Buying a new mattress isn’t easy at the best of times. Before Covid, most of us stood around showrooms, surrounded by mattresses of varying sizes, materials, colours and manufacturers, hoping we’d select the best mattress for our needs (with, truth be told, very little idea where to start).
Only now, with the online choices expanded and in-person testing limited, it can feel even harder.
You’ll spend the best part of a third of your life (or more, or less, depending on how well you sleep) on your mattress over the next few years, so it’s a great time to learn how to shop for a mattress online.
What is the best type of mattress?
A few years ago, memory foam mattresses were all the rage, but they’ve lost a bit of their luster since then. These days many mattress designers are returning to springs, or hybrids, which have springs and foam.
A hybrid could be considered a best-of-both-worlds option. Foam distributes your weight well across the mattress, while springs create a personalised feeling of support and respond to different partners of different sizes and sleeping habits. You should also look for a mattress with a breathable top layer.
What is the most comfortable mattress in the world?
According to the independent National Sleep Foundation in America, the most comfortable mattress is the Layla Hybrid Mattress, which combines the pressure relief of memory foam with the support of pocketed coil springs. It also has two different sides – one soft and plush, and one firmer and more supportive – so you can simply flip the mattress depending on your preference. This decision was made by a medical advisory board, who tested mattresses based on firmness, temperature control, responsiveness, pressure relief, among other things.
Choosing the right mattress can be overwhelming. Here to help, we’ve provided further information at the end of this article, and have found the best mattresses you can buy online now:
Best mattress for side sleepers
1. Tempur Cloud Premier 19 Mattress
If your go-to sleep position is on the side, then opt for the NASA-developed Cloud Premier. The Tempur material works to redistribute body weight evenly and reduce pressure points while you sleep, and this particular model – the Cloud Premier 19 – is so confident in its comfort-giving abilities, it comes with a 10-year guarantee. Many customers have called it the “best mattress ever”, due to its innovative balance of softness and supportive layers.
Best mattress for hot sleepers
2. Climate Collection Copper 1200 Medium Tension Pocket Spring Mattress
John Lewis’ Climate Collection is designed to regulate the mattress surface temperature while you sleep, making this mattress a great choice for people who get too hot or cold when they sleep. It’s made with patented phase-change crystals and infused with copper beads (which store and release heat as needed), a pocket spring system, and a layer of memory foam for pressure-relieving, balanced support. It is also available to ‘try before you buy’ (see site for details).
If you’ve ever taken a train or Tube in London, you’ll have likely seen new-gen mattress adverts promising you the best sleep ever. In Nectar’s case, it might actually be true. The award-winning mattress has not only been engineered to draw heat away from the body, but also to cushion your body for maximum comfort. It is a memory foam mattress, which have been known to trap heat, but its non-stop airflow system sets it apart from the rest. With free shipping and a 365-day trial guaranteed, you can’t go wrong. They also regularly host sales on bedding ‘bundles’, which include mattress protectors, bedding sets, pillows, and duvets.
Best mattress under £1,000
4. Top Dog mattress
Loaf pride themselves on selling just five mattresses, and their ‘Top Dog’ model – filled with cashmere, silk and natural fabrics and boasting double-decker layers housing 2,200 individual pocket springs (for the kingsize version) – is one of the best.
Best pocket sprung mattress
5. John Lewis Natural Collection Egyptian cotton 5900 mattress
This luxury mattress from John Lewis features 5,900 springs in the king-size version so it provides adequate firmness and support. It is also made from a unique blend of fillings, including Egyptian cotton – the most deluxe material, that’s popular in bedlinen because it can help to regulate body temperatures. In addition, the mattress has minimised its impact on the environment – more than 50 per cent of the filling is sourced from a local farm, and the glue-free design means the mattress is fully recyclable.
From Single to Super King, the Original Emma Mattress is widely considered the best mattress in a box. Its breathable Airgocell-layer, visco-elastic memory foam and a supportive layer of polyurethane foam will pop up into shape after being removed from the box and vacuum-pack, expand into the mattress of dreams. Even better? Emma offers a 200-day free trial so you can make sure you made the right choice.
Best mattress for sciatica
7. Ergoflex 5G Mattress
Ergonomically designed to offer maximum support to the back, this orthopaedic pressure-reducing mattress has no less than give layers that work together to create the most supportive, comfortable and pressure-relieving mattress that those with sciatica will particularly appreciate. Recommended by renowned back expert Dr Mark Craig, The Back Doctor, this mattress has also received positive feedback from many customers with various back concerns.
Best firm mattress
8. Octaspring Levanto Memory Foam Mattress
Those in the market for a firm mattress should plump for an Octapsring Levanto, which has springs with a unique honeycomb design for ultra comfort. It also has all the benefits of a traditional memory foam mattress, without the heat and humidity, and cushioning support that helps spine alignment.
With perfect medium-firmness and three layers of foam to support the body, this is an ideal mattress for those who get occasional back pain. Not only do the support layers relieve pressure on your back while you sleep, the top layer adds gentle cushioning for extra comfort. And if you do find yourself having to manoeuvre when your back is playing up, the special memory foam that isolates movement means you won’t wake your partner up if you change position.
Why is a good mattress so important?
Sleep health brands have proliferated in recent years, and in doing so they’ve shined a bedside light on how obsessed we’ve become with getting a good night’s sleep. The wrong mattress, we’re told, can hurt your spine, make you overheat, and generally result in you walking around in a daze. Often, it seems the answer is to pay double the amount you expected.
When is the right time to buy a new bed?
According to sleep consultant Dr Neil Stanley, “you should buy a new bed when you start noticing your old one.” This might be in the form of waking up with aches and pains, not sleeping as well as you did, your mattress creaking when you move, and/or finding yourself rolling into the middle of the bed.
Perhaps wisely, Dr Stanley doesn’t mention the oft-repeated claim that a mattress should be replaced every eight years (it’s hard to find the original source for that information, which seems almost too-good-to-be-true for mattress salesmen across the land). Instead, he uses more open-ended language: “Remember that each night you sweat a significant amount of moisture and shed a good amount of dead skin into your mattress, so for hygiene reasons it would be good to change your bed regularly.” Safe to say, if your bed has started to smell, you’ve already left it too long.
Things to consider
Contemplate the materials
First of all decide which material is right for your mattress. There’s a wide range available, from memory foam to springs, or hybrids, which have springs and foam.
“Foam,” says Jeff Chapin, head of product at sleep brand Casper, who spends much of his working life reviewing materials, surveying consumers, speaking to sleep experts, and, of course, testing mattresses, “is very good at pressure release. When you lie on it, the foam is pretty firm then it starts to ‘melt’ as it warms up, and it distributes your weight quite well so you don’t get pressure points, meaning your arms don’t fall asleep.”
Foam is also much better than springs at motion isolation, which is why you’ve probably seen that advert or in-store demonstration where a glass of red wine is balanced on one half of a foam mattress, and someone jumps up and down on the other half, without the glass toppling. It means you’ll be less disturbed when your partner gets out of bed, or if they’re tossing and turning in their sleep.
But there are some significant downsides to all this. “Foam is not breathable,” says Chapin. “If you tried to blow through it, no air would move. So it sleeps very hot. And because it contours to your body, there’s no air channels between your body and the mattress to allow air to move.”
The supportive ‘melting’ around your body has its pitfalls too. Literally. “As it melts and you sink into it, it creates a cavity where it’s very hard to change positions if you want to move from your back to your side. You have to essentially move up and out of this hole your body has created, and next to you the foam is kind of hard, so you have to re-melt that and then sink into it.”
Finally, it’s worth considering that pure memory foam might not be so good for… the other things you do in bed. “Because it’s so good at motion isolation, if you drop a bowling ball on that kind of mattress, it doesn’t bounce at all,” says Chapin. “It just hits and gets stuck. And because of that, those mattresses are really bad for sex because there’s no bounce for them.”
As for firmness, Stanley offers a simple technique for working out whether a mattress is right or not: “Lie on your back and place your hand between your back and the mattress. If this is easy and it feels as if your hand is in a space, then the mattress is too hard. If on the other hand you can hardly get your hand in, then the bed is too soft.”
Be wary of tech claims
While mattress design has evolved over the years, not all new innovation is worth splashing out for. “I’ll be very candid,” says Chapin. “I look across the industry and there’s not a lot of new tech. On temperature there’s a lot of “tech” around copper infusion, and titanium infusion, and gel beads. And we’ve studied it all and they don’t really do anything. The most useful thing is a very breathable foam, which you can do either with the foam itself and its cellular structure, or you can add perforations through the foam to get more airflow through it.”
Even with traditional mattresses, Stanley advises shoppers to be careful. “The ‘technical specifications’ of a bed provide little helpful data to allow you to judge the comfort of a bed. It is not as simple as saying, ‘more springs equals a better bed’.”
Get a mattress with a solid returns policy
No one likes to return things, especially big things like mattresses, but part of the problem with buying a mattress is that you can’t know for sure whether you’ll like it until you’ve slept on it for a while.
“The value of the in-store experience is not as great as one might think,” notes Chapin. “You can’t go in a store and know within five or ten minutes of trying it out whether you’re going to like the mattress or not. The true value is having it inside your house and sleeping on it for a while. I guess 30 days seems like a reasonable amount of time to try out a mattress.”
With that in mind, it’s worth making sure you can get a generous returns policy so that you can give it a proper test run with confidence.
Focus on the side
The vast majority of us sleep on our sides, so when you test a mattress at-home (or, perhaps after all this is over, in-store) you need to make sure you try lying on it on your side. This is where checking the support for your spine will be imperative, as unlike lying on your back, your spine isn’t designed to bend laterally.
How do you check the support? “When you’re on your side and someone looks at you from the side of the bed, your spine should be straight,” explains Chapin. “It shouldn’t have curvature to it,” adds Chapin, who says the only tilt should be high up the spine, from your pillow.
In short, you want to make sure that your weight is distributed evenly and that no parts of you are sinking into the mattress.
If you do sleep on your back, it can be more difficult to see whether or not your spine is being supported. “On the back, your spine won’t be straight because we have a natural lumbar curvature, so that’s a little harder to sense,” says Chapin. Instead, he suggests you look towards your hips, which should be supported because that’s where we carry most of our weight. “The one thing you can look for when you’re on your back is: am I sinking down in the centre of my body? Kind of like making a taco shape with your arms coming over your chest. You want your hips supported and lifted so you’re not in that taco position.”
For an extra soothing night’s sleep, see The Telegraph’s guides to the best weighted blankets, best duvets, best duvet covers, best pillows, best mattress toppers, best wake up light alarm clocks and best electric blankets.