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Sleep Disorders

27 July 2018

5 ways your mattress can ruin your health

Apart from determining the difference between decent shut-eye and terrible sleep, your mattress can cause a slew of health problems if you don't take proper care of it.

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Some of us are in dreamland the moment our head hits the pillow, while others take a lot longer to get there. But regardless of how quickly you fall asleep, there are some unsuspected things about your mattress that can affect your health while you sleep

According to an article in the International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health, you spend approximately one third of your life sleeping. Since a mattress is an item that you will most likely keep for several years, you could end up being exposed to a number of "bugs" that breed and collect in your mattress. These bedroom partners can have some unpleasant side-effects.

1. Allergies triggered by dust mites

Dust mites are common allergy triggers and can be found even in the cleanest homes. Mattresses are notorious dust collectors. Unfortunately ordinary vacuum cleaners are not able to get rid of dust mites along with visible dust. Dust mites live in warm and humid environments like bedding and mattresses.

According to the Allergy Society of South Africa, there are about 10 000 dust mites in the average bed. Symptoms of dust-mite allergies may include red, itchy eyes, a persistent cough, nasal drip, itchy skin, sneezing and nasal congestion.

Eliminate dust-mite allergies by investing in an allergy-free mattress protector and washing your bedding regularly, as clean bedding will form a barrier between the mattress and your body.

woman blowing her nose

2. Bad back and neck pain

Your trusty old mattress you've had since your student days might be comfortable, but is it still firm enough to provide a good night’s sleep?

When your mattress doesn’t offer sufficient support, it can strain your muscles and cause poor posture, which leads to back pain. But even though firmness is important to provide structural support to your body, it’s also crucial that you find the right mattress for you – if you find a firm mattress too rigid, for example, it will affect your sleep.

woman with back pain

3. Mould and fungus infections

Mould and fungus in your bed? That sounds nasty. Unfortunately bedding and mattresses can harbour several strains of mould and fungus, especially in a humid bedroom with inadequate ventilation.

A study has shown that several fungal spores in your mattress can be released into the air as you toss and turn at night. Mould and fungal spores can build up over a period of time and you will be breathing it in, triggering allergies and causing problems to your respiratory system, including, in rare cases, serious infections of the lungs. 

4. Sleep deprivation (and everything that comes with it)

Waking up groggy and struggling to concentrate during the day? Your mattress might be to blame for your disrupted sleep. If you struggle to sleep because of your uncomfortable or worn-out mattress, you might feel the consequences the next day.

Disrupted sleep may lead to health problems and a decreased quality of life.

woman tired at work

5. Joint soreness 

Sleeping on a mattress that is too firm for you can result in sore joints. While a firm mattress can be better for your back and posture than an old, sagging mattress, it can place pressure on your tailbone, arms and shoulders as you toss and turn to get comfortable. 

The more you struggle to find a comfortable position, the more it can lead to pain. According to Dr Michael Schaefer, Director of Musculoskeletal Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Cleveland Clinic, it is normal to try and find a comfortable position, but even the slightest twinge of pain can disrupt your sleep and cause strain on your joints. 

woman with aching shoulder

Care for your mattress

Keep your mattress in tip-top shape by doing the following:

  • Invest in an allergy-proof mattress protector.
  • Let your mattress air regularly – take it outside.
  • Knock out dust regularly.
  • Consider investing in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA-filter since normal vacuum cleaners don't get rid of all the dust. 
  • Let your bedroom air or invest in a dehumidifier to get rid of moisture in the air, which can cause mould.
  • Shower before bed to rinse off any allergy triggers. 
  • Wash your bedding weekly to avoid any dead skin cells, dust and other dirt being transferred and building up in your mattress. 

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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