How to choose a mattress

Follow our comprehensive guide to how to choose a mattress for a better, more restful night's sleep

Simba mattress lifestyle image

Considering a new mattress? If you haven't replaced yours for seven years (or more), now is the time for an upgrade. With many of us living hectic lives, getting a good night's sleep is more important than ever. Experts suggest adults aged 26 to 64 need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. And ideally, those hours will be undisturbed.

But if you're struggling to regularly get enough sleep, it's worth considering whether your mattress could be the cause. Our guide to how to choose a mattress is designed to help you find a suitable replacement and improve your sleep quality.

Check out our best mattresses to find independent reviews, and our latest mattress deals to discover a bargain.

How often should you replace your mattress?

It’s recommended that we update our mattresses every seven years or so and if you’re at the point where you are waking up in the morning feeling a bit achey or uncomfortable, then it’s definitely time to start thinking about a change. 

In terms of what you should spend, it really depends on your individual budget, but this is not something that should be scrimped on. We spend so much time in our beds, from sleeping to watching TV, that it is worth investing in a quality mattress that will last for years to come.

Herdy Sleep mattress on a bed

Herdy Sleep mattresses start from £649

(Image credit: Herdy Sleep)

Choosing the right mattress size

When it comes to deciding what size of mattress to purchase, this will often be determined by the bed that you already have. However, if you are starting from scratch and looking to get a new bed and mattress then a good place to start is with the right size. 

If you are sharing a bed with a partner a double is usually sufficient, but if you are someone who requires more space or is often disturbed in the night, then it may be wise to go up a size. Ideally, your mattress should also be wide enough to allow two of you to lie side by side with your hands behind heads, without your elbows touching.

Our guide to how to buy the best bed is useful in helping you to choose the right option for both your home and your lifestyle. 

As for mattress length, it should be 10cm longer than the tallest person sleeping in it. So, if you're a strapping 6 footer, you'll be looking at a king-size mattress as a minimum. 

Below are the most common UK standard mattress dimensions:

  • Single: 90cm x 190cm
  • Small double (often called a queen): 120cm x 190cm
  • Double: 135cm x 190cm
  • King: 150cm x 200cm
  • Super king: 180cm x 200cm

It’s also worth keeping in mind that your mattress needs to fit your bed frame, so do take care to check the mattress widths and lengths with your bed measurements.

For example, Ikea has European and UK standard sizes of beds from single to kingsize, with the standard UK sized frames differing dependant on design, so to be sure you may want to head over to their online guide.

Simba mattress on a modern four poster bed

The Simba Luxe mattress starts at £1,299 for a single 

(Image credit: Simba)

How to choose the best mattress for your sleep position

When choosing a mattress, your sleep position, whether back, front or side, is an important factor to take into consideration. Here's a quick guide to sleeping positions and related mattress firmness that will help when buying:

Back sleeper? Choose a medium firm mattress
If you sleep on your back, you'll particularly need support for your lower back, which will make a medium-firm mattress the best choice for you.

Front sleeper? Choose a firm mattress
If you sleep on your front, you don't want your body sinking into the mattress or you will suffer lower back pain as a result. Instead, pick a firm mattress which will keep your spine aligned correctly.

Check out our pick of the best mattresses for stomach sleepers.

Side sleeper? Choose a soft mattress
Sleeping on your side is a good thing because it takes the pressure off your back; however, that does mean that you need a mattress your hips and shoulders can be absorbed by if you're not to wake up aching. So, choose a soft or softer medium-firm mattress that will mould itself to the curves of your body.

If you identify as a side sleeper, you'll benefit from reading our guide to the best mattresses for side sleepers.

Opting for a soft or firm mattress?

As we've already said, one of the most important things to think about when purchasing a new mattress is getting the right firmness for you. Often it is down to personal preference and whether you prefer a soft or firm feel; you just need to be confident that you have the correct support for the way that you like to sleep. 

Bensons for Beds offers a handy guide for choosing the right level of firmness:

  • Soft medium: Ideal mattresses for side sleepers, as they let your shoulders and hips sink into the mattress while supporting the rest of your body;
  • Medium: If you sleep on your side but prefer the feel of a firmer mattress, choose medium support;
  • Medium firm: If you change position from your side to your back this is the best option;
  • Firm: If you prefer to sleep on your back or sleep on your stomach, choose a firm mattress, which will give you just the right amount of support;
  • Extra firm: Sometimes called an orthopaedic mattress, extra firm mattresses offer a very firm level of support that's perfect if you're suffering with a back pain. You'll find our pick of the best in our guide to the best mattress for beating back pain.

How to do a quick mattress comfort test

If you're testing out a mattress in-store, you can quickly check if it might suit you by lying down and sliding a hand beneath the small of your back. If your hand slides in easily, the mattress is too hard; if you can't slide your hand in at all, it’s too soft.

Bear in mind, though, that the base you'll be putting the mattress on will affect how the mattress feels at home. For example, a sprung divan will make a mattress feel softer than a solid divan or slatted base. 

Is that rushed showroom test not assuring you that your new mattress is right for you? Or perhaps you're buying a new mattress online? This is where those 100-day, no quibble return policies come into their own – so double check what your retailer is offering when making a decision.

Picking the right material and construction for your mattress

No one mattress type is better than another – what you choose will really be down to what you find comfortable. However, the different types of mattresses – memory foam, sprung, latex and hybrid – can be confusing for the uninitiated. Here's a quick guide:

Memory foam mattresses

The benefit of these types of mattresses is that the material is able to mould to the shape of the body, offering plenty of support. Some memory foam mattresses can make you feel on the warm side, but Kuba Wieczorek at eve Sleep, explains; ‘Breathability is also important. In a study we commissioned, it was revealed that 50 per cent of Brits don’t sleep well because they are too hot, so a breathable mattress can be an easy fix. The eve mattress has a unique layering system, which includes the use of breathable open-cell foams. The middle layer is proven to wick moisture and dissipate heat from the body, and is 30 times more breathable than conventional memory foam.’

The upsides of memory foam mattresses? The bed base they're on won't affect how they feel. They're good for allergy sufferers, anyone who suffers from a bad back or joint pain. The downsides? They tend to smell for a few days when they come out of the box; the sinking feeling you get when lying on it takes some getting used to – you'll either love it or hate it.

Browse our pick of the best memory foam mattresses, perfect for soothing bad backs, aches and pains. 

Hybrid mattresses: sprung memory foam mattresses

A hybrid mattress, with a pocket-sprung base and a memory foam top layer, sprung memory foam mattresses give you the responsiveness of a pocket-sprung mattress and the support of a memory foam model. Good for allergy sufferers, these mattresses also don't need turning. The downside? If you don't like memory foam, you won't like these – but we're big fans.

Latex mattresses

Latex is a durable, breathable material – good news if you're a sweaty sleeper. These mattresses tend to suit people who favour a firmer mattress, and they're also excellent for allergy sufferers as latex has anti-microbial properties and doesn't harbour dust mites. The downsides? These mattresses tend to be heavy, and cheaper latex mattresses might develop lumps and bumps over time.

Sound like the option for you? Take a look at what are (in our opinion) the best latex mattresses for allergy suffers – and those without allergies. 

Pocket sprung mattresses

Made from individual springs in pockets of fabric, which provide lots of support as your body weight is distributed evenly. These mattresses can also use natural materials in the filling, and you can choose between a variety of soft to firm options.

Pocket-sprung mattresses are more luxurious, with up to 3,000 individual small springs housed in separate fabric pockets. They tend to have hand-stitched sides for strong, stable edges.

Pocket sprung mattresses are available in soft, medium or firm, and the individual springs mean they're ideal for partners of different weights; newer designs also come with each side a different level of firmness.

The downside? These mattresses are heavy to turn and natural fillings, such as lambswool, might make allergies worse.

Open sprung mattresses

At the cheaper end of the mattress market, these lightweight designs are less supportive and responsive than pocket sprung mattresses, plus you'll get the bounce factor if you sleep next to a fidgety partner. In other words, if you can afford a pocket sprung mattress instead, do so, limiting this mattress type to guest rooms or to the bedrooms of fast-growing children.

Mattress toppers 

This is another option to consider that will complement your mattress and ensure a comfy night’s sleep. Mattress toppers come in a whole host of materials including memory foam, goose down and latex.

Browse our pick of the best memory foam mattress toppers if you're looking for an affordable alternative to a brand new mattress.

Mattress on a bed with a dog on from eve Sleep

Mattresses from eve Sleep start at £349 for a UK single to £699 for a UK king

(Image credit: eve Sleep)

How to choose a natural mattress

If minimising your impact on the environment is a priority, go for a natural mattress. The main thing to bear in mind is that a natural mattress should not include foam, only natural filling such as cotton, hemp, and flax, and it should provide an alternative to the chemical fire retardants that are used in other mattresses. 

A mattress that calls itself natural needn't be low-tech: advances in pocket spring technology mean that the days of squeaky, massive springs are over; new models use thousands of micro-springs that rotate as your body moves, so you should, at least in theory, be as comfortable sleeping on your natural mattress as on a foam or hybrid mattress.  

Generally, a mattress manufacturer that claims to make 'natural' mattresses should be completely transparent about the origin of all of their materials and their manufacturing processes.

For an example for an all-natural, locally made mattress, check out Button & Sprung.         

Button & Sprung Dahlia King size Bed frame in Navy, £795, Plain top blanket box in Forest, £425

(Image credit: Button & Sprung)

How to choose a mattress for a child

'Children's mattresses span the gamut of foam, spring and pocket, through to the downright luxurious and natural fibre options, so choosing the perfect one can be quite a task. To keep things simple, we would recommend children start with an open coil mattress; they provide just the right amount of support without being too firm for little ones,' advises Séverine Thirion, managing director of children's furniture store Aspace

'A pocket sprung mattress is a great choice for a child as they reach the age of around eight or nine; being a bit bigger they will benefit from the responsive support. When it comes to choosing coverings, you can't go wrong with a cool, classic cotton. Although allergy sufferers and hot sleepers may benefit from the natural anti-bacterial properties of a natural fibre like bamboo.'

Bed with spotty bedlinen in how to choose a mattress feature. Picture by Aspace

Southside cabin bed by Aspace

(Image credit: Aspace)

More mattress types that might suit you

Whether you're shopping for an allergy sufferer or a child, looking for a budget buy or just need a topper, here are a few more mattress categories to investigate:

Herdy sleep mattress on a grey bed in a bedroom

Herdy Sleep use natural materials and offer free mattress removal

(Image credit: Herdy Sleep)

Does your mattress need turning?

How easy is your mattress to clean?

It's important to check: does the mattress have removable, washable covers? Does the mattress have any anti-bacterial, dust mite discouraging materials in the filling? Use our guide to find out how to clean a mattress to keep yours clean and prolong its life.

Gone are the days when you had to turn a mattress every few weeks – undoing all that good work your mattress has done on your back in the process. Many newer mattresses don’t need turning, so do check when you buy. If your new mattress does need turning, take note of whether it has handles or not, which will make manoeuvring it much easier.

Where to buy a mattress

The mattress market has changed in recent times and you are not restricted to going to a bed shop to try and buy your mattress. Online companies now make it easy to buy – then try – a mattress that is right for you.

Richard Tucker, Managing Director UK, Europe at Leesa says; ‘It’s important to consider not just traditional mattress buying options, but companies that allow you to shop online, get it delivered straight to your door and let you trial for free in your own home until you know it’s the right fit.’ 

If you are interested in a foam mattress, there are plenty of online companies that package it compactly into a box and send directly to you, with the added benefit of allowing you to trial it for up to 100 nights and guaranteeing a refund if you are not happy with it.

Online mattress companies to consider

Best cheap mattress deals

Shop around for a deal that suits you. You might want to consider other options such as delivery cost and whether the company offers free mattress collection too as part of the package.

You can see deals for mattresses of all sizes in our best cheap mattress deals of the day.

However, here is a round up of the best full size/double mattress deals today:

Read our in-depth mattress reviews

Our mattress reviews carried by a trusted homes and interiors expert who has slept on all the mattresses she (and her long-suffering husband) have tested for us. Here are just a few below, but you can find more on our reviews page.