Living With Chronic Pain

How To Pick A Mattress That Helps Relieve Pain

A mattress might be the answer to a better nights sleep and worth the investment. And what an investment it can be. They range from hundreds to thousands of dollars with a huge assortment of options. Sound crazy? I agree. That’s why picking the right one is so important. 

So which is best?

Ultimately that depends on you. No two people will agree because it is dependent on multiple underlying issue- our size, weight and sleep position. Finding a bed that fits individual needs is worth the time and effort. Taking the proper steps to ensure it is the investment worth making is critically important.

Here are a few pointers:

Take your time

This decision won’t just impact your pocketbook, it’ll be a part of your life for years. That’s why taking your time is imperative. For me, that meant an exhaustive period of testing different possibilities. A few quick moments on a showroom mattress may not be enough. After weeks of spending incredible time in multiple stores I made sure it could be returned after months of giving it the real test at home. Make sure it has a return policy that honors whatever is necessary to truly learn that answer.

Let it breath

We are more aware than ever that staying cool creates a better nights sleep. This is true to the point we are even looking at sheets that breath and allow air to move freely and keep moisture from getting trapped. How many of us have awakened drenched in the morning? Before you fear you have a horrible medical issue, look to your mattress and sheets. This trapped perspiration can cause a cascade of events such as profuse sweating, overheating, increased blood pressure and heart rate as well as impacting breathing patterns. All disrupt a good nights sleep. 

Pick nontoxic mattresses

Too often, sweat that can’t evaporate settles in the mattress and facilitates the growth of allergens such as mold, mildew and dust mites. Others can give off a strong chemical odor from the plastic and synthetic latex that are made from harmful petroleum chemicals as well as flame retardant chemicals. Those materials may exacerbate pain in people with chronic illnesses or auto immune disorders. Turning to nontoxic mattresses made of materials such as natural latex, organic cotton, and organic bamboo are great alternatives.

According to Consumer Reports, the two certifications with the most stringent qualifications are the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), for mattresses that contain latex-the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS). They also mention that the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 label doesn’t guarantee the mattress’ materials are organic, but it does set limits on the amount of harmful chemicals and volatile organic compounds that can be present in the final product.

How do you sleep? 

Position. Position. Position. This affects how your weight is distributed across your body, joints, and bed. Heathline broke it down best- 

Side sleepers: Most side sleepers enjoy the fetal position with their arms and legs bent and curled in towards the body, and the spine is gently curved or like a “ log” with the kegs straight. 41% of people prefer the fetal position. A softer mattress or topper often works well. This puts less pressure on your one shoulder, arm, and hip.

Back sleepers: It has been recommended for years. Unfortunately, few people are comfortable in this position and this particular position is strongly associated with snoring and sleep apnea. But because the curve in our lower backs is the only part not touching the bed, meaning our weight is distributed over a large surface, any firmness works.

Stomach sleepers: This is the least preferable position. It may help to stop snoring but creates a whole host of other issues. The only option to breath is turning the head which strains the neck. And if sleeping on a pillow, the spine is pulled backwards, opposite to its natural alignment, often resulting in pain. Medium or firm works well, so your hips and pelvis don’t sink below your shoulders, which can strain your spine. Try adding a pillow under your stomach to decrease the awkward extension of the lower spine. 

Before you buy try a few things first

1) Rotate and flip your mattress. This can improve wear and tear and decrease the “ groove” that appears over time regardless of our size and weight,

There are no set guidelines as to how often you should change the position of your mattress. Check with the manufacturing company. They usually have specific recommendations ranging from flipping or rotating it every 3 months to once a year. If your mattress has a pillow top, you probably can’t flip it over at all, but you can rotate it so that it wears more evenly over time. Often pillow toppers weigh hundreds of pounds so do not lift it without appropriate assistance.  

If that wonderful expectation of crawling into bed has waned, if pain increases, or you can’t get out of bed because of that deeply ingrained indent try, flipping or rotating first.

2) If you’re like me, getting into that perfect position that relieves pressure and comforts my body is essential to a great nights sleep. Proper alignment and positioning is imperative. A good mattress encourages encourages proper alignment so that pressure points don’t arise. Poorly fitting ones do the opposite. 

If yours feels uncomfortable and buying a new bed is not an option, one possible remedy may be to improve its support. That’s what my father hoped to achieve when he added a plywood board. In effect it diminishes movement of the internal springs. No board? Put it on the floor for the same effect.

How much do you weigh?

This impacts how much body mass rests on the bed and the gravitational forces pushing down and the required forces needed to stabilize the body’s position from below. Generally, a firmer mattress is recommended for those that weight more. This may also necessitate rotating or flipping the bed more often to decrease the sagging. Although most studies recommend a medium-firm mattress, there is no consensus on what makes a mattress ideal. And “firmness” is largely subjective and can vary from one company to the next.

In the end it’s up to you, your size and how you sleep. Make sure it all comes together for your individual issues and can be returned if after a few weeks at home it doesn’t live up to your expectations.


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