What Is a Mattress Topper, and Do You Need One?

Here’s everything you need to know about mattress toppers to decide if adding one to your bed will help you get a better night’s sleep.

A good night’s sleep is essential for overall health, and a comfortable mattress plays an outsized role in achieving optimal sleep hygiene. However, not everyone is in the market for a new mattress. After all, it is possible that after all that lifting and lugging, you could still end up with a mattress that’s just as uncomfortable as the old one. This is where mattress toppers can be a major help.

An affordable and practical solution, mattress toppers enhance the comfort and support provided by an existing mattress. In some cases, a topper can also extend the lifespan of the mattress. Here’s everything you need to know about mattress toppers, their pros and cons, and whether or not getting one could improve your sleep quality.

mattress topper

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What Is a Mattress Topper, Anyway?

A mattress topper is a layer of cushioning that can be affixed to the top and sides of a mattress to enhance overall comfort and sleep support. It is designed to improve the feel of a mattress by adding an extra layer of padding. Available in a variety of materials, such as cotton, wool, latex, memory foam, and down, the thickness of a mattress topper typically ranges from 2 to 4 inches. They come in every mattress size and can even fit adjustable beds. Mattress toppers are an affordable alternative to purchasing a new mattress because they can markedly improve sleep, even on the most intolerably firm bed surfaces.

Pros and Cons of Mattress Toppers

Pros

Added Comfort: Mattress toppers are designed to add an extra layer of cushion to your mattress. They can make your sleep more comfortable, alleviate pressure points, and distribute weight more evenly. People suffering from back pain and arthritis will notice a difference.

Temperature Regulation: They can also help regulate temperature and reduce motion transfer.

Reduced Movement Transfer: If you or your sleep mate tosses and turns, a foam mattress topper can help limit how much your movement disturbs the other sleeper.  

Customization: Having a mattress topper on hand can improve the versatility of a guest bedroom. They can be added to a bed, sofa, sofa sleeper, or fold-out bed. If your visitors prefer a softer sleep, a topper will do the trick.

Affordable Upgrade: They are generally less expensive than buying a brand-new mattress, making them a cost-effective solution to an unexpected replacement.

Cons

Unique Dimensions: Toppers come in different sizes, but many people complain that they don’t always match the exact dimensions of their mattress. This can be a bit annoying. An improper fit can lead to slipping that will need to be adjusted each morning. To avoid this, invest in a topper with deep pockets and a bit of extra coverage on all sides. Otherwise, buy anti-slip sheets or mats to position the topper perfectly.

Specific Cleaning Requirements: Mattress toppers require regular maintenance to ensure they stay clean and hygienic. If you have a washer and dryer without an agitator, this can be easily done at home. But if you’re buying an oversized topper or don’t have a large-capacity machine, you may need to get it professionally washed through a laundry service.

Not a Mattress Replacement: Last, a mattress topper is no replacement for a brand-new mattress. If you truly hate your current mattress, a topper will only make it bearable for so long. You’ll eventually need to replace it and a topper may just prolong the process.

Mattress Topper Materials

Each mattress topper material has its own unique qualities and benefits, like pressure relief or temperature regulation.

Cotton and polyester blends are the least expensive. They are also light and breathable. They can soften the mattress top and provide a minimal level of support. Over time, their filling can become lumpy.

Although harder to find, wool is a soft topper material that is durable, all-natural, and thermal regulating. While wool mattress toppers can be more expensive, they typically last between three and seven years.

Latex is another firm mattress topper option. It's hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites and bacteria. Because latex is made of rubber (or synthetic materials meant to mimic rubber), these mattress toppers have a bit of bounce to them. You might feel the shifts of your sleep mate, and they can become discolored over the long term.

Memory foam mattress toppers are popular choices for soft contouring. They offer targeted support and pressure relief. They can retain heat.

Last, feather or down alternatives are the softest mattress topper material. This material doesn’t retain heat, but these toppers can compress and flatten over time. They also require periodic fluffing. Beware that the feathers can poke out of the topper, making for a less-than-ideal sleep experience.

What’s the Difference Between a Mattress Topper and a Mattress Pad?

If you’re shopping online, you may see the phrases "mattress topper" and "mattress pad" used interchangeably. However, they are not the same. They both can provide additional comfort and protection to a mattress, but they differ in their purpose, materials, and thickness.

A mattress topper is usually two to four inches thick, whereas a mattress pad is half an inch to two inches thick. They are both designed to enhance the comfort and support of a mattress, but mattress pads are best used to protect the mattress from stains, moisture, and wear and tear. Some are waterproof. They rarely change the underlying feel of the existing mattress, but they can enhance comfort and cleaning ease.

If you want your mattress to feel completely different, you want a topper. Generally, quality mattress toppers cost more than mattress pads. Most have deep pockets that fit securely over the entirety of the existing mattress. Because they are so thick, they can transform a firm mattress into a soft pillow top. While neither one will fix a broken, old, or damaged mattress, a topper is likely to mask the problems for longer, making it a good way to extend the life of your current mattress. However, if your current mattress has exposed springs or poking coils, they may damage a topper and render it ineffective.

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