The Most Important Questions to Ask When Buying A Mattress

So, you need a new mattress? I’ve asked that question a lot in my life because – believe it or not – I used to be a mattress salesman. Spending 6 years in a showroom full of beds (and working in the industry for over 20 years) has taught me a thing or two about the mattress industry. The headline is: there’s a lot of sizzle and very little sausage. And by that, I mean, you’ll find mattresses ranging from £100 to £20,000 that all claim they’ll solve all your sleeping woes. I’m not even sure how that’s possible! With that in mind, how do you pick a mattress that is right for you? Here are some questions to ask…

Will this mattress help to regulate my temperature?

The two biggest factors effecting sleep are anxiety and temperature. A mattress can’t help too much with stress (although a horribly uncomfortable one won’t help), but it can help when it comes to temperature regulation. And I don’t mean the temperature in your bedroom, I mean the temperature in between your duvet and your mattress – after all, that’s where you sleep! People who suffer from parasomnias (sleep walking, night terrors etc.) have a lot of trouble with temperature regulation, so this is an important issue to get right. You need a drop in core temperature to fall asleep. There is a misconception that you need to be swaddled up in blankets, but the only reason this makes you sleepy is because your body is fighting to cool you down, so your temperature drops and you fall asleep. But, it won’t be for long because those blankets will be heating you up and you’ll wake up again. What you need instead is a mattress made of natural materials with springs that encourages airflow. Natural duvets are also a good call, but if you are a hot sleeepr, feathers and down may not be the best as they are developed to trap heat in.

Are you trying to con me into buying a mattress with made-up benefits?

I have heard rumours of mattresses that respond to your temperature and actively warm you up/cool you down. I have heard of mattresses that can heal sleep ailments. I have heard of mattresses that can help you win the lottery. Only joking! But seriously, a lot of the claims made by the mattress industry would be pretty hard to prove, besides the fact we are all different so have varied mattress needs. If you go into a shop and the sales person is very excited about a particular brand, ask if they are getting commission. Different manufacturers will offer competing levels of commission, so make sure you’re not getting encouraged to buy a certain way to boost the bank account of the sales representative rather than your sleep. The best thing to do is to find a shop that allows you to take the mattress home and test it properly. If they are claiming it does 101 things, then put it to the test. Lying on a mattress in a showroom isn’t going to prove anything.

Does the mattress support you properly?

The right mattress is the foundation that the rest of our sleep is built upon and making sure the mattress offers you the support you need is extremely important. Feel and support are two different things, a soft mattress can be supportive and a firm mattress can also be supportive. Feel is cultural, it is what we are used to and we are emotionally connected to that feel. Support is whether the mattress will supoport our bodies properly and in particular the parts of our body that are heaviest such as our shoulders or hips. To test whether a mattress supports you properly you should lay on it, on your back, with a pillow behind your head and try and get your hand in the bottom of your back. If it goes in really easily, it isn't supporting you properly, if it won't go in at all, it isn't supporting you properly. You want it to go in with a struggle and for you to be able to wriggle your fingers a little. That ladies and gentleman is the Goldilocks Test!

Is this mattress covered in chemicals?

In the UK the fire regulations for furniture are super stringent. This is because in the 1979 a big Woolworths set on fire and people died because of the toxic foam in the budget sofas. Following this, the UK established some of the strictest fire regulations in the world. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not so fast, the jury is still out on this one. Some people argue that these chemicals are vital in reducing housefire deaths, whilst others argue that the few extra minutes they allow for escape can’t possibly outweigh the danger these toxic chemicals pose, both whilst sat in the mattress and when burnt. Many of the chemicals used in mattress production are very close in nature to pesticides and insecticides. But, regardless of whether they are a good or a bad idea, the main issue is that it is actually quite hard to find out what it is exactly that is in your mattress. For example, mattresses branded “organic” and “natural” very often still include chemicals because the labelling only applies to the cotton used not the actual mattress. And if you suffer with fibromyalgia or multiple chemical sensitivity, this branding can fool you into thinking these mattresses are safe. So, what to do? In the long term, campaigning the industry to include an ingredients list would be very helpful. But for now, make sure you ask the sales person what exactly is in the mattress; if it claims to be organic ask what sort of certification is has, and if it claims to be natural ask if it is still treated with chemicals.


I would love to hear about your experiences with your mattresses. Have you bought one that claims to regulate your temperature, but you still find yourself overheating? Do you have an organic mattress that you think has chemicals in? Have you experienced an over exited sales person who ignores your individual needs? Have you been sold a mattress that doesn't support you properly?