Your health is closely tied to your quality of sleep and how supportive your bed is, say health experts. Here’s what they say about why it matters and what happens when your mattress lets you down.
A good night’s sleep is something we all want and need. And the cornerstone of healthy, quality rest is a great mattress, one with adequate comfort and support. Often times though, we get used to discomfort throughout the night, putting up with it because it’s easier than trying to fix the issues.
Better Sleep Council research shows consumers start thinking about buying a new mattress when their health and comfort suffer because of a deteriorating mattress – but that decision process can take years. In the meantime, joints and back may suffer. Before it gets to that point, ask yourself, “Does my bed improve my sleep – or make it worse?”
How a mattress can protect and improve your health
Good sleep equal good health and a happier body. “A mattress supports your back in two ways,” says board-certified rheumatologist Dr. Siddharth Tambar with Chicago Arthritis and Regenerative Medicine. “It offers soft cushion support in areas of your body that are tender and sore. As well, it provides firm support in areas of your body that have instability that can hurt when there is too much movement.”
A back friendly sleep space is one part of an overall back health regimen, he notes. If you are appropriately strengthening your back with exercise and managing your posture, then a good, supportive mattress should create a space that allows your back to recover from the rigors of the day.
“Realistically the needs of your back will determine what mattress is a good fit, and that will vary from person to person,” explains Dr. Tambar. “Some people need a softer cushioned mattress to handle tender regions, and other people a firmer one that offers more strength and support for weakened areas of the back. If you find yourself waking up at night with back pain, you’ll know if your mattress isn’t a good fit and no longer supportive.”
He also says that a poor mattress will not only cause more pain in your back, but it will prevent you from getting the restful sleep you need to take on your active lifestyle.
How to create a healthy support sleep space
Spine and neck interventional pain management specialist, Dr. Kaliq Chang of the Atlantic Spine Center in Edison, New Jersey, says a supportive bed will be soft enough to be comfortable but firm enough to support your back in a neutral position allowing for the natural curvature of the spine. “And make sure pillows are at the correct height for the spine and avoid sleeping on the stomach.”
Selecting the right mattress with adequate support will help with back, muscle and joint pain because it will not put unbalanced stress on the different elements of the spine including spinal nerve, intervertebral discs and facet joints, Dr. Chang points out.
First and foremost, look for a mattress that supports your spine. Take your pillow mattress shopping and lay on each mattress with it, suggests Dr. Kevin Kosak, a chiropractor based in Omaha, Nebraska. “You may even lay there for 10 minutes to test that the mattress continues to support the curves of your spine. I recommend sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees to support your hips and lower back. Or, if you lay on your back, place a pillow under your knees. Other helpful hints include rotating your mattress every six months and replacing your mattress as it wears out about every 8-10 years.”
What to do when your mattress fails to support you
He says your mattress is no longer supportive to your back when you begin to notice pain or stiffness first thing in the morning. “If you notice this is the case, consistently without another reason for the cause of pain and stiffness upon waking, your mattress could be the culprit,” Dr. Kosak notes. “Usually, pain and stiffness caused by an unsupportive mattress will respond well to stretching and movement when you get up and will dissipate within about 30 minutes.”
Other clues your bed is no longer supportive are tossing and turning while trying to fall asleep and waking up more frequently during sleep, he adds. If your mattress is not properly supporting your back, you’ll have a difficult time finding comfort to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Aside from having a horrible night’s sleep, robbing you of sleep quality and quantity, the wrong mattress creates problems over time. “If it’s too firm, the mattress can cause misalignments in your spine and joints which can lead to nerve pressure, pain, and stiffness,” explains Dr. Kosak. “If a mattress is too soft the mattress will allow you to sink into the bed and promote poor posture while sleeping. This can also cause misalignments, nerve pressure, disc problems, pain, and stiffness.”
Strategies for finding the best, healthiest mattress for you
The experts are clear about why a bad bed is bad for your health, but how do can you make the smart decisions about creating the best sleep space of your dreams. After all, the right mattress is the cornerstone for peaceful slumber ahead.
“There is not that one best mattress suited to any one person’s body and not everyone’s back pain or stiffness is solved with the same combination of measures,” says Dr. Jason Won, doctor of physical therapy, board certified orthopedic clinical specialist, and founder of the Pain Free Academy, in San Francisco, Calif. “It’s just not how we’re built.”
He notes that, while there may be mattresses better suited to each individual, it is the person’s body that adapts to the surface, and not the other way around. The key is not letting your body stiffen up, and then you’ll be able to use any mattress without tension or pain.
There are some general rules of thumb for mattress buying and optimal spine health. Dr. Won recommends, like choosing a mattress on the medium to firmer side: “Patients’ spines tend to feel better. Ones that sink, such as soft mattresses or water mattresses, don’t provide enough support for the spine, neck or muscles.”
He also says that the best practice is to avoid bed and back problems by having an optimal nighttime mobility routine. Stretching your neck, shoulders, back, pelvis, & hips before going to bed is a fantastic practice for people struggling with muscle pain at night or on waking. Incorporate a mixture of deep breathing, spinal movements, and stretching out wrists and shoulders, especially after a long day sitting at a desk.
And one final note, consider your nighttime neck support. “Often times pillows that shape to the contour of your neck are ideal,” explains Dr. Won. “A rolled-up towel at the base of the neck so it fits the shape of it can help support the vertebrae and stop the neck sinking into a ‘flexed’ or ‘sagged’ state the entire night.”
He feels changing up your pillow often is a good strategy. Switch up its stiffness, shape, and texture every month, if possible. “This helps the neck and back adapt to different surfaces, preventing them from stiffening up through being stuck in the same position every night.”
The bottom line is don’t settle for an uncomfortable bed. It’s bad for your health and prevents you for getting the rest you need to live your best life.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
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