Buying a Mattress – What You Need to Know
We will ideally spend one third of our lives sleeping.
During sleep, your body’s activity is reduced, as the heart, lungs, digestive and other functions slow down. Your muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons relax, and are therefore rested. You release a hormone called Melatonin, which promotes deep sleep, decreases cortisol (our stress hormones), which promotes healing and helps you to relax.
In the spine, the intervertebral discs – compressed during the day by sitting and standing – absorb more water, and return to their normal size with sleep. That’s why you always start the day taller!
By morning, your refreshed body should be ready to take on the stresses and strains of a new day.
Disturbed sleep inhibits this regeneration process. If tissues which should have been resting during the night are held under strain, then they will function less effectively the next day, which is likely to cause weakness, and possibly an injury. If we do this night after night, we can set off an irreversible process of spinal degeneration.
The latest technological development is something called memory foam, which was originally developed by NASA in response to pressure sores that Astronauts developed using more traditional mattresses. As we began to understand more about the science of sleep, mattresses started to become firmer and firmer, until many were as responsible for causing pain as a very soft mattress.
We are now left with a huge choice of bedding, which leaves most consumers confused.
Most sales are completed in 5-10 minutes on a mattress in a show room (better than buying on the net), and few retailers will refund you if the first night’s discomfort persists.
Due to varied body shapes and compositions, very few beds satisfy everybody. If you sleep in a double bed, it is better to purchase a dual system mattress, with each side designed to support respective partners.
For the spine to relax at night, it must be encouraged to adopt a neutral position. This helps its tissues to regenerate, and therefore encourages them to get stronger.
In a sagging bed, the hips and shoulders sink in, compressing ligaments and joint capsules on the lower side, while stretching them on the upper side. Conversely, an over-hard mattress prevents the pressure from these points being absorbed, causing discomfort, and forcing the spine out of its neutral resting position.
If you purchase a new mattress, and after a few days you end up finding the mattress is too hard (and the retailer won’t give you a refund), you can buy an overlay, which can also be customised for each individual user.
If your mattress is too soft, and not damaged or sagging in any way, then you can have a solid board made to fit between the mattress and the base. Bed boards do however rapidly decrease a mattresses life span, so it may turn out to be a false economy.
Joint degeneration, and the best sleeping position
Even with an ideal mattress, you may still wake up in discomfort. This depends on the position you sleep in, and also if the joints have existing damage. Joints which are worn will stiffen naturally overnight, while joints that are excessively loose or lax, may be strained by a twisted sleeping posture. If you have a “sway-back” or tight hamstrings, then lying on your back may leave you with a deep burning ache at the base of your spine.
If your back problem persists, try changing your sleeping position – if you lie on your back, place a pillow under your knees, while if you lie on your sides, place a pillow between your knees. Also, bend your legs, so you are in a balanced, “semi-foetal” position, with your neck supported by a good quality pillow (your head/neck must be straight).
Avoid sleeping on your stomach, as this puts the neck into constant rotation, and also puts maximum pressure on the joints of the low back, especially if you have a softer mattress.
Obviously buying a mattress is not an exact science, but a good mattress will greatly improve your sleep, helping improve your mood, productivity, and general quality of life.