The Three Most Important Questions for a Good Night’s Sleep
What is the Best Mattress for your back?
Following the theme as the best pillow, I might make the case that the best mattress is none at all. Remember that we're asking the question, "What would a Paleo dude sleep on?" to discover what may not be necessarily the most comfortable mattress, but the healthiest.
Even I haven't gone this far for the "best mattress," but there is definitely merit in sleeping this way. Now in complete fairness, I do NOT sleep on the floor. Even though I have found it beneficial to sleep without a pillow, even I haven’t gone too far as to sleep without a mattress. (I’d give it a go, but I don’t think that Natalie would be very pleased with me if I dragged us through that experience.)
Nevertheless, I do know people who have done it before. The describe after a few weeks of readjusting that it is surprisingly comfortable! Experiments aside, there are a few legitimate reasons why it may be a good idea to sleep on a hard surface like the ground or on a yoga mat.
The major reason has to do with muscle tone. Do you know that old gym maxim: “If you don’t use it, you lose it?”
If you have to sleep on a hard surface such as the ground, your muscles maintain a certain tone all the way through the night. It's not enough to cause spasms or rigidity, but enough that your core muscles remain active, don’t the weekend, and remain capable of supporting your spine on their own.
On the other hand, if you sleep on a 1970s blob waterbed, which fits the shape of your body, your muscles don’t have to do a darn thing. Even though this might be comfortable, it ultimately causes your muscles to weaken, which potentially sets you up for injury! And that’s not a good thing!
The ultimate principle here is that if you are selecting a mattress to go with something that is slightly too firm. Remember that as a pair of shoes, your mattress will wear in. And although the expected life of a mattress is 10 years, that wearing will cause increasing softness and less support over time.
In addition, if you get a mattress that is simply too firm for you, you can always make it softer with egg carton foams, a plush mattress protector, or something like that. However, if you get a mattress that is too soft from the start, you’re screwed because nothing you can do will ever make it firmer.
Does this mean that a firm mattress is always the way to go? No. If a person is relatively immobile such as in a nursing home, too firm a mattress may contribute towards bed sores. Ultimately the firmness of a mattress is about long term mobility and when that is the ultimate goal, the firmer that the mattress can be comfortable, the better.
The Goldilocks Approach to Finding the Best Mattress
There not a specific brand of mattress that I advocate. Nor am I particular to a certain design: whether memory foam, latex, inner space spring, etc. Just because a mattress boasts more bells-and-whistles also does not necessarily make it better than others.
Oh, and where it says “Chiropractic Approved,” bear in mind that is a commercial endorsement like paying a sports or TV personality to approve a certain product. Just because it is endorsed by a certain professional body does not mean that the particular mattress brand is right for you. Its a terribly non-scientific way to find the best mattress for you, but I advise the “Goldilocks Approach.”
The Goldilocks Approach definitely isn't scientific but is the best way I know to find the mattress that isn't too hard or too soft, but just right. Here’s how it works. You go to bedding sore and you simply lie down on a whole bunch of beds. Don’t look at the brand, the price, or what it is or is not made of. And try them all!
Even the showcase ones that you think are going to be way out of your price anyway. Narrow it down based on intuitive feel. Is this bed too hard? Is this bed too soft? Or is this bed just right? If you are doing this with a spouse, do it independently first.
Once you each have a list of 10 beds or so, compare your notes and trial each bed on this list until you can narrow it down to three or so. Now is the time to look at the prices and speak with the consultant to select the best mattress. Remember that you are investing in your ability to get a good night's rest.
What is that worth to you? Even if a bed costs $10,000 (which is very expensive in my opinion), If that mattress lasts you 10 years, that's essential $2.74 per night. Would you be willing to pay that to get a better night’s sleep?
A quality mattress is one of those things that is worth the investment if it is right for you. That said, a good mattress should also come with a 3-month warranty. Especially if you err on the too-hard side, you will need to break it in ever so slightly to find out if it truly is the right mattress for you.
Often people notice an immediate change with a new mattress, but sometimes it takes 6 weeks simply to get used to the new mattress. If it is clear that after 6 weeks that things just aren’t working out, you’re fooling yourself if you believe that things will get better.
The mattress manufacturers know this, which is why the good ones will allow you to replace the mattress for something else that will better serve your needs. I regret that I’m not able to provide more insight beyond choosing a mattress based on firmness or the Goldilocks Approach, but I do know that these principles still go an extremely long way in helping you to find the best mattress for you.
Worst case scenario, you always could try the floor. Right?
Next Time on the Sleep Series Trilogy
In the final article in the series, we’ll have a look at a few principles you may want to consider in finding the best sleeping positing for your overall health.