It is no surprise that back pain sufferers, suffer from poor sleep. And they then enter a viscous circle of back pain, disrupted sleep and tiredness, and in turn, tiredness usually intensifies pain.
We should sleep for around eight hours a night and it is an essential activity to keep us healthy. Quality sleep can be associated with how we function (physically and mentally) throughout the day. (For more information on the importance of sleep itself, read our associated article)
Clearly, poor sleep affects us in many ways, but you can try to minimise the pain felt in bed but assessing your mattress – is it causing or exacerbating the problem? We advise patients to change a good quality mattress at around the 10-year mark, less if it is a basic one. Mattresses come with a considerable financial outlay, but if you appreciate them in a similar way to clothes – cost per wear, they are pretty good value!
Your mattress may not be the cause of back pain but it may be a contributing factor if it’s: old / too soft / too firm / not supportive enough / if it is sagging in areas or uneven / or you can feel ridges.
Sleeping positions and pillows can also contribute to back, shoulder and neck pain, take a look at our related article on how we should sleep. We wanted to highlight the difference in mattress types and hopefully point you in the right direction for your next purchase.
It is best to choose a mattress that is both supportive and comfortable and unfortunately, we would recommend quality over price. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to mattresses, beds and pillows, so taking your time to find the right combination is worthwhile. Lie on the beds and spend time feeling how the mattress supports you in the varying positions of sleep. You are aiming for the natural curves in your spine to be supported. You may even find a new pillow at the same time!
Here is a brief breakdown of considerations:
- Firm Mattress: good for back sleepers, heavier people or those with narrow hips. If you can’t sink into it, you will find that the body is only supported where you feel the pressure points.
- Soft Mattress: better for side sleepers, lighter and wider hips. The softer mattress can mould and support more as you sink into it, but too soft won’t be offering any support.
- Memory Foam: moulds to the body (whatever the shape) and offers support, keeping the body in alignment. But can result in immobility during sleep, which can mean you feeling stiffer when you get up.
- Pocket Sprung: varying in quality, a good pocket sprung mattress is usually the best choice.
- Orthopaedic: many manufacturers offer an orthopaedic (or similar) range, be aware that this does not mean they are medically designed, it is more to do with the firmness/level of support.
- Zip-mattress: this will give you the opportunity to find the best mattress for you and your partner.
- Bed: when choosing a mattress, let the sales person know what kind of bed you have, as a slatted bed and box spring divan will work differently with the mattress.
The most popular mattress type is probably a medium-firm option, good quality pocket sprung.
We are not recommending a particular brand or mattress type, simply weighing up the options for you to consider when buying. A number of manufacturers offer a free trial/money back guarantee if the mattress is not right for you.
Having just bought a mattress from John Lewis in Cheltenham, we thought we would ask our fantastic sales assistant for her advice:
Sally Wachter, Partner and Sleep Product Coach at John Lewis & Partners, Cheltenham, advises: ‘Traditional advice for back problems was always that you needed a firm mattress. We believe that this isn’t necessarily the case. The most important thing is to ensure that you are finding the right support for your individual needs. Different shapes, different sizes, different body weights, all require different levels of support and comfort. Everyone’s specific needs are as individual as the mattress they will buy and the only way to find the perfect product is to invest time in selecting the best one for you. My best piece of advice would be to physically visit a store with a good selection of different products and actually have a good long lie down on several mattresses in your usual sleep position. In my experience, many customers at first are hesitant to actually relax and take the time to do this in a shop environment, however this is crucial in your making the right choice. For this very reason, at John Lewis & Partners Cheltenham, we have our own dedicated Sleep Suite, away from the hustle and bustle of the main shopping areas, where we encourage customers to take all the time they need to make the best decision. You are investing a lot of money on an item that you will have for years, so our Sleep Partners are always on hand to guide you through this process and answer any questions you may have.’