Mattress vs Futon: What’s the Difference?


On the lookout for a new mattress? Are you also tempted by the idea of a futon bed? If so, you may wonder what the differences are. Here’s a quick overview of both so you can make an informed choice on whether a mattress vs futon is right for you.

Western vs Traditional Japanese Futons

Before we get down to the mattress vs futon comparison, we need to mention that the futons you will find in many stores in the UK are not the same as traditional Japanese futons.

Futons that you can buy on the UK market will tend to come with a base of some kind, often in the form of a wooden seat frame that can fold out to become a more traditional bed frame. In this way, they resemble sofa beds.

Some manufacturers might refer to this kind of futon as a Western-style futon.

Typically, Japanese futons do not have the fold-out bed-base element. Instead, you put them on a kind of mat that sits directly on the floor. Comfort items like a pillow also feature in the Japanese futon set-up.

For this article, we are focussing on Western-style futons and how they compare with mattresses sold in the UK.

Mattresses: Helping Us Sleep Easy

Most of us will be familiar with what mattresses look like, but we might take for granted what they do for us as we sleep.

Manufacturers make mattresses with a core material. For example, this might be an innerspring system, foam, or latex. This core gives a firm sleeping surface and helps to support us as we sleep.

Mattresses will also have one or more additional layers. In modern mattresses, this may be layers of foam, more springs, or some combination of materials. Those layers can give additional support or add more comfort.

Having an optimal sleep environment is critical for our health. Studies have shown that having the right mattress and overall sleep set-up may help to reduce perceptions of back pain and lead to a perceived better quality of sleep.

Modern mattresses have several advantages to help give us a healthy sleep environment that fits into our lives, including:

  • Mattresses come in a variety of firmnesses for different comfort needs.
  • Mattress materials range from memory foam through to pocket springs, water and air beds, meaning there is a style to suit most needs.
  • Mattresses come in a range of sizes to accommodate your comfort and space needs.
  • Modern mattresses even have technologies that can help keep you cool during the night. They can also help fight allergies.
  • Mattresses sit on a bed base that is elevated off the floor. For people with mobility issues, this can help them move from standing to lying down more safely.

Mattresses do have disadvantages, though. These disadvantages include:

  • Mattresses can be heavy and hard to move.
  • Mattresses can tend to take up a lot of space.
  • Mattresses can cost anywhere from a few hundred pounds to thousands of pounds.
  • For some people, mattresses are difficult to care for, particularly if they require turning regularly or if you have specific allergy concerns.

Mattresses can be a significant investment, but they come with extra reassurances like sleep trials and multi-year guarantees, meaning they are often a great choice for the longer term.

Futons: Space Savers and Stylish Seating

Manufacturers make Western-style futons of durable materials, often a kind of foam. The foam is covered to add comfort. You can fold your futon up, though most Western-style futons cannot be rolled up like Japanese futons.

Western futons may come with a slatted base that allows the mattress to be positioned as a sofa and folds out to become a bed.

Manufacturers also make futons that are large, foldable foam blocks that function as a mattress or, when needed, can be an occasional chair.

Futons are often thinner than mattresses. This reduced depth allows the mattress to double as a chair or a couch. It does mean they are less likely to offer great back support, however.

The advantages of a futon may include:

  • If you need to save space, the convenience of a foldable futon may be ideal for your living room or bedroom.
  • If you live in a studio flat or shared accommodation, a futon could be especially useful as both a bed and a sofa.
  • If you want a guest bed but have limited room, a futon that doubles as a sofa may be an ideal way of creating a multi-purpose room.
  • Futons often cost significantly less than mattresses.

The disadvantages of futons often found in UK stores may include:

  • Futons are usually thinner than mattresses. For this reason, they are unlikely to provide the support you would get from a full mattress.
  • While different sizes of futons are available, many major retailers tend to only stock limited size options.
  • Western-style futons may not have as long a life as a mattress because manufacturers tend to make them with only occasional or short-term use in mind.

Students or people living in rented accommodation with small rooms might prefer a futon over a bed base and mattress.

Also, people who wish to scale back their furniture may find having a multi-use item like a futon that doubles as a sofa valuable.

Final Thoughts

In terms of whether a mattress vs futon is right for you, the answer comes down to your needs.

If you want a guest bed and have enough money and room for a mattress and a bed base, a mattress could be the better long term investment.

Mattresses may also be a better choice if you want a sleep trial to test whether your sleep set-up is right for you.

You may also prefer a mattress if you have specific comfort needs. For example, you might need extra back support or pressure point relief.

If you only have guests over occasionally, you may find that a futon makes more sense for you. If you plan on using the guest room for another purpose, such as a study or a reading nook, a futon may also be a great choice.

You may also find a futon makes more sense for you if you plan on moving and want something easier to transport.

Whatever your choice, there are some excellent quality mattresses and futons on the market. So, with your needs kept firmly in mind as you make your choice, you are sure to find a perfect sleep match.

Do you prefer a mattress or a futon? We would love to hear your thoughts.

Related Articles