What Is Your Mattress Doing to Your Health?

You can install blackout shades, turn up your white-noise machine, and take a calming bath before bed, but you probably won't get a good night's sleep if your mattress is wrong for you. And with all of the choices out there, it can be hard to know what kind of mattress you need. Memory foam? Inner spring? A water bed? An air mattress? Even if you have a mattress you like, consider how long you've owned it. Is the bed you bought right out of college the same one you're still sleeping on two decades later? It's probably time for a change.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, it's crucial to test out a mattress before buying. Don't just sit. Lie down for at least three to five minutes. It may feel funny to do this in public, but you're spending good money on something that will help you achieve something vitally important to your health—a restful night's sleep. The most important thing to look for is good support from head to toe. There shouldn't be any gaps between you and the mattress. Make sure the bed is big enough to accommodate both you and your partner, if you sleep with one. And don't automatically go for the firmest mattress you can find. Many people believe harder is better, but experts maintain that a surface with a bit of cushion often leads to better sleep.

Other important mattress facts:

  • Mattresses should be turned every few months to avoid forming indentations from your body. You can rotate the mattress clockwise or turn it upside down.

  • You can firm up your current mattress by placing a board underneath it. This is a good temporary measure to ease back pain.

  • You can soften up your current mattress by putting padding on top of it. Mattress and bedding stores sell pads that are one to two inches thick.

  • Life changes can necessitate mattress changes. If you've gained a partner or switched partners, lost or gained a lot of weight, or suffer from a medical condition that changes your sleep habits, your mattress may no longer be ideal for you.

Make every effort to buy the best mattress you can afford. You may be tempted, in these tough economic times, to make do with a futon or a sofa bed, but be warned: over the long term, you'll likely pay for such shortcuts with aches and pains. You spend decades of your life sleeping, so go for a supportive mattress that will keep you rested, content and healthy.