I’ve been in the family mattress business since 1999. I bet I’ve been asked “What’s the best mattress?” every day since I started working here! The truth is that I can’t tell you what the best mattress is for you, but I can share with you some of the research I’ve done. I can also share with you some great tips about buying and trying out mattresses!
If you’re lucky, you spend seven or eight hours each night in bed (hopefully!), getting the restorative sleep your body and mind need. Your sleep surface has a lot to do with ensuring that your night is restful so that you can face your daily challenges with gusto. Ahem. If your sleep surface has gotten old/worn out or is not appropriate for your body type or size, you may start to wake up with aches and pains. In fact, when you start to wake up with aches and pains, and you know you didn’t spend the past few days working in your yard, building a deck, or trying P90X for the first time, this is when you know it’s time to replace your old mattress. Don’t listen to the mattress industry that tells you to replace your mattress every eight years! If you are still comfortable, and you do not wake up achy, your mattress is FINE!
Common aches and pains you might experience if you have an old, worn out mattress: shoulder pain, neck pain, and stiffness. But by far the most common complaint is lower back pain. This is the complaint that drives folks in to see their chiropractor, asking him or her, What’s the best mattress?
Scientific studies done in the last 15 years have focused on what effect changing the sleep surface had for people suffering from low back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and stiffness. All the studies have a very limited sample size (probably because it was costly to provide everyone a new mattress!), but the studies basically reach very similar conclusions.
Effect of prescribed sleep surfaces on back pain and sleep quality in patients diagnosed with low back and shoulder pain
In this study of 27 adults with low back and shoulder pain, a mattress was designed specifically for each patient based on his or her dominant sleeping position, back, side, or stomach. The mattresses were “medium-firm mattresses specifically layered with foam and latex based on the participants’ reported prominent sleeping position”. Each patient answered questions about their pain and sleep comfort each night for 21 nights before they received their new mattress. After receiving their mattress, each participant rated his or her pain and sleep quality at intervals of four, eight, and twelve weeks. And guess what? “It was concluded that sleep surfaces are related to sleep discomfort and that is indeed possible to reduce pain and discomfort and to increase sleep quality in those with chronic back pain by replacing mattresses based on sleeping position.” You don’t say.
Better Backs by Better Beds?
This 2008 study was to test the notion that a firm mattress is always best for chronic low back pain. You’ve heard this your whole life, right? You need a firm mattress if you have a “bad back.” The study started with 160 participants, and each participant was randomized in to one of three groups, each group was to receive 1 of 3 different types beds. The beds were: water (I know, right? But the study was done in Denmark, and waterbeds are really nice when it’s cold outside), body-conforming memory foam mattress, and a hard mattress. 19 people dropped out before they even got their waterbed heaters plugged up, and another 27 people stopped before the one-month trial period. In conclusion, it appears that the waterbed and the memory foam mattresses were superior to the hard mattresses in providing folks with chronic back pain some relief, but the differences were small. I think the point here is don’t choose anything too firm, and this funny little study from 1981 should quietly disappear. It advocates a very firm bed for chronic low back sufferers, but if that doesn’t work, go ahead and get a waterbed! Bedding has come a long way since 1981, needless to say.
Changes in back pain, sleep quality, and perceived stress after introduction of new bedding systems
This neat little study published in 2009 set out to determine if replacing a mattress set, older than 5 years old could help a patient experiencing minor back pain, poor sleep, and stress. Each of the 59 participants were asked a series of questions to assess his or her sleep quality, pain, and stress levels for 28 days before receiving a new medium-firm mattress. After receiving their new mattress, each participant was again asked to fill out questionnaires about his or her pain, sleep quality, and perceived stress level. The conclusion of this study was that “new bedding systems increased sleep quality and reduced back discomfort, factors that may be related to abatement of stress-related symptoms.” All good news for a mattress purveyor.
The Goldilocks Effect
The reason I highlighted medium-firm mattress above is because Goldilocks was right, Baby Bear’s mattress was the best mattress. It wasn’t too firm, and it wasn’t too soft, it was just right. In my experience, customers are most happy when they choose a mattress more in the middle, too, but don’t listen to me! You have to try a mattress out to make sure that it is the right mattress for you. Your weight, height, and body mass index are all factors that influence how a mattress will feel to you. When you decide that it’s time to shop for a new mattress, here are some of my handy mattress shopping tips to help you make the most of your shopping trip. If you live close to our store in Hudson, NC, please stop by. We’d love to help you find the best mattress for you.