Is Your Mattress the BEST? Maybe it used to be…

Almost every week here at Nightlight Chiropractic, patients come in and ask us, “what mattress should I be sleeping on? What do you recommend as far as mattresses?” Getting a night of good sleep is so important, so we are going to give you soup to nuts, everything you need to know about mattresses. If you look at the best research that’s coming out of the industry, one key takeaway is that all mattresses fail. It takes about seven to fifteen years, and it’s based on how much sag you get. If it gets to about one and a half inches of sag, then the mattress has failed. However, you’ll start to feel increased back pain if your mattress sags half of that, which is 0.75 inches. Realistically, every seven to 15 years, you’re going to need to update your mattress. If your mattress has begun to sag, it’s time to invest in a new one. You’re going to spend roughly a third of your life on your mattress, so choosing a mattress is absolutely something you should approach in a dedicated way and do your research. I’ll address some common questions I get about mattresses and sleeping and offer my top picks for mattress selection.

What Sleeping Position is Best?

When it comes time to make a decision about which mattress is best for you, first, you need to consider the position that you sleep in. Are you a side sleeper? Are you a face down sleeper? Are you a back sleeper? If you’re a stomach sleeper, you need to stop that immediately. There’s a lot of good quality research that shows that you shouldn’t be sleeping on your stomach. It actually reduces the number of sagittal curves you have in your spine. These are the curves that you’re supposed to have in your neck, middle back, and lower back, and it’s essential that you don’t get rid of those. You can’t sleep face down because you need those curves to keep functioning. If you insist on sleeping face down, the best way is to have a soft pillow and a really firm mattress.

If you sleep on your back, that’s good. What you need is a medium-firm mattress. If you spend part of the night or the majority of the night on your back, you’re going to want a medium-firm mattress and a medium-firm pillow. If you sleep on your back, you can sleep with a pillow underneath your knees, but you cannot sleep with a pillow underneath your back. A lot of people have been telling us that they feel comfortable like that or that they seem to sleep better like that. However, it’s unnaturally causing some extra hyperlordosis, some additional curvature in your lower back, and it will not serve you well. That’s going to cause more pain. Keep a pillow under your knees, not under your back.

Chiropractors agree that the preferred sleeping position is on your side. We want you to be sleeping on your side, with a pillow between your knees. The best choice is a soft to medium mattress, depending on how much shoulder pain you get when you’re sleeping on your side. We often hear complaints that sleeping on your side causes too much tension on your shoulder. If you have a slightly less firm mattress, that’s going to help you so that you can sleep a little bit better without deforming your spine. So, if you sleep on your side, you want a slightly softer mattress than if you sleep on your back.

What Mattress Material is Best?

Here at Nightlight, we hear this all the time. People want to know, “Should I get the memory foam? Should I get the spring mattress? Should I get the latex mattress, air mattress, or the waterbed?” Let’s go over all of them here one at a time. Traditional spring mattresses are what most people had up until very recently, and this is a fine choice. They still do very well, and they have a lot of mattress toppers and pads that are already included. The one downside is that you can’t flip them once they start to lose their shape and deform.

My choice is memory foam, and it’s because this has come way down in price and way up in quality over the past five, six, seven years. You can get these things all over the internet shipped very, very cheaply. One thing to remember is that with some of the older ones, you shouldn’t have small children or infants sleeping on them because they sink into it just a little bit, and then they can’t turn or twist, and then they get stuck and can die.

The other thing is gas is being expelled from the mattress. If you’ve ever bought one of these, you understand what I’m saying, but once you open these things up, they start to release a smell like noxious fumes, and it’s really strong for some mattresses. It’s not dangerous; it’s just unpleasant. That’s the downside of those memory foam mattresses. You should buy one in the medium-firm density because they get really soft over time. Make sure you don’t order something that’s too thin. A six-inch or an eight-inch memory foam mattress is not going to be enough support for you. There’s just not enough density for those smaller ones. Your memory foam mattress needs to be something at least 10 inches thick or more. I recommend 12 to 15 inches, so it offers the support you need.

What About Air Mattresses?

Air mattresses like Sleep Number are another type that we get questions about all the time. We hear a lot of anecdotal reports back from patients say that these are the best. Air mattresses, even the off-brand kind, get very pricey very quickly, but they do have their benefits. They are really good for couples. If you’re a couple with a husband that needs a side sleeping, softer mattress, and the wife is a back sleeper and needs a firmer mattress, it’s a good way that you can get the best of both worlds because they offer independent air suspensions that allow you to have the best of both worlds in one mattress. The last thing people ask about is waterbeds. Waterbeds are great for the 1970s, but they’re bad for backs. So, if you are still sleeping on a waterbed, get rid of it. It needs to go. It is bad for your spine. It is not one of your options. Make sure that it goes away and does not come back.

More Mattress-Buying Considerations

You want to do your homework before buying a mattress. It starts with reading all the reviews. There are a ton of reviews out there. Look for independent personal reviews from people who have bought the mattress you’re considering, who are not getting paid to give you their position or what they think of it. It’s imperative. If you have the option, you want to try the mattress as well, to see if you like it. If you get a chance to sleep on it for 30 days and it has a warranty that allows you to return it, that’s really important to make sure that you’re not buying something that you don’t like.

What’s the Best Temperature for Sleeping?

People also ask me about the best temperature for sleeping. Temperature for sleeping plays a big role because your body temperature needs to decrease just a little bit about one degree so that you can actually get to sleep. You want your bedroom to be between 60 and 67 degrees, and make sure to select a mattress that does not make you warmer. A lot of mattresses today don’t hold as much heat as they used to. They’re getting smarter with this technology, and with the different fabrics and materials that they’re making it out of so that even the latex mattresses that used to be notorious for holding in heat do not hold that heat the same anymore. This is something you can see when you read the personal mattress reviews.

Which Company is Best?

Remember when there used to only be like a handful of mattress companies? There was Tempur-Pedic, Sealy, Serta, Simmons, and maybe Sleep Number, and that was it. There’s a whole new guard of mattress companies out there, things that you’ve probably seen advertised on Facebook; Casper, Purple, Nolah, Level Sleep, Bear. They’re all reputable companies selling millions of mattresses. It’s worth your time to investigate those just as much, especially because they have an online presence. That means they’re going to ship their mattress to you, and because of that, they have great warranties to stand behind those products, meaning that if you don’t like it after 90 days or 120 days, you can ship it right back. A lot of the box stores don’t have warranties like that anymore.

What about the Price?

When it comes to pricing, again, do your homework. Make sure that it fits your budget. More expensive doesn’t always mean better. It just means more expensive. But don’t let the price hold you back too much because it’s something that you’re going to spend a third of your life on and you’re going to have it for 15 years or so.

Take the time and do the research on your mattress purchase and then make your choice and spend the dollars on it. It’s going to serve you really well into the future. I hope that that answers some of your questions about mattresses based on your sleep position and what you are seeking. I also recommend you check out my blog post about pillow selection, so you can optimize every aspect of your sleep. If you have more questions about mattresses and pillows, feel free to ask me in the comments, or on your next visit to Nightlight Chiropractic!

About Dr. Merrill

headshot of Dr merrill
Dr. Andrew Merrill is a passionate active clinician and owner of Nightlight Chiropractic Orlando where him and his team treat hundreds of patients each month. With a strong background in exercise science from Stetson University, clinical skills from Palmer College of Chiropractic, and continued postdoctoral training in spinal disc injuries and clinical nutrition, Dr. Merrill is very well versed in the healthcare landscape. With topics ranging from "what to do for common ailments" to "why the medical system is failing you" Dr. Merrill and this blog in particular aim to keep readers up to date on what the research shows and how you can put it into practice NOW to keep yourself healthy for a lifetime.