The recent BBC programme called ‘The Truth About Sleep’ showed the UK to be one of the most sleep deprived nations in the world. Current research into sleep is quickly painting a picture of sleep being a critical component of a healthy lifestyle, showing lack of sleep to be linked to all sorts of illnesses, including Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Clearly, our lack of respect for sleep has become a major issue for cultures such as our own and alongside our efforts with nutrition, fitness and stress management, we need to manage our sleep if we are to increase our chances of a healthy and happy life.
A fundamental component of getting a good night’s sleep is creating a comfortable and relaxing environment. This includes such aspects as temperature, lighting and training the brain to automatically associate bed with sleep. It also includes ensuring optimal comfort and suitability of your mattress.
So how do you choose the right mattress when buying online when you can’t even lie on it for a couple of minute to try it out? The first thing to bear in mind is that we spend one third of our life asleep. When we sleep, our bodies get the chance to regenerate and rebalance by releasing hormones in different patterns. When our sleep is disturbed or our muscles aren’t relaxed, maybe because we are moving around to get comfortable or we keep waking up, these important patterns are disrupted and our bodies and brains can’t complete their important regenerative processes.
Furthermore, as many people are aware through personal experience, sleeping in poor positions can cause all sorts of aches and pains, notably backache, if our bodies are not well supported during sleep. This in turn means less good quality sleep time and also, less good quality awake time. So it really is worth considering the choice of a new mattress carefully and see it not just a necessary purchase, but as the opportunity to improve your health and your day-to-day life as well.
Understanding that peaceful sleep is the key to accessing these enormous benefits sheds some light on the traditional view that an orthopaedic or hard mattress is good for everyone. While the idea behind this holds some truth, the point is that different mattresses provide the appropriate support for different weights and shapes of people. What feels like a soft and unsupportive mattress for a heavy man may well be the perfect solution for a lighter woman. So you need to match your mattress to your body size, weight and shape.
The aim is that the parts of the body that are jutting out e.g. the shoulders and hips for someone lying on their side, can sink sufficiently into the mattress to allow the other parts of the body, such as the waist and thighs, to be adequately supported. This allows the spine to lie straight (assuming the correct pillow height, position and firmness).
Another way to think about this is that it is all about surface area and pressure, so the more contact there is between the body and the mattress, the less pressure there will be on each part of the body. Apart from also straining your back, this is why a mattress which is too hard for your weight and size is a bad idea because your body will have less contact and so be under greater strain. Worst of all, though, is to keep using an old mattress which has become saggy, as this will cause a dip in the spine and the potential for all sorts of subsequent problems. You want the mattress to be doing the work, not your body.
So the first thing to do is catergorise the weight and dimensions of the people who will be using the mattress and find a selection that offer the appropriate firmness. Of course, if two people of very different sizes will be sharing the mattress, there may be the need for different solutions. This can be achieved in a number of different ways, including having two single mattresses joined or considering a memory foam mattress which will adapt to each individual separately. Here are some guidelines.
Suits those who don’t naturally put a lot of pressure on their spine by how they sleep, like those who sleep on their side (with good pillows) or change position a lot during the night.
For those who sleep on their back as this position needs a little more support from the mattress.
As this type of mattress offers more support, it is suited to heavier people, back pain sufferers and front sleepers.
There are several types of mattress with different characteristics to help meet your specific needs. These each have their own pros and cons and so it is worth considering your scenario and budget to get the best match.
Spring mattresses are the traditional mattress type. Firmness is mainly down to the number of springs and so the heavier you are, the more important this factor will become. Sprung mattresses can come as pocket sprung or open sprung. Pocket sprung have, as the name suggests, each spring in a separate pocket which allows for them to respond independently each part of your body, so improving contact and support. Pocket sprung are thus better for two people mattresses, as they offer a more individual solution for each person and also help to avoid rolling into the centre of the bed. The downsides of pocket sprung are that they can be more expensive and are heavier to turn. Finally, it’s important to ensure that you aren’t allergic to whatever material has been used to fill the mattress, as particularly pocket sprung ones can use natural fibres like lambswool.
If you are looking for a good night’s sleep on a lower budget, then open spring mattresses are generally cheaper. Continuous coil mattresses are made from a single looped wire, so the springs move as one, meaning that they don’t adjust specifically to each different part of your body and also do not protect you against the movement of anyone else lying on the mattress. Being less robust, they don’t tend to last as long, making sleep less comfortable and causing people to roll into the centre. On the upside, open coil mattresses are generally quite light and so are easier to turn. Many people choose this type of mattress for beds in children’s rooms as they tend to have a short lifespan for other reasons, or in rooms which will be less frequently used, like guest rooms.
Another style of mattress to consider is memory foam. Made of a manmade fabric called polyurethane, its main benefit is that it learns your body shape. Memory foam mattresses are also generally cheaper and more durable than pocket sprung mattresses and offer a great solution when two people of different sizes are sharing the bed. They are also excellent for people who suffer from back problems as they really help align the spine by retaining a set posture. Getting on to a memory foam mattress does, however, feel somewhat different since your body sinks into the material as it moulds around your shape. They also retain more heat than sprung mattresses.
Less commonly found, latex mattresses are a more expensive, but very durable alternative. They are made from the sap that comes from rubber trees and they mould round your body in a tailored, supportive shape with a springy feel to them. They are best for people who prefer a firmer mattress as, even more than memory foam, they can feel a bit solid and can develop lumps and bumps over time. Latex allows the air to circulate well and this characteristic can be enhanced with a slatted base.
Finally, it’s important to make sure that the bed base is suitable for the type of mattress that you have chosen. Sprung mattresses sit best on upholstered or divan bases, as the springs in each component work together to produce improved support. On the other hand, memory foam and latex mattresses are better on wooden slats as these let out some of the heat and don’t complicate the formation of the tailored shaping with the movement caused by the springs in the base.
Choosing the right mattress is all about matching its characteristics with your needs.
This article was written by My Next Mattress.
Mattress sizes (UK standard)
Single: 90cm x 190cm
Double: 135cm x 190cm
Kingsize: 150cm x 200cm
Super kingsize: 180cm x 200cm