You have seen the ads for sleep number beds, promising that you will sleep better. But how do you know when to replace your present mattress? There is actually not one right answer, but here are some guidelines that may help to determine if your bed is causing or aggravating your back pain.
1. What is the present age/condition of your mattress set? If it is over 10 years old, likely you may need to replace it soon. If it is 2-4 years old, it is probably still in good condition. Of course this depends on the quality of the mattress, how much it has been used, and if it has been rotated/flipped regularly. If you bought it firm, does it still feel firm? Does your medium or soft mattress feel too soft?
2. What position is your spine in when you lie down on your bed? How far do you sink into the mattress? Can you get your back into its straight alignment in your sleep position of choice or is bent/twisted in one direction? A bed that is too soft makes it more difficult to sleep with a neutral back posture because the middle of your body will sink down more than your upper body and legs (especially if you lie on your side or tummy).
3. Do you sleep better on the couch, the recliner, the floor or another bed? That is a sure sign that you should find a different mattress. Traditionally, individuals with back pain prefer a firm mattress and have increased pain if they sleep too long (>7-8 hours).
4. Do you have more back pain when you first wake up than the rest of the day? There may be an easy solution, such as modifying your sleep position, changing your mattress or using additional pillows (body pillow or adding a pillow between your legs for improved spine alignment). The best way to achieve proper sleeping posture is to lie on your side with a pillow between your knees and to keep your back in a straight position (not rounded up into fetal position). Lying flat on your back is also appropriate for most individuals, as the spine is kept in a straight position (you may also put a pillow under your knees for more comfort). Sleeping on your tummy is not usually recommended.
Your sleeping posture is more important than you may realize because it places your spine in a potentially bad position for so many hours every night. So the next time you are mattress shopping, I recommend spending some nights sleeping on various types of beds, whether at hotels or friends’ guest rooms. That way you don’t spend the money on a mattress that you end up hating for the next 10 years.
Finally, if you have increased back pain during the night that is not present during the day and worsens every night (wakes you up), please consult your physician immediately, as this can be a sign of a more serious problem.