On Sleep

What is important when buying a mattress? Which technology should I prefer? Here some recommendations.

Question & Answer

How can I decide which mattress is the best for me?

There is not a perfect mattress that fits everyone. The best mattress is the one that offers you best comfort and a good price-performance ratio. Therefore the first question when buying a mattress is what are your sleeping habits, your requirements and what extras do you need. Be aware that the different technologies offer you different kinds of comfort and that there is a broad variety of qualities. Mattresses that look alike at first sight may be different.

Why is it important to test a mattress in the store and how should it be tested?

The prospective buyer should spend at least 15 minutes testing each mattress in the store. By spending five minutes on his back and both sides he will be more likely to determine if the mattress he is trying out is the right choice. Lying on the back — if the user slides his/her hand under the small of the back, and it is very easy and his/her shoulders and hips are uncomfortable, the mattress is too hard. Rolling over — if it takes a lot of efforts, the bed is too soft. If it is uncomfortable for the user’s hips and shoulders, it is too hard. The user should test the mattress on the type of base that it will be used on. If the bed is for two people, both users should try it at the same time. Apart from your own feelings let the salesperson check that your spine is supported well in all body zones. 

Which level of firmness is recommendable and are firmer mattresses generally better than softer ones?

Be aware that the producers usually indicate the level of firmness of a mattress. As there is no common standard how to define a soft, medium or hard mattress it is crucial that you test yourself which level of firmness fits you best. You cannot generally say that firmer mattresses are better than softer ones. The degree of firmness needed depends on the sleeper’s body, his shapes and weight. Usually people who are small and slim need and prefer softer mattresses than people whose body weight is higher. Quality mattresses often offer different zones supporting your body in different areas with adequate strengths.

Do different sleeping positions require different levels of mattress firmness?

Yes, they do. Studies have shown that various sleeping positions require different levels of firmness. A back sleeper needs a mattress that offers enough support to fill in the gaps in the contour of the back, while at the same time providing enough comfort (according to the user’s preference). Side sleepers will probably want a softer mattress, as it will support the body’s curves to minimize pressure points, especially if they have a more rounded figure. A pillow pulled under the shoulder will support the neck. Stomach sleepers probably need a firmer mattress to keep the spine aligned and to prevent spinal distortion that can result in back pain when waking up. 

Which criteria of comfort should a new mattress offer?

There are four basic requirements for a good mattress to enhance the quality of sleep. In order of importance: maintain spinal alignment, reduce surface pressure, regulate body temperature, and resist nasty allergens.

A new mattress should be designed to conform to the spine’s natural curves and to keep the spine in alignment when lying down. It should conform to the shape of our body to distribute weight evenly and eliminate high-pressure areas. Sleeping too hot or too cold will also cause tossing and turning. While we sleep, our bodies give off moisture, which gets trapped in our bedding. This dampness interferes with our body’s ability to regulate its own temperature. Depending on your individual needs you can choose between different mattress types and different mattress covers affecting your body temperature while sleeping. Some mattress materials have anti-microbial value, so that dust mites will not reside in these mattresses as easily as in others. These mattresses offer a certain protection for those who struggle with allergies. 

What is the mattress core made of and which one is the best?

Cores are most often either made of foam, latex or springs. Each of these technologies gives you a different feeling when lying on it, so there is a need to test the different cores in the shop. Latex for example gives you a very good stability and springs offer a good air circulation. Foam mattress evenly spread out the force delivered to it by the body‘s weight but vary according to the type of foam used. 

What are the most important kinds of foam mattresses?

Polyurethane (PU) foam mattresses provide very good body support during sleep. They evenly spread out the force of the body‘s weight, to keep neck and spine straight and comfortable. PU foam mattresses are produced with various degrees of firmness and different zones that support best individual shapes of human bodies. PU foam mattresses covered with matching textile fabric regulate temperature and control moisture. Some also include ventilation channels that expel moisture and absorb fresh air, allowing the mattress to breathe throughout the night. 
In contrast to PU foam, high resilient foam is characterized by an irregular cell structure showing high flexibility and elasticity. High resilient foam has anti-microbial properties, which offer additional protection to people suffering from allergies.
Visco-elastic or memory foam is made from polyurethane with additional chemicals, increasing the density of the foam and providing a cell structure different from other foams, which makes it less ‘springy’ and slower to recover. Sensitive to weight and temperature, a visco-elastic mattress moulds to the body’s form, supporting it evenly. Due to a quite special and at first quite uncommon feeling of being bedded (for those who have not experienced this kind of mattresses yet), it is recommendable to try it out in a shop before buying. 

What are the most important kinds of latex mattresses?

Latex mattresses can be made of natural latex, synthetic latex or a blend of both. They all provide ideal support while reducing pressure points, perfectly reflecting the human form and maintaining the spine in a good position.

Latex foam is an environmentally friendly natural product that biodegrades completely in the environment. Synthetic latex is claimed to have the same properties as natural latex, and nowadays, most latex mattresses tend to be either made of synthetic latex or more typically a combination of synthetic and natural latex. The combination latex core is more resilient.

What are the most important kinds of spring mattresses?

There are three main types of springs, Bonnell, LFK and Pocket springs.

Bonnell springs are double cone or hourglass shaped springs, assembled by helical. They provide a progressive spring support and can be compressed quite easily at first, but offering more support as the pressure to the coils increases. Bonnell spring cores are characterized by unbeatable stability, strength and durability.

The LFK spring system features knotless, light-weight cylindrical springs, assembled by helical, for the medium and medium high price range. Fine wire gauges are responsible for the lower weight, although the coil count is approx. 50% higher than in a Bonnell spring system. Smaller coil diameters create greater surface coverage. The increased flexibility and sensitivity to body contours as well as an excellent support to the sleepers make LFK innerspring systems more comfortable than Bonnells.

Pocket springs are small, soft barrel shaped springs, assembled either by centrally gluing or surface bonding between two sheets of non woven fibre material. Their shape and the welding of each coil into its own fabric pocket allows them to work independently and profiling to the body shape to prevent pressure points. Independent support means that there is little or no transfer of movement from one sleeping partner to another. Pocket springs are highly responsive to even the smallest changes in weight distribution, body shape and sleeping patterns, providing support where needed most. Pocket spring units are perfectly suitable for adjustable beds and motorised slat bases without any loss of comfort and quality.

All spring mattresses provide a good air circulation within the core.

How is latex different from memory foam?

Latex is made from a rubber-based product versus memory or visco elastic foam, which is derived from plastics. Latex provides “instantaneous recovery” as it contours and supports any body movement, while memory foam provides “slow recovery”. With memory foam, the sleeper must wait for her/his body temperature to soften the foam.

Why is it recommendable to buy a bedding system instead of just a mattress?

A good bedding system consists of a good mattress and an appropriate bed base. The mattress and bed base should be chosen together to complement each other giving you a comfortable night’s sleep. Mattress and bed base are engineered to work together as a set, and the base takes a lot of the nightly wear and tear and contributes to the overall comfort and support of the bed. Putting a new mattress on an old bed base, pairing it with a base which was not designed to work with or adding a board between the mattress and bed base will impede comfort and reduce the useful life of your new mattress. Even though a wire frame can support regular coil mattresses, the same is not true for memory foam beds. A proper frame is definitely necessary!

What is the lifespan of a mattress today?

How long a mattress will keep its physical qualities depends on many factors, such as weight and sleeping habits of those people who use it or the quality of the new mattress. But most brand name mattresses these days will last at least 7-10 years on a new bed base. After that, mattresses lose a significant amount of both, comfort and support. Obvious signs are lumps, bumps, dips or sagging and if the cover is stained or torn. Even if for best mattresses physical conditions stay stable, there is another indication to change the mattress: hygiene reasons. For these mattresses should not be used longer than seven years, considering the average sleeper secretes half a litre of perspiration a night, and up to twice as much when being ill. Furthermore, especially the age of a mattress is responsible for the concentration of antigens derived from house dust mites. That is why an extensive use of mattresses without exchanging them must be seen as a threat to health.

What can I do against dust mites?

Mattresses are ideal breeding grounds for house dust mites and that is why concentrations of mites are generally higher in mattresses than elsewhere in the home. Some mattress materials are anti-microbial (such as latex and memory foam), so that dust mites will not reside in these mattresses as easily as in others and these mattresses offer a certain protection. But latest studies have shown that especially the age of a mattress is responsible for the concentration of antigens. That is why EBIA proposes a maximum use of seven to ten years the latest.

Control of dust mite pollution is probably best achieved by an integral approach combining enclosure of the mattress in an occlusive cover, cleaning (with vacuum cleaner) and of course periodical mattress replacement 

Are latex allergies an issue in bedding products?

Latex in mattresses is found in the mattress core, which is enclosed in the mattress cover. Hence, there is no direct contact to the latex while lying on a latex mattress. There have not been any reported cases of allergies to latex foam. The reason is that people, who are allergic to latex, are normally allergic to the type of latex used in making latex gloves, which is different from the latex foam in mattresses.

What are the main characteristics of waterbeds?

 Waterbeds combine a water-filled core providing the support with layers of upholstery for insulation and surface comfort. Quality construction is critical when water is involved, so it is crucial for the vinyl and seaming to be designed for maximum durability. Make sure the floor can accommodate a waterbed’s weight.

One benefit of a waterbed is the lack of pressure points since the water forms to the body and offers excellent pressure distribution. The key is to ensure the mattress is full enough so there is enough support. If you sleep with a partner be sure to look for a waterbed that minimizes partner disturbance.

What are the main characteristics of airbeds?

Today’s air beds are designed to look like the familiar mattress/box spring combination, with an air-filled core providing the support instead of an innerspring unit or foam core.

The air chambers are completely enclosed and protected within layers of foam. Electronically controlled they pump and release air in and out of the mattress so that comfort and firmness can be adjusted individually for each person, distributing body weight evenly, gently cushioning the body and providing relief to pressure points, back pain, neck, shoulders, hips, etc. These air chambers allow the mattress to distribute body weight evenly, which is why they are highly recommended for people with back pain.

Where can I find more information about mattresses and how can I find a good store to buy one?

If you need more information about mattresses and bed bases it is worthwhile contact a good store with qualified salespersons in contrast to Internet shopping or buying out of a catalogue. It is crucial to look for a shop with a good product presentation, individual consultation and the possibility to try out and compare different mattress types. And if after that you are able to choose a convincing quality product it will be an investment in restful sleep and health at the same time.