A whole constellation of things factor into a solid night’s sleep: what you did at the gym that day, how long ago you finished up an emergency latte, how late you stayed up watching Chuck pre-zzzs, and, of course, your mattress. In fact, more than 75 percent of those surveyed by the National Sleep Foundation said that their mattress is key to getting their best rest. But your desired sleep platform can impact way more than just the quality of your shuteye. Back pain sufferers, we’re lookin’ at you.
“We sleep nearly a third of our lives,” says Dr. Blake Dircksen, CSCS and physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City. “It’s important to have a good mattress that sets you up for success.” If you’re in the mattress for a new crash pad, and you’ve ever been dogged by back pain, start here.
Just like the conditions for a great night’s sleep, a whole bunch of factors come into play here. The age and firmness of your mattress are a great place to start. Researchers agree that saggy mattresses (think waterbed and overly soft foam) are less than ideal for back pain sufferers, according to one Danish study. Some even say that medium-firm mattresses are superior to firm mattresses for reducing specific low-back pain. Regardless of what the science says, it really comes down to personal preference.
“Comfort is king,” says Whitley. “Take your time at the store or warehouse and really get a feel for the bed. Try out your preferred sleeping position and draw up a conclusion. And remember: Often your first impression will be accurate.”
Sleeping position can also play a big part in how your back feels in the morning. Just like firmness, that’s a personal preference. “The optimal position for each individual will be different,” says Whitley. “The important thing is to avoid [pain-inducing] positioning by using pillows to prop yourself.”
For example, if you sleep on your stomach, place a pillow under your hips to avoid excessive lumbar extension. If you sleep on your back, try putting a pillow under your knees to keep the pelvis in more of a mid-range. If you’re a side-sleeper, try placing a pillow between your legs to keep the hips from diving in. The idea is to keep your spine from curving waaay out toward the end of its range of motion.
Last but not least, we can’t forget about resting sleep temperature. Sleeping too warm can make you toss and turn often, resulting in a less-than-ideal quality of rest.