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How to choose a mattress 2024: Tips on how to buy the right mattress for your bed and budget

A hand pressing down on a memory foam mattress

Take the right steps to buy a better mattress and get yourself a good night's sleep

Few things come down to personal preference more than when choosing the best mattress for you. What can feel like a comfy cloud to one person can be back pain in the making for someone else. What makes the decision even harder is the sheer range of options, with mattresses available in many different types, styles and at widely ranging prices.

From new-fangled bed-in-a-box mattresses to the more traditional, super-supportive pocket-sprung alternatives found mostly in specialist bed shops, you’ve got a lot of choice. The good news is that we’ve done the work to ensure that the decision making process is as easy as possible. Read on for our guide on how to choose a mattress.

And when you’re finished here, be sure to check out our guide to the best mattress types, where we’ve weighed up the pros and cons of sprung mattresses, foam mattresses and hybrid mattresses containing both springs and foam.

READ NEXT: Best firm mattresses

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How to choose a mattress

What are the different types of mattress?

One of the most important factors determining how a mattress feels to sleep on is its type – so this is a good place to start narrowing down your options. There are many varieties of mattress out there, but the following four options are most common:

Type #1: Pocket sprung

This is the most traditional type of mattress still sold in large quantities today, and remains the last word in comfort for many users. Pocket sprung mattresses have a bouncy, responsive feel, thanks to the springs which are sewn into individual fabric pockets throughout an internal layer. These springs – available with different levels of tension – also make the mattress supportive and durable.
Pocket-sprung mattresses can be filled with various extra materials to suit your needs, including wool for comfort and breathability. Unlike latex and memory foam options, pocket sprung mattresses don’t mould to the body and their warming effect is far less noticeable.

Pocket sprung or open coil?

If you’ve decided to buy a sprung mattress, then a deeper question to consider is whether you would like the spring layer to be “pocket sprung” or “open coil”.

Pocket spring layers are made up of single looped wires enclosed in individual fabric pockets, whereas open coil springs layers are made up of single springs fixed together with wire in an open arrangement.

Open coil mattresses are wallet-friendly, but they can be uncomfortable. In the worst cases, you actually feel the coils, and the whole mattress moves when you do, meaning bed-sharers are very likely to disturb their partners. Open coil mattresses also wear out relatively quickly.

In short, we recommend buying a pocket sprung mattress rather than an open coil model, if you have the budget.

Type #2: Memory foam

This type of mattress contains a layer of viscoelastic polyurethane foam, which we call memory foam. Unlike pocket sprung mattresses, memory foam mattresses don’t give you much uplift or bounce. Instead, they mould to the shape of your body. This provides superb, whole-body pressure relief, and also means that sleepers who share their bed are less likely to disturb their partner when they move at night.

Thanks to the viscous quality of their foam, memory foam mattresses keep their shape well. Many “new generation” examples are delivered to your door rolled and vacuum-packed. On the downside, memory foam can retain body heat, potentially leading to a hot, clammy night’s sleep – particularly if they are very soft.

Best memory-foam mattress: Emma Original

Price when reviewed: £559 (king size) | Check price at Emma

The Emma Original mattress strikes that elusive middle ground between firm and soft. It delivers plenty of support while also feeling amply cushioned and contouring to the shape of your body.

A versatile all-foam mattress, the Emma Original can accommodate a variety of sleeping positions, and is well-suited to couples who might be struggling to find a compromise between their individual firmness preferences. A king size Emma Original will currently set you back £559 at full price. That said, when there’s a promotional discount in place, you can save 40% or more. Our only caveat is that, like most foam mattresses, the Emma Original is not best suited to those who get very warm in bed.

Read our full Emma Original Mattress review

Check prices at Emma

Type #3: Latex

Latex mattresses offer a similar experience to memory foam, but with a more responsive feel. Natural latex is superior to the synthetic variety, and it’s also antimicrobial and resistant against mould and dust mites. There are two types of latex – heavier, denser Dunlop latex and Talalay latex – which is lighter and softer. Latex mattresses are also available in the “new generation” style commonly seen in memory foam mattresses-in-a-box, with the downside that they’re similarly prone to storing body heat. Some latex mattresses claim to last more than 20 years.

Best latex mattress: Dunlopillo Royal Sovereign

Price when reviewed: £1,199 (single) | Check price at John Lewis

One notable property of latex, when used in mattresses, is its shape retention. Compared with memory foam, latex recovers its shape quicker when you get up or move to a different part of the mattress.

The Dunlopillo Royal Sovereign is a comfortable and supportive mattress that will suit all types of sleepers, though we recommend it for back sleepers in particular, thanks to its postural support. At £1,649 for a double, it’s not cheap, though there’s a good chance you’ll find it discounted. It’s also worth noting that this mattress is very heavy, so rotating it is probably a two-person job.

Check prices at John Lewis

Type #4: Hybrid

These best-of-both-worlds mattresses mix and match components found in sprung and foam varieties. For example, a hybrid mattress will often combine a pocket-sprung core (for bounce and support) with a foam top layer (for body-contouring pressure relief).

Hybrid mattresses are a good choice for users whose preference lies somewhere between memory foam and pocket sprung or for couples who are divided in their opinions on the different types of mattress. On the downside, hybrid mattresses are understandably more expensive than the less elaborate alternatives.

Best hybrid mattress: Simba Hybrid Pro

Price when reviewed: From £899 (single) | Check price at Simba

Hybrids that combine synthetic comfort layers with springs tend to be warmer than their more traditional pocket sprung counterparts, but Simba’s Hybrid Pro attempts to overcome this by using a wool top layer. We found the mattress both supportive and comfortable during our testing and definitely found that the wool layer helped with temperature regulation. In fact, besides its lack of removable top cover, there was almost nothing we disliked about the Hybrid Pro.

At £1,749 for a king size mattress, it’s not cheap. However, the Hybrid Pro is one of our all-time favourite hybrid mattresses. Plus, like most bed-in-a-box mattresses, you can regularly find it discounted.

Read our full Simba Hybrid Pro review

Check prices at Simba

Mattress size: How big should you go?

Another important factor to consider when choosing a mattress is size. Most mattresses are sold in a standard range of sizes: single, small double, king and super king, while others are also available in alternate sizes such as queen.

Many buyers face constraints when selecting the size of their mattress. You might need to buy a mattress to fit your existing bed frame, or you might be working with limited floor space.

As a rule, it’s often beneficial to buy the largest mattress you can (within reason). The Sleep Council warns that many people buy beds that aren’t large enough. Consider the fact that a double bed is only 135cm wide – which at less than the width of two single beds is nowhere near roomy enough to accommodate two adults sleeping comfortably and without disturbing each other. Even moving up one size to a king size mattress – at 150cm – can make a big difference.

If you share your bed, it’s advised to buy the biggest one you can fit in your bedroom, as disturbance from a partner moving around in the night is one of the most common causes of troubled sleep.

Also, bear in mind that European mattress sizes differ from UK ones. The product specification should make clear which sizing standard is used: UK or EU.

Testing and trial periods: Should I try before I buy?

Besides being the right type and size, your mattress should provide you with the ideal support and comfort. That’s why it’s important to either try before you buy or get a mattress with a trial period. In some cases you can try a mattress out in a shop, taking time to lie on it in your natural sleeping position. A more thorough (and less awkward) alternative is to buy a mattress online, and take advantage of the free trial period. Many mattress brands, and especially those selling bed-in-a-box mattresses, offer trial periods that last 100 nights or even longer. (It’s important to note that not all online mattress retailers offer a free trial, so double-check before you take the plunge.)

Sleeping position: Should my natural sleeping style influence which mattress I buy?

Different sleeping positions require different types and levels of support, so it makes sense to pick your mattress according to the way you sleep.

Side sleepers typically need a mattress that provides a lot of pressure relief, especially at the points where the body pushes down the most (you can work these out by imagining yourself lying on a floor). Pocket sprung with a soft top is often the best choice, though some memory foam or latex mattresses can also work well. Side sleepers should avoid very firm mattresses, which may cause discomfort at key pressure points. See our roundup of the best mattresses for side sleepers.

Front sleepers will often benefit from a pocket sprung mattress, as this type can work well for supporting the front of the body in all the right places, whereas memory foam might make you feel smothered while sleeping on your front. Latex can also work well for front sleepers, thanks to its squishy feel.

Back sleepers can often get along fine with any mattress type. With that said, you should look for a model with ample support and a bit of give, as this combination helps to keep the spine well aligned during sleep.

Firmness: Should I buy a soft, medium or firm mattress?

Choosing the right level of mattress firmness is largely a question of personal taste. Consider how firm you like your mattresses to be and choose an option that’s advertised and reviewed as providing the soft, medium or firm feel that you prefer.

silentnight just breathe eco mattress in bedroom

There are a few general rules that can help predict what level of firmness will suit a certain person. For instance, heavier people tend to prefer firm support, while lighter people often find medium or soft mattresses more comfortable. For certain conditions, such as back pain, firm mattresses are often recommended – whether this applies to a specific person or not is more a question for a medical professional than for a mattress brand or retailer. In our view, the most important factor beyond personal preference that you need to consider is your sleeping position (discussed above).

If you share your bed with someone who prefers a different firmness level to you, bear in mind that you can get mattresses where each side has a different tension (with or without a zip in the middle) such as Dormeo’s Dual Core mattresses.

READ NEXT: Best cooling mattresses

Price and deals: How much do I need to spend?

It used to be the case that buying a cheap mattress was a false economy, but these days we find more and more exceptions, such as the excellent Dormeo Memory Plus, which is regularly discounted to around £200 for a single. We’re not saying mattresses costing thousands of pounds aren’t worth it, but it’s also clear that a modest budget can buy you a superb mattress nowadays.

When shopping for a mattress, it often makes sense to hold out for a deal on a model that meets your requirements concerning type, size, firmness and so on. We suggest you keep an eye on our roundup of the best mattress deals, which is updated with different brands’ seasonal offers throughout the year.

Mattress selection FAQs

Do some mattresses require a certain type of bed base?

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 provide good support and absorb movement as you move about in your sleep. With that said, 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 longevity.

A platform base can also support any mattress, providing a firmer foundation.

Do all mattresses need turning?

Most mattresses need to be turned regularly (meaning they are flipped so that the side that was on the bottom becomes the top) to ensure even wear and tear.

Consider this when buying a mattress, particularly as many mattresses are extremely heavy. Some mattresses need only to be rotated, rather than turned, however that can be a tricky job due to their weight. Many memory foam and hybrid mattresses, with a specific arrangement of support layers, should never be turned.

When should I change my mattress?

The National Bed Federation recommends you change your mattress every seven years (though really good ones can last eight to ten years or longer). It’s common for a mattress to wear out before you realise it.

How important is the warranty on a mattress?

You should always check the warranty before you buy a mattress – not only for the number of years it lasts, but also to read the fine print. Most warranties cover manufacturing defects, which sometimes happen quite quickly. For example, a spring might pop out of a sprung mattress or memory foam might lose its elasticity in a certain area. If something goes wrong and you haven’t followed the warranty terms – for example, you haven’t used the recommended bed base or a mattress protector – then the warranty could be invalidated.

Meanwhile, the Sleep Council points out that after seven years, your mattress will have had over 20,000 hours of wear and tear. We’re sorry to say that includes the half pint of bodily fluid lost each night on average and the 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, this may be a sign that you need to splash the cash.

A mattress that’s right for you and not worn out will hopefully ensure you move about less, sleep more and are less disturbed by motion transfer. You should also be less likely to wake up feeling groggy or with aches or pains.

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