Basic buying guide for beds

Basic buying guide for beds

A good mattress is essential for a good night’s sleep and the energy you have throughout the next day. It also affects your posture. It’s important to match a mattress to your sleeping style. We look at what mattresses and bed bases are available and how to test them out.

Beds are one of the most important purchases of any household. Source: IKEA supplied

Spring mattresses

This standard mattress has a core of metal springs covered by foam and padding.

The springs
The springs are the part of the mattress that supports you and also gives the mattress its lifespan, so it’s essential to get a decent quality spring system.

There are five technical elements that spring mattresses are classified by the amount of, the shape of, and the number of turns in the springs (also called coils), the gauge (thickness) of the wire used, and the way the springs are arranged.

While different mattresses use different types of spring systems the overriding factor behind your choice should always be comforting.

Some double-size spring mattresses have separate areas for each person and may come with the option of having different firmness on each side, customized for both. The other advantage of these mattresses is that you’re less likely to wake up someone if you’re tossing and turning.

The padding
Whereas the springs give support, the padding gives comfort. The springs are essentially enclosed in a box of padding, to cushion your body from all those wires. The padding can make a big difference in price, because at the top end of the market more exotic – and comfortable – materials are used. These premium paddings include silk, wool, cashmere, premium foams, latex, and goosedown. Cheaper materials include lower grades of foam, reclaimed cotton fibers and coconut fiber.

Other mattress types


Although it’s possible to find some higher quality foam mattresses, most of those available in Australia offer little support and should not be slept on regularly. You might consider one as a cheap solution for a spare bedroom.


Latex mattresses are an expensive option but do have benefits. They can last 25 years – double the lifespan of a spring mattress. Those prone to allergies may sleep better as latex mattresses don’t attract as many fungi and bugs as their foam-padded cousins.

See all the current Latex Mattresses

Memory foam

Also called ‘viscoelastic’, this special foam mattress reacts to your heat and weight and supports you evenly – no more pressure points and bedsores. It’s called memory foam because it keeps your shape for a while after you get off it. These mattresses are being hyped more and more by manufacturers, although whether the claim of a better night’s sleep for everyone is true is a matter of debate.


An inexpensive alternative, a futon is essentially a big heavy cushion. It’s firmer than a mattress which makes it unsuitable for larger builds, but many people swear by them. It’s quite common to find a futon that doubles as a couch, making it perfect for studio apartments and spare beds.


Like today’s viscoelastic mattresses, waterbeds claimed to be the perfect solution because they offered even support. That support depends on how full the mattress is of water, so keep it topped up. Blissfully for couples, there are some waterbeds on the market that split the bed into two sleeping areas, reducing disturbance.


The bed’s base makes a difference in how the mattress supports you, not just how it looks in your bedroom.

Ensemble: This is the most common type of base in Australia. The mattress sits on top of a base that looks like a second mattress. The base of an ensemble will offer more support than others.

Slatted base: This base is a frame with wooden slats arranged from side to side. Slatted bases can come with ‘posture slats’ which aren’t as firm as standard, solid wood.

Built-in base: This is a standard-looking spring mattress, but it comes with a wooden frame already built in to the bottom. The frame has holes in it to screw legs into, meaning there’s no need to buy another base.

Sleeping positions

Different mattresses are suited to the three main sleeping positions – side, back, and stomach.

If you lie on your stomach, a firm mattress will keep your spine aligned.
Something middle of the road is suited to back sleepers. They need support for the shape of the spine, back and neck, but also extra comfort.
A soft mattress is best if you sleep on your side, as the mattress will support your body’s curves.

Buying a mattress

A mattress is an important purchase. With an average life of 10 years, you’ll spend a lot of time on it. So take your time picking a mattress, and don’t be put off by other shoppers – you have to have a good lie on them for a few minutes.

A bed can be firm to the touch but you won’t know if it provides adequate support until you lie on it. Don’t be fooled by a firm outer layer – always test the mattress for yourself.

Tips for testing a mattress:

  1. When you’re lying down on a mattress, relax into your normal sleeping position.
  2. Check that the mattress is supporting your entire body – it should take your shape.
    There should be no space between you and the bed. For example, if you’re lying on your back, your spine should be aligned properly with your body, and there shouldn’t be a gap where your back arches.
  3. If you’re buying a mattress that you’ll be sleeping on with a partner, test it out with them. A good mattress should prevent you from rolling into each other.
  4. Get info from a reputable and knowledgeable retailer who can cut through the jargon you’ll find if you go hunting around yourself.
    The specifications of the mattress are important, but not as important as what you find most comfortable.

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