02.Buying a new mattress
Mattresses differ in comfort and support, so manufacturers and retailers emphasise that the only way to choose one that’s right for you is to go out and lie on as many as possible. If you’re going to spend eight hours a day in the bed for the next 10 years or more, it’s worth putting in some time to get one you’re really happy with.
To get the most out of your shopping trip and increase the odds of getting a good mattress:
- Go to a shop that offers a range of brands and models from different manufacturers, with mattresses ranging from soft to firm on display for you to try.
- Find a manufacturer that is also a retailer. You’ll see the materials they use, products are generally cheaper and they can custom-make a mattress to suit your needs.
- Ask to be shown a cross-section of the mattress you’re interested in. Look for natural fibre coverings such as cotton and bamboo, which allow skin to breathe. Avoid polyester or nylon coverings.
- Ask for specifications such as what fibres are used, what type of springs the mattress has and how many, as well as the density of the memory foam, foam or latex. Ask how the mattress is “layered”; if this is a mystery to sales staff, don’t buy from that retailer. Ask to be shown a cross-section of the mattress you’re interested in.
- Test the model you like in other stores. Mattresses may become
well tested by previous bed shoppers and the same mattress may feel
- Wear loose and comfortable clothes, with shoes you can easily slip off. Test out the mattress with your sleeping partner and preferred pillows for at least 30 minutes.
- Lie on your back and try to slide your hand under the small of your
back. If it slides very easily, or your shoulders and hips feel
uncomfortable, the bed’s too firm.
- Your spine should be straight when you’re lying on your side
(top). If the mattress is too soft (centre) or hard (bottom) it will be
curved (see Which one's just right? below).
- Try to roll over. It will take a lot of effort if the bed’s too soft,
and will feel uncomfortable on your hips and shoulders if it’s too firm.
- Mattress corners should have weight and substance, and edges should be
solid but resilient.
- When you roll around, the mattress shouldn’t creak, crunch or wobble.
- Make sure the base under the mattress you’re testing is similar to
yours. For instance, if you have a hard base (fixed slats or just board)
at home and you’re testing a mattress on a sprung base, you’ll find it
feels a lot different at home. Ask the shop staff to let you test it on
- Be aware that mattresses with pillow tops retain more heat and can’t be turned for impact distribution. There’s no cure for a mattress that feels too hot; all you can do is get out of bed.
- Ask if you return the mattress if you find it uncomfortable. Only a handful of stores, such as Ikea, have a "comfort" returns policy.
- Ask the retailer about its returns policy, including transport to the retailer’s store and re-delivery charges.
- Don’t fall for “osteopathic” or “chiropractic” advertising It means little unless it’s from an accredited source.
- Check the warranty, as most do not cover comfort. Some warranties cover different parts of the mattress, or are based on a pro-rata basis. For example, Tempur provides a full guarantee of its mattresses for the first five years, but the guarantee depreciates by 10% annually from the sixth to the 15th year.
Which one's just right?
When you’re deciding if a bed is too hard, too soft or just right, look at two major factors: the support — which is provided by the internal spring unit — and the comfort, provided by the padding. The spring unit supports your body frame, while the comfort system conforms to your body’s shape, cushioning it from the spring unit. Orthopaedic experts generally recommend you go for the firmest (most supportive, not ‘hardest’) mattress you find comfortable.
It can be hard to differentiate between the relative hardness and softness of the support and comfort layers: the key lies in the line of your spine. It should be straight when you lie on your side, and maintain a natural curve when you lie on your back. If the support unit is too hard or too soft, your spine won’t be straight — see the diagram above. The padding should cushion your body from the spring unit, and mould slightly to your shape, supporting your waist and lower back.
If a bed’s too firm, you’ll get pressure points at the heaviest parts of your body. This reduces blood circulation and signals your body to turn over, while the muscles in your back and neck have to work harder to keep your spine straight. After a night of tossing around and working hard, you won’t feel refreshed and relaxed.
On the other hand, if a bed’s too soft it will take you more effort to move or roll over, your spine won’t be properly aligned and it can cause tension as your muscles work to compensate for the lack of support.