So you’ve woken up inside that miniature sinkhole for the last time, and you’re getting ready to brave the market for a new bed. The problem is, it’s a dizzying maze out there. How do you navigate claims about this incredible new mattress or that amazing coil system to discover the Truth? How do you choose the best bed for you? The following article will explore what researchers and experienced mattress sleepers have to say about the ideal Dream Machine.
It will both investigate the kinds of beds out there, and help you to choose the right one for you.
What makes a bed?
There are a few factors which contribute to whether a bed is a bed, or just a shadow of a bed. The main factor is whether you are looking at the floor or the wall. But let’s discuss the others. Though what makes right right will differ for each person, there are certain qualities which define a good bed. It is important to understand these factors when selecting your nightly escape vehicle. The first factor is support. This is going to vary for each body. A bed that is the right firmness will give your body the support it needs. A larger body will likely need more support, and benefit from a firmer mattress, while a smaller body can do with a little more give. Support is important and can both ease existing back or joint pain, and prevent new pain from developing. The next factor is ‘even pressure distribution’. A bed that distributes pressure evenly is one that you sink into just enough, so that it contours your whole frame. This ensures that your weight is evenly balanced across the surface, and that you don’t wake up with strains or aches. If you like to sleep on your side, your hips and shoulders can take extra weight, so pay special attention to the pressure distribution abilities of your bed. Then, there is comfort. This is, of course, entirely subjective. Some people love sleeping on the plush beds found in hotels, or even sleeping directly on the floor. Others enjoy resting atop their stolen paintings.
Keeping these basics in mind, let’s cover the many varieties of mattresses out there, and see how they fare. The most famous bed, or rather, mattress type, is the innerspring. That’s your classic bed. Known for being good to jump on or do other things on, innersprings come in a variety of firmness. Innerspring mattress cores consists of different types of metal coils. The gauge and amount of coils will determine the support given. A lower gauge means a thicker coil and therefore greater mattress firmness. That often means more support. More coils is typically better for support too, but pay attention, as sometimes a high coil count means thinner springs (them tricky marketeers), and overall, will actually offer less support. What can happen is your body can sink down in different places, resulting in pain upon waking, as your muscles strain to support what the mattress has not. Innerspring mattresses are often padded with foam or layers of material which make them more cushiony and comfortable. Some even contain a built-in ‘pillow-top’, which can be made of memory foam. Overall, the best way to know if a particular innerspring, or any bed for that matter, works for you is to lie on it. The salesperson can say what they will. But only your body will know the truth.
You may have encountered the idea that the firmer a mattress, the better, to help ease back pain. However, there is good evidence which suggests a slightly more Goldilocks approach. A double-blinded study published in 2003 in the Lancet tested 313 participants experiencing chronic low back pain, by having them sleep on either medium-firm or firm innerspring mattresses. Those sleeping on the medium-firm mattresses experienced significantly more pain relief overall than those on the firm varieties, and the study’s interpretation of its findings was that medium-firm mattresses can help relieve chronic low back pain.
Interestingly, http://www.sleeplikethedead.com, a consumer review website for all things sleep, Innersprings consistently rank lower than all other mattress varieties in terms of durability, long-term comfort, and pain relief. Even with good initial support, innersprings can sag or get lumpy over time, and though a box spring beneath your innerspring can both increase softness (should you want that) and reduce mattress wear, these aging rectangles can take their toll on your body. Innersprings may be the most traditional mattress variety, but they’re not necessarily the best. So what else is out there?
Foam.There are two main types of foam mattress: memory foam, and latex. Foam mattresses typically offer even pressure distribution. On a foam mattress, the body is evenly supported and weight is holistically distributed. This can allow for a sleeping-on-a-cloud feeling, and relief from varying types of pain. The difference between memory foam and latex foam are the materials involved. Though both have a similar feel, memory foam tends to retain heat more easily. Therefore, if you know you heat up like your neighbors do when arguing about their Jesus scarecrow, memory foam may prove uncomfortable at times. Latex, which is typically more breathable than memory foam and will not sleep hot like memory foam, is the mattress of choice for allergy sufferers and those with chemical sensitivities. It seems to offer the best of many worlds. You can choose foam mattresses of varying densities (firmness) to suit your physical needs. Like an innerspring, a good foam mattress should be of a medium to firm density, as anything softer may feel extremely comfortable, but in the long run, won’t provide adequate support. An interesting fact: if you share a foam bed, you will benefit from motion isolation, meaning that movement on one side does not affect the other (“pocket springs” in an innerspring provide the same benefits).
Speaking of sharing the bed, sometimes it is challenging to take two people’s needs into account in one bed choice. One solution to this is the Sleep Number system. This is essentially an air-bed with adjustable firmness on either side. Both sleepers can individually adjust their side to their preferred conditions. Air beds are valued for their adjustable nature, a feature not found in most other mattress types. As your body changes over time, air beds can adjust to the cycles of your life. You can change the firmness, controlling how much support you receive and tweak the bed to suit your personal comfort. As well, you can place a memory foam topper on the mattress surface, thus gaining easy control over both support and pressure relief.
Water beds, what the name implies, contain a core with water chambers. A high quality waterbed with enough firmness can provide adequate support, and can properly contour the body, distributing all pressure nice and even. Waterbeds are often equipped with heaters, which can be soothing to aches and pains. However, if you’re in need of something particularly firm, waterbeds are likely not the way.
Futons, however, just may be. Futons are japanese-style mattresses that are typically hard, and sometimes used on the floor above a tatami mat. Though some adore them, the futon’s hard surface is not for everybody. Depending on your body type and preferred sleeping positions, a futon may feel heavenly, providing you with the support you didn’t even know you needed, or it could be painful, if certain parts of your body take an imbalanced amount of weight.
The idea behind sleeping on an extremely hard surface is that the total support offered by it can help the body to properly align. This may work if you are heavier, however for those with smaller bodies, bones and muscle may jut out unevenly, causing the body to bow and creating discomfort and pain. Many health professionals, including chiropractors advocate a sleeping surface that allows for the spine to conform to its natural curvature, as opposed to it being completely straight.
Your mattress may need to retire
Mattresses are not like wine, or running shoes. They do not age to win. Nor do they get broken in (except for perhaps Latex foams, which have been reported as excessively firm when new). Over time, the quality of a mattress will deteriorate and can affect your health. In a study published in the Journal of Chiropractic medicine, researchers found that new medium-firm innerspring mattresses made a difference. 59 participants reporting discomfort with their old mattresses reported significant improvement in their quality of sleep after replacing the old beds with new ones. If you are experiencing back pain, particularly in the morning, a new mattress may provide huge relief. Innersprings are notorious for experiencing wear, and as previously mentioned, a box spring can help prolong its life. Though foam mattresses are often pricier, they also tend to last longer. An innerspring mattress should ideally be replaced every 5-7 years. High quality foams, air beds, and waterbeds tend to last 10 years or more.
A lot of time
A mattress is a huge investment, and you spend way more time on a bed than you do driving a car or even shooting at the squirrels who keep stealing your tomatoes. Still, many people do not put much time or energy into making an informed bedding choice. But let us tell you, it’s worth it, and you may discover a pleasurable and healthful sleep you didn’t think possible. Keep in mind that though it can be helpful to begin your bed search with a budget, don’t be afraid to splurge if you find the One. (Although, ‘paying more for a mattress does not necessarily result in higher owner satisfaction’, according to Sleeplikethedead.com, which has surveyed more than 16,000 mattress owners)
Do some research; scour internet forums where people post unsolicited testimonials of their bedding experiences. See what people in similar situations have found beneficial. And be especially discerning of anything that you learn from those with the agenda to sell you a bed.
Once you have narrowed down the type of bed that might be best for you… put on your pajamas, grab a bottle of white wine, and head over to the mattress store. It’s time to test before you invest. Be adventurous. Even try those beds that seem all wrong, but feel so right. Lie down in the positions you like best. It is advised to lie on your potential bed for at least 15 minutes. Even if you feel strange, toss self-consciousness out the window in favor of the opportunity to make an excellent bedding choice for your health. Bring your sleeping partner if you plan on sharing a bed. A good bed will wait until you’re ready. So wait. Find out about warranties. Best to find a store that allows you to return the mattress after a few months, as warranties can be tricky. See what your friends have and sleep on their beds for a night (your close friends, asking to test out his new sleep-age memory foam mattress may not go over well with your boss).
By now, you are filled with information about beds and mattresses. You know what’s available, and you are more prepared to identify the best bed for you. Remember to consider the factors of support, even pressure distribution, and comfort when selecting your new bed, and wait until you find one that feels right. Though the bedding industry will constantly evolve (and hey, the human body as well. What are we gonna sleep on once we finally sprout those wings?), hopefully you now feel more empowered to choose the best sleeping surface for your health and good sleep. So good-luck and godspeed, and a million well-supported, equally weight distributed, and nicely contoured dreams. Good night.
 It is commonly said that we spend a third of our lives in bed, asleep or awake.