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Health and Lifestyle

The mattress mythbuster – why firm is not always better, and other common questions answered
01 March 2018

 

How to choose the perfect mattress?

By Jessica Carpani

In the late 19th century, when people slept on sacks filled with hay, sleepers would have to thwack their mattresses against a wall to get rid of bugs or small animals.

Today, the term ‘hitting the hay’ is less literal: we fall asleep on beds of horse hair, open coils, pocket springs, NASA developed memory foam, gel foam or even water. Indeed, the global sleep market is now so developed that it’s projected to reach $79,851 million by 2022, and it’s saturated with mattresses promising to cure a variety of ailments, from insomnia to lower back problems. In fact, a study conducted by The Sleep Council found that buying a new bed could give you a better night’s sleep than a sleeping pill.

‘I really find upgrading your mattress is one of the easiest solutions that you can have, especially if you sleep better anywhere else than at home’, says holistic sleep expert Christine Hansen. ‘So, if you sleep great at hotels or at friends’  houses, that’s a pretty good indication that the mattress is the issue.’

According to a Mental Health Foundation report, 30% of the UK population are struggling to get a good night’s rest, which can lead to depression, anxiety, lower libidos, an increased chance of type 2 diabetes, a lowered immune system and can even affect fertility.

With a wealth of information out there and prices ranging from £150 to £15,000, choosing and maintaining the perfect mattress to suit your health needs can be a daunting prospect. It’s a topic that’s surrounded in a miasma of common wisdom – not all of it correct. Should you really flip a mattress every month, for example, and replace it completely after eight years? ...

Here, we take a look at mattress half-truths and myths. Happy sleeping!

Is firm better for your back?

‘The short answer to this is no,’ says Simon Williams of the UK’s National Bed Federation. ‘It’s better for some and not so good for others. What’s important of course, is its support. It’s not about firmness or softness, it’s about the correct support for the individual.’

Helen Collins, co-founder of Myza agrees, ‘I think one fallacy is that people used to think that if they have back ache, or suffer with joint ache, they should go for an orthopedic mattress, which is very firm. But research has now shown that a very firm mattress can increase back ache so it’s better to go for a medium firm mattress.’

In general, Collins  suggests favouring a memory foam mattress, which are commonly used in care homes and hospitals, as they contour to your body and can release the pressure of your joints.

Should you flip your mattress each month?

If you didn’t have back ache before, you may well do after flipping a heavy mattress each month. Luckily, this is a rule that’s left over from times gone by, when the beds we slept on weren’t so high-tech.

‘When it comes to flipping, they do vary. Pocket sprung mattresses tend to require turning more than a memory foam because of the way the coils are structured. You need to turn them over so that those springs can spring back with you lying on the other side of the mattress,’ says Collins.

However, mattresses such as the one by Eve Sleep, which is made of memory foam, do not require turning at all, explains head of product at eve, Claire Rydon. ‘We work really hard to make sure you don’t need to flip our mattresses. Back in the eighties, with general coil, you’d have to do maintenance and once a month flip the product, but at most we’d recommend in the first year of purchase that you rotate the mattress just to make sure all the layers are even.’

Is 60 days the right amount of time to test a mattress?

From 60 to 100 days, mattress producers are desperate to let you really settle into the grooves of their design. It’s a technique to get the product into your hands, of course – but how long before you’ll really know if a new mattress is helping with your bad shoulder or insomnia?

Hansen believes that by three weeks in you’ll have a pretty solid idea as to whether or not it’s working for you. ‘If you can, after the three weeks it’s a good idea to go back to the mattress you had before and compare again because sometimes we get used to things but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re sleeping better.’

‘If you find you sleep longer and wake up less than before and you feel more refreshed in the morning then I would see that as a sign that the mattress is right for you. If there’s not a lot of change and you still wake up all the time it might be that the mattress isn’t the problem or it could be that you need to keep testing.’

Collins suggests thinking about your weight and sleeping position when choosing a mattress. ‘If you are a side sleeper you tend to go for a medium to soft mattress, whereas if you’re a back or stomach sleeper, one would advise you to go for a medium to firm mattress.’

Dreams suggests protecting your pressure points as a side sleeper and opting for a combination or gel mattress as they’ll contour to the body.  

‘The second point you would need to look at is your body weight, the heavier you are the firmer the mattress that you need. A lighter person or small frame would be better advised to go for a softer mattress.’

Either way, Hansen is insistent that we shouldn’t be polite when it comes to testing out a bed and if it really isn’t working, send it back.

Are foam mattresses hotter than spring and coil mattresses?

Considering memory foam was initially developed by NASA to cushion and protect airline pilots before being hailed for its ability to cushion joints, it’s no surprise that many people want to jump on the rocket-wagon. However, with rumours swirling that it’s warmer than the classic spring mattress, you may feel skeptical about buying one.

In order to get a good night’s sleep, it’s advised that you create a sleeping environment that’s slightly cooler than you. Memory foam because of its density did have restricted air circulation that trapped body heat but with technological advances, this is no longer the case.

‘They counteract that now with special performance fabrics on the mattresses which regulate body temperature. They also use gel foam which keeps it cool,’ says Williams.

One of the companies using advanced technology to create the optimum temperature regulating mattress is Eve Sleep, with open-cell structured memory foam and a cooling layer that is 30 times more breathable than conventional memory foam, showing just how far the material has come since its initial debut on the market.

‘Foam was always really great for spine alignment and the old school foam mattress was absolutely fantastic, but it overheated. Recent developments in foam technology meant that we could develop foam which was very supportive and didn’t overheat,’ says Kuba Wieczorek, co-founder and chief brand officer at Eve.

Despite this, if you’re likely to get hot during the night a spring mattress is guaranteed to be cool. ‘A pocket sprung mattress is more breathable than a memory foam. It is good if you do get hot in the night. Often they’re filled with natural materials such as wool, which is a natural regulator of temperature so you do have that advantage,’ explains Collins.

Are foam mattresses better for allergies?

In 2011 it was reported by Allergy UK that 12 million Britons were allergic to dust mites. Thankfully, the density of memory foam means foreign bodies such as dust mites will struggle to get in to the mattress making them largely hypoallergenic.

Some pocket mattresses are also using organic ingredients. ‘The addition of an organic mattress on your bed can provide a number of health benefits to improve your sleep experience,’ says Kris Manolo, Upholstery Buyer at Heal’s. ‘Naturally hypoallergenic materials make these mattresses the perfect option for those suffering with hypersensitivities such as eczema or asthma.’

He adds that, ‘typically, mattresses are treated with harmful chemicals, but opting for organic reduces unnecessary exposure to toxins while supporting an eco-friendly design.’

Hansen is particularly animated by the use of organic filling. ‘We spend so much time on a mattress and our skin is so close to it that I am very cautious to see that we use the least toxins as possible. I would definitely look to see whether the manufacturer has some kind of certification to state that it’s toxin free because it can make a huge difference long term, especially if your immune system is already down.’

Should you clean your mattress?

Never mind the dust mites, we shed eight pounds of skin in a year, and a lot of that will collate on your bed. Williams stresses that cleaning your mattress is still an essential part of the maintenance. ‘We would always recommend that people use a mattress protector. If you’re going to buy a mattress protector, buy two. So you can have one in the wash and have a clean one to put on. It will protect the mattress from perspiration, accidental spills, and dead skin cells.’

He also recommends hoovering the mattress every now and again, as well as giving your mattress a good airing each summer. ‘Each Spring move your mattress off your bed and stand it on its side near an open window, just to get it some fresh air.’ 

Hansen also airs her own Eve mattress, despite there being no real requirement to (‘You can wash our soft top cover but that’s mostly for peace of mind because the cover is made from a flexible polyester, blend so is hygenic,’ says Rydon). 

Hansen also notes that it might be worth changing your cleaning routine if you are, for instance, going through the menopause. ‘The mattress can soak up a lot of the sweat so it could be good to have a steam cleaner on hand.’

When should you buy a new mattress?

After 10 years, a bed can deteriorate by as much as 70%, according to the Furniture Industry Research Association. Not only that, but during a research project conducted by The Sleep Council and Dr Chris Idzikowski, it was found that people who complained that their old bed was uncomfortable slept nearly one hour less than those who were not unhappy with their old bed.

The current advice is that changing your mattress every eight years will protect you from a noticeable deterioration in your quality of sleep. Any longer and both the support and comfort, as well as the general hygiene of the mattress, may decline. 

However, that is more a rule of thumb than a hard and fast rule. The longevity of your mattress is most likely linked to the amount you spent on it.

How to choose a mattress, and 5 of the best to invest in now

‘Anywhere between seven to eight years is probably about the right time,’ says Williams. ‘You can buy a cheap mattress for £150, or you could be spend many thousands on an exceptional quality product that may last a lot longer. What we’d say is overall, as an average, you’d need to change every seven to eight years.’

Collins suggests not compromising on price in order to assure your mattress will see through its lifespan. ‘Both pocket sprung and memory foam, if they’re good ones, they should last you for seven to ten years. It’s probably tempting to go for a cheaper mattress but it is a false economy because you are going to end up replacing the mattress.’

As for the signs that your mattress needs changing, look out for: aches and pains when you wake up in the morning, which suggests your mattress is no longer giving you sufficient support; saggy, lumpy patches, caused by springs that are worn down or out; a flare up of eczema or outbreak of sneezing and/or itching, which could mean you need an hypoallergenic mattress. In general, if you’re finding you sleep better elsewhere, it’s time for a new one.

And how much should the new one cost? It’s a piece of spring question – but Wieczorek sounds a positive note about the choice now available for buyers. “For too long sleep has been a privilege and to get a great quality mattress you have had to pay so much money for it. It wasn’t just us, it’s us and our competitors, we changed things around and now for £600 you can get an incredible quality mattress which for a lot of people will change their life.’

© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2018

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