on to find out what option is best for you. 

Types of mattress

Open spring mattress: also known as open coil or continuous coil mattresses. These contain one long piece of metal wire coiled into numerous springs. There’s also an additional border rod or wire to maintain shape and provide structure. It’s a great value for money option, although sides are machine-stitched rather than hand-stitched, but they are lighter than other models, making them easy to turn. They tend to be less supportive than other mattresses too, so are most suited to guest bedrooms or as children’s beds, where they are used occasionally or will need replacing regularly anyway.

Pocket spring mattress: this type of mattress is more luxurious, as it’s made from individual, small springs housed in their own pocket of fabric. This means each spring moves independently, providing more support than open spring mattresses. You can buy soft, medium or firm versions, depending on your preference, and they are more breathable than memory or latex mattresses (so ideal if you’re always getting too hot during the night). These are heavy to turn though and can be filled with natural materials such as lambswool which may agitate allergies. This is a good option if you’re looking for a bed for two people, as the separate springs will cater for your different needs and weights, while they will also minimise the risk of you rolling towards your partner in the middle of the night. 

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Memory foam mattress

Memory foam mattress: these more modern mattresses are made from memory foam, which is a mouldable material that also responds to temperature and weight, and has hypo-allergenic properties. This means it will mould to the shape of your body, absorb your weight and relieve pressure on your joints. Not everyone likes the sinking motion of this type of mattress, and it can get rather warm, but it’s ideal for those who need support or suffer from a bad back, as it will maintain posture and align your spine horizontally when sleeping on your side.

Latex mattress: as the name suggests, these mattresses are filled with latex foam, which is an especially breathable material, so you won’t overheat in the middle of the night. It’s also extremely durable and should last for many years. And it’s a good option for those with allergies or asthma. They can feel rather solid at first though, so they’re better suited to those who prefer a firmer bed. Usually heavy, latex mattresses can be difficult to turn and cheaper versions can develop lumps and dents over time. 

Mattress sizes 

These are the UK standard sizes for mattresses:

Small single: 75cm x 190cm

Single: 90cm x 190cm

Small double: 120cm x 190cm

Double: 135cm x 190cm

Kingsize: 150cm x 200cm

Super kingsize: 180cm x 200cm

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Mattress firmness

How firm your mattress is will affect how well you sleep. The type of firmness you need will depend on your sleeping position, height and weight. Here we explain what level of firmness is best for what type of sleeper.

Soft: side sleepers or those who change positions during the night are best suited to soft mattresses. This is because the way you sleep already relieves pressure from your spine so you want your mattress to mould to your body’s natural position. 

Medium soft: this is ideal for those who change their sleeping position during the night, as it will still mould to your body position but provide a little more support.

Medium firm: this is best for people who sleep on their back, as you require extra lower back support which this type of firmness offers. 

Firm: This type of mattress is ideal for those who sleep on their front, are over 15 stone or suffer from back pain. This is because it will keep your back in a relatively comfortable and stable position without allowing you to sink into it as you sleep, which can cause lower back pain. 

Mattress care

Once your mattress is delivered, make sure you let it air for at least four hours. This will remove any storage smells of damp or cold. Ideally, the mattress should then be aired weekly by removing the bed linen. Remember to turn your mattress regularly too. This will stop dips forming and your weight altering part of the mattress, causing uneven sleeping. 

Having a mattress protector will also help keep your mattress clean, prolonging its life. This is a sheet that goes on before your bed linen (and mattress topper) to protect your mattress from any stains or dirt.

You should aim to replace your mattresses every 8 to 10 years though. This is not only for hygiene reasons but because it will soften over time, reducing the support it gives you. If you feel sore when you wake up or you find you sleep better in other beds, it’s time for a change.

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Mattress toppers 

A mattress topper is an extra layer of cushioning that goes over your mattress before you put your bed sheets on. They provide additional support and comfort, while also make your bed feel more luxurious and cosy. You can pick from a variety of materials: goose feathers, polyester, cotton, wool to name a few. If you’re looking for one to complete your bed, take a look at our mattress topper reviews. 

Mattress Reviews

We’ve picked out our most popular mattress reviews to help kick off your search for a good night’s sleep.

1. Casper: From £350, Amazon

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  • Foam-core mattress with memory foam layer
  • Great for all types of sleeper
  • It should last up to a decade or more
  • Stable and breathable 
  • Available in sizes single, double, king or super king

2. Sealy Pocket Teramo 1400: From £650, Next

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  • Soft pocket-sprung mattress with an added latex layer
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Good for those who share a bed with a partner
  • Breathable
  • Easy to turn
  • Available in single, double, king or super king

3. Harrison Georgette 8200: From £729, Harrison Beds

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  • Naturally-filled mattress with spring-within-spring technology
  • Extremely supportive and comfortable
  • Good airflow
  • Two levels of firmness to pick from
  • It doesn’t need turning

Find out more about mattresses 

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