Mattresses have become so technological – some are even based on research from the US space agency NASA – that they now sometimes go by the name ‘sleep systems’.
And at up to $40,000 a throw, some even cost as much as a mid-range BMW and command the same sort of social status. But is it really necessary to fork out to get a good night’s sleep?
The consensus is that a cheap mattress is indeed a false economy – spending, say, less than $200 is almost certainly not going to ensure a good night’s sleep unless you are very young, very light and frequently sleeping somewhere else.
Cheap mattresses also need replacing more often, perhaps as frequently as every two years. Spend a bit extra, say, more than $1,000, and you should not need to change the mattresses for 10 years, or, in the most luxurious pocket spring cases, up to 25.
“Spend as much as you can afford,” advises Andy Hills of And So To Bed. “The minimum should be about $700 on the mattress and bed base combined. It always strikes me as absurd that people will spend $3,000 or $4,000 on a sofa which they sit on for an hour or two some evenings, and much less than $1,000 on a bed where they will spend a crucial eight hours every night.”
Once you have fixed the budget, the next priority is looking for the right kind of support.
“People often ask for orthopaedic mattresses, but all that means is a hard one,” says Hills. “Very few people actually need a hard mattress unless they have crushed a disc. For most other people, they will simply be uncomfortable, particularly for lighter women, creating shoulder pain and pins and needles sensations.”
Indeed, your body weight will largely dictate the sort of tension you require – the softer ones are better for an eight-stone woman, a firmer mattress will benefit a 16-stone rugby player type. Of course, many suppliers sell combination mattresses with different tensions on either side, catering for couples with greatly varying weights.
Others sell two mattresses zipped together, a technique much improved on the old days, making it now almost impossible to tell that there is a divide. “We say if couples feel the zip, we’ll give them their money back,” says Hills.
With spring mattresses, the firmness is largely dictated by the number of springs. High-quality mattresses such as Vi-Spring, such as the superb double model, will often have soft cotton and lamb’s wool to enhance the springs; the very best will have horsehair filling, which breathes well and acts like more tiny springs.
Vi-Spring offer a comfort promise – try the mattress for up to 90 days, if need be, they will replace it with a softer or harder one. Tempur, a manufacturer of memory foam mattresses using material developed at NASA to relieve g-force pressures during space launches, offers a 60-night free trial.
The viscoelastic foam is designed to eliminate pressure points by spreading body weight evenly. The foam cell mattresses, that start at around $1,040 for a double, reorganise themselves constantly to mould to the exact contours of a body, and because they do not harbour dust mites in the same way as more traditional mattresses, they are excellent for asthma sufferers.
Although good mattresses are expensive, they are surely worth it for health and happiness, even if it means making savings elsewhere. “People often put up with wakeful nights, constant tiredness and sore backs for a long time before connecting it to the mattress,” warns Lucy Benham of John Lewis.
“A good test is sitting on the edge and seeing whether the whole side of the mattress collapses. If so, the mattress needs urgent replacement.
“Also, when looking at a new one, remember that quilted ones tend to be of lower quality. Tufted ones, which look like they have buttons going through them, are better as this means the filling is contained to avoid it moving around. Good stitching around the sides indicates that the springs are contained in pockets, which will be much more effective than open spring mattresses.
“But always remember to lie down on a mattress in the showroom and ask for professional advice. Choosing a new mattress is a very important decision indeed.”
Make sure the bed base is suitable for your mattress. A poor base will make even the most expensive mattress uncomfortable. Divan or upholstered ones are best for spring mattresses as the springs in both components complement each other. Memory foam mattresses are better if you have only a wooden slatted base.
To gauge the right tension for you, lie on the mattress in the showroom, and push your hand under the small of your back. If there is a large gap, the mattress is too soft, no gap at all, then it’s too firm. Just being able to pass your hand through suggests that the tension is spot on.
If the mattress is too hard, your body will try to compensate by frequently tossing and turning during the night, up to 60 times. This will impair your and your partner’s sleep. A good mattress will reduce turning to 17 times a night.
A too-hard mattress makes the body do the work, rather than the bed. The shoulder and hips cannot sink into the mattress, so they curve towards each other, resulting in a bent and stressed spine.
A too-soft mattress lets the body sink into a hammock position, causing hips and shoulders to pinch in, the spine to curve and putting pressure on joints and muscles. Numbness and tingling can follow.
The best spring mattresses tend to be pocket-sprung, where each individual spring is kept separate to respond to pressure from your body.