How we test mattresses: our deep sleep essentials

Some people call it sleeping on the job, others call it serious research. Here's how our experts test and review the best mattresses on the market

Emma Original Mattress on a double bed in room with white walls, a cream rug, and two side tables
(Image credit: Emma)

Investing in a mattress means setting aside some serious money, so you'll want to ensure it's a wise investment. It can be difficult to determine how well a mattress will meet your sleeping needs, so our team of sleep experts work tirelessly to cover all bases.

At woman&home, we like to think of ourselves as your guinepigs. Our guide to the best mattresses covers everything that you would if money, time, and effort were no object. 

Our experts sleep on mattresses for months, across the seasons, over numerous years so we can give you deep sleep details. We cover every kind of sleeper: side, front, back, hot, cold, restless, and more. You name it, we test for it. 

The process for how we test mattresses dives into edge support, temperature transfer, and motion isolation. Essentially, we pressure test the ambitious promises that brands make by looking at all the factors that you can't judge from just scrolling on a screen.

With a jam-packed mattress industry, full of innovative bed-in-a-box start-ups and big-name brands, you'll need to be discerning. We have a big team of expert sleep freelancers who work independently of any sponsorship. 

We rarely condone sleeping on the job, but when you're an expert in dreams, sweet slumbers, and sublime comfort, it's a necessity.

How we choose which mattresses we test

Simba hybrid mattress topper review

(Image credit: Future / Louise Oliphant)

Like you, we do our research before we start testing any mattress. In fact, our team of experts is dedicated to keeping a close eye on the mattress market, anticipating trends, and consumer demands, and choosing which mattresses can meet different needs. 

We're at a point in life when hot flushes and sciatica are close to a chronic condition, so if your mattress can start to soothe those issues, they can feel like a godsend.

We want to make sure that our mattress-buying guides cover every price point, style of sleeping, body shape, and more. We look at memory foam innerspring and hybrid mattresses, as well as the best cooling mattresses. That way, once you've read what our experts have to say, you won't have any sleep questions keeping you up at night.

Why we talk about ordering, delivery, unboxing, and disposal

Panda mattress topper review by Louise Oliphant in test

(Image credit: Future / Louise Oliphant)

If you can remember the days before bed-in-a-box mattresses graced the scene, you'll know the pain of transporting mattresses around. Some still come in huge amounts of packaging, which you'll definitely want a heads-up for. Plus, if your mattress comes in a compact box that's easy to manoeuvre, we think it's worth praising.

We'll let you know how the delivery process works, how easy the mattress is to move around our homes, and whether it comes in eco-friendly packaging or with lots of soft plastics. The mattress industry has struggled with its sustainable credentials for a while, so it's great when brands make an effort.

If the mattress is one which comes in a box, you'll have to let it expand. We take notes on how much time the process requires and whether there's any distinctive smell to the mattress. That might sound obscure but foam mattresses can have a very off-putting gassy smell. It fades with time, but, again, you'll want a heads-up.

Simba hybrid mattress topper review

(Image credit: Future / Louise Oliphant)

Lots of new brands will also dispose of your old mattress, which is fantastic news for you and the planet. According to mattress recycling experts, the TFR Group, 8.5 million mattresses end up in landfill every year in the UK, so if you can do your bit, it's worth making the effort.

We'll let you know if an exchange scheme is on offer since brands don't often shout about it. Some will collect your mattress when they deliver it, others do it as a separate interaction. In this instance, you'll need some space to store your mattress. Either way, if this is on offer, you'll want to make use of it.

How we measure what a mattress is like to sleep on

The White Company mattress protector

(Image credit: The White Company)

What is the mattress like to sleep on? Arguably, this is the most important part of our review. Our team of experts are already sleep-savvy. If we don't have tech that tracks our sleep, we at least record our sleep styles, how often we wake up, sleep temperatures, and comfort levels. If we share the bed with another person, we'll let you know how well the bed handles combination or conflicting sleep styles and motion transfer.

Just one night isn't enough of a test for a mattress, so we sleep on every mattress we review for at least a month. That's a full lunar cycle where our hormones and lifestyle will fluctuate a suitable amount. In this time, we can see how consistent a mattress is at supporting our sleep. We'll look for long-term quirks or features that stand out the more that we sleep on the mattresses.

Often, mattress companies don't want their mattress back, so our experts sleep on them for a lot longer. Some of our reviewers sleep on them for years, giving our reviews seasonal updates, so you'll know how good the mattress is in the hot and sticky summer as in the cold winter. We'll also let you know about any long-term changes that we notice and how often you'll need to change your mattress.

What constitutes a special feature and how do we test them?

Simba hybrid mattress topper review

(Image credit: Future / Louise Oliphant)

Within our sleep test, we'll cover some other special features. These span firmness, breathability and coolness, motion isolation, edge support and more.

When you're reading about mattresses, you'll see that they come with different firmness ratings, which span from soft to firm. Although these are treated as universal measurements, they're very person-dependent. Your preferences, as well as how heavy you are, will affect what you like. We've always found that our heavier sleepers prefer firm mattresses and lighter experts tend to prefer sleeping on a softer mattress. However, sleep style plays into that too.

Front sleepers need a firm surface to ensure that their hips and spine stay aligned as they sleep. Side sleepers will need a softer surface to help keep spinal alignment and then back sleepers will need a medium-firm surface again. If you suffer from back and joint pains, you'll probably want a medium-firm mattress too.

It's hard to apply objective measures to subjective firmness, so we look for a somewhat standardized reference point. We ask our experts to put weights on the bed. We look at how much these sink in and then give the softness a scale from 1 to 10. If the weights dip a lot, the mattress is soft. If you can't tell whether the weights are on the bed or not, then you have a really firm mattress.

Testing for cooling properties

Panda mattress topper review by Louise Oliphant in test

(Image credit: Future / Louise Oliphant)

We always assess our mattresses on their cooling properties. Whether you're a hot sleeper or struggling with hot flushes, your mattress can be the key to helping you towards a much more settled sleep. There are some obvious factors which play into cooling mattresses. For example, memory foam mattresses, trap heat, so they'll never give you as cool-a-night's sleep as an innersprung mattress. However, new brands have helix structures, carbon technology, and clever-sounding gels, which aren't always as effective as they promise to be.

We have a buying guide for the best cooling mattresses where we talk about all the clever tech that there is to help you keep cool when you sleep. When a brand claims that their mattress is cooling, we want to double and triple check their claims to make sure that what they're saying stands up in practice. Some are breathable, some covers are cool to the touch, and some come with cooling toppers, which you can remove. Whatever it is, we do a deep dive into the details.

We have hot sleepers aplenty in our team of experts, so we give them every cooling mattress that we think it is worth knowing about. If we can get them to test them in the summer or in a heatwave, we do. That way, we know we've taken the mattress to the extreme. We'll also see how they fare with other cooling sleep essentials, such as cooling pillows, so you can achieve an expert-approved night of breathable sleep. 

Testing for motion transfer

Simba hybrid mattress topper review

(Image credit: Future / Louise Oliphant)

Sleep divorces are becoming increasingly common as people put their sleep needs above pillow talk. If you share your bed (and want to keep it that way) you must have some good motion isolation on your mattress. We test motion isolation with our experts who share a bed. We see how they sleep after asking their partner to toss and turn in the night. It's a simple, practical, effective test.

Our other test is tough. On one side of the mattress, we put a full glass of water and then we'll either lie or place heavy weights on the other side of the bed. If the glass stays upright (which is rare) the mattress has impressive motion isolation technology. If it wobbles a little, it's still doing a good job. If it spills, this isn't the one for restless couples.

Another key feature that we assess is edge support. Your mattress must be consistent right up to the edges so that you can make the most of every inch. That applies to those who share a bed, starfish, or even those who want to be supported when they're perching on the edge. 

Our tests aren't complicated here, we do exactly what you would. We sit on the edge, lie on the edge, and test out how firm it feels compared to the claims that it makes. Then, we let you know whether it's consistent or not.

How we choose who it suits

Panda mattress topper review by Louise Oliphant in test

(Image credit: Future / Louise Oliphant)

The type of bed we test almost self-selects the kind of sleeper that it will suit. A firm mattress is great for back pain and hot sleepers, but not good for light, sensitive sleepers who run cold at night. Equally, a foam mattress is great for joint pains and pressure relief, but it can be cloying for hot sleepers who sweat in the night.

We look at all the special features, qualities, and findings of our tests so that we can tell people who we think these mattresses are best suited to. Outside of sleep styles, motion transfer, and special features, we also consider the homes in which they'll live. The size options, composition, and upfront costs will play into who these suits, but we have special categories for these. Keep scrolling to find out more. 

Why we talk about composition

innards of a mattress

(Image credit: Simba)

You spend a lot of time with your mattress, but you'll probably never see what's inside. It's really important to know what's going on in there since it'll need to coordinate with your sleeping style and general lifestyle and ethics. For example, if you're all about organic food, you'll likely want a natural, organic mattress. 

Brands are generally transparent about what materials their mattresses are made of. They'll talk about foams, materials, and fillings, often explaining how this affects the feel, firmness, and temperature regulation of your mattress. Some will boast about high-spec structures and gels. If that's all Greek to you, we translate it, so you know what you're getting in for.

Most importantly, we talk about the chemicals and substances inside a mattress. You'll want to know if yours has foam, fibreglass, organic materials, and eco-friendly fabrics so that it matches up with your morals. Similarly, latex is a popular component in lots of mattresses, but if you have allergies, you'll want to know about it.

How we assess value

Simba hybrid mattress topper review

(Image credit: Future / Louise Oliphant)

Mattress prices are hard to get your head around if you're not in the know. Some affordable models cost only £400 whilst others can easily hit £1,000 if they're luxury, organic, and custom-made. Your budget depends upon what you're willing to spend, but we have experience with all the mattresses on the market, so we can give you a relative assessment of how well the price tag translates to the performance.

Here, you'll also want to know how long your mattress is guaranteed. Few people follow the seven-year rule, so you might not need to place such a high premium on getting a lifetime warranty. Typically, most brands will give you a ten-year guarantee, but we'll comb through the fine print to make sure that this covers staining, sagging, and general wear and tear. 

We'll also let you know about any mattress deals and sales. Some brands boast non-stop sales and others are more rare. We let you know if it's worth waiting for a special sale event, when you can save hundreds of pounds, or whether you should dive right in because the mattress is excellent value at full price.

As part of the value, we'll also cover the trial periods. Sometimes, these are as short as a week, others are as much as a year. We'll let you know all the details of this, including how easy it is to send back if you decide one isn't for you. I've actually been one of the people who has sent my mattress back and it can be difficult. It's important that you don't have to suffer for years on a mistake-buy mattress, because, even with sleep expertise, you can make mistakes.

How we place it in the market

As people who have slept on every kind of mattress that there is on the market, we're well-placed to do some comparisons. It never hurts to take a look at mattresses which are similar to the one you like. In our reviews, we'll let you know about models with similar offerings at similar price points. Sometimes, these comparisons only serve to reinforce the stellar value of a product. Other times, spending a little more money can get you a lot more in terms of quality, guarantees, and special features.

It might sound like a smaller aspect of our reviews, but we think this section is really important. It helps you to make an informed decision. You should know what you want as much as you should know what you don't want and that's why we throw in some other options to consider.

How we give you our verdict

Picture of the Silentnight Lift Breathe mattress in testing

(Image credit: Anna Paul)

Lastly, we put our heads together to give you an overview of your mattress. We bring together who it suits, who it doesn't quite suit, the stand-out special features, and places where your mattress could do better. We always make sure to give some constructive criticism here, because you'll only find out the hard way if we don't tell you everything that we experience.

Our team of experts puts all of our findings into the reviews, buying guides, and other content that we write up so that we can support you throughout your mattress' lifespan. We let you know how to clean it, whether you need to put a mattress topper or a mattress protector on it, and more. 

Most importantly, our emails are always open for any questions or concerns you might have. We like to think we cover everything, but if there's something specific you need to know, why not ask the experts?

Laura Honey
Contributing Ecommerce Writer

Laura is a self-confessed, floral-obsessed, fragrance aficionado. She started out her career working for the luxury British perfume brand, Penhaligon's. Whilst working for the iconic brand, Laura qualified as a Master Perfumer and has now set up her own perfume studio. You'll often find her experimenting with her own perfumes, even though she still owns (and buys) more fragrances than she will ever admit to.Alongside her passion for perfume, Laura graduated with an English degree from Oxford University. Whilst there, she belonged to a number of women's groups, so was eager to move into women's writing. Her first job was with the female-owned fashion brand, The White Company. Here, Laura was their only Fashion Writer, so she helped to plan, write and promote the company's quality, luxury, and timeless clothing, season after season. In her evenings, she worked on a women's health start-up, which is coming to the market soon, offering supplements for women's health. Laura is also the eCommerce editor at one of Future's other magazines, Homes & Gardens where she specialises in covering all their coffee and product content, looking for pieces that are tailored for timelessness. The secret to her heart is both simplicity and quality.