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How to pick the right mattress for you

How to pick the right mattress for you
(Image credit: Eve)

Making sure you pick the right mattress is an important decision and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the choices on offer. With a huge range of online retailers joining established shops and dealers, finding the best mattress for your needs has probably never been easier but making sure you get the right one for your sleeping needs is no easy task.

Your best bet is to first consider the type of sleeper you are before then looking at the different materials, fillings, levels of firmness and sizes on offer. Just because you’re buying online doesn’t mean you can’t try before you buy as many online retailers now offer trial periods with free delivery and collection.

Read this guide and you’ll be able to make a fully informed decision on identifying an ideal mattress that will give you a perfect night’s sleep for years to come. If you’re looking to save money, we have guides to today’s cheapest Purple mattress deals and Saatva mattress deals

1. What type of sleeper are you?

Knowing how you sleep is the first step to choosing a mattress

Knowing how you sleep is the first step to choosing a mattress. (Image credit: Casper Mattress)

While it can be helpful to know your pocket spring from your polyurethane it’s also important not to ignore the most significant factor in the decision making process: you. Whether you sleep primarily on your back, side or stomach; picking your mattress based on sleeping position will put you on the way to a more restful night’s slumber. It's worth noting that the Helix mattress actually asks you to take a sleep quiz before you buy.

Front Sleepers: The Better Sleep Council doesn't recommend this position as it can cause strain in the lower back and possible neck pain. It can also lead to increased restlessness and soreness in the ribs, knees and elbows. If you sleep mostly on your belly then a medium-firm or firm mattress is the way to go as it will offer better support along with a little give for these potentially painful areas. 

Side Sleepers: Side sleepers can afford to use a softer base as this position naturally relieves pressure on the spine. However, they should also be aware that sleeping on one side can cause aches and pains around the shoulders and hip. 

Simon Williams, bed expert from the National Bed Foundation informs us, "If you lie on your side, you need a mattress that keeps the spine in a fairly straight line and a shallower pillow so that your neck isn’t strained". So side sleepers should opt for a soft-medium mattress for maximum comfort and minimum aches in the morning.

Back Sleepers: The Better Sleep Council also takes an unfavourable view of sleeping on your back claiming it can induce lower back pain and even episodes of apnea. Other experts aren’t quite so harsh however and Simon from The National Bed Federation advises; "If you sleep on your back your spine should be in its natural curve as though you were standing upright". As such, back sleepers should go for a middle ground for maximum comfort; not too soft, not too firm.

2. Get the correct support

The National Bed Federation tells us that a mattress that offers good support will mold to the shape of the body and keep the spine horizontal if the sleeper is lying on their side. A general rule of thumb being the heavier you are, the firmer the mattress you should get.

Image 1 of 3

(Image credit: National Bed Federation)

This mattress is too hard and the body is not relaxed, causing tension and pressure points.

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(Image credit: National Bed Federation)

The mattress pictured here is too soft, causing the spine to be out of alignment.

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(Image credit: National Bed Federation)

The support and give in this mattress follows the body’s profile, keeping the spine nicely aligned.

3. Types of mattress 

Mattresses are made from a myriad of different materials and use many methods of construction. While one material isn’t necessarily better than another, it helps to have a working knowledge of the different types while you’re shopping.

Gel Mattress: Gel foam is a combination of elastic and viscous foam combined with gel beads and can be used in the mattress itself or in the upholstery.
Good For: Temperature regulation, allergies, all sleeping positions, fidgety partners.

Latex Mattress: Latex is a type of rubber made from plants or petroleum. These mattresses tend to be on the firmer side and are both durable and breathable.
Good For: Hot sleepers, back pain and allergy sufferers.

Memory Foam Mattress: These are made from high-density polyurethane foam that responds to individual shape and pressure, molding to the shape of your body.
Good For: Side sleepers, bad backs, allergy sufferers.

Open Sprung Mattress: Also known as a Bonnell Spring, this is still the most widely used option today. Arranged in rows, the springs are connected to each other at the top and bottom and an outer rod strengthens the edges.
Good For: Support and durability if the quality is high.

If you sleep with a partner, pocket sprung is a good pick

If you sleep with a partner, pocket sprung is a good pick. (Image credit: GhostBed)

Pocket Sprung Mattress: These are made from smaller, individual springs encased in fabric pockets which enables them to work independently from each other. This means the mattress conforms and adjusts better to body contours.
Good For: Support, partners that require different levels of firmness, fidgety partners.

Pillow-Top Mattress: Often associated with higher-end products, these have an additional layer of soft upholstery added to the top of the mattress.
Good For: Adding an extra layer of comfort to firmer mattresses.

Hybrid Mattress: Can be a combination of all of the above but most commonly a mix of memory foam with a pocket sprung base.
Good For: Back pain and allergy sufferers.

4. How hard can it be?

Choosing the right firmness level is vital

Choosing the right firmness level is vital. (Image credit: Purple)

We asked Terry Cralle (MS, RN), Certified Sleep Educator and spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council, how to best choose the level of firmness in a mattress. Terry explained that "firmness is a subjective term – there is no industry standard to measure firmness and different mattresses will feel different to different people". However she was able to provide the following guide for those buying online.

Soft Medium: "Consider a mattress of this firmness if you’re a side sleeper over 50 of below or average body weight. Stomach sleepers or back sleepers of a heavier body type should go for something firmer".

Medium: "Medium mattresses may still not prove firm enough for heavier stomach/back sleepers but should be comfortable for side sleepers under 50 of below average or average body weight".

Medium firm: "Definitely one to consider for stomach or back sleepers with an average or higher than average body weight. Remember that, while a mattress must be supportive enough to keep the body properly aligned, it must still be comfortable enough to be relaxing".

Firm: "Traditionally, firm mattresses have been recommended for back pain but some research shows that medium firm may be appropriate. One higher-quality trial found a firm mattress slightly inferior to a medium-firm mattress for pain-related disability and pain while in bed".

5. Which size is for you?

If you share a bed, the bigger your mattress, the better

If you share a bed, the bigger your mattress, the better. (Image credit: Helix)

This might be dictated by the size and layout of your room but there are some guidelines you can follow when it comes to picking the right mattress size. It’s worth noting that the Better Sleep Council claims a 'full size' double bed (53″ x 75") only provides sleeping partners with 27" of personal space or 'about the width of a crib'. For this reason it might be worth considering a larger size if space and budget allow and we’ve provided dimensions and info on the bed sizes currently available for purchase below.

Full (53″ x 75″): As stated above these provide 27" of space per sleeper. Cozy for some but cramped for others.

Queen (60″ x 80″): Wider and longer than a full size double by 7" and 5" respectively, a queen-sized bed still offers 8" less space than a single sleeper enjoys in a twin bed (38" x 75").

King (76" x 80"): A king size bed offers partners the equivalent of a twin bed each for maximum comfort. Be sure to measure the room dimensions, considering any fitted furniture and a suitable entry route. They’re big beasts.

California King (72″ x 84″): These bedroom behemoths are gaining popularity on the West Coast and measure 5" longer, but 4" narrower than a king size. Be sure you can source sheets that will fit.

6. How to test a mattress

Just because you buy online, you should still test a mattress extensively

Just because you buy online, you should still test a mattress extensively. (Image credit: Saatav)

As mentioned above, buying online doesn’t prevent you from trying a mattress before making a final decision as many online retailers now offer trial periods, and some of these even run for up to a year. Get a Purple mattress, and it comes with a 100-day money-back guarantee. In fact, buying online is growing in popularity with Statista reporting that some 62% of consumers now consider buying a mattress from an online retailer.

So once your brand new bed has been delivered, what’s the best way to decide if it’s really right for you? Bed expert Simon Williams, from the National Bed Federation, offered up some tips.

"A very basic, simple test when lying on your back on a mattress is to try and slide your flat hand underneath the small of your back. If your hand fits in without any resistance, the mattress is too firm for you. If you struggle to move your hand in, then the mattress is too soft. A little resistance means the mattress is hugging your curves just about right".

How well you sleep is obviously the true measure of comfort, but this quick and easy test will evaluate how much support your new purchase is giving you and identify any problems before they start affecting a good night’s rest.

7. Where to buy?

Now you have enough knowledge to make a fully informed decision on buying your new bed, head to our best mattress guide to find our pick of the best offers from trusted online retailers. You spend around a third of your life in bed so be sure to buy the best you can afford! We also have a list of our top picks below.