We will spend a third of our lives in bed - and most of that time we will spend sleeping. Or at least trying to sleep that is; because, it seems, people are increasingly reporting sleep conditions, disturbed and interrupted sleep. In 2007 The Better Sleep Council commissioned a consumer research survey to look in to factors impacting upon the quality of our sleep. Whilst 97% of respondents agreed “a good night’s sleep is essential to quality of life”, few appeared to be achieving this aim.
So, what is the single biggest factor impacting upon how well you sleep each night? The answer: the quality of your mattress.
An overwhelming majority of the respondents in the Better Sleep survey agreed that a good mattress “is essential to health and well-being” and four fifths agreed that back problems and other sleep inhibiting conditions could be avoided by sleeping on a proper mattress.
Yet so many of us suffer on, sleep deprived and waking up to aches and pains. Our mattresses may be old, lumpy, saggy and uncomfortable and still don’t we go out and buy a new one. Why? Partly, it seems, this is because buying a new mattress seems to be a big commitment, the choices are bewildering and we are afraid of getting it wrong.
Before we buy a new mattress we need to feel confident and knowledgeable about the mattress options. After all, a mattress is a significant financial investment a, once bought, we will spend many, many nights lying on it.
Well worry no more; here is your definitive guide to buying the best mattress - and why a natural latex mattress is the best choice you can make.
Invest a little time in reading through this guide and you can sleep easy knowing that you are fully prepared to buy only the best.
What makes a good mattress?
There are six qualities which make a good mattress. The savvy mattress-purchaser looks for all of them. Not each quality will be equally important to everyone – the sleeping experience is, after all, intrinsically an individual one – but by keeping these qualities in mind and by judging the mattress you are considering against these qualities, you are most likely to choose the best.
Here’s what a good mattress will do:
- Support your body
- Relieve pressure on your joints
- Feel comfortable
- Allow movement during sleep
- Allow you to sleep undisturbed
- Not negatively impact upon your health or well-being
Support: A good mattress will support your spine in its proper and neutral alignment. This means that the shape of your spine should be the same when lying down on your mattress as it is when standing up. If you are a tummy or back sleeper your spine should rest in its natural “S” shape when you are asleep in bed. Curled up on your side? Your mattress should support your spine to rest in a straight (or straighter) line.
Be careful however not to confuse support with firmness – how hard or soft you like your mattress is a matter of personal taste and falls under the ‘comfortable’ quality explored below. A good mattress will be supportive as a result of its core make-up, not the amount of padding it may boast. Firm is not always better. Softer does not equal unsupportive.
Why is support so important that it falls as number 1 on the list of qualities to look for? Because, inadequate support for your body or the wrong kind of support can cause tension and back pain as your muscles spend all night working (when they should be resting) trying to keep your spine in alignment.
A good mattress is supportive allowing all of your body to rest.
Pressure relief: Imagine that your bed sheet is a weather pressure map. Those parts of your body which press down in to your mattress and therefore where the pressure per square inch is highest would light up in orange and red; where there is the least pressure will show as blue and green. The orange and red parts on the map highlight your sleeping pressure points; typically these are your shoulders, hips and knees.
A poor mattress will have you tossing and turning each night as your body moves itself to relieve the pain that comes from a build-up of pressure on too few places on your body. Inadequate pressure relief leads to a disturbed night’s sleep and waking up stiff in the morning.
A good mattress will give enough to relieve the pressure on those red points and will rise up enough to meet your body in the green areas. The very best mattresses will compress and rise to enable your whole body to be in contact with the mattress.
Comfort: This is where the experts can’t help you. Comfort is a matter of personal choice. Like Goldilocks, if you try enough beds you will find one that is not too hard, not too soft; and just right for you. However, as you search for the comfort factor bear in mind not to sacrifice support or pressure relief. The ‘firm’ mattress that you like may in fact be throwing your spine out of alignment or failing to give enough to relieve pressure. You may sink in to a soft bed, thereby having your whole body in contact with the mattress and be feeling pretty smug that you have ticked off the ‘pressure relief’ criteria but it may not be offering your spine the support you need.
The best mattresses will offer the perfect trinity of comfort, support and pressure relief. Not too hard, not too soft, supportive and offering adequate pressure relief. That is a mattress that is just right!
Allow movement: Whilst you don’t want to be tossing and turning all night, your body will need to move during sleep. Over the course of a night’s sleep you will move through various phases of a sleep cycle; in and out of heavy sleep, active sleep, dreamless and dreamy sleep. Your body will react to your sleep cycle and you will turn over and reposition yourself.
A good mattress will assist your body to move effortlessly and will adjust itself to your new sleep position; offering support and pressure relief in all sleeping positions.
Allow you to sleep undisturbed: This one only really applies to those who share a bed. When there are two (or more of you) in a bed the last thing you want is to be disturbed by the disturbances of your co-sleepers.
The best mattresses will isolate motion, allowing you to have a blissful night’s sleep; no matter what is happening on the other side of the bed.
Not impact negatively upon your health or well-being: This quality may seem a little bit of an odd bed-fellow. “How can a mattress be detrimental to my health or make me feel bad?” you may ask. The answer is, it all comes down to the material your mattress is made out of or covered by. There are materials which irritate the skin or negatively impact upon respiratory health. There are materials which trigger allergies. There are materials which attract and trap dust, mites or hold on to dirt and discarded skin flakes (disgusting to think of I know, but we all shed and renew our skin and a great deal of it ends up in our beds).
On top of this, some mattress materials are better at conducting heat or keeping us cool. Choosing the right material for whether you are a ‘hot sleeper’ or live in a tropical climate is imperative to ensure the best night’s sleep. And a good night’s sleep has proven health benefits all round.
A good mattress should not irritate you or your skin. A good mattress will not make you hot or sweaty in bed. The best mattresses will support your health and overall well-being, not detract from it.
Types of Mattress
Though there are some sleepers who swear by a water or air bed, this guide concentrates only upon those types of mattress prevalent upon the market - the ones you are most likely looking in to buying. There are fundamentally three different types of mattress you will come across (and hybrid combinations thereon):
- Inner spring or coil mattresses
- Foam mattresses
- Latex mattresses
There are, of course, sub-divisions within these three types which generally arise from a different material being used within the mattress ‘core’ or inner layer to that which is used within its ‘comfort’ or top layer. These mattresses are known as hybrid mattresses.
One such sub-category of mattress type is the ‘pillow top’ mattress where an additional padded top of foam, latex or upholstery is constructed on top of an inner spring mattress. The other most commonly recognised sub-category of mattress is the ‘memory foam’ mattress. There is a common misconception that a memory foam mattress is a mattress in its own right. In actual fact, the memory foam component is simply the top layer imposed upon a foam mattress. It is therefore, technically a hybrid mattress.
Inner spring: An inner spring mattress uses a steel coil support system in its core, or in lay man’s terms it has springs inside it. This, the most traditional type of mattress, provides support and pressure relief through variances in the size, number and composition of the springs. The best spring mattresses have springs which are individually wrapped in ‘pockets’ and a high spring count. Inner spring mattress coils can also, however, be composed of inter-connected springs. At the lower end of the market you will find inner spring mattress with coils that are large or widely spaced. The comfort factor is provided through the padding sitting in top of the springs, which can be created from latex, foam or fibres such as wool or cotton.
Verdict: There are some very good inner spring mattresses which provide excellent support and pressure relief. However, the inner spring mattress core can vary widely in quality, which will inevitably lead to wide variances in support and pressure relief. Smaller or lighter sleepers may also not achieve the necessary pressure relief as they fail to make an impact on the springs. There are high-end spring mattresses which boast latex, silk, cotton or wool toppers and with these higher quality materials the mattress meets the well-being criteria as the pillow-top is organic. However, studies have shown that the traditional inner spring mattress with topper is the most likely mattress type to attract and trap dirt, dust or mites. Spring mattresses do have a ‘bouncier feel’ and, whilst they are easy to move about in during sleep, there is less isolation of sleeping partners. In general, with an inner spring mattress you get what you pay for. At the higher end, these mattresses are very good. On a middling budget you may need to shop very carefully.
Foam: a foam mattress has a core made of high density polyurethane and a memory foam mattress has an additional comfort layer made out of viscoelastic. The foam supports your body and in a memory foam mattresses the top layer memory foam contours closely to the shape of your body as you sleep offering pressure relief. Foam can be manufactured in different densities and a variety of shapes to offer sleepers a choice of comfort and feel.
Verdict: Foam mattresses entered the popular market in the mid-1990’s and became popular due to their keen price point and ease of manufacture and transport, however initially were not seen as a quality mattress choice. The memory foam mattress took the basic foam mattress to another level. The memory foam top layer excels at pressure relief and many people enjoy the feeling of melting in to the bed as the foam cocoons their during sleep. Its detractors however complain that sleeping on a memory foam mattress feels like sleeping ’in the bed’ rather than on it. Certainly, whilst memory foam provides good sleep isolation between partners there is a difficulty in that memory foam restricts movement during sleep. Memory foam is slow to respond when you change sleeping position and an imprint of your prior sleeping position will be left behind when you roll over, only gradually easing itself back in to position. Too many movements and these imprints will, for a period, overlap causing an uneven sleeping surface. In terms of health and well-being it is also worth bearing in mind that foam and memory foam are created through wholly chemical processes and are petroleum based, thus they may not suit those with allergies or sensitivities to chemical odours. Additionally they have a tendency to ‘sleep hot’; a product of their enveloping nature.
Latex: Latex is a material which has been available for decades but is experiencing a resurgence in popularity for mattress use. Mattresses can either be made out of latex that has been produced synthetically (in which case it is petroleum based) or from a wholly natural source; the rubber tree (Hevea Brasilliensis). Sap is ‘tapped’ from the rubber tree (without killing the tree) and then the liquid is ‘whipped’ with air until it becomes a wet foam which is then hardened in a mould. 100% latex mattresses have both their core and their comfort layer made from latex. A latex mattress typically has between one and four layers from bottom to top each one becoming progressively softer. The latex structure is somewhat like a honeycomb, with numerous pincore holes. Additionally deep cylindrical tunnels run top to bottom. The size and placement of these holes and tunnels within the mattress provides it with its supportive qualities and allows for variation in firmness.
Verdict: As a material latex is soft and has a ‘cupping’ quality, thus latex mattresses offer excellent spinal support. The dense core provides stability and the differing sized holes arranged in the layers and gradual transition to the soft upper layer ensures comfortable sleep. Expert study has also shown the latex mattress to provides better pressure relief than even a memory foam mattress. As with memory foam, when you lie on a latex mattress 100% of your body will be in contact with the mattress however, unlike memory foam, latex has a springy resilience which responds immediately to movement. There will be no imprint of your body left upon a latex mattresses surface when you roll over. Latex is a stable material and offers good motion isolation.
All latex mattresses will provide good support and excel at pressure relief. All latex mattresses will allow you to move whilst you sleep and shield you from being disturbed by your partner. So why is a natural latex mattress the very best you can buy? The answer is found by looking at the material from which a natural latex mattress is made. Natural latex, pure latex, contains nothing but the rubber tapped from the tree. It is fully organic and biodegradable. It contains no chemicals. It harms neither the planet nor you. Natural latex is resistant to bacteria, mould, dust and mildew as the open-cell structure created by the pincoil holes allows air to move freely through the mattress. A further result of its composition is that latex ‘sleeps cool’, allowing you to sleep well.
A natural latex mattress delivers not only on the first five qualities which make a good mattress; of all the mattress types it is also the mattress most likely to support your health and well-being.
 Effects of Mattress Material on Body Pressure Profiles in Different Sleeping Postures: Fan-Zhe (BEng), Matthew Chin-Heng (Phd),, Pan-Yin Lim (BEng), Chen-Hua Yeow (Phd) Journal of Chiropractic Medicine (www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1556370716300116)