Some of the most common questions our patients ask us in the clinic are in relation to pillows and mattresses. For most people, a good night’s sleep is as easy as turning the bedroom light off, laying down, pulling up the doona and resting your head on your pillow… sweet dreams. However, for others, a good night is not that easy. Whether you are suffering from arthritis, back or neck pain, shoulder pain, finding a comfortable position to fall asleep in, and stay asleep all night, is sometimes impossible. Previously we have discussed sleeping posture and pillows, highlighting the different types of pillows and how individualised pillow selection is related to your body composition, and past and present medical/injury history. In today’s blog, we will focus on all things mattresses, with some helpful tips for selecting the correct mattress or making your current mattress work better for you.

How old is too old?

Like everything, your mattress has a use by date. Generally we say after 8-10 years you should be looking to update your mattress. The lifespan of some higher quality mattresses (e.g. latex mattresses) may extend past the 10 year mark. If you’re restless, waking up in pain, having persistent pain or injuries, not sleeping through the night, or just don’t feel well rested, it may be time to consider replacing your mattress.

What type of mattress should I go for?

This depends on many factors including personal preference, your health, pain issues and of course your budget! Each type of mattress comes with its own characteristics:

Coil

One of the most popular mattress types. Coil (innerspring) mattresses have one or more layers of spring coils (generally steel) that provide support and comfort. As technology advances, the number, types, and layers of coils change. A larger number of coils typically means better comfort and support. Pocket spring mattresses contain individual springs, each sewn into its own pocket of fabric. This provides much more support and comfort, where it’s needed, compared to an innerspring mattress where each spring is lined together within a wire frame. They also provide less partner disturbance compared to innerspring because of the separate zones in the mattress.

Recommended for: Sleepers who want a more traditional coil/spring feel, cooling, and strong edge support.

Pillow-top

These are coil, latex, memory, etc. type mattresses. A pillow-top mattress has a layer of soft material either stuffed or sewn into the cover. This works to add extra comfort and cushion for the sleeper.

Recommended for: Sleepers who prefer a softer and more cushion comfort. If you enjoy a cloud-like type of support and comfort, most pillow-tops will offer the best sleeping surface for you.

Adjustable

These beds offer the ability to change the sleeping position of the mattress, usually by elevating the feet and inclining the back. Some of these even possess the ability to vibrate, heat, and/or massage the sleeper.

Recommended for: Sleepers who have specific needs that would allow them to benefit from an adjustable base. These needs typically come from certain medical conditions, being older sleepers or snorers, and having chronic lower back pain to name a few.

Memory Foam

These mattresses consist only of memory foam. Memory foam mattresses are known for their great support, pressure relief, and body contouring. Historically, memory foam has had a bad reputation for sleeping hot. However, many newer, more advanced memory foams have been designed with superior cooling properties, creating a much cooler mattress than traditional memory foams.

Recommended for: Sleepers who want great hug, body shaping, contour, pressure relief, and support. There is a wide spectrum of foams classified as memory foam and not all memory foams are created equal. A good option for sleepers who want a more pronounced hug than many latex mattresses offer.

Latex

Similarly, latex mattresses are made exclusively from latex foam. These mattresses are known for their cooling properties and comfort. Latex is known for its great responsiveness, comfort, bounce, and cooling.

Recommended for: Sleepers who want great bounce, cooling, and responsiveness. Additionally, good for sleepers who want foam, but want to stay away from the pronounced hug and contour that often comes with memory foam mattresses.

What firmness or support do I need?

Firmness is how hard or soft a mattress feels. The feel and firmness of a mattress depends on your definition of soft, medium, and firm. Your body type, weight, size, and other factors play into the feel. Experts say a lot of people confuse support with firmness. A mattress that provides good support means that it keeps your spine in proper alignment without creating pressure points. If a mattress does not offer adequate support, you will more than likely wake up sore or in pain. Firmness relates more to how comfortable a mattress feels. Whether hard or soft, the optimal firmness level goes hand-in-hand with comfort.

What position do you sleep in?

Side, back, stomach, or a little bit of each. Everyone sleeps in their own, unique way. The big problem… most people aren’t searching for a mattress that supports their sleeping style. Each sleeping position has its own specific needs and ideal firmness level.

Side

Sleepers who lie on their sides don’t always remain in the same position. A lot of times they rotate from both legs straight, to one straight and one bent, to both bent. With this constant change, side sleepers need a mattress with soft to medium feel.

Firmness and feel is important for side sleepers as they need a mattress that’s soft enough to contour to the curves of their body. A mattress that is too firm won’t contour to the shape of the side sleeper, resulting in a lack of support that usually creates pressure points leading to lower back pain, neck pain, and/or shoulder pain.

Back

Firmness and support are both critical for back sleepers. A mattress that is too soft will create pressure points on the sleeper, not providing the right amount of push back they need. In addition to that, if the bed does not support the sleeper, their spinal alignment will be negatively impacted, which could lead to prolonged back problems. The ideal mattress firmness is one that provides enough softness to eliminate pressure points, but still has great support.

Stomach

Stomach sleepers’ number one priority when searching for a new mattress needs to be support. The torso will apply the most pressure to the mattress for stomach sleepers. For this reason, they need a mattress that provides equal support across their body. If the mid-section sinks at the middle of the mattress (mattress is too soft) the sleeper will see a curving of the spine, causing lower back pain and other problems. Stomach sleepers need to be as flat as possible with respect to the surface of the mattress.

What – and how – to buy?

Our biggest tip is to try, try, try before you buy! That doesn’t mean take a mattress home and test it out… it means whilst you’re in the showroom spend some time laying down on different mattresses to get a good feel of what is going to work for you. To this end, you’d want to be lying on a mattress for at least 15 minutes. A quick lay on a mattress will not give you a good feel for what it’s going to be like for a night’s sleep.

Secondly – and if possible – try not to fall into the trap of choosing a mattress just because it’s on sale. Even if the mattress that you prefer isn’t on sale, you may be able to score yourself a better deal by some clever bargaining with the salesperson!

Lastly, always remember that the base your mattress is going to live on needs to be a firm support. A weak base is going to not going to allow you to get the best out of your new mattress.

We hope that this blog has been informative and will be of use if you’re needing some advice on your next mattress purchase. Remember to ask your physio at your next appointment if you need any further clarification on which mattress would be best for you!