Can you use a mattress topper as a mattress? Yes, but there are risks — here's why

A woman lifts the edge of her white mattress topper placed on top of a white mattress
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We often get asked if it's possible to use a mattress topper as a mattress, and the answer is simple: yes, so long as it's only a temporary solution. There's multiple reasons for this, including an increased risk of back and joint pain, if you skip the mattress and sleep on a bed topper alone.

The purpose of a mattress topper is to instantly change the feel of your bed by making it softer, firmer, cooler or warmer. Even the best mattresses can benefit from the addition of a topper at some point in their lifespan, but not even the very best mattress toppers are good enough to be used in place of a mattress long-term.

However, there are certain instances where using a mattress topper as a mattress can be appropriate, such as a temporary sleeping solution for guests or when you're travelling. We'll explore those in this article, as well as reasons why you shouldn't view this as a long-term sleep solution.

Toppers are cheaper than most mattresses too, especially if you buy one in this year's Black Friday mattress deals, but you may be surprised by how many good cheap mattresses are available for less than $400 for a queen size. We'll talk you through those too, so you can make the best decision for your sleep and budget. Let's get started...

Can you use a mattress topper as a mattress?

Sleeping on a mattress topper instead of a mattress is fine, providing that it is only on a short term basis. The purpose of a mattress topper (also known as a bed topper) is to enhance the comfort, support, and temperature of your existing mattress. It's designed to work alongside your mattress to provide adequate support, and is not intended to be used instead of a mattress. 

A man sits up in bed holding his painful back

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Sleeping for eight hours a night on a mattress topper alone will not provide the support or comfort that you require on a long term basis, and will likely lead to aches and pains, sending you in search of the best mattress for back pain. What’s more, sleeping on a topper in lieu of a mattress may void the warranty of your mattress topper, as well as reducing its overall lifespan. 

However, as a short term solution, sleeping on a mattress topper instead of a mattress is generally OK. Anyone who has ever attempted to sleep on a camp bed (or the floor, for that matter), will know that a mattress topper is better than nothing. If you are purchasing your mattress topper with the intention of using it as a temporary bed, opting for a firm mattress topper with latex or very thick memory foam will help provide some spinal support. 

When to use a mattress topper as a mattress 

A mattress topper can be used instead of a mattress on a short term basis only. However, even if it is just a temporary measure, make sure you opt for a mattress topper with a minimum depth of 5cm, otherwise you will feel the floor or bed base beneath you. 

Camping trips or visiting family during the holidays are common scenarios when you might want to sleep on a mattress topper instead of a mattress. You might also want to sleep on a mattress topper instead of a mattress if you are unable to navigate the stairs to your bedroom, such as following surgery or due to injury. Other scenarios where a mattress topper could be used as a reasonable alternative to a mattress include: 

  •  Unexpected guests are staying over and you don’t have a spare mattress 
  •  You’re camping but don’t sleep comfortably on a camp cot or bed 
  •  You’re waiting for a new mattress to be delivered and don’t want to sleep on the couch 
  •  Your child is sick and you need to sleep on their bedroom floor to be near them

Why you shouldn't use a mattress topper as a mattress long-term

1. You won't get the support your spine needs 

Whether it’s an all foam, memory foam or hybrid mattress, the best mattresses provide spinal support by keeping your body in correct alignment. Layers of support work together to ensure that your spine is cradled in the best possible position and that your lumbar is gently supported. 

A man sits on the edge of his bed because he can't sleep due to feeling uncomfortable sleeping on just a mattress topper

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A mattress topper is much thinner than a mattress (some start at just two inches deep) and not equipped to keep your spine in alignment. This will likely reinforce poor sleep posture, as well as potential muscle strain as you shift around in a bid to get comfortable. 

2. There will be little to no pressure relief 

Mattresses will offer a certain amount of supportive layers (how much depends largely on your sleeping position, firmness preferences, and quality of your mattress), which relieves pressure from your shoulders, hips, back and knees. 

Without this support, you may develop hip and back pain more quickly, as there will be nothing to stop your spine dipping as you sleep. Worst still, you may find that you sink straight through the little support that a mattress topper provides, and rest directly upon the bed frame or floor.

 3. Toppers don’t last as long as mattresses 

Mattress toppers are designed to work in conjunction with a mattress and not intended to be used as a standalone product. Therefore, using a mattress topper as a mattress will greatly reduce its overall lifespan, as it was never designed to solely support your weight for a prolonged period of time. 

Additionally, using a mattress topper instead of a mattress (as opposed to alongside one), will likely void your warranty. Our mattress experts recommend replacing your mattress every seven years, but you’ll likely need to replace a mattress topper as a mattress much sooner than that.  

Budget alternatives to using a topper as a mattress

If cost is a driving factor when considering using a mattress topper instead of a mattress, you might like to take a look at our guide to the best cheap mattresses. We’ve collated the very best mattresses within an affordable price range, with many queen size mattresses on our list costing under $300, which is incredible value. 

The Siena Mattress is our top recommendation for this year's top cheap mattress in a box. When creating our Siena Memory Foam Mattress review we found that it had sturdy edge support, excellent motion isolation, and handled temperature regulation pretty well. Best of all, it’s currently on sale for $399. We also recommend the Zinus Green Tea Luxe on sale for just $156 in a queen size at Bed, Bath & Beyond. That's an astoundingly low price for a memory foam mattress.

Compared to the price of our overall best mattress topper, the Tempur-Adapt Mattress Topper, which is usually $419 but currently reduced to $251.40, there isn’t much in it price-wise. However, opting for a mattress over a mattress topper as a permanent sleep solution will make a huge difference to your ongoing sleep quality, as well as your physical health. 

Nicola Appleton
Sleep Features Editor

Nicola Appleton is Sleep Features Editor at Tom’s Guide, specialising in quality news content surrounding sleep and wellbeing. Nicola cut her teeth as a journalist in a busy newsroom in Bristol, UK, 15 years ago as part of a team at Britain's largest independent press agency. Since then, her job as a journalist has taken her to the States, to Sydney, and then back to Blighty, where she has written and edited features for a whole host of prominent British and international brands, including  The Independent, The Sydney Morning Herald, HuffPost, Refinery29, Stylist and more. As well as tackling the vast topic of sleep, Nicola will be joining the raft of expert mattress reviewers at Tom's Guide, helping steer readers towards the very best mattresses on the market.