Bed buying guide: Top tips when buying a new bed & mattress

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Finding the right bed and mattress takes time and effort. Some people prefer to research online, whilst others prefer to visit a store where they can test and see mattresses. A mixture of the two approaches should help you gather as much information as you need to make the right decision.

Good sleep depends mainly on the mattress you choose to rest on. Because of this, a bed is arguably one of the most important purchases you’ll make.

But choosing a new bed can seem like a complicated process, especially as it’s something we don’t do very often, perhaps only a handful of times during our lifetime.

young couple with children bed shopping

Almost every manufacturer claims their mattresses are the answer to a better night’s sleep. With so many options, it can be difficult to know where to start.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to sleeping. Some people like to sink into the mattress, while others prefer to lie on top of them. Comfort comes down to personal preference.

If you’re considering buying a new bed and mattress, this guide explains everything you need to know to help make the process easier.

Before you go shopping

Some planning and preparation go a long way when choosing a new bed and mattress. A good starting point is to think about what you like or dislike about your bed. This will help give you an idea about the type of bed you may want or need. For instance, if you get hot in bed, you may want to avoid memory foam mattresses as some people find them warmer to sleep on. If your partner disturbs you during sleep, consider a pocket sprung, latex, or memory foam mattress, which can help reduce movement or upgrade to a bigger bed.

Here are some other things to consider when choosing a new bed and mattress:

  • Do you prefer a firmer or softer bed?
  • Is your mattress causing aches and pains?
  • Do you feel like you’re rolling out of bed?
  • Does your partner disturb you when they turn over?
  • Is the mattress too heavy to turn?
  • Is the bed big enough for two people sharing?
  • Do you feel warm or cold in bed?

Measure up

Before buying a new bed, it is important to check your measurements carefully. This includes measuring your existing bed base if you’re buying the mattress separately to ensure your new mattress fits. You should also check access points like stairs and doorways to avoid problems with delivery.

Also, check your room measurements to see if the room can accommodate a bigger bed. Studies show that couples sleep better in bigger beds as they are less likely to disturb each other.

How much should you spend on a new mattress?

When it comes to buying a new mattress, you should spend as much as you can afford. Yet most people would rather invest in a new car or a holiday than a good night’s sleep.

Not investing in a good quality mattress is one of the main reasons for poor quality sleep. This can impact your ability to learn and increase depression and anxiety. If you spend £1000 on a new mattress, that’s just 40 pence a night over seven years. That’s less than a pint of milk or a loaf of bread!

It can be difficult to set a budget for a new mattress as there are many factors to consider. With so many different mattress options, it’s hard to know what you want or need. Misleading advertising also adds to the confusion, as artificial pricing and inflated discounts lead to many shoppers thinking they are getting a good deal when they aren’t.

Try to keep an open mind when choosing a new mattress. The last thing you want to do is price yourself out of a good mattress because of an unrealistic budget. But at the same time, spend sensibly! When buying a new mattress, you generally get what you pay for. This means that cheaper mattresses will need replacing more frequently.

Where to buy

Both shopping online and in-store offers a wide range of benefits. Online shopping makes it easier to compare prices and is more convenient as you’re not restricted by store opening hours. On the other hand, some shoppers prefer the experience of visiting a store where they can see, feel and try the mattresses before buying.

Online

Traditionally, shoppers would visit several local stores before purchasing a new bed. But many shoppers are now becoming more comfortable buying online.

Many online stores offer extended trial periods, meaning seeing a mattress in-store is no longer as important. You can browse from the comfort of your home without worrying about crowds or sometimes pushy salespeople. Browsing online also allows you to gather a wide range of information on different products and search for cheaper prices.

If you’re buying online, here are a few things to consider:

  • Check that the website is secure before providing payment details or personal information.
  • Does the website provide a substantial or comprehensive description of the bed or mattress?
  • Is the information provided on the website written by an expert or someone that knows what they’re talking about?
  • Does the website provide full contact details, phone numbers, emails, postal addresses and the names of people to refer to?
  • Search for the store’s privacy and returns policy.
  • Evaluate the reputation of the seller. Look for reviews, recommendations, articles, etc. Do they have any awards, accreditations or memberships?
  • Does this website seem credible and trustworthy?
  • Be sceptical about customer reviews, especially when posted on the seller’s website. Anyone can write them. Some businesses may even cherry-pick the reviews they show on their site. Search online for independent and credible reviews.
  • Does the website include an ‘about us’ page, and is it clear that the business is genuine?
  • Would you feel comfortable buying from the website?

Buying in-store

Comfort is subjective. What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for someone else. That’s why it’s important to try the beds out in the showroom.

Here are some tips when trying out mattresses in-store:

  • Allow plenty of time when shopping. You may end up choosing the wrong mattress if you rush your decision.
  • Shop at reputable retailers. When you’re making an important investment, the last thing you need is pushy salespeople and bad advice. Read online reviews, ask friends for recommendations, visit forums and join social media groups. For added reassurance, look for National Bed Federation certified and approved members. Be prepared to travel, especially if it means you will get better customer service and a good selection of beds to try.
  • Wear comfortable clothing and remove heavy items, such as coats, that can impede comfort when lying on the mattresses.
  • If you have a sleeping partner, try the mattresses together, so you’re both happy with your choice. Move around on the mattress to ensure you are not disturbing one another.
  • Most of us sleep on our side, so when you’re testing out mattresses, try them on your side and in other sleeping positions. Don’t just lie on your back. Also, make sure you can turn over easily in bed.
  • Lift the mattresses to give you an idea of how heavy it will be to turn and move.
  • Try to narrow down your options to three or four mattresses and then spend a good amount of time testing each.
  • If the salesperson is standing over you, ask them to give you some space so that you can relax and talk things through with your partner (if you have one).
  • Don’t feel pressured into deciding on the day. A mattress is an investment, and you should take your time to ensure you make the correct choice. Think it over if you need to, and go back to the store when you feel ready. Don’t worry if the sale is coming to an end. There are always offers, and retailers are usually prepared to do deals.
  • Take on board the salesperson’s advice if they seem knowledgeable, but remember it’s your decision!

Mattress types

An important part of choosing a new mattress is to evaluate different types of mattresses to determine which is right for you.

Open coil

An open coil mattress is made from a continuous wire which is wrapped around to form a coil. These coils are then linked together to create a spring unit.

The spring coils work as one unit, which means that if you’re sleeping next to someone, you are more likely to feel each other’s movement. Open coil mattresses generally feel firmer and more bouncy than other mattresses.

Open coil mattresses can be mass-produced cost-effectively. They are widely available and generally cheaper to buy than other mattress types. Open coil mattresses are also much lighter and easier to turn.

An open coil mattress would typically contain between 300 to 800 springs.

open coil spring unit inside mattress
An open coil spring unit

Pocket springs

A pocket spring mattress contains individual springs that are encased in fabric pockets. These pockets are either hand-tied or stitched together. Each spring works independently, which provides more support and less movement. This also means that sleeping partners are less likely to disturb each other.

pocket springs
Pocket springs

In general, the more pocket springs that are contained within the mattress, the more supportive it will be. But, comparing spring counts between different manufacturers can be misleading. This is because some mattresses contain mini springs for extra comfort. However, mini springs are not as supportive as full-height springs. If a mattress is described as having more than 2000 springs, there’s a good chance mini springs are included in the overall spring count.

Spring counts in pocket spring mattresses typically start from 800 in basic models and can even go up to 10,000 pocket springs and beyond. Pocket spring counts are always based on the king size version. This means that in a single size there will be proportionately fewer springs, and in a super king, there will be proportionately more springs.

Higher-quality pocket spring mattresses contain natural materials like cotton, wool, and silk. These fillings provide extra comfort and are durable and longer-lasting. They also absorb body moisture which will help the mattress breathe.

The typical lifespan of a mattress is between 7 and 10 years. But with correct care, some pocket spring mattresses can last much longer. Vi Spring mattresses, for example, come with a 30-year guarantee against faulty workmanship.

In most cases, pocket spring mattresses require regular turning. This helps minimise body impressions that can appear on the mattress during use and help to prolong its life. Turning larger mattresses may require a lot of physical effort. Non-turn mattresses are available but may still need to be rotated.

Memory foam

Memory foam, which is also known as viscoelastic was first developed by NASA in the 1960s to help cushion astronauts during lift-off. Due to the materials’ unique pressure-relieving qualities, it was adapted in mattresses for use in healthcare settings and later for widespread commercial use.

male hand pressing down on memory foam material

A memory foam mattress evenly distributes your body weight across the sleeping surface and can help alleviate aches and pains. It gently moulds to fit the contours of your body, providing good support and can also improve your blood circulation.

Sleeping on a memory foam mattress can help reduce tossing and turning, resulting in a better night’s sleep. Furthermore, if you have a sleeping partner, memory foam absorbs movement, so you are less likely to disturb each other in bed.

The memory foam slowly recovers to its original shape, hence the name ‘memory’. Contrary to popular belief, it does not remember your body shape or preferred sleeping position. It has a unique feel, often compared with ‘Marmite’, in that you either love or hate it.

When you lie on memory foam, you gradually sink into the mattress, sometimes making it harder to turn over in your sleep. Because of this, memory foam may not be suitable for specific medical conditions.

Memory foam is a dense material that retains heat. This means that you may feel warmer in bed. Some mattresses contain gel or cooling materials to make them more breathable and cooler at night. Other mattresses have an open-cell structure that allows air to circulate. This helps the mattress to breathe and disperse heat.

Memory foam can also be combined with springs, providing a more traditional mattress feel with the pressure-relieving benefits of memory foam.

As with any mattress type, there are different qualities of memory foam. Basic models are not as effective at relieving pressure points and may lose their shape quicker. In contrast, higher-quality memory foam mattresses are more effective at providing pressure relief and are more supportive and durable.

Latex

Natural latex comes from the sap of rubber trees. Latex foam is produced using either the Dunlop or Talalay process.

With the Dunlop process, liquid latex is mixed into a frothy foam and poured into a mould. It is then baked and hardened. This creates a denser foam with a firmer feel.

With the Talalay process, Liquid latex is whipped into a frothy foam and partially poured into a mould, where it is vacuum-sealed. This causes the latex to expand, resulting in a softer, more bouncy feel.

Latex is extremely resilient and recovers its shape quickly when pressure is removed, making it easier to turn over in bed. Latex is hypoallergenic and dust mite resistant. It is ideal for those that suffer from allergies.

It is a naturally breathable material that is generally cooler than other mattresses. Like memory foam, latex offers good support and pressure relief, especially around the shoulders and hips. With correct care, latex is durable and long-lasting.

As with memory foam, latex can be combined with springs to provide a more traditional mattress feel.

Mattress fillings

A wide variety of fillings are used in mattresses affecting their feel and comfort. These fillings are synthetic, natural or a mixture of both.

Synthetic fibres like polyester are cost-effective and often found in cheaper mattresses. In contrast, natural fibres like wool, cotton and cashmere are often found in higher-quality mattresses. They are resilient, breathable and longer-lasting.

Cotton

Cotton is often found near the surface of the mattress. It is soft and moisture absorbent. Its breathable qualities help to keep you cooler in bed.

Wool

Soft, springy and resilient, wool is naturally hypoallergenic and breathable.

Hair

Often described as ‘nature’s spring’, hair is durable, springy and supportive. It is often found in higher-quality mattresses.

Cashmere

Soft, luxurious, and highly resilient, cashmere is lighter and warmer than wool.

Mattress firmness

Correct support depends primarily on your body weight, and you should consider this one of the main factors when choosing a mattress. The mattress should contour to the shape of the body, keeping the spine aligned and supported.

A good test is to lie on your back and slide your hand between the lumbar region of your back and the mattress. If your hand slides underneath your back easily, the mattress is too firm. If, on the other hand, you can’t, then the mattress is too soft.

If the mattress is too soft, your spine will sag, which will cause pressure around the hips. You may also find it difficult to turn over.

incorrect body support when sleeping on a soft mattress
Too soft: The body slouches, causing pressure around the hips.

If the mattress is too firm, you will feel like you’re sleeping on top of the mattress. Your spine bows upwards, and you will feel pressure around the shoulders and hips.

incorrect body support when sleeping on a firm mattress
Too firm: Spine is misaligned, causing pressure around the shoulders and hips.

Just right: The mattress should contour to the shape of the body, keeping the spine aligned and supported.

correct support when sleeping on a mattress
Correct support: The shoulders and hips sink into the mattress, and the body is correctly supported.

Some pocket spring mattresses come in soft, medium and firm tensions, and you should choose the tension that matches your body weight.

Body weightRecommended mattress tension
Someone that weighs up to 11 stone (70kg)Soft
Someone that weighs between 11 and 16 stone (70 to 102kg)Medium
Someone that weighs 16 stone and above (102kg +)Firm

Sleeping partners with different body weights or comfort preferences should consider a split tension or zip and link mattress.

Split tension

Split tension or combination mattresses allow you to have two different spring tensions on each side within the same mattress. A combination mattress offers a best-of-both-worlds solution, where sleeping partners do not have to compromise on comfort or support.

Manufacturers can alter the mattress tension by changing the thickness or gauge of the spring wire. This allows partners to have a soft and medium or medium and firm combination mattress. Each partner is correctly supported, and movement is reduced across the mattress.

It is not possible to have a soft and firm combination in a one-piece mattress. However, this combination is available with zip and link models.

Spilt tension mattresses are only available in king size or above. This means that two people sharing a double can only have one spring tension in the mattress. This is a good reason to upgrade to a bigger size mattress if space allows.

When you rotate a split tension mattress, you will need to swap sleeping sides with your partner. If you do have a preferred sleeping side, you need to flip and rotate the mattress to remain on the same side of the bed.

Finally, there is no industry standard for mattress firmness, so there can be variations in the level of firmness between manufacturers.

Zip and link

Zip and link allows two mattresses to be zipped together to form one large mattress or separated to make two single mattresses. Since the mattresses are separate, each person has a choice of mattress tension depending on their comfort preferences and support needs. This is particularly beneficial for couples where there is a significant difference in body weight. As each mattress is independent, there is no movement or roll-together.

Are firm mattresses good for the back?

There is a common misconception that firm mattresses are good for the back. Even some chiropractors still recommend firm mattresses. The main issue with firm mattresses is that most people do not have the bodyweight to compress the mattress. As a result, the spine bows upwards, which causes pressure around the shoulders and the hips.

You may have come across the terms orthopaedic or posturepedic. These are terms used in the industry to describe firm mattresses. They are not necessarily medically approved, nor do they cure a bad back. In fact, they can actually make a bad back worse.

Mattress side-stitching

Mattress side-stitching is the process of stitching the side panel to the perimeter rows of springs in a mattress. It’s a highly skilled task that can take a craftsperson up to 8 hours by hand. This level of mattress detailing is often found in higher-quality pocket spring mattresses.

Mattress side-stitching helps the mattress in several ways:

  • It reinforces the mattress edge, preventing it from sagging and helping it to maintain its shape.
  • It provides edge-to-edge sleeping support.
  • It helps provide longevity and durability.

Machine side-stitching or mock side-stitching, on the other hand, is purely cosmetic and provides no extra value. It is often seen in cheaper mattresses.

It is usually relatively easy to distinguish between the two types of side-stitching. When you sit on the edge of the mattress, if it is hand-side stitched, the border panel will stay in place, whereas a mock stitched panel will sag or bulge.

Which mattress with which base?

Ideally, you should buy the mattress and bed base at the same time. The two are designed to work together, improving comfort and support.

divan bed with matching headboard dark brown

If you’re buying the mattress and base separately, it is important to ensure the two are suitable for use together. Pairing a mattress with a different bed base can change how the bed feels. Some bed bases may not be sturdy enough to support the weight of the mattress.

Memory foam mattresses tend to perform better on well-ventilated solid or slatted bases. Pairing memory foam with a sprung base will soften the feel of the mattress, and you may find it harder to turn over or get in and out of bed.

If the mattress is for a slatted bed base, the gap between the slats must not exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations. Otherwise, the mattress may sag between the gaps and get damaged.

You should also avoid placing a new mattress on an old worn-out bed base. While this may seem like a cost-effective way to buy a bed, pairing a new mattress with an old bed base can damage the mattress and invalidate its guarantee.

You should also place a mattress pad or breathable blanket on the slats to protect the mattress from indentations and splinters.

Always seek advice from the retailer or manufacturer before pairing a new mattress with a different bed base.

Consider all options

Don’t just limit yourself to a few bed brands when looking for a new bed. Keep an open mind. Many independent manufacturers offer a good product even though they don’t invest in advertising or other marketing activities.

We’re all familiar with the Hippo and Duck characters featured in Silentnight’s advertising. The company does an excellent job in promoting its ‘Miracoil’ no roll-together mattresses. Shoppers recognise the name and trust the brand.

Essentially, ‘Miracoil’ is another name for an open coil mattress, differentiated from its competitors through clever marketing. Whilst there is nothing wrong with Silentnight beds, plenty of other options are available that provide better value and superior comfort. Consider all options available.

Don’t buy a bed based on the savings on the price ticket. These savings may not be genuine. The true value of a mattress is in the quality of the construction and the level of comfort and support.

Final thoughts

Finding the right bed and mattress takes time and effort. Some people prefer to research online, whilst others prefer to visit a store where they can test and see mattresses. A mixture of the two approaches should help you gather as much information as you need to make the right decision.

The comfort and support of the mattress are the most important factors when considering which mattress to buy. Whilst comfort is subjective, correct support depends primarily on your body weight.

Finally, sleep is essential for our health and wellbeing. It should be prioritised above other purchases, such as going on holiday or choosing a new car. After all, we spend a third of our lives in bed.

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About the author

About the author

Tony Brown is the founder and creator of The Bed Consultant. His career in the bed industry began in 2002. After graduating from university with a degree in Business Administration, Tony joined one of the largest independent furniture retailers in the UK as a bed consultant. Tony has helped thousands of customers find the perfect mattress.

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