Choosing a new mattress that will be kind to your back

With the average person spending around seven hours each night in bed, it’s worth making sure you’ve got the best type of mattress for your back. Sleeping on a bad mattress – those that are saggy and offer little support – can contribute to muscle stiffness and cause back pain as they usually lack support and can effect the alignment of the back.

The lifespan of a mattress is around seven years. That’s 20,000 hours you’re going to spend lying on it! We see a lot of patients who tell us it hasn’t been long since they replaced their mattress – then when they think about it, they realise it’s been 10 or 12 years or more! It’s easy to underestimate how long you’ve been sleeping on the same mattress. Do try to replace it as it gets to the end of its lifespan – just like you would a car.

The type of mattress you choose must be comfortable and have the necessary back support to reduce back pain and help you get a good night’s sleep. Here’s our advice on choosing the best mattress for you:

  1. Firm beds offer more support to your back and are generally better. Firm beds aren’t necessarily more expensive, although comfort, luxury and durability all come with higher price tags.
  2. Choose a mattress with a quilted top. While a firm mattress offers good support for your back, you may find it too hard. A quilted top can provide more comfort and accommodate the curves of the spine better, helping you get a more restful night’s sleep. And here’s a tip for holidays or when you’re sleeping in a bed that isn’t your own: if you find the bed is uncomfortable, place an extra duvet cover or a blanket underneath the sheet to soften the bed.
  3. A good mattress usually is around 7 to 18 inches deep with a good number of spring coils for support, allowing the body to be supported while simultaneously allowing for the natural curves and alignment of the spine.
  4. What someone else finds supportive may not work for you. Take time to try out a number of mattresses and choose what you personally find both supportive and comfortable. It’s perfectly acceptable to lie down in the showroom and try out mattresses – how else will you know if a mattress can offer you the support your back needs? A good salesperson will never mind, although it’s wise to remove muddy boots first!
  5. Ensure your mattress is big enough. If you share a bed that’s too small with your partner, you may find that you both sleep in awkward positions. A bigger bed will be of benefit both for back pain sufferers and their partners. Zip and link beds, which bring two beds together, are a good option if two partners’ firmness preferences are very different.
  6. Turn your mattress regularly to avoid wear and tear. If turning a mattress is going to be a problem for you, look for a mattress which does not need regular turning – there are a number of mattresses of all types of construction on the market nowadays.

Your mattress isn’t the only thing that could cause you back problems as you sleep. Try to adopt a sleeping position which creates less physical stress on the back. If you can’t sleep lying on your back, try lying on your side – it’s far better than lying on your front with your neck twisted to one side. Sleeping on your front is a definite no-no. This exaggerates the curve of the neck and the lower back, leaving you with aches and pains come morning.

You should try to keep your neck and spine aligned while you sleep. Make sure that your pillow can support your neck, and avoid having too many pillows on your bed as this can cause neck strain.

If you have a problem with lower back stiffness, try putting a small pillow between your knees when you sleep. This will help keep your hips aligned, reducing strain on your lower back.

If you still struggle to get a good night’s sleep, you may find these top sleep tips from The Sleep Council helpful.

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