This is How a Bad Mattress Can Affect Your Health, According to Sleep Specialists
When people give advice on how to sleep better, they often overlook the most important thing that affects your quality of sleep: your mattress. Yes, you can try to wean off of coffee, go to bed earlier, or take melatonin or magnesium, but if you're sleeping on a horrible, no good mattress, well, none of those other tips will matter.
The truth is, a solid, good mattress is imperative to how you function, mentally and physically. According to a 2009 study conducted over 56 days (28 days sleeping on an average 9.5-years-old bed, 28 days sleeping on a new, medium-firm bed), participants sleeping on the new mattress reported that their sleep quality increased, their back discomfort diminished, and their stress-related symptoms were reduced.
And while you don't need to buy a new, expensive mattress to get the best quality sleep possible, it's important to find a mattress that has the right amount of comfort for you and your body's needs. That's why we connected with a few sleep experts to not only find out what happens to your health when you're sleeping on a bad mattress, but how you can find a better mattress that helps you sleep all through the night.
When should you get rid of a mattress?
1. When it no longer supports your spine.
Have you ever woken up with such bad back pain that you could barely move? According to board licensed physical therapist and founder of Exchange Physical Therapy Group, Jaclyn Fulop, this could mean your mattress is no longer supporting your spine. "When [your mattress] is causing pain in the body from increased pressure in areas that can lead to spasm and tightening of the muscles, this can ultimately cause more problems such a disc herniations and or degeneration," she tells HelloGiggles.
For instance, a bed that is considered too soft will not support the curves of your spine, which means your muscles would need to be activated to support your body's weight. "One side of the body would become overstretched and the opposite side would become contracted and shortened," Fulop explains. "The natural alignment of the spine would be thrown out of whack overnight, causing a muscle imbalance."
2. When the mattress is affecting your sleep quality.
While the quantity of your sleep is important (ideally about 7 to 9 hours, according to the Sleep Foundation), the quality of sleep is just as imperative. And if a mattress is preventing you from getting superior shut-eye, then it might be time to look for a new bed.
"Sometimes this is because the mattress is too firm or too soft, or perhaps it is not properly contoured for your body," Dr. Michael Grandner, Casper sleep advisor and director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, tells HelloGiggles. "This can cause pain or discomfort, which may be mild but can wake you up from sleep and lead to shallow and fragmented sleep, or insomnia."
3. When it feels uncomfortable to sleep on.
It doesn't matter if your mattress is new—if it doesn't help you receive good quality sleep, then it's not the right fit for you. Period. According to Dr. Michael J. Breus, clinical psychologist and board-certified sleep specialist, sleep is a performance activity that requires the right equipment to deliver the best results. "You can sleep on a bad mattress, but the quality of your sleep will suffer. It's very simple—if you have the right equipment you will sleep better," he says.
How a bad mattress affects your health:
If your bed is preventing you from getting a full night's rest and you find yourself constantly running on four to six hours of sleep, then you may consider yourself to be sleep deprived. "When deprived, we have a short fuse, our focus is dulled, and makes us less attentive," says Dr. Breus. "Still, like with many of the cognitive and emotional impacts of sleep deprivation, most of my patients don't realize how deeply sleep deprivation—especially when chronic—hurts their emotional well-being, affecting their mental health, their outlook and performance, and their relationships." And when sleep deprivation becomes a part of your norm, insomnia (the difficulty to get to sleep or stay asleep) can kick in. "Insomnia is an important risk factor for mental and physical health problems on its own" like developing depression or an anxiety disorder, says Dr. Grandner.
But while these are some of the most extreme issues caused by lack of sleep and a bad mattress, broken or less restless sleep can still "impact metabolism and weight regulation, daytime energy levels and brain function, immune system, and can lead to heart disease, diabetes, fatigue, poor work performance, and injuries," says Dr. Grandner.
"Not only can a poor mattress be uncomfortable, but the resulting sleep problems can increase the body's sensation of pain and discomfort so that the discomfort is even worse when sleep-deprived," says Dr. Grandner. This means the pain you already may be feeling could be increased because lack of sleep can cause you to be more sensitive to feeling pain. According to a 2019 study issued in The Journal of Neuroscience, poor sleep can interfere with particular pain centers of the brain. Most patients had a 120% increase in the activity of their somatosensory cortex after they were kept awake for 24 to 28 hours, which means their pain threshold were much lower because they were sleep-deprived.
Plus, according to Dr. Breus, sleeping on a saggy mattress cause lower back pain, neck pain, and overall discomfort. Meanwhile, sleeping on a very firm mattress can contribute to aches and pains if a mattress is too firm and provides excess pressure on areas like your shoulders, hips, knees, side, and back.
Oh, and let's not forget about night sweats: "If you're a hot sleeper or experience hot flashes and sweats at night, the wrong choice of mattress can sometimes compound hot-natured tendencies," says Dr. Breus. This is because some mattresses are made with certain materials, like memory foam, which aren't as breathable as other mattresses. "Foam actually traps and retains heat from the body, meaning all-foam bedding can exacerbate a hot nature and night sweats," Dr. Breus explains.
How long does a mattress last?
According to Dr. Breus, a mattress's lifeline is about seven to eight years—at most. However, just because your mattress can last that long doesn't mean that you should wait until then to invest in a new one. "When gauging the right time to invest in a new mattress, there's no more important measurement than how you feel during and after your nightly sleep," he explains. "Your body will tell you when it's time for your old mattress to go. If you're experiencing pain and stiffness regularly—three to four times a week on a routine basis—it's time to start looking for a new mattress, even if you haven't hit that seven- to eight-year mark."
It's important to remember that your body changes and what it needs on a given day (or year) can determine what you may need from a bed. "Gaining and losing weight, shifting levels of fitness, pregnancy, and conditions such as back pain or neck pain are all factors that can mean your old mattress no longer works effectively for you," he says.
How to choose a mattress:
While Dr. Grandner explains that it's hard to predict whether a new mattress will improve sleep since there are still not many studies on this, he does suggest to "search for good materials, give yourself a good 30 days to see how your body adjusts to the new mattress, and make sure it has a good return policy just in case it doesn't work out."
When finding a new mattress, keep in mind the three most common types: memory, innerspring, and hybrid. "Deciding on the mattress to choose depends on which health benefits the sleeper wants to focus on," says Dr. Breus. "It's important to consider two main factors: comfort and support. For example, if you struggle with back pain, choose a mattress that helps alleviate the tension. Or if you're generally a side sleeper, you might want to consider a softer mattress, while stomach sleepers need a firm one, and back sleepers fall somewhere in between the two."
While finding the best mattress for you is subjective, below are some affordable and comfortable options you can try for yourself, based on customer reviews. (All prices are based on full or queen beds.)
Best cheap mattresses:
"I'm sleeping so much better than on my old mattress! I was slightly worried this T&N mattress wouldn't be firm enough and would be "too hot" but I've had no issues with either of those things. Very happy with this purchase." — Alex Z
"The first couple of nights were rough but after that, my back is feeling way better and, for the first time in my life, I fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed rather than spending at least an hour trying! This bed is amazing!!" — Maria N.
"I've had spine surgery with a lot of metal hardware and this mattress is perfect. I didn't wake up and have to have help getting up. I'm a side sleeper and had no problems drifting right off to sleep. Would highly recommend!" — Retta P.
"After returning six other 'in a box' mattresses, I have finally found my mattress! My boyfriend and I have finally found a bed that helps both of us sleep. We both have back issues and different needs and this mattress has done it for us!" — Catherine