Select Your Mattress
Few things come down to personal preference more than choosing a mattress. What can feel like a cloud to one person can be back pain in the making for another. What makes the decision even harder is the sheer range of options, with mattresses available in practically every budget and type you can think of.
From new-age bed-in-a-box mattresses to the more traditional, feels-like-it-weighs-a-tonne pocket-sprung alternatives only found in specialist bed shops, you’ve got a lot of choice. The good news is that certain considerations make the decision-making process easier – read on to find out what they are.
The National Bed Federation recommends you change your mattress every seven years (although really good ones can last eight to ten years – in some cases even more). They warn that quite often a mattress has worn out before you realise. Indeed, the Sleep Council points out that after seven years, your mattress will have had over 20,000 hours of wear and tear, to go with the half-pint of fluid lost each night and pound of dead skin cells shed each year.
Tell-tale signs that you need a new mattress include finding that you sleep better in other beds, and realising that you don’t sleep as well as you did a year or so ago. If you start to wake up with stiffness or pain it may also be a sign that you need to splash the cash.
A mattress that’s right for you and not worn out will mean you move about less, awaken less and are less disturbed by your partner. You’re also less likely to wake up feeling groggy or with any aches or pains.
People don’t buy big enough beds, warns the Sleep Council. Many people, for instance, don’t realise that a double bed is only 135cm wide – that’s not even two single beds and nowhere near enough room for two adults to sleep comfortably without disturbing each other. Even moving up one size to a kingsize mattress – at 150cm – can make a big difference.
The bottom line is that if you share your bed, buy as big a bed as you can fit in your bedroom; disturbance from a partner is one of the most common sleeping problems. Also, don’t forget to match the size of your mattress to your bed frame – European mattress sizes, for instance, differ slightly to standard UK sizes.
Besides being the right size, your mattress should provide the correct support and comfort levels. That’s why it’s important to either try before you buy or get a mattress with a trial period. That means either trying it out in the shop – taking time to lie on it in your natural sleeping position or, if you buy one online, looking for one that comes with a 100-day trial period.
There are five main types:
Pocket sprung – this is the most traditional type of mattress and has a bouncy, springy feel, thanks to the springs which are sewn into individual fabric pockets. These springs – available with different levels of tension – also make the mattress supportive and durable. Pocket-sprung mattresses can be filled with all manner of different materials to suit your needs, including wool for comfort and breathability. Unlike latex and memory foam, they don’t mould to your body or warm you at night.
Memory foam – These don’t have much spring, instead moulding to the shape of your body, which means that you’re less likely to disturb your partner when you move at night. They keep their shape well and many of the ‘new generation’ ones arrive ready rolled (easy to fit in your boot) or even vacuum-packed (and delivered to your door). On the downside, they can hold body heat, making you feel hot and clammy – particularly if they are very soft.
Latex – These are similar to memory foam, but with a bit more spring. Natural latex is superior to synthetic latex, and it’s also antimicrobial and resistant against mould and dust mites. There are two types of latex – the heavier, denser Dunlop latex, and Talalay latex, which is lighter and softer. These are also available in the “new generation” style, with the downside that they’re similarly prone to holding body heat. Some latex mattresses claim to last more than 20 years.
Hybrids – these combos are mix-and-match versions of the mattress types. For example, pocket-sprung core (so you get the buoyancy) with a foam top layer (so you get the moulding effect).
Continuous coil or open coil – the first is made from a single looped wire, while the latter is made from single springs fixed together with one wire. While these are the most wallet-friendly of all mattresses, they can be uncomfortable (in the worst cases you actually feel the coils) and the whole thing moves if you move, meaning you are very likely to disturb your partner. Coil mattresses also wear out the quickest, and you might well find you and your partner meet in the middle when the sagging makes you roll inwards.
Yes. Different sleeping positions require different types and amounts of support, so it makes sense to pick your mattress accordingly.
Side sleepers – here you need a mattress with a lot of pressure relief, especially at the points in which your body pushes down the most (you can work these out by imagining yourself lying on a floor). Pocket sprung with a soft top is best, although some memory foam or latex mattresses can also work well. Avoid very firm mattresses, which may cause pain at the key pressure points.
Front sleepers – again a pocket sprung mattress can work well for supporting you in all the right places, whereas with memory foam you might feel restrained. Latex can also work well as there’s more bounce-back.
Back sleepers – any mattress type can work for back sleepers but look for one with good support and some give so your spine stays well aligned while you sleep.
As a general rule, heavier people tend to prefer firm support, while lighter people find medium or soft mattresses more comfortable. However, you need to consider your sleeping position and personal preference too. In fact, personal preference counts for more than you probably think.
Don’t assume firm mattresses are automatically better for bad backs and older people – that’s a myth (see the link below). And remember that if you and your partner have different preferences, you can get mattresses where each half has a different tension (with or without a zip).
Your bed base can affect both the feel and the performance of your mattress, so always check which type of base the mattress manufacturer recommends you use. Many suggest a base with sprung slats, which provides good support and absorbs movement as you move about in your sleep. A platform base can also support any mattress, providing a firmer foundation. It’s worth noting that a slatted base can cause a mattress to bulge over the years, so you should make sure the slats are no more than 70mm apart to ensure its full longevity.
Most mattresses need to be turned regularly to ensure even wear and tear. Consider this when buying one, particularly as many mattresses are extremely heavy. Some mattresses only need rotating rather than turning, although even that can be a tricky job when it weighs a tonne. You can, however, buy mattresses that don’t need turning or rotating.
Check the warranty, not only for the number of years it lasts, but also for the fine print. Most warranties cover manufacturing defects, which will probably happen quite quickly – for example, a popped spring, or foam not bouncing back. But if something happens and you haven’t used the recommended bed base or have failed to use a mattress protector when they insist you need one, the warranty could be invalid.
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