Once you’ve chosen your mattress size, you’ll need to choose a type of mattress. This includes what they’re made from and how firm they are. While you generally only see the plain outside of a mattress, there is a lot more going on inside. Mattresses are made up of layers, the support core being the thickest part of the mattress to give it stability. It’s not very comfortable which is why extra layers and fillings are needed to provide cushioning. Cushioning layers are known as comfort layers and they’re made of soft materials, which have different properties to serve a specific purpose. There can be more than one comfort layer, depending on what type of feel is wanted, firmer mattresses often have thinner layers than softer mattresses. Many possible fillings are natural including those below.
- Cotton is a soft, breathable material, creating airflow and a soft feel.
- Wool is resilient, water resistant and breathable acting as an insulator and fire-retardant.
- Silk, cashmere and mohair are high-end materials adding moisture control and enhanced comfort and luxury feel. Mohair is also very flexible helping a mattress to retain shape and durability.
- Bamboo is breathable and has good absorption, keeping a mattress fresh and resistant against moisture.
- Coir fibre is derived from coconuts and creates a barrier above springs and adds insulation.
- Latex has a natural bounce and responds to body movements.
Synthetic fillings used in mattresses are generally foam- polyutherane, memory foam or synthetic latex foam which are very versatile and add support and comfort. These can also form the main support bases of some mattresses, known as all foam mattresses. Some mattresses will have a transitional layer in between the support and comfort layers which is softer than the support layer but harder than the comfort layers, usually made of medium to high-density polyfoam. Lastly there is the cover which encases the whole mattress and is made of a material like cotton, polyester, or wool and can have extra padding sewn into it.
The main base materials for mattresses today are springs and foam. Innerspring mattresses are the more traditional type of mattress and can consist of open coil springs or pocket springs on their base layer surrounded with layers of softer materials, as mentioned above, to make them more comfortable. All-foam mattresses use polyfoam, memory foam, latex foam or a combination. Mattresses which use both pocket springs and at least five centimetres of high-end foam, like memory foam or latex, are called hybrids. Each of these types have their own pros and cons which are outlined below to help you understand what might suit you.
There is a high availability and range of inner-spring mattresses on the market which cater for all budgets. Both spring types allow good ventilation so the mattress doesn’t accumulate too much heat. Spring mattresses also have a stable, springy feel which helps the sleeper to feel supported, especially heavier people. They generally have thinner comfort layers than other mattress types, giving them a firmer feel. On the negative side, springs can squeak when a sleeper moves and they weaken overtime, giving spring mattresses a shorter lifespan than foam mattresses.
Sleepyhead Classic inner-spring mattress
An open coil mattress is the traditional innerspring mattress and can be made of bonnel springs, offset springs or a continuous coil. These are either coiled metal springs that are interconnected or a single piece of wire which is twisted into springs. This type of mattress is affordable and has good airflow. They are fairly lightweight and easy to flip too- which is useful to help it last longer by placing equal wear and tear on all the springs, although not all open coil spring mattresses are designed to be flipped. The disadvantage of open coil springs is that the springs are interconnected so they all move as one. This causes motion transfer which means when two people are sharing a bed, if one person moves it will disturb the other or cause roll together, especially if they are different weights.
Sleepyhead Serenity pocket spring mattress
With a pocket spring mattress, the springs are individually cased in fabric pockets, meaning that a person can move without disturbing other sleepers. They have a much better weight distribution and are also more durable than an open coil mattress however their airflow is not as good and they generally cost more.
Foam became widely used in mattresses in the 1900s with polyutherane and latex foam used mainly for transitional and comfort layers in an innerspring mattress, but also as a solid foam mattress. Then NASA invented memory foam which was found to have superior contouring properties to regular polyfoam and the first memory foam mattress arrived on the market in 1991. Nowadays all foam mattresses are often made using memory foam and latex foam but polyutherane, or polyfoam, is more commonly found as a comfort or transitional layer in mattresses rather than making up the entirety of the mattress.
Ecosa memory foam mattress
Memory foam is a type of polyurethane foam with added chemicals which increase its viscosity and density. It has a sink-in feeling and is widely renowned for its ability to contour to body shape to keep the spine aligned and relieve pressure points. Some people, especially those with joint pain, may love the softness and feeling of being cocooned but for others, it could be too soft and they may feel trapped because of its slow responsiveness, meaning it sinks in around the body and doesn’t bounce back straight away. The low responsiveness does however go with low motion transfer, limiting partner disturbance for couples. Memory foam is sensitive to changes in temperature so can get firm when it’s cold, and softens with heat. This can cause a hot sleep, especially for couples, as the foam tends to trap body heat when moulding to your body. Many manufacturers have come up with solutions to combat the heat problem with cooling foam or gel foam. However, if you’re the sort of person that always feels the cold, a memory foam mattress may be just the thing to keep you snug and warm all year round. These mattresses also have a longer life and are quieter than spring mattresses but usually come at a higher price.
Peacelily latex foam mattress
Latex foam first appeared in the 1920s and was soon found to be a great material for mattresses. Latex is a natural product made from the sap of rubber trees but synthetic latex is common in mattresses also. If you’re environmentally-conscious, be sure to check if the mattress you want is made with natural latex. Latex foam has more bounce than memory foam and even weight distribution making the sleep experience more like sleeping on a cloud rather than being hugged. While still conforming to the body, it doesn’t hold as much heat as memory foam, making it a better choice for hot sleepers. Its greater cooling properties also discourage mould and dust mites, but its dense structure makes it quite heavy. Like memory foam, latex foam mattresses have good motion isolation and are a quiet mattress but more breathable and supportive than memory foam, meaning they are often the most expensive out of innerspring, memory foam and latex mattresses.
While mattresses using any two types of materials are sometimes referred to as hybrids, true hybrid mattresses are aimed at combining the best of innerspring and memory or latex foam mattresses by maximising their strengths and minimising their disadvantages. They use pocketed coils not open coil springs and have at least 5cm of memory or latex foam on top. This gives them more support and comfort than other types but naturally makes them more expensive. While taking a lot of benefits from the other mattress types, they still don’t absorb movement as well as an all-foam mattress and are usually quite heavy making them awkward to move.
WHICH TYPE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Choose springs if:
- You’re after solid support
- You’re want something budget-friendly
- You’re a hot sleeper
- You want a bit of bounce
Don’t choose springs if:
- You want it to last forever
- You’ll be bothered by spring noise
- You like a really soft surface
- You need pressure point relief
Choose memory foam if:
- You want body contour
- You have joint pain
- You get disturbed by a partner’s movement
- You want something that is long-lasting
Don’t choose memory foam if:
- You’re claustrophobic and hate to sink too much
- You tend to sleep warm
- You need firm back support
Choose latex foam if:
- You’re environmentally conscious
- You want contouring but not sinking
- You want good cooling properties
- You want good motion isolation
Don’t choose latex foam if:
- You have a latex allergy
- You’re on a tight budget
- You’ll be moving the mattress around regularly
Choose a hybrid mattress if:
- You’re after something soft but not too sinky
- You need pressure point relief and firm back support
- You’re a warm sleeper
Don’t choose a hybrid mattress if:
- You’re on a tight budget
- Motion transfer is a big concern for you (all foam is better)
- You’ll be moving the mattress around regularly
If none of these options sound right for you, there are also less-common types of mattresses like a futon, or an air or water mattress that might suit a different purpose such as for camping or last-minute guests. But no matter what you choose, you still have another decision to make. Despite the mattress materials all having a different feel, they can come in differing levels of firmness depending on the thickness of the layers. Do you want a soft mattress, a hard mattress, firm, plush, or medium? Maybe you don’t even know which type you currently sleep on or what is best for you. Mattress comfort is measured in levels of firmness with the three main ones being firm/hard, medium and plush/soft. A firm mattress is a solid sleeping surface that doesn’t give much and provides support. A plush mattress is quite soft and allows the body to sink in. Medium firm is somewhere between these levels; not too firm but not too soft. Whichever type you find comfortable depends on a number of factors including your sleeping position, weight, age and potential health problems such as back pain.
Firm mattresses are suited to:
Your spine angle can be undesirable when sleeping on your stomach and a soft mattress would cause the body to curve too much. This can create a bend in the back which leads to back and neck pain, whereas a firmer mattress ensures your spine is aligned.
The more weight that there is on a mattress, the more it will dip, so heavier people may find they need a firm mattress to ensure the can sleep comfortably and don’t sink too much.
Medium firm mattresses are the best choice for:
Those that sleep on their back need lower back support so that it doesn’t slump down into the mattress but is still comfortable. A medium firm mattress should cradle the shoulders, back and hips and not be too hard or soft.
If you suffer from back pain, you’ll need a medium firm mattress to provide support for your back, however a mattress that is too firm could cause further pain.
If you’re getting older and don’t find moving about so easy, you’ll want a mattress that is comfortable and soft but doesn’t sink too much so it’s easy for you to get out of bed.
If you toss and turn a lot in bed, you need a combination of firm and soft to help your movements, if you have a mattress that is too soft it will make it hard to change position.
When you’re buying a mattress for your guest room, a medium firm mattress is a safe bet as it caters to different types of sleepers.
Plush mattresses are ideal for:
When sleeping on your side, your body doesn’t follow a straight line therefore a soft mattress that contours to the body will help relieve pressure as the shoulders and hips sink deeper than the rest of the body to distribute weight evenly.
Lighter people can enjoy the comfort of a softer mattress as they will not sink too deeply into it.
This is a good guide to get you started on finding the perfect mattress for your bed frame but it may not work for everybody. Maybe you’re a stomach sleeper but you find firm mattresses too hard, or you’re quite a heavy person but you sleep on your side. Sometimes these things don’t add up so do what feels right for you. There’s nothing like going into a store and trying out the mattresses. Have a lie down and chose what you find most comfortable.