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Stress free mattress shopping

So you want to get a better night's rest?

Stress Free Mattress Shopping

by Chelsey Brown, SPT

USC DPT Class of 2017

"I am not sleeping well; maybe it’s my position, my mattress or even my pillow? I want something healthy for my back but I am overwhelmed by the information."

Does this sound like you?

Then you have come to the right place.

We are going to spend the next few paragraphs outlining 1) why a good mattress is needed, 2) the levels of firmness and 3) the pros and cons of different mattress types to equip you for a more informed mattress-shopping extravaganza.

Why a good mattress? :

Let’s first think about the benefits of having a good mattress. They can be expensive but they are also a crucial foundation to facilitate your sleep and restfulness.

As your MD, PT or friends have probably told you, we all have natural spine curvature. So, finding a mattress that supports our natural curves is better in order to reduce muscle tension, joint pain, and malalignment when we awake in the morning.

A mattress that is too firm or too soft will either push on bony contact points or not allow us to have support for these curves.

If you are waking up with pain, and it takes a while to get rid of it. It may be time to switch out your mattress. Testing the mattress within the store is beneficial, however it can only give you a brief understanding of the possible benefits.

Helpful hint: Take your own pillow to the store so you can get a better understanding of how it would actually feel to be laying on it. Some stores will even let you try the mattress for 30 days.

But all of these types--it's so overwhelming!

It’s no hidden fact that going to your local mattress store can be quite overwhelming. There are many different levels of firmness: soft-soft, soft-medium, soft-firm, medium-soft, firm-medium; gel, foam, hybrids etc. It’s like a foreign language. So let’s break it down, in order to help you get the most out of your mattress and sleep.

Firmness is relative and highly based on comfort levels; however, we PTs lean toward favoring the firmer mattress. The more firm mattress will facilitate getting in and out, improve overall bed mobility and will typically offer a little more support throughout sleep. So don’t be shy, lay on them, roll on them and when the customer service gives you a funny look, you can look back and shout “steam roller.”


The Classic Spring mattress:

Measured by firmness; typically you’ll want to stay closer to a more firm mattress. What is it: coil springs. Coil counts range, but anything around 350-400 is adequate and will give you the best bang for your buck. Anything more than 390 is not more beneficial.

Foam mattress:

Foam mattresses are ranged by densities: more firm will be more comfortable for most people and easier to get in and out of AND they offer the support you need for the natural curves in your back. These may not be the best if you have a heat sensitivity; the contouring to your body shape and more contact can make it a little warmer. Another option is getting a spring mattress and a foam topper.

Latex mattress:

A latex mattress is the most expensive material on the mattress market. However, they typically have the best reviews especially if you’ve added more and more birthdays to your life. The material is natural and usually offers a firmer surface easier for getting in and out and provides a “push back” support. You can also get a latex topper which is good for relief of back pain and provides similar comfort and support of a foam mattress without the heat.

Air Mattress:

An air mattress may be beneficial for those of you sleeping next to the one that you love but you may not love their preferential sleeping firmness. These mattresses can come in all shapes and sizes and can be purchased with adjustable settings for each side of the mattress. YES, that means you can make your side firm-firm and they can make their side Soft-Medium. Talk about autonomy within the bed! These beds are really most beneficial if you get them with their own chambers for each side, otherwise you may be battling a teeter-totter effect.


THERE IS SUCH A THING! Although more expensive, you can actually get a mattress that changes shape for your comfort and position. This may be beneficial if you are having trouble going from laying down to sitting up or have trouble sleeping flat secondary to sleep apnea, acid reflux, etc. This type of bed can come in all types and typically can offer the position you may need if you want to be in a more supportive upright position.

According to consumer reports 2007, mattresses should be switched out every 10-15 years. Yes they are expensive, but, they are an essential component of 8 hours out of your day. And if you multiply that out, it turns out you’re spending approximately 29,200- 43,800 hours on that thing. So find something that will support your body and give you the best night’s rest.

In summary: our top 3 tips for stress-free mattress shopping
  1. Try before you buy and bring your own pillow to the store.

  2. In general, firmer is better and a foam or latex mattress or topper will provide this support.

  3. Consider an adjustable mattress for changing body needs.

Happy mattress shopping!

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Leilnahari K, Fatouraee N, Khodalotfi M, Sadeghein MA, Kashani YA. Spine alignment in men during lateral sleep position: experimental study and modeling. Biomedical engineering online. 2011 Nov 30;10(1):103.


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