Image of bed
Living With Chronic Pain

Can A Mattress Impact Pain Levels?

Years ago, I had what I thought was the perfect mattress – a solid twelve inches of the most amazing foam topper I had ever seen. The ability to sink into a soft, yet firm, mattress that cradled my pain-riddled body every night was not just a luxury, but a requirement. Then my worst fear was realized. After years, even my small frame caused sagging and indentations I couldn’t correct, forcing me to look for a replacement. Horrifyingly, it was longer available. I was crushed. When sleep is so important to getting any semblance of much needed rest, the question presented itself. Does a mattress really matter?

We all know that waking up after a fitful sleep affects every aspect of our day. And if you’re like me it’s a shock to realize just how much a bed actually costs. It can be thousands of dollars! That’s insane. But I came to understand how much it costs when I don’t sleep through the night. With that perspective it became clear, the proper mattress was worth every penny if I woke up with less pain after a better night’s sleep.

There is no perfect mattress

 It is all dependent on your individual needs. Don’t forget, we live a third of our lives in bed. My father swore his back pain was kept at bay by sleeping with a hard board under his mattress to firm it up, in addition to the routine of stretches he did religiously every morning. When I tried to follow suit by placing a board under my cheap mattress I soon realized it wasn’t the answer for me.

Decades ago I bought into the hype and supposed benefits of a water bed. In case that’s at all a possible purchase for anyone, let me quickly put that option to rest. In the 1980’s it was promoted as a cure-all for back pain. This was when I had just started having issues, long before dozens of surgical interventions. It wasn’t until a leak forced me to change to a conventional bed that I understood my mistake. Of course, this was way before the incredible advances had occurred in today’s mattresses. Back then the only choice was a conventional spring mattress or a water bed. The problem? They do not shape themselves to our bodies as superior mattress materials do. Instead, they force the body to conform to the mattress’s shape. And the contortions required to get out of it can worsen pain.

Is one better than another?

Taken in perspective, the amount of time we spend in bed is plenty, so anything we can do to improve this time is valuable. Unfortunately, terms like “hard” and “soft” tend to be subjective, meaning one company’s “firm” mattress may feel nothing like another company’s.

I turned to the Sleep Number Bed which can be manipulated and controlled locally. And in some models, even when shared with another. I opted to upgrade it to one that allowed elevation of the head and legs thinking it would allow better positioning for all areas of pain in my neck, mid and low back , legs and arms. Since they all hurt depending on the pressure points, I thought that extra feature would prove to be a positive. In the end I realized it was a waste of money- mounds of properly positioned pillows were far more effective. Like most of life nothing is completely perfect but even with mixed results I do believe a bed impacts our sleep and our pain, so choose wisely.

Does it really help pain?

Getting a good night sleep impacts every aspect of our health. After a long tiring day no one can deny the revitalizing effects sleeping has on us emotionally and physically. Study after study demonstrate its recuperative powers. And in one study, 92% of respondents believed a mattress is crucial to a getting that good nights sleep.

According to most studies though, the actual data on whether that means a mattress is responsible for not only a more restful sleep but a decrease in pain is inconclusive. When they do advocate a mattress they seem to agree medium firm is best. My feeling? It is worth a try, there’s such a diversity of options on the market today, it should be easy to find one that matches your needs.

How can a mattress impact sleep?

It can improve our sleep quality. Just falling into a cozy bed at night helps us to feel relaxed and comforted. It becomes a symbol for decompressing and letting daily issues fade. There’s no question a good nights sleep helps us to feel more invigorated and ready to face the next day’s challenges.

It may help to lessen aches and pain. Or at least that’s the goal. We all know how hard it is to move after being in one position for an extended period of time. For me it’s excruciating. This is due to gravity’s pressure pushing us into the bed and the resistance the mattress exerts to keep us in place. The result? Pain. The perfect mattress keeps us in a stable anatomically proper position that supports our spine and joints without causing painful pressure points. By cradling our bodies it distributes weight evenly.

An old one may increase pain. Worn out springs in old mattresses make a lot of noise. If it lets you know it’s there every time you move, it’s time to replace your mattress. When the coils fail they can no longer support our weight properly, stress is added to every pressure point, leading to a fitful, restless night of sleep. 

You’ll wake up happier. We all know how much better we feel, emotionally and physically, after a great night of sleep. There’s is nothing quite like hours of restorative sleep. It decrease pain, improves weight loss, improves our immune system and elevates our mood.  It impacts every aspect of our lives. 

It’s crazy to think that an old mattress might be the biggest obstacle between us and a good night’s rest. How amazing would it be if this vicious cycle of awakening devoid of energy and in pain could be improved by buying a new one?

Next week I’ll discuss how to improve your chances of picking the right mattress for your specific needs.


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