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Sleep Disorders

09 November 2018

How to choose the right mattress for your back

We spend a third of our lives sleeping. It is, therefore, important that we sleep on a bed that provides us with sufficient comfort and support.

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If you’re unable to get a peaceful night’s sleep or you’re waking up with back pain every morning, your mattress may be the cause of the problem.

Fortunately mattress technology has come a long way since those creaky old coil mattresses. Today, mattresses are made up of all kinds of extraordinary features and adjustments that provide comfort for every sleeper.

In an interview with Forty Winks, musculoskeletal physiotherapist Richard Christianson said, "My advice is to test the mattress and make sure you test it in your preferred sleeping position (stomach, side or back). Spend time lying on it to get the feel of it. You want enough firmness to support your body, but with it still to offer flexibility to the contours of your body. There is a difference between firm support and firm feel. You want firm support with a comfortable feel and comfort will be determined by your personal preference. There is no strong evidence to date that suggests one mattress is better for your back than another."

Among the bewildering choice of mattresses on the market, we take a look at four of the most common variations.

Memory foam mattress

Memory foam mattresses are made up of visco-elastic foam. The quality of this foam depends on the company’s foam formula. The formula ultimately determines the ability of the mattress to return to its original shape.

memory foam


Memory foam mattresses take the shape of the body and provide a great source of support. The even weight distribution of the mattress provides all-round pressure relief for the body. These types of mattresses are great for people who enjoy a "snug" sensation when sleeping and also for those in need of pain relief.

According to Christianson, "There is some research that suggests higher-specification foam mattresses (high density or visco-elastic foam) are less likely to cause pressure ulcers in the elderly population as they distribute the surface pressure more evenly." 

Coil mattress

The coil mattress has gone through an array of modifications and technological advances. Its firmness and comfort are dependent on the number and layers of coils in the mattress. A good coil mattress supports motion isolation, which means that if your partner is a restless sleeper, your sleep will be undisturbed.

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This mattress is a great source of support, making it excellent for those who suffer from lower back pain. However, springs tend to lose stiffness over time and therefore may not be such a great long-term investment.

Latex mattress

Latex mattresses are known for their pain relief properties. They’re both firm and buoyant, allowing for sufficient back support and body contouring.

latex mattress

The firmness of the mattress provides great spinal and body alignment. However, given the design of the mattress, they’re not good for severe lower back pain.

In an interview with Women's Health, professor of orthopaedic surgery Dr Neel Anand says, "While specialists used to recommend an extra-firm mattress as the ideal choice for proper back support, that guidance is outdated and has pretty much been overruled,” he says. “In fact, new studies have shown a too-hard mattress may actually create more pain because there isn’t enough ‘give’ near pressure points like your hips and shoulders." 

Adjustable mattress

Adjustable beds were once only available for hospital and healthcare patients. Over the years, these beds have been adjusted in a number of ways and their prices have come down, making them suitable for any home.

adjustable mattress

Adjustable beds are great for people suffering from back pain as they allow you to shift your body weight off your back. Lying flat on a mattress tends to cause back pain or aggravate pre-existing conditions for some people.

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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