Poor sleeping patterns (fewer than seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep per night) can lead to back pain, bad moods and is even linked to obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. If you are in the 10 percent of Americans who report not sleeping well, it may be time to consider a trip to the mattress store.
As with other important purchases, you'll get better results if you do some preliminary research.
Waking up with back pain that wasn't there the night before is a sign your mattress may be to blame, says Kelly M. Lange, a chiropractic sports physician at Hands On Wellness Clinic in Ashland.
"I have this conversation with patients all the time," says Lange. "Even if the mattress is not old (I consider old more than 10 years), we may have to talk about the mattress contributing to their pain."
When discussing the issue, Lange first asks her patients about sleep posture: Do they sleep on their backs? Sides? Stomachs? Are they flip-floppers (common in teenagers)?
"Different sleep postures will necessitate different kinds of mattresses," Lange explains. For guidance, she refers to the American Chiropractic Association's mattress theory: "A mattress ... should support the body's weight evenly and allow the spine to stay in its natural alignment."
That means a stomach sleeper (not a recommended posture, but people do it) needs a firmer mattress. "If the mattress is too soft, they will increase their low-back curvature while they are sleeping, and this could jam the joints in the low back, causing pain," says Lange. "A side sleeper, on the other hand, needs a softer surface to adjust to the contours of the body in the side position; they usually like the pillow toppers. A back sleeper will vary on what they find comfortable."
Lange counsels patients against expecting a new mattress to fix a specific malady. "Pillows and mattresses are generally supportive, not corrective," she says. "This means we don't necessarily look at them to correct the problem but to help support the work I do, or to make sure it's not keeping them from healing and getting better."
Finding the best fit takes time, patience and lots of testing. And although buying a new mattress can be an expensive solution for back pain, it could also be the path to better sleep, more effective therapeutic results and a healthier body.
For more information about buying a mattress:
The American Chiropractic Association's patient Web site: Go to www.acatoday.org and search "mattress."
The Better Sleep Council's Web site: Go to www.bettersleep.org; under the MATTRESS menu, click on "Mattress Buying Guide." Browsers can also download "The Better Sleep Guide" from this site.
First, set a realistic budget. A couple hundred bucks won't go very far when shopping for quality.
"A lot of people don't know that a good mattress costs real money," says Craig Haws, assistant manager at Denver Mattress in Central Point's Furniture Row. "They come into a mattress store, see the prices and leave."
As a manufacturer, Denver Mattress offers high-quality options for around $900 and up; options at other stores may start a little higher. Some mattresses can reach all the way to $5,000 or $6,000.
Also figure in the lifespan of the mattress. Although most mattresses carry a 10-, 15- or 20-year warranty, the Better Sleep Council recommends replacing a mattress after five years.
This turnover has more to do with physical developments than with the mattress. "Your body changes so much over time that you need different alignment and support styles," explains Haws.
Once you've reconciled your budget to your need for a new mattress, carve out a day or two for shopping. Most experienced salespeople will help guide you, listening closely as each mattress is tested and making suggestions for better choices.
"When they're lying on the bed, the midsection is heaviest," says Adam Spiegel, sales associate at Larson's Home Furnishings in Medford. "On a bed that's too soft for them, their midsection will dip down a little bit. Over eight hours that might not make their back feel so good."
Spiegel studies the customer's body alignment and tries to find a mattress that helps the spine stay straight. While testing mattresses, he asks about the three major pressure points: neck, shoulders and hips.
"If you start getting positive responses, you're getting closer," he says. "The mattress shouldn't necessarily feel like you're floating on a cloud, but it should feel somewhat weightless, where you feel supported but you don't feel like something is pressing against any of your pressure points."
For the best experience, Spiegel recommends combining a pillow with the mattress testing.
Try to lie on each mattress for at least five minutes, "more if the store will let you," says Kelly M. Lange, a chiropractic sports physician at Hands On Wellness Clinic in Ashland.
To assess the general quality of the mattress, employ the "boinga-boinga" technique. "Sit on the side of the mattress and bounce up and down a couple times," says Lange. "If the mattress is too wimpy, you'll slide off or bounce more than two times; if the mattress is really firm you'll only bounce once."
Ask about the store's return policy; many will allow returns after two to four weeks of trying out a mattress. But buyer beware: "There may be hidden shipping or other fees. Make sure to check this out before agreeing to it," counsels Lange.
Also consider any allergies or sensitivities.
"There is a lot of off-gassing of the chemicals with memory foam-type mattresses," Lange says. "If they are at all sensitive to off-gassing, they should consider something else. A new, great alternative is the latex mattress — a natural alternative to memory foam."