How to choose a mattress

Happy family choosing mattress in furniture store

Most of us know the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Or, if we don’t, we certainly know when we haven’t slept well. So many things keep us up. Deadlines, small children, anxieties, a lumpy mattress… but wait. Your mattress shouldn’t be one of those things stopping you from sleeping well. Lucky for you, we’re here to help you choose the right mattress. The right mattress for you.

We’re going to outline two ways that you can go about choosing a mattress – the “proper” way, and the “lazy” way.

Choosing a mattress properly

Understanding Mattress Types

Lifespan

Mattresses don’t last forever. Eventually, they’ll stop providing your body the support you need. A lower quality mattress might only last a year or so, but a good quality mattress should last you between 7 to 10 years.

Bed TypeApprox. Lifespan (Years)
Innerspring8-10
Latex10+
Memory Foam8-10
Hybrid7-10
Water7-10
Air6-8
Pillowtop7

Budget

Popular wisdom suggests that one should spend money on “what separates you from the ground”. Namely car tyres, shoes, couches, and yes, beds. They separate you from the ground for around 8 hours every night, for up to 10 years (or more!)

That’s not to say that you have to spend big for a great bed. It is to say though, that the right mattress may be worth going slightly above your budget, even if the price tag at Kmart is so very attractive.

Unless it’s for a guest bed for that relative you dread having to stay over, in which case…

That said – if it turns out that the crazy cheap mattress happens to be the perfect fit for you, then don’t go for it! At the very least, if it doesn’t work out, it’s not a huge loss. (And you can repurpose it for your dreaded aunt.)

Different quality, craftsmanship and materials will lead to mattresses being priced differently. To illustrate, talalay latex is usually more costly to produce than dunlop latex. But cost doesn’t determine quality. Dunlop latex is firmer, so if you need a bit more support, the talalay latex by itself may not be the right bed for you. Most latex foam beds offer a combination of both, but this is just an example. Don’t go for an expensive mattress just because it’s expensive, and don’t go for a cheap mattress just because it’s cheap.

Here at Time To Sleep HQ, we say that choosing the best mattress for you is about finding the best mattress “system” for your body within your budget. So figure out your budget, and how much you’re prepared to spend on your mattress.

Materials

Mattresses used to be made out of straw. Nowadays, there are mattresses made from latex, springs, synthetic foams, even air. Most mattresses have different layers that work together to comfortably support your body. Check out this article to find out how mattresses work, what a mattress should do, as well as a quick breakdown of various materials a bed can be made of.

Understanding Mattress Terminology

Edge Support

Edge support is what stops the mattress from sagging and you sliding to the ground when you sit on the edge of the bed. If the sides don’t sag, you won’t roll off towards the edge in the middle of the night. There are many ways to do this. Edge support can be a thick layer of foam (often polyfoam) around the perimeter. If it’s a coiled mattress, the manufacturer might put thicker gauged coils as close to the edge of the mattress as possible for more stability.

Pillow Top

Pillow top mattresses refers to mattresses with an extra comfort layer added to the top of the mattress. You can distinguish a pillow top from other mattresses because there is an extra tape edge. Between that extra tape edge and the top, there is stitched indentation all around the top of the mattress. This gives the mattress its name as it looks like a pillow top.

Certifications

Doctors have degrees certifying their qualifications. Beds have certifications, to give confidence that an objective third party has assessed the bed. You don’t need to just trust the manufacturer’s word when they make certain claims. These certifications are usually related to the quality and purity of the materials used in the mattress. Some of these certifications include:

  • GECA (Good Environmental Choice Australia)
  • GOTS (certified organic wool and cotton)
  • Centipur-US (for foams that don’t contain certain harmful chemicals)
  • OEKO-TEX (for fabrics and leathers that don’t contain certain harmful chemicals).

Firmness

How hard the mattress is. Many people wrongly believe the firmer the mattress, the better it is for you, even at the cost of comfort. My parents were of this mindset, so for well over 10 years I slept on a rock. While a degree of firmness is important to provide support for your body, don’t fall for this myth.

Mattress Topper

A mattress topper is an extra layer you can place on your mattress to make your bed softer and more comfortable. They can be made from a variety of materials, such as latex foam, memory foam, cotton, and wool. A mattress topper also serves as an extra barrier between you and the mattress, potentially prolonging its lifespan by reducing general wear and tear.

Mattress Protector

A mattress protector is an extra sheet or pad that protects the mattress from stains and wear and tear. Some have anti-allergen properties to assist those with asthma or have problems with dust mites and bed bugs, and some are waterproof which is excellent for anyone with incontinence difficulties.

Know the mattress retailers

So you have a bit of an idea of what you want in a bed. Where to from here? There’s a few places you can turn to to explore your options.

Offline

Traditionally, you went to furniture or mattress stores. Famous bedding stores include Forty Winks and Snooze, while furniture shops such as Harvey Norman, Ikea and Freedom offered mattresses for sale too. The benefits of these are that you can have a lie down on several different brands of mattresses, one after the next, to make side by side comparisons. You can physically see how big the mattresses are, the colours of the bed bases you’re looking at, and see examples in their showrooms of how the items of furniture might complement each other (especially if you’re thinking about purchasing a bedroom bundle).

However, some of us dread the idea of having a salesperson hovering over your shoulder, especially if you’re shopping with a partner and want to openly discuss your impressions of each mattress with just that partner. And while you can have a brief lie down on the various beds, you’re not able to truly test out how comfortable it is. With most of these stores there’s no change of mind returns policy once the bed has been slept on. A five minute lie down is in no way comparable to an actual night’s sleep, so you’ll essentially be taking a guess on whether it’s the right choice for you. An educated guess, to be sure, but a gamble nonetheless.

Online

When it comes to shopping, we are increasingly moving online. And why not? Without walking a single step, with a click of a button you can browse every bedding store simultaneously and make your purchase. You’re not even limited to bed stores. eBay, Amazon, Catch… the list is endless.

Of course, there’s always a risk. You’ve never seen it. You’ve never felt it. Does it really deliver the comfort it boasts? Reviews from other customers can help to ease your mind, but it’s even more of a gamble than going to a traditional bedding store. Most online stores and marketplaces don’t allow for change of mind returns or exchanges for mattresses. For those that do, the mattress must be in its original condition, have not been opened, and is quite limited in time frame.

Mattress in a box

The bedding industry got turned on its head when the mattress in a box, or bed in a box, came onto the scene. You may have heard of some of these brands – Koala, Ecosa, Sleeping Duck just to name a few. So what is a bed in a box, and what do they do differently?

A bed in a box is precisely what it sounds like – a bed, inside a box. The mattress is compressed and rolled up, put in a box, then shipped to the customer’s door – usually with free shipping. You bring it in, open up the box, pull out the mattress, wait for it to inflate and then sleep on it. These companies tend to offer very generous trial periods of around at least a few months, even up to a year, during which you can change your mind and return the mattress for your money back, no questions asked. This takes out all the risk of purchasing the wrong bed for you – the risk has been assumed by the bedding company themselves. So you can really sleep on your decision to know whether it’s the right bed for you for sure.

The main downside to these retailers is that you can’t test the different beds immediately one after the other. In a shop they’re side by side, so it’s easier to compare and contrast in the shop itself. However, Choice magazine finds that the quality of bed-in-a-box mattresses to be of comparable if not better quality than beds from a traditional shop.

Warranty

Warranties are guarantees by the manufacturer that they will cover the costs of repair or replacement if the product breaks or becomes faulty within a specified period of time. The warranties on mattresses can range from 1 year to 10 years. You can see it as a gauge for how confident the manufacturer is in the quality and longevity of the bed. If a manufacturer knows the bed won’t last the year, they will not put themselves on the hook for replacing it 10 times by providing a 10 year guarantee.

Transparency

You should know what you’re getting for your money. This can be difficult though because unless you know how to identify the quality of foams by sight, you’re just relying on the manufacturer’s word. If they don’t explain something, or dodge your questions, then they lack transparency. This is why we started Time to Sleep HQ. We got frustrated at the lack of transparency and the difficulty in finding the exact specifications of each mattress. If you’re going to pay hundreds of dollars for something, you should know what you’re getting.

Know the Sleeper

Sleeping Position

How you sleep has a huge impact on the level of firmness that would be appropriate for you. There are back sleepers, stomach sleepers, side sleepers, and for those of us who frequently switch between those three positions within a given night, combination sleepers. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but usually:

  • Stomach sleepers feel more comfortable on a firmer mattress as that keeps the hips up and the spine aligned.
  • Back sleepers will rest easy on a slightly softer bed (so medium to medium firm).
  • Side sleepers will be comfortable on a soft to medium.
  • A combination sleeper will usually be fairly safe with a medium to medium firm mattress.

Weight and Shape

Someone who is on the lighter side will not sink as deeply into a mattress. So it makes sense that the same surface will feel softer for a heavier person (who is more cradled in that surface layer) than someone lighter. A person with a curvier body shape will need their weight to be distributed more evenly so that the spine is more aligned. This way, when their hips and shoulders sink into the mattress, gaps such as their waist will be well supported. People come in different sizes and shapes – so you’ll need to make sure that your mattress fits you.

Partner Disturbance

You’re blissfully asleep, and then there’s a seismic earthquake. Turns out it was just your partner getting up for a glass of water. Now you can’t fall asleep again, and you spend the rest of the night lying there, bitterness growing deeper in your heart.

A mattress that limits movement transference could save your relationship with your nocturnally moving partner. Steer away from Bonnell Spring mattresses, and give serious consideration to beds made with foams (such as memory foam), as these materials will reduce partner disturbance.

Shortlist

Now you have a really good idea for what qualities you want in a mattress, and conversely what qualities you don’t want in a mattress. It’ll help for you to have your thoughts listed down. Note down what kind of sleeper you are, what sort of materials may be more suitable for you, how long you expect your mattress to last for. If it’s important for you that the bed is sustainably made, or that the bed is hypoallergenic, write it down! By noting down your priorities and requirements, you can eliminate the beds that won’t work for you, and pick out the ones that might be great for you.

And then, it’s time to start shopping. Explore what’s out there, using your notes as signposts to guide you along the way. Spreadsheets are great for this. At a glance, you’ll be able to see the pros and cons of each mattress. You’ll be able to see which mattresses don’t fulfill any of your requirements, and which ones tick all the boxes! Eventually you’ll be left with just a few to choose from.

Testing the mattress

Depending on where you’re buying a mattress from, you’ll have different options for testing a mattress. If you have a partner who you’ll be sharing the bed with, make sure that you test everything together. Take as long as you can and observe whether there are any points of pressure or if there’s any pain. Have a friend come with you (if you don’t have a partner) to note whether your spine sinks or arches up – it should be in a straight line. Click here for more details of what you should be looking for.

Finally choosing!

You’ve made a list. You’ve tested the beds on the shortlist. You’ve knocked it down to just the ones that are comfortable. How do you pick just one?

Remember that choosing the best mattress for you, is about finding the best mattress “system” for your body within your budget. Out of the beds that survived the testing round, assuming they’re all equally comfortable, whichever bed you can get the best deal on is the winner!

When to replace your mattress

Mattresses aren’t like milk. It’s not going to smell sour, unless something has gone very wrong. Don’t wait till a spring pops out to replace your mattress. Long before that happens, the bed will have stopped supporting you.

So how do you know when it’s time? If you’re waking up sore, you’re probably not getting beauty sleep on it. Visually, if you can see that it’s sagging, bin it. It hasn’t been supporting you for a fair while. Don’t be afraid to change your mattress to one you can rest easy on. The right mattress for you is an investment in your health. It’s an investment in you.

Choosing a mattress – the quick and lazy way

Type of sleeper

This was covered above, but the really quick version is in the table below.

Sleeping PositionFirmness of BedExample of Bed
StomachFirm<insert link>
BackMedium to Medium Firm<insert link>
SideSoft to Medium<insert link>
CombinationMedium to Medium Firm<insert link>

Hot sleeper

If you feel too hot throughout the night and it disturbs your sleep, then you’re what’s called a “hot sleeper”. There may be a number of reasons for this – low blood sugar, hormonal issues, and the like. While a mattress will not cure you, if you are a hot sleeper you should avoid mattresses that retain heat. Some foam mattresses are very dense and don’t really allow for air circulation, trapping your heat throughout the night. Spring mattresses, due to the air in the spring coils, will be more helpful in this situation.

Time to Start

It can be overwhelming. That’s why Time to Sleep HQ is here, to help you choose the best mattress for you. To help you find the best mattress “system” for your body within your budget. For more information, check out our other articles.

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