You and Your Mattress

by Florence Cardinal Patient Expert

I'm not saying that the right bed and mattress bed will cure your insomnia or sleep apnea or sleep paralysis, but a bed or mattress that's uncomfortable or unsuited to your needs will add to sleep problems.

What's your bed like? Is it starting to look a bit the worse for wear? Does it sag in the middle? Can you feel the shape of the springs when you lie down? I've even heard of people who were trying to sleep on a mattress so old that the springs were actually sticking through the cover I certainly hope you are not in that category. But if it is time to choose a new mattress, here are a few tips.

A soft, fluffy mattress can feel so comforting when you first lie down. You sink right into it and it seems to cuddle your body in loving arms.

WARNING: You may not feel quite so coddled when morning comes.

Too soft a bed doesn't give your body the support it needs. Shoulders and hips are out of alignment. The result? You may awaken feeling stiff, achy and unrested.

Some people advocate sleeping with a sheet of plywood under the mattress. This may be necessary for some severe back problems or injuries. I don't believe it's necessary for the average person.

True, a firm mattress is best, but it should have enough give to conform to the contours of your body. It should support, not confine.

SHOP FOR A MATTRESS LIKE YOU'D SHOP FOR SHOES How do you shop for shoes? You try them on. Do the same with a mattress. Don't be shy. Lie down on it. Roll over. Stretch and wriggle. Don't rush. Take as much time as you need to make your decision. After all, you'll be spending a lot of hours lying on this bed.
You should be checking for:

  • COMFORT - How does it feel? Is it soft enough to be comfortable yet firm enough to give support? Does it seem to conform to the shape of your body? If you cannot find a comfortable position no matter how you lie, you probably have the wrong mattress.

  • SUPPORT - Does the mattress offer support where your body needs it?" Not everyone is built the same, you know.

  • SPACE - When you buy shoes, you check for enough room to wriggle your toes. Do you have room on this bed to wriggle, to stretch, to roll over in comfort? If you have a bed partner, there should be ample room for both people to toss and turn as they need to.

  • QUALITY - Last but far from least, is this bed of good quality? Beds and mattresses are not cheap, so you want to be sure you're getting something that's going to stand up to use. Your best bet is to deal with a reputable outlet and buy a name brand product.

So how is your bed? Is it several years old? Does it sag, wobble, groan? Do you have the imprint of the springs on your back?

You say you can't afford to buy a new bed or mattress right now. I say you can't afford not to. Sleep is an important part of your life, right up there with food, water and air. Give your bed the attention it needs and sleep peacefully throughout the night.

Here's How: Test for Firmness. A soft mattress may feel great when you first lie down, but by morning you may find your body plagues by aches and pains. You need a bit of support so's your back doesn't sag.

Look for comfort. Does the mattress seem to conform to the shape of your body? Don't be shy. This is something that's going to have an effect on your health and well-being so try it in the store. Lie down. Roll over. Can you get comfortable?

Does this mattress offer support where YOU need it? Don't listen to sales people who try to tell you it's just right. They don't know about that slipped disc in your lumbar region or the fact you suffer from whip lash. Shop for your personal needs.

Is it wide enough? Do you sleep alone or with a partner? Do you (or your partner) toss and turn? A smaller bed may be just right for some people, but if you're tall or overweight, make sure you have the space you need.

Shop for quality. Don't go for the cheapest model in the store. You get what you pay for. Lower priced mattresses tend to be thinner, poorly made and lack the firmness to give you support. When in doubt, shop for well known brand names in a reputable store.

Never buy a second hand mattress. That's just asking for trouble. The shape of the bed has learned to conform to the person who has been using it. It will never learn to fit your shape. You may also be inheriting other problems. Diseases, or even bugs. Certainly it will be filled with dust allergens and, yuck, flakes of the previous owner's skin that slew off in the night. Buy new!

Don't say you can't afford a new bed or mattress. You can't NOT afford it. It's your health, your rest, your peace of mind. This is doubly important if you are one of the many people who suffer from sleep disorders. Sleep well. Stay healthy.

Florence Cardinal
Meet Our Writer
Florence Cardinal

Florence wrote for HealthCentral as patient expert for Sleep Disorders.