Do You Have the Best Mattress?
A client of mine has started his quest for finding the right mattress. He suffers from occasional sciatica and has learned that the wrong mattress can bring about a sciatic ‘event’. He has tried standard coil with both latex and memory foam ‘top’ additions. The bottom line is he has yet to find the right formula or mattress. Being a client of mine has naturally made me take interest in his quest for researching the best solutions out there.
Sleeping and the surface or mattress we sleep on really does not get enough attention. If you think about it, we spend at least 7 hours a day sleeping. There are huge benefits with cognitive functioning, energy and even weight loss when it comes to a good night’s rest. Deep, high quality sleep is essential for good health and wellness. But also think about the effect on your body’s myofascial and skeletal system. Just like any other good or bad posture (standing or sitting) lying down and sleeping with poor alignment can affect the way your body moves and feels throughout the day. If your body is supported in a way that helps keep your joints in their ideal resting positions then you will move better and have little or no joint pain the next day.
So far, I have yet to find much research on mattresses, sleep quality and joint or muscle pain. Most of it is anecdotal. And a big part of the problem is that it is so individual.
Here is a summary of some of the major points out there to be aware of as well as a couple of studies that have been done.
The biggest challenge with mattresses is really giving them a solid test. Clete A. Kushida, MD, PhD, director of the Stanford Center for Human Sleep Research, says that you need at least 20 minutes on a mattress to even give it a fair test. Ideally he mentions that you should only buy from a store that allows a 30 day return policy. To me, this makes absolute sense. If you are going to spend 6 to 9 hours a night sleeping you better get it right.
There are a few main mattress categories:
1.) Coil: Still the standard, most people seem to be very comfortable with coil mattresses. The more coils the smaller they are and the more flexible and adjustable the mattress – even when still firm. Roger Herr, a spokesperson for the American Physical therapy Association, says they recommend a high coil mattress listed at 680 or above for most people. Although heavier individuals would do better with less, but larger coils, such as a listed 400 mattress. Less coils make them larger and stronger – but a lot less flexibility.
2.) Memory Foam and Latex: Both materials respond to body heat and ‘mold’ to your body. This can be a good or bad thing. If your alignment is naturally not good then ‘molding’ to it may not be a great thing – you are just reinforcing your postural problems. A firmer, less adapting, mattress normally helps to keep the spine and joints in a more neutral and straighter alignment. Again it comes done to personal comfort. One of the problems with synthetic materials is that they can increase body temperature and do not absorb sweat.
3.) Air Chambers: Sleep Number brand mattresses are an example. Although Kushida feels that air chambers are not the best overall choice they do leave a lot of versatility – especially for two people. If one of you feels better the next day with a firmer mattress you can increase the air and firmness of your side of the bed while the other can keep their side softer if they prefer. It is not good to have one person getting ideal sleep while the other suffers. So if this is the case you might want to look into a mattress that can adjust on each side. This is also why many hotels are moving to changeable air mattresses. They can allow their customers to find the right mattress.
So far I have yet to find any conclusions that hold for everyone, except that everyone should really take time trying out a mattress. Most researchers feel that the biggest thing comes down to personal preference and experimenting with different mattresses. Yes this can take time, but it is worth it. In general if they had to give one recommendation experts are still pointing towards a firmer mattress.
Here are two studies:
A study conducted at the Oklahoma State University showed that subjects felt much better the next day and had much less back pain when sleeping on a new, averaged priced coil mattress when compared to the same mattress that was 5 years or older. Seems kind of obvious, but the main point is that age has a huge affect on comfort and you might want to consider going mid range in price and upgrading every 5 years.
Another study done in Spain showed that of 313 subjects the consensus was not firm, but what is considered to be medium firm. They concluded that an overly firm mattress, though very supporting, may put too much pressure on the myofascial (muscular) system of the body. Yet again, they still found variation. Although not the average, some subjects preferred the way their body and back felt on a firmer mattress.