Mattress Shopping 101

Mattress Shopping 101

Tips to increase the odds of getting a good mattress

  • Go to a shop that offers a range of brands and models from different manufacturers, with mattresses ranging from soft to firm on display for you to try.
  • Find a manufacturer that is also a retailer. You’ll see the materials they use, products are generally cheaper and they can custom-make a mattress to suit your needs.
  • Ask to be shown a cross-section of the mattress you’re interested in. Look for natural fibre coverings such as cotton and bamboo, which allow skin to breathe. Avoid polyester or nylon coverings.
  • Ask for specifications such as what fibres are used, what type of springs the mattress has and how many, as well as the density of the memory foam, foam or latex. Ask how the mattress is “layered”; if this is a mystery to sales staff, don’t buy from that retailer. Ask to be shown a cross-section of the mattress you’re interested in.
  • Test the model you like in other stores. Mattresses may become well tested by previous bed shoppers and the same mattress may feel different.
  • Wear loose and comfortable clothes, with shoes you can easily slip off. Test out the mattress with your sleeping partner and preferred pillows for at least 30 minutes.
  • Lie on your back and try to slide your hand under the small of your back. If it slides very easily, or your shoulders and hips feel uncomfortable, the bed’s too firm.
  • Your spine should be straight when you’re lying on your side (top). If the mattress is too soft (centre) or hard (bottom) it will be curved (see Which one’s just right? below).
  • Try to roll over. It will take a lot of effort if the bed’s too soft, and will feel uncomfortable on your hips and shoulders if it’s too firm.
  • Mattress corners should have weight and substance, and edges should be solid but resilient.
  • When you roll around, the mattress shouldn’t creak, crunch or wobble.
  • Make sure the base under the mattress you’re testing is similar to yours. For instance, if you have a hard base (fixed slats or just board) at home and you’re testing a mattress on a spring base, you’ll find it feels a lot different at home. Ask the shop staff to let you test it on the floor.
  • Be aware that mattresses with pillow-tops retain more heat and can’t be turned for impact distribution. There’s no cure for a mattress that feels too hot; all you can do is get out of bed.
  • Ask if you can return the mattress if you find it uncomfortable. Only a handful of stores, such as Ikea, have a “comfort” returns policy. I have found Sleepy’s in Osborne Park to be quite good – 60 day return policy.
  • Ask the retailer about its returns policy, including transport to the retailer’s store and re-delivery charges.
  • Don’t fall for “osteopathic” or “chiropractic” advertising. It means little unless it’s from an accredited source (APA or CAA).
  • Check the warranty, as most do not cover comfort. Some warranties cover different parts of the mattress, or are based on a pro-rata basis. For example, Tempur provides a full guarantee of its mattresses for the first five years, but the guarantee depreciates by 10% annually from the sixth to the 15th year.

Sleeping Comfortable Mattress

How firm should the mattress be?

  • Orthopaedic experts generally recommend you go for the firmest (most supportive, not ‘hardest’) mattress you find comfortable.
  • The key lies in the line of your spine. It should be straight when you lie on your side, and maintain a natural curve when you lie on your back. If the support unit is too hard or too soft, your spine won’t be straight
  • If a bed is too firm, you’ll get pressure points at the heaviest parts of your body. This reduces blood circulation and signals your body to turn over, while the muscles in your back and neck have to work harder to keep your spine straight.
  • As you get older, your body will appreciate softer padding to support and protect pressure points.
  • 5 zone mattresses are generally the gold standard – different pressure points for different regions.

Caring for your mattress

  • Turn it over and rotate it end to end regularly. Alternate the flipping and turning so that both sides of the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of the mattress get equal wear. Please note that this will not work with a pillow-top.
  • Some manufacturers recommend turning or rotating every two weeks for the first three months, then every two or three months thereafter. One-sided mattresses only need rotating.
  • Replace your mattress every 7-10 years if good quality.

Structural Considerations


  • Five factors can influence the degree of comfort, support and durability of a mattress: the number of springs or coils, their shape, the gauge of wire used, the number of turns in each spring and the distribution of the springs.
  • The spring unit is the main source of support for your body.
  1. The Number of Springs
    There should be at least 300 coils in a double bed, 375 in a queen-size and 450 in a king-size.
  2. Spring Shape
    • Continuous coil springing
    • Open-ended coils
    • Pocket-spring mattresses
      Consist of a grid of springs, each in their own fabric pocket. Because they’re not wired together, each spring is able to work more or less independently the weight on one spring doesn’t affect those surrounding it (except for pull by the mattress cover).
      Tests consistently rate pocket-spring mattresses the most comfortable type of inner-spring mattress.
      The most comfortable spring system comes down to personal preference and depends, among other things, on your size and weight, and whether you sleep alone or with a partner.
  3. Wire gauge
    • Not all springing systems are made from wire with the same strength, durability and quality.
    • The lower the number, the more durable the wire (that is, 13-gauge wire is thicker and stronger than 16-gauge).
    • Wire may also be measured in millimetres — obviously the higher the number the thicker it is.
  4. Active turns
    • A further variation is the number of active turns in the spring or coil — that is, the number of turns that are absorbing and supporting the weight of the body.
    • The more turns, the softer the bed and the longer the springs will last because the work is spread around.
    • Some also include side or edge support springs, which provide more strength and support at the edge of the mattress, and protect against the spring and comfort systems breaking down around the edge of the bed (which is thought to be a major cause of mattress failure).


  • A manufacturer that makes a large range of mattresses will often use the same spring unit but vary the fillings — the more expensive the mattress, the better the filling. And the better the filling, the longer the mattress should last.
  • At the top end of the market (over $2500) fillings include silk, wool, cashmere, premium foams, bamboo, latex and goose-down.
  • At the lower end (under $700), materials include lower grades of foam, reclaimed cotton fibres and coconut fibre. These don’t tend to last as long because they break apart more easily, forming lumps and pockets, and lose their ability to spring back more quickly.
  • You might want to think twice about getting a ‘pillow top’ mattress. They tend to lose their ability to bounce back over time.


  • Latex and foam mattresses work best on a flexible slat base; fixed slats are fine for inner-spring mattresses. There is no such thing as a mattress that shouldn’t go on a slatted base.
  • A mattress may last longer on a sprung base, but a slatted-base bedstead itself could last a lifetime (unlike a spring base).
  • Some manufacturers void warranty if placed on a slatted base.

People with special needs

Elderly people and those who have asthma or back problems have special needs, and should consider the following points when choosing a mattress.

  • An inner-spring mattress can be very heavy and may be difficult to flip or turn regularly by people who are older or have back problems. A foam mattress may be a better option here.
  • The same people may have difficulty getting into and out of a bed that’s too high or too low. When you sit on the edge of the bed, your feet should reach the ground comfortably, and you shouldn’t need to use much effort to stand.
  • If you’re prone to pressure pain from sitting or lying in the same position for too long, choose a mattress with soft padding.
  • Don’t go too soft — the underlying support (provided by the spring unit) should be firm enough to allow you to roll over and sit up easily. The softness should come only from the surface cushioning.
  • Beds with names involving ‘paedic’, ‘chiro’, ‘ortho’ and so on aren’t necessarily better for you than others without medical-sounding terms — it could just be the marketing.
  • Also be wary of endorsements from medical-sounding organisations. While some are legitimate, in some cases manufacturers buy the rights to use one, rather than earn it, and other manufacturers have been found to claim endorsements from impressive-sounding but non-existent organisations.
  • Although a firm bed can help some lower back pain, a bed that’s too firm could also aggravate some back conditions. Some back problems may benefit from a soft bed, so it’s important to ask your doctor or back-care specialist for advice first.
  • Asthmatics and allergy sufferers may find that an anti-allergy cover will help prevent dust-mites settling in the mattress. Vacuum your mattress regularly. A slatted bed base will improve ventilation and provide fewer places for allergens to accumulate.



  • Must be turned regularly to avoid mildew
  • Very firm, best for people with small builds as they wont adapt to your curves as easily


  • Must be filled – newer ones better


  • Not suitable for everyday use, the quality we get in Australia is not same as in Europe


  • Natural rubber – expensive, need expensive flexible slat base. Expected to last 20-25 yrs, good for allergy sufferers. Rate high on tests for comfort. One with firm inner core, then soft outer layer.

Memory Foam

  • They’re reported to be very comfortable and luxurious feeling, and are excellent in terms of minimising partner disturbance. But they’re not for everyone – they’ve also been described as like ‘sleeping on wet or hard sand’.
  • Overall they tended to score less than foam, latex or pocket-spring mattresses and equal to regular (Bonnell-spring) inner-spring mattresses.
  • The main criticism was that the softness of the mattress makes it hard to move in your sleep, therefore requiring more physical effort. Heavy people in particular might find it difficult. Small movements (as opposed to full-scale tossing and turning, which is caused by blood-flow restriction at pressure points) are important for spine health.

Reputable Association Endorsements

Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA)

  • The APA endorses two ranges of sleep products: Simmons BackCare and Sleepmaker Physio.
  • Simmons BackCare Range of beds are available from all Forty Winks bedding stores nationally.
  • The Sleepmaker Physio Range of beds are available from the Bedshed stores in Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia.

Chiropractic Association of Australia (CAA)

  • The Chiropractic Collection Range from Sleepmaker


If you are experiencing pain related to an unsuitable mattress, book an appointment with one of our experienced Physiotherapists or Chiropractors to assess your needs: