How to Find a Mattress That Optimizes Sleep and Minimizes Pain We’re excited to have teamed up with the folks at Mattress Advisor to bring you this 9-minute read on the best mattress for you—and for pain!

- The Be Well Blog

We spend roughly 27 years of our lives sleeping. That equates to nearly one-third of our lifetime. That’s a lot of time to spend on a mattress.

With this in mind, a mattress is arguably one of the most, if not THE most, important piece of furniture you can spend your money on. That’s because your mattress is the performance tool used to get your best sleep.

Sleep plays an integral role in our overall health and wellness. Adequate sleep reduces our risk of heart disease, lowers our blood pressure, allows us to process memories from the day and rejuvenates our cells and muscular tissue. Considering the impact sleep has on our health, we shouldn’t skimp on finding a quality mattress.

3 Reasons Your Mattress Might Be Causing You Pain

Despite all this, most people don’t view mattresses through this lens. Shopping for a mattress is expensive and inconvenient. That’s until you wake up on a mattress 20 years too old that offers nothing but aches and pains.

If you believe your mattress is impacting your sleep quality for the worse, here are three reasons that could be the case:

  1. It’s too old.

    “A good quality mattress will typically last 5-10 years with normal use,” Dr. Travis Russell, Director of Chiro One Wellness Center of Naperville explains. In fact, a traditional innerspring mattress lasts 7-8 years on average, compared to memory foam mattresses which last up to 10 years and latex mattresses which can last up to 15 years.

    But if you’ve had your mattress for over five years, you should take a closer look at its overall condition. Pay attention to how well you are sleeping. Do you wake up groggy or achey? Do you notice lumps or a sag towards the middle of the mattress? If so, it might be time to go shopping.

  2. You purchased for comfort not support.

    “Lying on a mattress for 20 minutes in a store does not allow you to really be sure that the mattress will suit you for the next few years,” says Dr. Travis. “If your old mattress is sagging and worn, then any quality mattress can feel like an improvement in the short term. In reality, it takes a few weeks for your body to be accustomed to the change, even a change for the better.”

    Just like you take a new car for a test drive, so too should you take advantage of the trial periods offered by mattress brands to see if it provides the support you need to get a good night’s sleep. It takes an average of 30 nights for your body to adjust to a new mattress. Don’t assume something that feels comfy for 2-3 minutes in a store will hold up overtime (or even throughout the night).

  3. It’s the wrong mattress for your sleep needs.

    We all come in different shapes and sizes; thus, we have different needs when it comes to finding the best mattress for us. But with so many different mattress types, how do you find the one that’s right for you?

    According to a study conducted by Mattress Advisor on over 2,000 Americans, 44% of consumers are overwhelmed by shopping for a new mattress, primarily due to the many options available, price and finding the right mattress for their individual needs. If you are confused which mattress is for, particularly if you experience low back pain, stay tuned.

Before we get to finding the right mattress, here’s why you should ditch your old mattress for something new.

Besides robbing you of sleep each night, which has more than a few consequences in and of itself, there are several consequences for continuing to sleep on an old mattress:

With all this in mind, if you are ready to say goodbye to your old mattress, here’s what you should look for.

How to Find a Mattress That Optimizes Sleep and Minimizes Pain

When shopping for a mattress, you’ll want something that optimizes sleep and minimizes pain. Here are four important qualities to consider in your next mattress.

  1. Pressure relief

    Pressure relief may sound like a fancy mattress term, but it just means the amount of pressure a mattress puts on your joints. The shoulders and hips are areas prone to high pressure. You’ll want to find a mattress that doesn’t put pressure on your joints, especially your spine.

  2. Spine Alignment

    Speaking of the spine, spinal alignment just means how well a mattress keeps your spine in a straight line from your tailbone up through your neck.

    A mattress’ ability to keep your spine in alignment is very important when it comes to pain management. In fact, keeping good posture while you’re sleeping is just as important as keeping it during your waking hours. A mattress can sometimes ‘hammock’ a person, which creates a pinch point in the lower lumbar spine. This provokes issues of chronic pain.

    Dr. Michael McGovern of Chiro One Wellness Center of Vernon Hills, explains:

    “The impact your bed has on spinal alignment is dependent on the individual’s anatomy. Does a pear-shaped side sleeper need a softer mattress to accommodate the curviness of their anatomy? Does a back sleeper with a hyper- or hypo-lordotic lumbar curve also require a softer mattress to support their lumbar region?

    “The answer is not straightforward, and as always, the best advice I can recommend is to spend hours on the bed you’re considering buying before making your final decision. We all have different sizes and shapes and will respond better to certain mattress types.”

  3. Support

    When shopping for a mattress, you’ll want to find something that evenly supports your body weight. Support in a mattress refers to the weight the foundation can hold to support your body properly, and it has a big effect on pain management. When a mattress loses support, which happens over time, it will begin to sag. This can throw your spine out of alignment.

  4. Firmness

    Firmness and support are two different things. Firmness is how firm or soft the mattress feels. Phrased another way, it’s the pushback you feel from your mattress at certain pressure points.

What type of mattress do I need if I have low back pain?

A study by the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine found that 80 percent of Americans will experience an episode of low back pain at some point in their lives. If you suffer from low back pain or hope to prevent the onset of low back pain, look for the right mattress type and firmness level.

The best mattress type for low back pain is memory foam.

Memory foam mattresses are known for their lumbar support, pressure relief and contouring ability. This type of mattress is best for individuals experiencing low back pain due to its ability to cradle pressure points and keep the spine in proper alignment.

Traditional innerspring mattresses don’t cradle pressure points as well as foam mattresses. Additionally, they also tend to lose their shape and support more quickly.

Next, consider how the firmness of the mattress impacts your back pain.

The most important thing to avoid in a mattress is the sink factor. When a mattress is too soft or dips in the middle, it throws your spine out of natural alignment. Medium-firm to firm mattresses tend to be the best for sleepers with low back pain. Contrary to popular belief, sleeping on a mattress that’s rock hard is not the right solution.

In a survey of 268 people with lower back pain, results showed that those who slept on what’s known as an orthopedic mattress (aka very hard) had the poorest sleep quality.

Finally, take your sleeping position into consideration.

As mentioned before, we are all different sleepers with different needs and preferences. Different mattresses suit different types of sleepers. Here is Dr. Travis’ opinion on mattresses suited for each type of sleeper:

How to Find a Mattress That Optimizes Sleep and Minimizes Pain

Back Sleepers

“Typically back sleepers fare better with a firmer mattress. A mattress that is too soft can allow the sleeper to sink into the middle similar to a hammock. This unnatural position will put undue stress on several areas of your body, including your lower back. Your lumbar spine has a natural curve which can be decreased by sleeping on a mattress that does not offer the proper support.”

Side Sleepers

“Side sleepers are better off with a softer, more plush mattress that will conform to the natural curves of the human body (especially around their hips and shoulders). A softer mattress allows the heavier areas of your body to sink in more so to keep your spine in proper alignment. Your shoulders and hips sink in while your midsection and legs are allowed to rest on top of the mattress without undue stress on your body."

Combination Sleepers

“If you sleep on both your back and your side, I suggest going right down the middle, not too firm and not too soft, just like Goldilocks. Combination sleepers tend to do best with a mattress of medium firmness or medium softness.”

Stomach Sleepers

Sorry, guys. Sleeping on your stomach is generally not recommended, especially if you already have back or joint issues. Dr. Travis puts it this way:

“Do anything you can to stay off of your stomach. Sleeping on your stomach forces your body to turn your head to the side so you can breathe. This can cause problems over the long term as it decreases the natural curve in your neck, compresses one side of your neck while elongating the other, as well as contributes to lower back pain due to the torque applied to the spine.”

If you must sleep on your stomach, you’ll want a mattress that’s slightly soft at the top, yet firm enough to support your spine.

Now you can successfully find your best sleep on a mattress that can optimize sleep and minimize your pain. For further guidance on how to choose the best mattress, check out this guide: Find the Best Mattress (In 7 Easy Steps) by Mattress Advisor.