Having spent most of my life sleeping on something less than a perfect mattress, whilst at the same time, and in a somewhat contradictory fashion, advising clients on mattress choice and spinal health, I recently thought it was about time that I walked the talk and get myself a spine-friendly, supporting mattress. And what a difference it has made!
Most of us will spend almost a third of our lives in bed. Because what you do every day matters enormously to your health, it makes sense to choose wisely when considering a new mattress. Remember, a good mattress should last you up to ten years. I think most people realise that with certain things in life, it probably isn’t the wisest thing to choose the cheapest option. The right bed will be both more comfortable and healthier in the long run.
Here’s a few tips to help you choose the right mattress.
Firstly, you should experience it for as long as possible. A good supplier should let you lie on it for at least 15 minutes. If you quickly hop on and off its impossible to get the real feel. Remember you’ll be resting on that mattress for 8 hours a day for the next 10 years.
If you are not comfortable, your body will not be at ease, and will be constantly moving around trying to find that perfect position. That really is no way to get a restful nights sleep. Sleep studies have revealed the extent that a poor mattress disturbs good sleep and the results were compelling. Disturbed sleep actually disrupts the natural hormones we produce to regulate our physiology. Sleep is the time our bodies regenerate and repair any damage that has occurred during the day. Muscles relax and improved blood flow brings vital nutrients to vital areas of the body, especially the discs in your back, which normally have a poor blood flow and compress during the day. If you are tossing and turning all night the muscles never truly relax allowing this healing blood flow.
The mattress you choose should be supportive as well as comfortable. While many think they should be getting a firm, orthopedic mattress, the fact is, if your mattress is too firm, you won’t be comfortable and your low back can become overextended causing an exaggerated curvature to the spine.
Instead, you should look for a mattress that has enough ‘give’ to allow you to sink into it, whilst firm enough to support you. This sounds like a contradiction I know but when you experience it you just know it’s right for you. Actually, it’s about reducing pressure points. The more of your body that is in contact with the mattress, the less pressure will be on your shoulders or hips.
With the right mattress, it becomes easy to find a comfortable, healthy position to rest your weary bones. The absolute best position to avoid back problems or ligament strain is on your side with your knees bent. This allows your body, from the back of your head, through your neck, spine and pelvis to realign itself correctly. The absolute worst position will be on your front as you must twist your neck to the side and your leg will probably be twisted up. Even sleeping on your back with your legs straight can put strain on your lower back.
If you are not a ‘side-sleeper’ it could definitely be a good idea to train yourself to sleep on your side in order to avoid long-term back problems. But remember, sleeping on your side is only half of the story. Our shoulders and hips, being our widest points will make our spine sag in the middle, stressing the joints and ligaments, causing discomfort and unhealthy changes and of course that familiar morning stiffness.
This is why you need a bed that will allow your shoulders and hips to sink in, whilst your waist and side remain supported.
The worst mattresses without a doubt will be the old soft ones, which dip like hammocks in the middle, curving your back all night.
Other things you may wish to consider are the materials the mattress are made from. I’d always favor breathable, natural materials, so that you don’t get too hot and sweaty during the night. Older people who find it hard to get in and out of bed should opt for a higher base. If you are on a very tight budget and can’t afford the ideal mattress for you, then buying a ‘decent’ one and adding a topper for extra comfort can provide a good solution.
One thing I hear a lot is that a couple may have different needs, due to their different shapes and weights, or back problems. However, with a good mattress this should not be a problem. With just the right amount of give on the surface and good support below, this usually provides just the right experience. You need to sink in at first, and then be supported.
How much should you spend?
Unfortunately when choosing a mattresses many people tend to go for the ‘cost-effective’ one that will probably ‘do the job.’ However, this really is a false economy. It will wear out quickly and in the long run it will probably damage your spine and your health. There really is no getting away from the fact that it makes the greatest sense to invest as much as you can reasonably afford.
What about Pillows?
Finally, don’t forget to think about pillows. If you sleep on your side, you might need a firmer one, to fill the space between the side of your head and the mattress and keep your spine neutral. However, if you are on your back, you will need a softer one to allow your neck to remain in good alignment with the rest of your spine. Pillows are very personal, so you may need to try a few. I have an orthopedic type pillow which I find suits me the best, especially being a side sleeper.
What mattress do I choose and why?
The mattress I chose was the ‘Royal Kingdom’ from the ‘SLEEPNIGHT’ range by Sommeil Terre. Living in the tropics, I find this to be one of the coolest mattresses around. To get just the right amount of give and support, it has a combination of visco-elastic memory foam and multi-pocketed spring system. This seems to provide the ideal match to support and conform to the shape of your body during sleep.
So, now I have a great, great mattress and I sleep like a baby; I jump out of bed in the morning free of all my old morning aches and pains. But there is one drawback from which there is no escape. Going away will never be the same again….and secretly I am now dreading visiting the family at Xmas.