Mattress Comparison & Buying Guide

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Pressure Points
Pocket Spring Mattresses
Foam Mattresses - Memory Foam & Tempur Latex Mattresses
Water Beds

First Published: 6/2009
Last Updated: 26/5/2014

Pressure Points & Comfort:

When we consider a mattress, we should consider how supportive it is, how well it suits your girth and skeletal structure whilst sleeping both on your back and on your side, and also that it provides a sufficiently even spread of pressure across the contact areas between the body and the mattress to prevent pressure point paints. Pressure points are essentially where the mattress meets the body. On a traditional spring mattress (a single wire mesh), there are fewer points of contact with the body, so those points of contact there are have to take the whole weight of the body and exert more pressure. The more contact/pressure points there are, the less pressure each point has to exert on the body. Ideally a mattress should mould to the side of your body, exerting pressure evenly in all places. Such mattresses usually have a summer side and a winter side, with less textile material between you and the springs in the former case. I have found the summer side on such a mattress to be extremely painful, as the springs can be felt though the surface of the mattress, resulting in sharp points of contact where springs literlly dig into your shoulder!

Please see the Posture page for information regarding ideal posture, including sleeping posture.

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Pocket Spring Mattresses

Pocket spring mattresses are newer type of spring mattress, and there are a wide variety in the marketplace. They come in different spring stiffness ratings, and also in different numbers of springs per mattress. They start at around 600 and may go up to 3000, depending of course of the size of the mattress and the size of the pocket springs. The springs all work independently. All spring mattresses require turning and rotation every few months or they tend to sag in the most slept areas.

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Foam Mattresses - Memory Foam & Tempur

Foam mattresses provide more support than spring mattresses as the foam tends to exert more event pressure and those provide many 'tiny' pressure points, rather than a pressure point the size of a spring on the spring mattress. There are two main types of foam mattress of interest, latex mattresses and Tempur mattresses.

Tempur, also known as Tempurpedic in the USA, is a development of a type of foam first used by NASA, and has been on the market since 1998. The foam is a visco elastic temperature sensitive material which is said to only compress when it is warmed up. This property is said to make a Tempur bed cold to get into a night, but once warmed up, it stays warm. Whilst the manufacturer claims that it stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter, it is generally said to feel much warmer than other types of mattress, too warm for some people. Part of the reason for this increase in heat is the larger degree of contact between the mattress and the body, and also perhaps the increased blood circulation You may not want to use a mattress cover/protector on top of a Tempur mattress as it may simply be too hot, even if it means getting the odd bodily fluid on your mattress. Latex mattresses are also supposed to sleep warmer than spring mattresses, although most report that they are slightly cooler than Tempur mattresses.

The problem with visco elastic material is that it takes a few seconds or so to compress and so when changing position, it may feel temporarily uncomfortable whilst it adapts, or wake you up when you roll over (feeling cold and hard). Tempur mattresses however also include a thick layer of polyurethane foam to give them a little springiness. Some complain about Tempur mattresses as they feel like butter then you put your weight on them and are not ideal for love making (!), as if you put your weight through your hand, it slowly sinks into it. Because Tempur mattresses sink as you lie on them, they may not be suitable for applications where you change bodily position frequently, or do not want the mattress to compress so readily, such as during sex. However, a bed's primarly function is for sleeping and sex does not always have to be in bed! Because the mattress only compresses where there is pressure and otherwise seeks to rise back up, it may not be the most comfortable thing to use if you tend to lie on your side with your arm straight out to the side. In this case, the mattress may push up onto your elbow and mean your under arm is hyperextended - this happened to me and I found that my elbow ached after a while and I had to stop sleeping like this.

Another issue with Tempur mattresses is that they are made from petrochemicals and thus volatile organic chemical toxins and compounds will be emitted from the mattress when new, for some weeks. New owners report that they stink. Tempur do not see fit to aerate their products for weeks prior to shipping them to customers but deliver them freshly made from the factory. It would be akin to the smell of a new car (glues, solvents, petrochemical compounds from the foams and plastics etc - some people perversely like this as it 'feels new' even though it is poisoning them!!) If you do use a Tempur mattress you will want to keep your bedroom window open for a few weeks or leave it in the garage to de-odourise. My Tempur mattress stank intolerably the first night, so much so that he could hardly breathe. I felt I was suffocating all night long and felt really ill for a few days afterwards! The smell subsided after a week or two, but it wasn't really until 2 months after first installing it that I was able to leave my bedroom window closed for most of the day without it stinking out the bedroom. To what degree toxic chemical emissions continue after this time and for how long, even though they are not significantly noticed, is uncertain.

Regarding longeivity of a mattress, some report latex to last longer than Tempur, which some have reported has lost some of its initial support after a year or two, which is not covered by the 15 year warranty unless it is physically seen to sag when one has gotten off the mattress.

Tempur mattresses are medically recognised and recommended by many osteopaths. However, not all practitioners make mattress recommendations, as so much depends on mattress thickness with foam mattresses as to whether it will be good or bad for your back. A different weight, height and bone structure may dictate that one needs a harder or softer mattress, or a specific thickness, compared with the next person. The National Health Service in the UK use Tempur mattresses in hospitals, but only do so with the 14cm mattress, which not commonly sold to the public, who are sold thicker and more expensive versions. The 14cm mattress is used in certain hospital beds where patients who lie or sit around in bed 24 hours a day will develop less pressure point pains that in other types of beds. Such thin mattresses may however be too hard for the average person, and also those that sleep on their side. In general terms, the thicker the Tempur mattress, the softer it is, although certain new mattress constructions by Tempur are very hard for their thickness, so one really has to try it to be sure it won't drive you nuts and be uncomfortable. NASA do endorse Tempur mattresses, but then one could argue that their astronauts are prepared to die every time they go into space and are expendable.

I purchased a 22cm thick Tempur mattress, known in the UK as a Deluxe-HD. This has an 11cm polyurethane foam base, then a 9cm Tempur visco-elastic temperature sensitive layer, with a 2cm Quilted Cover of HD 'soft touch' Tempur material on top. This is embedded into the top of the mattress. Some critics say that this mattress only has this quilted top layer so it looks nice, and on paper it has less Tempur material in it than an equivalent 20cm or 25cm Tempur mattress. However, the quilted layer makes this mattress 'cooler' than other Tempur mattresses. I have experienced this myself in a Tempur distributor's showroom. I also found the 15cm Combi mattress and the 20cm Combi-HD mattress far too hard for sleeping on his side. I preferred the Deluxe-HD by far. I have not tried the 25cm Combi-HD Mattress, and am uncertain whether this was more comfortable than my Deluxe-HD or not. It would certainly have slept warmer, a common criticism of Tempur mattresses. I did try two other Tempur mattresses, the Sensation and the Celebrity. The 25cm Sensation mattress contains a thicker polyurethane base with columns to allow for more compression and air circulation lower down in the mattress. It is designed to mimmick the springiness of a sprung mattress, and as a result rather defeats the point of buying a Tempur mattress - you may as well buy a composite pocket spring and memory foam mattress. I found it rather uncomfortable for sleeping on my side. By contrast, the 31cm Celebrity mattress is hugely thick! At 31cm, if you have a headboard on your bedstead, or a footboard, it will disappear with this mattress! Buying such a mattress may require buying a very low solid slat bed. However, besides this, I found it incredibly comfortable for my long, skinny frame with my wide hips and shoulders. However given the significant extra cost and impracticality over the 22cm Deluxe-HD, I settled for the Deluxe-HD. The Deluxe-HD was still too soft for sleeping on one's back, and as stated above, you have to choose the resistance of a mattress according to whether you habitually sleep on your side or your back as no mattress will be good for both sleeping positions.

In hindsight, seeing as I was paying a small fortune for the Deluxe-HD anyway, it would have been better to have bought the Celebrity mattress. The Deluxe-HD is quite firm, but I would say that it supports my posture well, but still produces minor pressure spots on my shoulder, on occasion, if spending too much of the night lying on one side more than the other. The Celebrity may sleep slightly warmer but it was really very comfortable. I would NOT recommend buying a Tempur mattress without trying it, and although it is hard to predict how it will be after a few minutes or more of lying on it in the showroom, you really need to decide very carefully! One may also want to consider that a very thick/high mattress requires longer and wider sheets and bed linen. You may not be able to effectively tuck in your existing duvet at the bottom or sides of the bed, and this may result in the sheets all coming loose during the night.

Tempur mattresses in the UK are offered at full list price by Tempur, but they offer a trial on any mattress, so one can get a full refund if one doesn't like it. One should still visit a dealer showroom to try it as the mattress you see in the brochure may sound great but you will know within 5 seconds whether it is too hard or not. There are many discount dealers around (no trial period available from these), and Tempur state that they will not provide any warranty unless it is purchased from an authorised dealer, as they cannot identify the product with certainty (!) Buyers should be aware that there are many 'fake' Tempur mattresses, using a Tempur mattress cover, but containing cheap foam, being sold on various auction web sites. Some people say that the Tempur 15 year warranty is worthless as if it doesn't provide the support it once did, if it doesn't sag when you aren't lying on it, then it is still considered to be within specifications, i.e. not worn out and not eligible for a warranty claim. Some claim their Tempur mattresses last for years and other say that they wear out after a year.

There are a number of products on the market that have copied Tempur, that are marketed as memory foam. They are not reputed to be as good, but are considerably cheaper. Tempur does not have a 'memory' as such, but responds to pressure and heat. Memory foam, in the literal sense, does not respond to heat but rather develops a memory of where you slept. Whether all memory foam really has 'memory' is debatable. A number of combination mattresses can be seen on the market too, which incorporate pocket springs and also a memory foam layer. These tend to be more comfortable and provide a slightly better spread of weight support than a purely spring mattress that will have fewer pressure points, but a combination mattress is unlikely to ever provide as much support (and spread the weight and pressure as well) as a pure foam mattress, on account of the springs in the base layer.

One thing that should be considered is that a purely foam mattress, whether Tempur(pedic), Latex, memory foam or Essentia, should only be used on a bed frame/bedstead with solid slats, i.e. one with no flex in it whatsoever. A bed frame with inbuild springs or sprung wooden slats (which act like springs) will cause sagging and negate much of the effect of the foam in terms of relieving pressure pains. Most bed frames seem to feature sprung slats, which should only really be used with spring or combination mattress or a thin foam mattress of the worst quality. So if you are buying a bed, make sure you check that the slats are correct for your mattress. This may be relevant for those who do not care for the style of the bedsteads or divans offered by manufacturers such as Tempur. As long as the bedstead is secure and solid and has solid slats, it should be fine for your foam mattress.

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Latex Mattresses

Latex is a natural rubber latex foam, created using the Talalay method (CO2 filling). It has been around since the 1960s, and the most famous manufacturer is Dunlopillo. Whilst having a distinct odour, it is a natural product and does not give off any toxic chemical compounds. However, some people are allergic to latex. No latex proteins may however come into contact with the body and so there may be no allergic reaction from afflicted individuals. from the rubber tree, and also synthetic latex, which is chemically produced. Latex is more naturally 'springy' than Tempur, and after removing the weight from it, it springs straight back up again, however it is not quite as effective at supporting the body totally uniformly and preserving correct skeletal alignment as Tempur, so sources tend to say.

Clearly a Latex mattress is the healthier option in toxicological terms (initially) - assuming it is made using natural glues and not petrochemical based glues (which is not uncommon). It may be similar to fitting new carpets, which are predominantly petrochemical-based. Those who have a latex mattress for health reasons should be aware of any plastics or synthetics in their bedrooms or houses in general, and in particular the pillow material they use, as this is in direct contact with the face and close to the airways. Of course, as mentioned above, some people have allergy issues with Latex. Some latex mattresses incorporate a layer of cotton and wool, which is protected against mold and decomposition by certain antimicrobial essential oils, which means such 'organic' mattresses can smell quite strongly. Some may have allergy issues with the wool layers also, which may not come into physical contact with the body.

A new type of latex mattress was launched in 2006 by a Canadian company called Essentia. It is said to be the world's only natural memory foam, and is made from latex with some additional processing that gives it a 'memory foam' feel. Resellers are only now starting to provide local sales in different countries.

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Water beds

Another alternative is a waveless water bed, not the kind that produces waves when you move on it that you see in old 1970s movies during 'erotic scenes'. This is unlikely to provide quite the same support as a Latex or Tempur mattress. It should come with a built-in electrical heater on a thermostat, to keep it warm at night, as otherwise it would be very cold and rob you of your body heat. The EM fields generated by the heater may not be suit you nor the additional cost of your electricity bill. The advantage is that as long as it doesn't leak, it should never actually wear out, unlike foam-based and spring-based mattresses that will wear out eventually.

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Whatever type of mattress you choose, it is worth picking what suits you best. There is no perfect mattress, as all have their plus and minus points, but one may suit you better than any other. It is a worthwhile investment seeing as you may spend a third or more of your life on it, and your health and wellbeing is dependent on it to some extent.

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