I honestly spent less time deciding which car to buy than which mattress.
Buying a car is relatively simple. You've got an idea of which are the best manufacturers and you accept that you more-or-less get what you pay for. Cars aren't mysteriously reduced by 75% and you can at least guess what most of the extras and accessories do.
With mattresses, it's a very different story. Retailers wag their fingers and tell you that it's the most important purchase you'll ever make because you'll spend so many thousands of hours in bed. A cheap bed will lead to a lifetime of back pain and remorse, they say.
They then show you diagrams of the inside of mattresses with springs, squidgy bits and other things you aren't interested in. If you're lucky you'll be shown a diagram of someone with a pert bottom lying down with a perfectly straight spine.
After reading enough mattress guides to fill a library I've boiled it down to five decisions you need to make before buying that bargain bed in the Boxing Day sales:
Decision 1: Foam or Spring?
Most beds sold in the UK are made with springs. They've got a familiar feel and there's a huge choice. The consensus is that pocket sprung mattresses are far superior to open coil or 'traditional' mattresses. Sure, you can spend a couple of hours looking at diagrams and animations - or you can just take my word for it and move on.
The alternative is a foam bed. The main advantage is that they are better for allergies as they don't collect dust and that they offer consistent support all over. The main downsides are that many people don't like the sinking feeling of foam and some people find them too hot. The main choice is between basic foam (cheap foam used for your grandma's folding guest bed), memory foam and latex.
Decision 2: Cheap, Mid-Priced or Luxury
You can spend £100 on a cheap and nasty mattress, or you can spend £10,000 on something which was made by a master craftsman with luxurious wool which is only available from a flock of Kilimanjaro sheep.
For those of us wanting something in between, take a look at the specification rather than the brand or the inflated 'original retail price' and buy what you can afford. If you are planning to spend less on your mattress than you did on your guest bedroom TV, then you are probably not spending enough.
A good-enough pocket sprung mattress will have between 1000 and 2000 springs. Heavyweight boxers will benefit from the extra support of 2000 springs, whilst jockeys can make do with 1000. Anything beyond 2000 springs is showing off and offers diminishing returns. Ideally you want something with hand-side-stitching (a sign of quality so that it doesn't bulge at the sides) and a nice woven material on top (e.g. damask).
If you're going for a foam mattress, take a look at the overall thickness of the mattress and the thickness of the top layer of memory foam. If it's a measly couple of centimetres then it's not really a memory foam mattress - it's the equivalent of painting your Peugeot red and calling it a Ferrari. There are other factors to do with density, but I won't go into that here for risk of boring you.
Decision 3: Soft, Medium or Firm
Firmness is less to do with personal preference and more to do with your build. Essentially you are trying to achieve the right level of support so you don't sink into the mattress too much and so that you don't lie on top with a wonky spine.
If you don't weigh much, a softer mattress is your best option. If you like eating pies in bed then you will probably want something a little firmer.
The slight problem is that bed manufacturers have never quite decided what 'soft' or 'medium' actually means. One company's soft mattress could be the same as another company's firm mattress. Try out a few in a showroom to see which firmness is usually best for you.
If you share a bed with someone twice your weight then you might consider a zip and link bed (two singles zipped together).
Decision 4: Divan or Bedstead/Bedframe
Once you've picked your mattress, you'll need a base for it unless you want to chuck it on the floor and experience a glamping vibe all year round.
Divan beds are generally cheaper and provide consistent support for the mattress which turns into consistent support for you. Posh divan beds have their own layer of springs.
Most people prefer the look of bedsteads (also called bedframes). If you go down that route then make sure the gaps between the struts aren't too big. Some companies suggest boarding over the whole base but others say it will stop the airflow.
Decision 5: Where To Buy It From
Congratulations, you've made it - apart from actually buying the bed.
Buying online is generally cheaper but it's a real gamble to buy before you try. It's also difficult to try out a mattress in a shop and then sneak home to buy it online, since big bed retailers often have their own 'exclusive' versions from manufacturers.
Many higher end mattress makers offer a month or two no-obligation trial. Personally I'd be far too British to send back a bed unless it had fallen to pieces, but you may be slightly bolder than me.
Good luck and sleep well!
This post originally appeared on The Best Mattresses Guide