A bed should be comfortable – a truism if ever there was one, but one that a lot of people don’t realise when hunting for a new bed. Comfort is undoubtedly the most important factor when buying a bed, not how many springs it has, whether it has been into space, or how many layers of fillings it has. If it isn’t comfortable, it’s the wrong bed.
Going to bed at night doesn’t have to be a puritanical experience (unless you really want it to be) so the mattress should welcome you and wrap around your shoulders and hips.
Customers sometimes ask us for a ‘firm’ bed in the mistaken belief that it’s somehow a magic cure for lower back pain and other ailments that they suffer from. It may well be that a firmer bed would help their condition, but equally, it could be the worst thing for them. If you are buying a bed because of a medical condition, seek advice from a medical professional as to what type of bed will support you before coming to look.
Remember too that you can spend 5 minutes on the floor without being overly uncomfortable but 5 hours would be a different story. Take your time and if the mattress feels a little soft at first, you’ll likely discover it’s the right one after you’ve lain on it for a couple of hours.
If like most people who are looking for a bed, you are not comfortable with your existing bed, chances are you bought a bed that’s too hard for you based on the above, and you wake up on your front with lower back pain and sore shoulders as your body has tried (and failed) to get comfortable during the night.
Body movement during sleep is perfectly normal, but should not be caused by a build-up of pressure on the joints or by the person next to you getting out of bed - and a good choice of bed will help in minimising this, aiding restful sleep.
Beds are generally made up of two parts: the mattress and the base (or divan as it is also known). The combinations of these two items are what give the bed its overall comfort and a compromise on one will always affect the other, and, therefore, the feel of the bed.
Mattresses fall into three main categories, as listed below, and each has their merits. Generally, the more expensive a mattress, the more it has in it and this continues until it isn’t possible to stuff any more filling in. The mattress will make up about 2/3 of the cost of a bed and as it is the surface in contact with the sleeper, is the most vital part to get right. Be very aware of how you feel on the day when shopping - shop on a Sunday morning after having been out Saturday night and just about anything will feel comfortable!
These are the traditional mattresses that have been around for over 100 years. Before that, a mattress was largely a bag stuffed with an organic material like straw or feathers, but these are rare today and certainly wouldn’t feature in a run-of-the-mill bed shop.
The spring mattress again falls into two main categories: open coil spring and pocket spring. The open coil mattress - as the name suggests - has a layer of mesh on the bottom, large springs wired to it in the middle and another layer of mesh on the top like a mesh bread on a spring sandwich. Layers of padding are then added to one or both sides to make the mattress softer.
This is the type of mattress that can be easily produced in large quantities and has a very cost-effective way of production - and they are lightweight and well-tailored as the springs make a natural chassis for the cover to sit on. The downside is that, as all of the springs are attached to each other, any movement on one side of the bed will, by the laws of physics, be transmitted across the bed to the other side. It can also be the case that if the ‘filling’ is not sufficiently rigid then the mattress can suffer from lateral movement, making it wobble like a giant, fabric-covered jelly.
Pocket spring mattresses
Pocket spring mattresses have individual springs that sit upright in their own fabric sleeve and can be arranged in a single layer or in double layers (or exceptionally triple layers) for extra comfort. Various fillings are then put above and below the springs and the whole mix is then sewn into a large cover that secures the springs around the edge.
This is done using a technique called ‘side stitching’ where the springs around the border are secured to the edges of the mattress, and by tufting the mattress by running a series of strings straight through the mattress and attaching wool or felt ‘tufts’ to the surface. The advantages are that the number of springs in the mattress can be greatly increased as more and more narrow springs can be nested together, and the layers of fillings can add to the spring story to create a sumptuous level of comfort.
The theory is that the more springs there are the better the mattress can conform to the shape of your body, but this is only useful on two conditions:
1) The springs are working by flexing under the weight of your body
2) They are big enough to provide a level of support when matched with the fillings
Mattresses can be made firmer or softer simply by using a thicker wire that doesn’t bend as much - and if the wire is too thick, it makes no difference how many of them there are, as they are not doing their fundamental job of allowing the body to lay in comfort on the surface of the mattress. This is the reason why weight is an important factor in choosing the right tension for a mattress – the lighter you are, the less impact you will make on a thicker wired spring, the heavier – the more.
The springs are, however, only half the story, as it’s the combination of the spring with the fillings on top of them that make up the feel of the bed. We have three beds on display all with ‘medium’ springing, so they should all feel very similar if you’re taking into account the springing alone, but they don’t because the fillings on top of the springs are all different. Thick layers of luxury fillings like wool and horsehair act like millions of little natural springs on top of the metal ones in the pockets below them, and it is these layers that give the mattress a ‘depth’ of comfort that cannot be achieved any other way.
The cost and exceptional comfort that comes with this type of construction is reflected in the final price, placing these types of mattress at the higher end of the price range. Top UK brands like Vi-Spring and Hypnos excel at this type of mattress.
Viscoelastic mattresses or memory foam
Viscoelastic foam came about as a result of NASA research into how to create a material that would help astronauts withstand the pressures created during take off in the Space Shuttle programme. This dense, foam-like material shapes itself around an object placed upon it and becomes increasingly pliable around body temperature, making it feel like soft dough.
This makes it ideal for pressure relief on a mattress surface as it can provide support for areas where increased weight is placed upon it, and when the pressure is removed it returns to its original shape. This makes it ideal for use on electric beds where the mattress needs to bend back to its original shape after lifting at the head or foot ends.
First brought to market by Tempur, they have now been made in many different forms and in many different qualities that are impossible to gauge with the naked eye, and they have also mixed with other styles of mattress like springs. If you want a long-lasting mattress, buy the best one that you can afford as the quality of the materials used in the manufacture will, ultimately, affect how long it lasts.
Less popular than they used to be, latex mattresses are, as the name suggests, made of naturally occurring latex rubber that is then formed into large blocks, sliced up and put into a cover to make up a mattress. Holes run through the mattress to provide ventilation, and many devotees of these mattresses will seek them out again when their first one has worn out.
The mattress is, however, only half the story; it also matters what lies beneath…
A divan base can be sprung edged, firm-edged, or have a solid top.
Sprung edge baseshave either an open coil type spring system, or a pocket spring system like the mattresses above. The springs reach right to the edges of the base - hence the spring edge - and these provide support for the mattress across the entire surface of the base.
Firm edge bases are similar in the middle but have a raised board at the sides, providing extra support around the edge of the bed. This can also be called a well spring as the spring section is sunken into the wooden frame.
Solid top bases have a solid board across the surface, but this normally would have holes in it for the mattress to ventilate properly. This type of base can provide the firmest support for the mattress.
Box bases or bed bases are a traditional shallow frame that can be put onto a metal rail running between a headboard and a footboard to allow an empty space under the bed for storage or aesthetics. Confusingly, they can be sprung, firm or solid, just like the full depth base.
Slatted bases came into use as a cheaper alternative to the box base and can have solid or flexible slats running side to side across a bed frame. These are normally made of laminated timber in order to allow some movement, and sometimes be tension-adjustable by the use of plastic slides across the shoulder or hip areas.
If you consider the principle of the more springing and energy absorption, the better the bed should feel, it follows that the best feel is only achieved by a full divan base or a bed base, as slats cannot provide the mattress with the same level of support across the sleeping surface and tend to be rigid and bouncy. However they remain a very cost-effective way to provide a sleeping surface and remain popular in many countries.
Always buy the biggest bed that you can afford that will fit in your room. As a child, you probably had a 3’ standard single bed (90cm), yet as an adult, we are expected to fit two people into a 4’6” ‘double’ bed, giving each sleeper half as much room as they had as a child. If you have a bigger bed, you will likely sleep better.
Bedding is readily available for 6’ x 6’6” beds (180 x 200 cm), and the mattress can be made in one or two pieces for ease of access and weight. Try to ask for the bed you want by physical size, as terms such as ‘kingsize’ can mean different sizes to different people in different places, and you can easily end up with a size you didn’t want. Bear in mind, too, that continental bed frames carry continental sizes (140 & 160cm widths) - and while these are not unusual nowadays, it’s always best to run a tape measure over your frame to make sure of the exact size that you need.
Storage in a divan base seems like an obvious idea and is sometimes a necessity. Providing the drawers do not interfere with the springing on the base, there should be no impact on the feel of the bed, but this isn’t always the case and it’s worth checking before adding drawers to your order.
Recommended lifespans for beds vary depending on the quality and use of the mattress. If you’ve had yours for over 8 years, it’s worth having a look at the bed carefully and asking yourself if it’s still as comfortable as you remember. Often a bed is purchased as a necessity rather than as an addition to the house, but if you can replace it before it’s given way and is damaging your posture, then this is better in the long run.
Ultimately, buying a bed is a decision based on personal preference. We have the experience to know whether a mattress is comfortable just by the posture of the body (and often the look on the customer’s face). As stated at the beginning, comfort is key, and so the bed you choose may not be the most expensive, or the prettiest, or the one with the most features, but it will be the right one - so invest wisely and buy the bed your body tells you too because, in the end, your head will thank you for it.
Ready to find your next bed or mattress? Shop direct with us here or visit our showroom on London Road, Sheffield, and speak with one of our furniture specialists.
In search of even more interior inspiration? Dive into the Ponsford blog to read more of our expert tips.