Oh for a decent night’s sleep…….and a decent mattress
Given that we spend about 1/3rd of our lives in bed (by the age of 45 you’ve already clocked up 15 years!) and that sleep should be a powerful, restorative and health giving experience, we owe it to ourselves to ensure that the quality of that sleep is as good as possible.
About half of UK adults experience at least one bout of back pain each year. Whilst this if most often due to injury, strains or poor posture, the persistent aches and pains (particularly when they are unresponsive to physical therapy) may often be related to our sleep arrangements. A huge number of people sleep on mattresses that simply aren’t up to the job. As osteopaths we’re often asked for advice about mattresses and beds – and whilst it is a very personal choice which mattress you prefer, here are some of the fundamental considerations……
We can expect a good quality mattress to serve us well for about 7-10 years – but the average Brit keeps the same mattress for a whopping 17 years. Every night we sweat half a pint and toss and turn on average of 70 times; so a mattress needs to be breathable, well constructed and sturdy, and that costs money. You can, of course, spend an extortionate sum on a bed or a mattress and – up to a point – you get what you pay for. You should expect to spend a minimum of £5-600. Ask anyone whose sleep is disturbed by back pain how much they’d pay for a decent night’s sleep – £10?, £20? More? Now consider this, you can get a really good mattress for £1000 – over 10 years that equates to a little under 27½p a night (14p each if there are two of you sleeping on it). A good mattress represents the best value ever! So beg, borrow or steal the money – but get a good one.
So how and what to choose….
Hard or soft? Orthopaedic beds are badly named – a hangover from the days when it was thought that a hard bed was good for you. Most orthopaedic beds are too hard. But too soft and the mattress sags, not supporting the spine properly – and leads to the often heard problem, (if there is a significant weight differential between a couple), where the lighter one spends the night hanging on to the edge of the mattress to avoid rolling into their partner – no wonder they hurt by morning! If you and your sleeping partner have opposing tastes in terms of firmness or softness or if there is a significant size differential between you, then seriously consider a zip-link arrangements.
Construction – Memory foam mattresses have been popular in recent years. They range from cheap and frankly hopeless, to very good quality (NASA technology and all that)and pricey. They have their advocates and ultimately of course it is personal preference. But feedback from patients is that they find them too warm, especially in summer (cosy in winter, granted – but overheating is not conducive to a good night’s sleep and you can always add warmth). Tempur and other manufacturers trade on the fact that with the superior pressure relieving properties of memory foam people toss and turn much less when sleeping on these mattresses and indeed this is the case. From an osteopathic point of view however, we’re not entirely sure that this is a good thing. It doesn’t do joints any good to be still for prolonged periods of time. Regular changes of position help to reduce the build up of inflammation and encourage the maintenance of a good blood supply to the joint and surrounding soft tissues. And the gel-like properties of the memory foam can make it feel a little like sleeping in treacle – it can be quite difficult to turn over!
A simple sprung mattess is generally not sufficiently supportive – the pocket sprung matresses are better, with each spring held in a small fabric pocket to contain it. And the greater the density of springs the better – much better moulding to body shape and support for the weaker areas of the spine. We generally favour a good quality medium to firm pocket sprung mattress, and suggest you then spoil yourself with a memory foam topper to give a luxurious, comfy cushioning upper layer.
But beware – good quality mattresses tend to be very heavy. Bear this in mind if you’ve a bad back or if you live alone, because most mattresses need turning regularly. It may pay to consider a design which doesn’t need to be turned often.
Think about the bed base too. There is no point in putting a great mattress onto a tired old base, neither can you put a mattress designed for a divan base onto a slatted base or vice versa. It may be necessary to replace the whole bed.
And finally buy the biggest mattress you can afford and which fits in your bedroom (and up the stairs!!) Two adults trying to sleep in a standard double is a disaster. A standard double is just 4’6” – that allows just 2’6” per person – which is the width of a standard cot mattress – big enough for a baby. Even a king size at 5’6” wide isn’t as wide as two standard singles. You need to be in a super king size if you are going to treat yourself the space you’d get in a single bed. Think about it – if your partner is tossing and turning 60-70 times a night, what you want (amorous encounters aside!) is as much space as possible between the two of you.
All that remains is to go shopping! It’s usually the case that, having decided that we want to change our mattress, we want the new one NOW – we don’t want to sleep another night on the old one. Lots of stores have an 8 week wait for a new mattress, which can seem agonisingly long. But don’t rush your decision – over the next 10 years you’ll be sleeping on this bed for more than 3. In the showroom, don’t just lie on the bed for 30 seconds and get up all embarrassed. Try and narrow your choice to no more than 3 or 4 beds/mattresses based on size, price and construction, etc. Then you need to kick off your shoes, take off your coat and lie down for a minimum of 20 minutes in your normal sleeping position – ideally 40 minutes. Get up, go have a coffee, come back and try another one. And don’t expect to make a decision on your first visit – like buying a house, most of us will visit 2-3 times before making a decision.
And pillows? Another blog, another day…..
Anthea Bentley BSc Hons Ost Med, Osteopath