If you are heading off to college, you will have a long list of items to take with you to make student life more comfortable. You are unlikely to forget bedding, but have you remembered to include a mattress pad or topper? Although the two terms are often used interchangeably nowadays, traditionally, mattress pads and toppers have different functions. A topper is an extra layer of comfort designed to be placed over the existing mattress. A pad may perform the same role, but can also be used to describe a thinner pad, which is usually made out of cotton and protects the mattress from dirt and damage. Both items can be really useful for students, who need to make sure they get plenty of good quality sleep to cope with the demands of college life.

Most dorm beds are twin XL size, which is no problem as there are many toppers and pads to fit. It is worth giving some thought to the type of pad or topper you buy, as you will want it to last as long as possible. You have various types to choose from. It appears that the most common toppers are made out of manmade (synthetic) or natural latex, or memory foam. If budget is no issue – perhaps your parents are treating you – it makes sense to go for natural latex. It is resistant to dust mites and mold spores, making it ideal for those who are prone to allergies. It is also extremely comfortable. Memory foam is comfortable but can harden at temperatures below 65 degrees, so if you are in a cold dorm this could be a problem, and it can take a while to bounce back into shape. Using a mattress topper can really improve sleep quality by adding an extra comfort layer. This can stop joint and backache, which often results from sleeping on a hard, uncomfortable surface.

Mattress pads and toppers are best made of cotton, as it is a naturally hypoallergenic material. As a very slim, quilted cover, mattress pads are easy to roll up and pack, and equally simple to wash. Cotton is a very durable fabric and can be machine washed. Look for a pad that has elastic edging, so that it will fit snugly around the edges of your mattress. If you want something a little more luxurious, go for a lamb’s wool mattress pad. You will never want to get out of bed! It is like sleeping with the softest of sheepskin rugs under your bed sheet. However this type of pad is far less practical than a cotton one. For that reason, most students go for cotton pads.

When topper and pad are used interchangeably, a mattress pad is a slightly thinner topper. Memory foam mattress pads are lightweight, so they are easy to transport, but they are not breathable, so nighttime sweating may be a problem. While a memory foam pad can be inexpensive, many people complain that they smell (known as out-gassing), and after a while of constant use it stops springing back into place.

When you are shopping for your mattress pad or topper to take to college with you, treat it the same as you would any regular mattress. Go to a showroom and test out several types. Lie on each one for at least 5 minutes to really get a feel for it. This will help you narrow down your options. Price will be a factor, of course, but don’t automatically go for the cheapest option. While it is true that the most expensive option does not necessarily mean the best quality, it many cases you do get what you pay for. It makes sense to invest in a product that will see you through your entire college life, rather than spend less on cheap mattress pads and toppers that will need replacing after a term. Check what warranty the pad or topper comes with, and ask about the retailer’s returns policy. If you are confused about any of the information provided, ask the salesperson to clarify it. Stores often use complicated descriptions and technical language to describe their products – don’t be scared to request an explanation in layman’s terms!

There is a lot of pressure on students to adapt to college life and cope with the heavy workload. To make it a little easier on yourself, take the pressure off your body – at least during the night. A comfortable bed will help you get that crucial sleep and wake up refreshed and energized every morning. After you have tried a mattress pad or topper, you will wonder how you ever coped without one!