Mattress jargon buster: key mattress terms explained

Image shows a mattress floating under a white cloud on a blue background
(Image credit: Getty)

Mattress jargon can be quite perplexing. What do manufacturers mean by 'reinforced edge support' or 'motion isolation'? However, knowing these terms will aid you in finding the best mattress for your sleep needs and preferences. 

Here, we've compiled a list of the most common mattress jargon you'll come across when shopping for a new bed. Now you'll know what these companies are talking about when they mention things like ‘temperature regulation’ and ‘recovery time’.

Moreover, these terms all relate to key factors that we look at during our review process. Read more about that in our mattress methodology.

If you are looking for a great new mattress in a box, we're approaching end-of-year mattress sales so you'll be able to find some great savings and deals from top brands. For now, let’s do some jargon busting… 

Mattress jargon buster: key terms explained

Adjustable base compatibility – the degree to which a mattress can be elevated (top, bottom or simultaneously) or bent into an upright position on top of an adjustable bed base. This is particularly useful if you need a bed to help stop or reduce snoring.

Antimicrobial materials – usually cotton, fiber or foam that has been treated to prevent the growth of dust mites, bacteria and fungi.

Box spring – a wooden (or metal) frame filled with a secure set of wire coils to support your mattress, improve airflow, and absorb shock. However, most modern mattresses don't require a box spring, and using one could possibly invalidate your warranty.

Certified organic – applies to mattress materials that are organic and Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) certified. You'll find a lot of GOTS-certified materials inside the best organic mattresses.

Coils / coil springs – wires, formed in the shape of spirals, usually found in the support layer of an innerspring or hybrid mattress. Also known as pocket sprung mattresses.

Comfort layers – these live at the top of the mattress and are responsible for how comfy the mattress feels when you lie on it.

Photo shows the Saatva Classic innerspring hybrid on a luxury bed base placed in a summer home overlooking a blue pool

The Saatva Classic (pictured) is a great example of an innerspring hybrid mattress (Image credit: Saatva)

Cushioning depth – this measures how far you sink into the mattress and how much it conforms to your body. The best memory foam mattresses are an ideal choice for anyone seeking maximum cushioning and a body-hug feel.

Ease of repositioning – how well the mattress supports you when you’re moving into a new sleeping position.

Firmness – used to describe the compression resistance of a mattress, and also how soft or hard the surface is when you lie on it. You'll often see firmness rated on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the firmest.

Hypoallergenic – mattresses made from materials that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. You’ll see this term used a lot on organic and natural mattresses.

Motion isolation – how much movement can be felt on either side of the mattress. If you share with a restless sleeper, motion isolation is important so that you aren’t disturbed by your partner's movements.

Moisture wicking – this refers to how well the materials used within the cover are able to wick away moisture, keeping the mattress fresher, drier and more breathable. Even then, we'd still recommend investing in a great mattress protector to keep your bed safe from sweat stains, body oils, spills and more.

Photo shows a black 25kg weight placed on the edge of the Eve Premium Hybrid Mattress during edge support testing

One way to test pressure relief is to place a weight at the center of the bed. (Image credit: Future)

Off-gassing – the smell that accompanies some mattresses when they are unboxed. This is normal and the smell is caused by certain chemicals evaporating into the air. We cover this in more detail in our feature: what is mattress off-gassing

Orthopedic mattress – if you grapple with back pain, an orthopedic mattress will support your posture and keep your spine aligned. It offers a firmer feel than most beds. Learn more in our feature answering what is an orthopedic mattress.

Pressure relief – This refers to how much a mattress minimizes pressure points on your body when you’re lying down. Common points of pressure are the shoulders, hips and back. Without good pressure relief, you could be dealing with soreness, loss of circulation, and restlessness due to in-bed discomfort. The best mattresses for back pain offer superior pressure relief.

Recovery time – the speed with the mattress returns to its normal shape after being compressed.

Reinforced edge support – keeps your mattress stable and supportive by creating a solid structure around it, and ensures you can sleep up to the edge of your mattress or sit on the corners to take your shoes on/off. Edge support is achieved with materials such as foam, steel rods or thick coils.

Sagging – refers to dipping or a loss of support in specific areas of the mattress. Sagging occurs mainly in older mattresses. For more, see our guide to: how often should you replace your mattress guide.

Woman asleep in bed, lying on her back

How you lay in bed will influence which type of mattress you should buy. (Image credit: Getty)

Sleep style – also known as your sleep position, this is the position your body naturally drops into when you fall asleep. This will largely influence the type of mattress you need. For example, the best mattresses for side sleepers will offer ample pressure relief along the hips and shoulders whilst keeping the spine neutral.

Temperature regulation – unless a mattress is designed with cooling technology, temperature regulation refers to how well the materials inside the mattress stay temperature neutral while you're sleeping. If you sleep very hot or are dealing with night sweats, the best cooling mattresses should be top of your list.

Trial period – also known as the sleep trial or break-in period. This refers to the length of time you are given by the manufacturer to test your new mattress at home. For more on trials, read our guide to mattress trials and how they work.

Warranty – the manufacturer’s policy outlining what it will and won’t cover in terms of repairing or replacing the product if faults occur within a specific period of time. Learn more in our how do mattress warranties work feature.

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Claire Davies
Senior Sleep Editor, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Claire Davies is Tom's Guide's mattress expert and main sleep product tester with over 15 years' product review experience, and she is responsible for all mattress and sleep coverage on the site. A qualified journalist, Sleep Editor and Certified Sleep Science Coach, Claire writes about all things related to sleep, from mattress reviews to the latest sleep techniques and research. Claire has interviewed a wealth of experts, from mattress designers and innovators to neuroscientists and doctors of sleep medicine. Before taking on the role of Sleep Editor, Claire worked as Health & Wellness Editor at Top Ten Reviews, and before that was a Senior Content Editor at T3. Claire is super-passionate about how consistent, good quality sleep can boost our physical and mental wellbeing, and would love to hear from PRs and brands regarding sleep products, services and research that can help our readers sleep better than ever. 

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