What is a mattress topper and do you need one? Our sleep experts explain all

We have the answers to a better night's sleep, including what mattress toppers *actually* do and whether you need one

A mattress topper on top of a mattress on a wooden bed frmae with rust-coloured cushions
(Image credit: Slumberdown)

If you've been searching for ways to make an uncomfortable sleep surface more comfortable, then you may well have come across the game-changing innovation that is the mattress topper. But what is a mattress topper and is it the best solution for your needs?

As Ideal Home's Sleep Editor I've tried, tested, and reviewed numerous toppers to compile our guide to the best mattress toppers on the market, so I'm here to explain all.

A mattress topper on a navy blue upholstered bed in a pale blue bedroom

(Image credit: Silentnight)

What is a mattress topper?

A mattress topper is an additional cushioning layer that can be added to your bed on top of your existing mattress, or used on the top of a sofa bed to add extra comfort.

Usually between 5-10cm deep, mattress toppers can differ in construction, but they tend to be made from either a layer of memory foam or foam, or feature a fill of hollowfibre polyester, feather and down, or wool encased in a fabric outer.

A mattress topper generally features elasticated straps at each corner that you can slide over the corners of your mattress to hold the topper in place, although some have anti-slip bases and just lay flat on the surface of your sleeping area. You then add your sheets over the mattress topper and mattress as normal.

A matttress topper with an elasticated strap at the corner securing it to a mattress below

(Image credit: Woolroom)

A mattress topper shouldn't be confused with a mattress protector. A topper is thicker and designed to add comfort, whereas the best mattress protectors are made from thin fabric or a waterproof layer intended solely to protect your mattress from moisture, dirt and stains.

Although you can wash some mattress toppers, because of their bulk most are best spot cleaned. You can find out more in our guide to how to clean a mattress topper, but adding a mattress protector over the top of your mattress topper can help to protect it from any spills or marks.

What does a mattress topper do?

Now we know what one is, but what is a mattress topper designed to do? Well, a mattress topper is intended to add extra support and/or cushioning to a sleep surface.

For example, a mattress topper can be a very useful addition to a sleep surface that feels too firm to sleep comfortably on. That extra 5-10cm layer of cushioning can make a big difference if you're finding your existing mattress too firm.

A mattress topper on top of a mattress in a navy blue bedroom

(Image credit: Silentnight)

A mattress topper can also be very useful for side sleepers as it allows some extra depth for shoulders and hips to sink into so that the spine is in better alignment.

If you opt for one of the best cooling mattress toppers, then this additional layer can also help you to sleep cooler if you're finding your mattress gets too warm in the night.

Overheating at night can be a particular problem with some memory foam mattresses. Classic memory foam is a very dense material, and if the manufacturer hasn't made efforts to increase its breathability then that can mean a sleeper's bodyheat is reflected back towards them during the night, leading to overheating.

A breathable mattress topper – such as the Woolroom Deluxe Mattress Topper made from thermoregulating wool – can act as a 'breaker' between your body and the mattress, creating better air circulation which in turn leads to a cooler sleep.

Why would you need a mattress topper?

The best mattresses don't come cheap, so if yours has seen better days and you're saving up for a replacement then a mattress topper could be the interim solution you need to make your bed more comfortable in the meantime.

Not all mattress toppers will be able to disguise a lumpy mattress, and none can work magic, but more robust models – like the Simba Hybrid Topper which features pocket-spring support combined with a memory foam top layer – could help to prolong the life of a mattress that's in need of replacement. If you're pondering whether a new mattress or a topper is the best fit for you, our guide to mattress toppers vs a new mattress could help.

A mattress topper on top of a mattress on a wooden bed frmae with rust-coloured cushions

(Image credit: Slumberdown)

Mattress toppers are also a brilliant buy if you have a sofa bed that's causing overnight guests sleepless nights. Even the best sofa beds can still feel a lot firmer to sleep on than a dedicated mattress, so a mattress topper can be a really useful way to increase comfort levels.

You just need to bear in mind that often sofa beds have smaller sleep areas than standard mattress sizes so it's best to check the measurements before you choose your topper. The Panda Mattress Topper can be a good option for a sofa bed as it comes in a wide range of size options.

A green Swyft sofa bed in a open plan living room with Crittall doors

(Image credit: Swyft)

Our favourite mattress toppers

Hopefully you now have a better idea what a mattress topper is, and whether a topper will help you to get a better night's sleep.

If you're looking to save money on your purchase (aren't we all!) then it's worth keeping an eye on our bedding deals page so that you can snap up a bargain if any of Ideal Home's top recommendations are reduced. After all, alongside sorting your bedtime comfort levels out, saving money is a sure fire way to sleep sounder at night!

If you can't wait to shop, I've rounded up my top three mattress topper recommendations below.

You'll find more alternatives including the best budget mattress topper we've come across in Ideal Home's guide to the best mattress toppers.

That said, if you're convinced a mattress topper is the key to a more comfortable night's sleep but don't have the budget right now to invest in one, some people swear by popping one of the best duvets between their mattress and bottom sheet for a little extra padding.

Whilst this is unlikely to be as comfortable as adding a dedicated topper to the bed, if you're desperate to transform a hard sleep surface then it could be the quick fix you need for a better night's kip.

Amy Lockwood
Content Editor

After studying Print Design at Winchester School of Art, Amy spent multiple years working in the interior industry as a copywriter, content creator, and product stylist. She’s now Content Editor at Ideal Home, offering expert advice on the best products for decorating your home and ensuring it functions smoothly. That includes sourcing stylish yet affordable furniture – from the best sofa beds for combining style, comfort, and function, to the best artificial Christmas trees for a stress-free festive season – helping our readers to find the best mattress for their sleep style, and testing top-rated dehumidifiers and air purifiers to narrow down the best-in-class.