Gentle care. Remarkable results.
2757 University Dr, A, Auburn Hills, MI 48326
New Patient Line: 248-598-4002
Gentle care. Remarkable results.
2757 University Dr, A, Auburn Hills, MI 48326
New Patient Line: 248-598-4002
How to find a mattress you don’t hate…And maybe even find one you’ll love. A doctor of chiropractic answers your questions about mattresses (with the help of some common sense, a little bit of scientific research, and an interview with a local mattress expert here in Detroit.).
In this article you’re going to learn:
A free instant checklist from an upper cervical perspective
A: As a chiropractor it’s kind of my thing to know about spinal conditions. And I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked my opinion on mattresses by a confused mattress shopper hoping that a new mattress will make their spinal pain more tolerable.
Whether you’re in pain or no, I don’t believe there’s a single resource you’ll read that will make you feel 100% happy about buying a mattress. Trust me, I’ve tried it.
There’s a lot of conflicting information about mattresses coming from different manufacturers, salespeople, and mattress review sites. It’s hard to know what’s true.
At most mattress retailers the information is intentionally confusing, with markups and discounts, and regular changes to model names to make comparison shopping more difficult. With growth of online mattress retailers (some of which have already come and gone), the options have increased, but the process has gotten even more frustrating for those who want to do due diligence.
You have so many choices with a larger variety of price points that many people just say, “Forget it, let’s just get this one” and then take a bet on something. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
First, let’s just say there’s no mattress police out there, and there’s no scientific study on the “perfect time” to replace your mattress.
Certainly we probably all know someone who’s almost 30 years into their current mattress.
When you ask most manufacturers and people in the industry, 10 years is a good round figure they’ll tell you, and most manufacturers are only offering warranties for 10 years instead of a lifetime. If that sounds too soon to you it’s probably because generations past used to keep their mattresses for a couple of decades or more, no matter how much it had broken down.
If I had to pick one side to join, I would err on the side of replacing your mattress sooner rather than later.
There aren’t a lot of legitimate studies on mattresses and sleep, but we do know that your experience sleeping on your mattress does affect sleep quality, and since you spend 25% of your life sleeping, and proper sleep is necessary for brain health, it probably isn’t worth keeping a sagging mattress around.
Here are a few reasons why replacing your mattress might come sooner than 10 years (or sooner than you’d like)
Here are few signs that it’s time to get a new mattress
Yes, your mattress could be making you sick possibly due to the presence of dust mites creating an allergic response, or irritation due to volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
In this section we’ll talk about allergens and dust mites, and we’ll cover an allergic response to VOCs in the section below on organic bedding.
So, what’s a dust mite?
Dust mites are tiny, tiny arthropods that can feed on the dead skin cells in your clothes, on your sheets, and in your mattress. Their waste (yes, literally their crap) contains enzymes that can inflame the human sinuses and skin, causing stuffy and runny noses, sinus headache, and skin outbreaks.
They also can be eaten by other larger arthropods (bigger mites), which also stimulate an allergic reaction.
So, keeping your sheets and clothes clean is really important to people who are especially sensitive to the allergens found in dust mite excrement.
While most mattresses are kept covered by sheets, dust mites can live in mattresses, fed by the dead skin that makes it to the mattress surface. (Really, when is the last time you shook out your mattress or had it cleaned?)
It’s possible that your aging mattress is full of dead skin and dust mites, and could a source of allergens for you or anyone else in your family.
Cleaning your mattress or getting a new mattress and keeping it protected by a mattress cover is a great idea. If you’re concerned about VOCs, then looking into natural fiber mattress covers is a good idea.
I once listened to an podcast interview by an expert in negotiation who claimed to have the secret to negotiating mattresses down to their very lowest price. I thought he was pretty smart, but now I know he really didn’t know what he was talking about…And you’ll realize this too once you finish this article, especially the section on overstock mattresses.
So, what was the supposed “fool-proof” method of this hard-as-nails mattress negotiator? He had three steps.
1. Identify the brand and model he preferred
2. Start visiting mattress stores in person and counter-offering to purchase the mattress in cash until he could get the sales person down as low as he could go
3. Walk out and start the process all over again at another mattress store, using the lowest price point from the previous store as the starting point for the new negotiation
He would repeat this process several times until he beat down the mattress salesperson to their lowest possible price and walked out of the last mattress store with the mattress delivery set up. Using this technique, he claims to have saved himself thousands of dollars on his preferred mattress.
And he probably did. He saved thousands of dollars off a ridiculously marked up product. Let’s see why.
According to my mattress expert here in Metro-Detroit, and confirmed by multiple ex-salespersons from mattress stores – many of whom post on online forums, this is how the mattress industry works to maintain their profits…
Simply put, this kind of negotiation in the traditional mattress buying experience is way more of a hassle than most people want to experience.
Whether or not you truly saved a ton of money is hard to really verify with the intentional confusion around brands and model names. And, if you read the section below on overstock mattresses, you’ll learn that if you’re willing to find a mattress that’s been sitting on a shelf for 12 to 18 months, you can automatically knock 60% off the cost of your mattress without having to get into this time consuming negotiation.
A: There are two ingredients found in every single mattress….They are:
Support materials are the parts or layers that keeps the mattress together. The support parts push back against your body and keep the mattress looking and feeling like a mattress after years of your body laying on it.
In other words, the “harder” parts of the mattress are the support materials.
Comfort materials are what makes the bed worth laying in for hours at a time. In other words, the “softer” parts of the mattress.
Support and comfort parts of the mattress are made from different kinds of raw materials depending on the kind of mattress and who the manufacturer is.
There a huge variety of mattresses and manufactures around the world, but if you’re reading this in the United States, then you should know that most mattress brands you’ve probably seen in a big-box store are being assembled by one of two large companies which own most of the mattress industry. And many of the components are being shipped in from parts around the world, produced by the same suppliers, which may lead you to ask: how different can these mattresses actually be?
Well, many of the “different” mattresses you’re going to see in a store that are around the same price point are probably more similar than they are different, and the big difference between the mattresses are going to be found in whether or not they have coils, foam, air or latex.
At the end of the day all mattress are all the same in that they have to offer you support and comfort for you to get a good night’s rest.
Your body will respond to better to certain comfort and support materials than others. Which is why nearly every has the experience of going on vacation and finding themselves sleeping “wrong” in a “bad bed.”
A: You’re looking for the right combination of comfort and support for you. And if you have a sleep partner, hopefully this combo is good for that person too, because otherwise you have to compromise, and you both may be uncomfortable.
Too much comfort? It’s possible to find yourself in a really comfy bed that feels great at first, only offer not enough support over the course of a night.
Too much support? And likewise, it’s possible to find a bed that offers you all the support that you need – while it pokes into those tender points on your hips, shoulders, and knees, keeping you awake and uncomfortable.
No one wants the soft bed that swallows them up. Or the supportive bed that makes them feel 20 years older.
With the perfect mattress for you you’re going to feel more rested, experience more pain-free nights, and be an all around happier person than if you’re stuck with a mattress that’s harming your health.
And really, that’s what a terrible mattress is doing for you. It’s harming your health.
So what’s the answer?
The perfect mattress for you has the ideal blend of comfort and support materials for your size, your body type, your preferred sleep position – and that of your sleep partner – while taking into account a few conditions of the spine.
The condition of the spine is what many don’t think about until they find themselves stuck with a bed that makes them feel old.
When it comes to sleep position, regardless of what mattress “expert” you consult, they’re going to tell you:
When it comes to body type, the “rule of thumb” for mattress experts is:
And body mass and sleep position should be taken into account with any chronic pain points, decreasing the firmness of the mattress if your pain points regularly come in contact with the mattress surface.
In other words, an overweight male with chronic hip pain who regularly sleeps on his side will require a softer mattress than the same male body type without hip pain, who will require a firmer mattress than a side-sleeping, thin female who’s body is not going to create as much downward pressure, and therefore needs less support.
But! Something to consider: You’re going to get to a section below that talks about “preferred firmness” in terms of quality of sleep. These general rules for mattress firmness are just a guide, and the individual firmness that feels good to you may be slightly outside the norm. What feels good to you is more important than any other guide.
Side note on stomach sleepers: The mattress experts will tell you that stomach sleepers will require a firmer mattress as well, but due to the fact that I’m a chiropractor, I have to tell you that sleeping on your stomach with your head rotated is just something you should stop doing altogether.
A: The first big decision you’ll need to make in your next mattress purchase is the kind of mattress.
Foam mattress or a spring coil mattress are two popular choices. There’s also latex, air (like the Sleep Number Bed) and waterbeds. And some mattresses have combinations, called hybrids, with any number of the above materials.
But to keep it simple let’s start with spring coil vs. foam as these remain the most popular for most consumers.
Yes, there are some important differences between the spring coil support and the memory foam support.
Spring coil mattresses use a variety of coiled springs designs and layouts (some simple and some advanced) to disperse the weight of your body. Comfort materials are then added around the coils.
Foam mattresses use a variety of polymers in a variety of layers and thicknesses to disperse the weight of your body. In foam mattresses the comfort and support are woven together.
The shape and tension of the coil and the layering of the polymers used offer a huge variety of coil spring and foam mattresses. That said, most of the spring coils will probably feel more similar to each other than to the foam bed, and vice-versa. There is distinct difference in the way these beds feel, and they way it feels to you is very personal.
A: This is the place that a lot of people start getting caught up in the question of what’s better. They start believing that their spine was either made for a spring coil or layers of foam, etc. based on the reviews of others.
And that’s a mistake.
It doesn’t matter which kind of mattress has the best reviews, or supposedly has the best evidence of how good it is.
(In case you’re wondering, there’s very few scientific studies that examine the quality of a persons sleep on a spring coil bed vs. a latex or foam. There are a few comparison studies in the medical journals that look at the effects of sleeping on one mattress versus another mattress for back pain. But most “research” that a mattress manufacturer talks about is probably an “internal study” that the company has used in their research and development. It doesn’t mean those internal studies are fake exactly, it just means they aren’t peer reviewed in a real science journal, and who knows if they’ll mean anything for you.)
So, what matters is not how many great reviews a mattress has (it can be helpful just to narrow down the field)…But what ultimately matters is how the mattress responds to your size, your body type, your preferred sleep position, and the condition of your spine…And how this feels to you.
Let’s say 7 out of 10 people may claim to sleep better on a memory foam mattress (that’s just a made up statistic for this article, by the way), but you may be one of 1 of the 3 who don’t.
Just like not everyone responds the same way to a popular treatment or drug, you may not fit in the supposed majority who love spring or foam mattresses.
So my advice: you don’t have to pick a team when it comes to mattresses. Be open to loving spring coil or foam or latex or whatever. Especially if you deal with pain on occasion or pretty regularly.
The key is test and try the bed you’re going to use, especially if you’re going to shop from an online retailer.
A: This is my definitive answer as a chiropractor on what kind of mattress is good for you if you have spinal pain.
You should get the mattress you can get the best sleep in.
Wow! Pretty amazing piece of advice isn’t it? Let me explain a little bit…
When it comes to getting your best sleep, most of the sleep and mattress research by the medical community (and there’s very little of it) points to your personal preferred level of firmness in the sleep position you like.
Your preferred level of firmness is what consistently feels good to you. You probably can identify the big picture of what feels too hard or too soft within a few minutes on a mattress. Your preferred firmness level is somewhere between these two extremes, and the closer you get to your preferred level of firmness, the better your sleep will be.
For some people there is a lot of fine tuning that goes into the proper firmness, which is the basis of something like the the Sleep Number Bed, which is essentially a high-tech air mattress that has adjustable levels of firmness.
If you tend to sleep in multiple positions, then the firmness in those multiple positions will matter well. If you’re the kind of person who moves all over the place, hopefully your mattress will support and comfort you in all of those positions.
So, to repeat: get a mattress that is as firm as you like it.
This seems very, very simple, but people forget how simple it is when they start doing research and they start getting hung on up on types of mattress materials, features, technology, etc. You don’t need to pick a material, kind of mattress, or brand ahead of time. Try various kinds of each mattress first.
That said, people want to know if there’s research that says whether there’s one kind of mattress that’s better than others for back pain?
The short answer is: kind of.
Here’s what I mean.
What we know is that your personal preference for mattress firmness matters to your sleep quality. Researchers can measure body signs like heart rate, muscle tone, and blood pressure and discover that you’re far more relaxed at the micro level when you choose the firmness to match your liking.
Your personal liking.
Research says that your personal preference for mattress firmness matters to your sleep quality. That sounds obvious, but even the obvious has to tested in a lab. Here’s the problem…Most mattress and sleep position studies are on people without spine pain.
I’ll say that again. Many sleep position studies are done on people without pain because using people in pain would create a new factor that would confuse the study.
So, we can say firmness matters to the comfort level of healthy people. Great. But technically we can’t say that there’s research specific to mattress firmness and being in pain. But common sense says that comfort and pain levels should be related. So, I’m going to say if you deal with with chronic spine pain, you should spend an extra amount of time and money making sure the firmness level doesn’t make your pain worse.
Keep reading in the next section to answer your next question.
Yes, there are studies that say people experience short term improvements in low back pain when they sleep on a different mattress. The mattresses in the studies you can find in medical journals have found improvement in low back pain on memory foam mattresses and adjustable inner air mattresses.
In generations past, some medical doctors believed that a firmer mattress was better for a bad back, and would recommend a firmer mattress for back pain. Of course some of their patients improved after getting a new mattress.
I found a study from the early 1980s that showed that many people with low back pain slept better on a waterbed.
(Raise your hand if you miss the 80’s…)
Here’s the problem with these studies:
Most studies don’t continue beyond a few nights to a few months, and this may not be long enough to really learn which mattress is better for a bad back.
In other words…Take a big group of people with back pain and switch out their mattress to something new, and many are going to feel better temporarily no matter what they sleep on. It may be good evidence that a mattress is “good for back pain” or it might not. And even if it did, it doesn’t mean that your back pain is personally going to get better.
Don’t expect to find an answer for your personal mattress situation in medical research!
A: There’s a study on sleep position and mattress sag. It hooked sleepers up to a number of health monitors, put them in beds of various degree of sag, and then monitored their sleep position.
They discovered that a sagging mattress can really affect your sleep quality.
But a sagging mattress was worse for your sleep quality if you sleep on your side or your stomach. In other words you can probably get away with a sagging mattress if you’re young, in good physical condition, and consistently sleep on your back.
But if you deal with pain, or sleep on your side or your stomach, then that sagging mattress is more likely to be robbing you of sleep and may be contributing to your pain.
A: VOCs are volatile organic compounds, and they are released from paints, carpeting, furniture, and many other textiles, including anything that’s industrially fabricated.
That “new car smell” that people love is actually VOCs, or gasses being released into the air from chemicals in the production process. Most VOCs from mattresses will come from the nylon, polyurethane, polyester, and other petroleum derived fabrics and materials. Due to fire safety regulations, flame retardants are also infused into the mattress, which also release VOCs.
VOCs are a concern, as most mattresses will release VOCs, and some people are really bothered by the odor created by some mattresses, enough to have an allergic reaction to the mattress itself. Others are concerned about VOCS, because many VOCs are suspected to be cancer-causing with high enough exposure.
(Whether one can get cancer from exposure to one’s mattress alone is not really provable, but given the amount of VOCs that occur in the home from other products and fixtures, some people are interested in reducing their VOC load while sleeping!)
As far as an allergic response to the smell of the mattress, the foam “mattress in a box” variety are more of a concern than the natural latex or classic spring coil mattress which don’t have the layers of space-age polymers, etc. (Unless of course you have a latex allergy!)
There are plenty of stories in online forums about people being overwhelmed by the smell of the foam mattress that they had delivered. But of course, some are more sensitive to smells than others.
So will you absorb or inhale VOCs from a new mattress? Yes, you are sleeping on this product for hours at a time, and you will absorb or inhale some of these compounds.
Several small studies of mattress materials showed that VOCs are released from mattresses in measurable amounts, especially in the winter as windows are closed, air conditioning is turned off, and furnaces are kicked on. Most of the these studies are concerned with the exposure of infants to VOCs from mattress materials.
VOC exposure as a result of a new mattress is not really debatable.
What is debatable is how much you’ll absorb and if it matters to your health in a way that you can ever link back to your mattress.
Some people don’t want the risk and they look for organic fabrics (like wool), natural latex, or foam made with an industrial process that requires fewer chemicals or removes the odor, a process called CertiPUR for foam.
Personally, I’m not skeptical about VOCs in mattresses. I know they happen. I am skeptical to some degree about whether the processes that are more organic or chemistry free are actually as clean as they claim to be, as many of the supposedly low VOC mattresses may not actually be using the green/organic materials they claim to be using.
All you have to do is look through comment sections and forum threads on organic mattresses, and very few companies come out looking good. There are complaints by people who have opted for the green materials like wool and horsehair, saying they aren’t as comfortable as they were advertised. There are complaints by others saying such-and-such company is engaging in “green-washing” especially when it comes to “certifications” that supposedly mean lower VOCs.
You can get a low or no VOC mattress, but you need to do your homework, and be open to getting a mattress outside of a big box store.
At the very least, this will probably mean avoiding any foam/polyurethane in the the mattress or in the mattress topper. And don’t forget to ask about any flame retardants put on the mattress.
Of course, everyone wants to know what does the natural health expert have in his home? Does the chiropractor, in fact, intentionally look for a low VOC bed?
Well, here’s the answer:
As of 2017, I’m not currently sleeping in a low VOC bed. It’s a spring coil with a pillow-top. 85% of the construction contain polyurethane foam in the comfort materials. The other 15% was polyster. It’s also an older mattress, near the end of its life, and when this purchase was made, I wasn’t aware of the studies on VOC compounds.
Up until very recently I was pretty happy with this mattress. But now that the pillow top has finally started to give way, I’m starting to wake up with more soreness than I usually experience.
Is it possible I no longer have to worry about VOCs, because my mattress is older than 10 years?
As far as I can tell from common knowledge and few studies on older mattress materials, and VOCs, the compounds are still released in an older mattress, though perhaps less so over time. That makes sense to me.
When we purchase our next mattress (soon), I will look for a mattress without foam, with lower VOC materials, and it will probably be an overstock item that’s been sitting around for a couple of years in storage, hopefully emitting the worst of the VOCs in that time frame. I may decide to go with a natural latex mattress or coil spring and latex hybrid for its no-VOC output, as I’m not allergic to latex in any way.
That said, I have often had the VOC and mattress conversation with people who invest in a low or no VOC mattress, who suddenly forget that their sheets, comforter, duvet, and pillow cases may all have unhealthy chemistry if they’re not spun from untreated cotton fibers.
If you’re going to go all in a low VOC mattress, don’t forget your mattress topper, cover, and all of your bedding shouldn’t be synthetic either!
I personally would only purchase a mattress online if I could:
In that trial period I would make sure to keep track of my sleep times, restfulness, and note any pain or discomfort I felt was related to my sleeping.
Most people are attracted to online outlets because they see (mostly) foam mattresses in a box for really affordable prices, either from a dedicated online venue (Tuft & Needle, Bed In a Box, Casper, etc) or on Amazon.
That and the mattress is delivered to your door without the hassle of dealing with a mattress salesperson, or leaving the house.
But some have never slept for more than a few days on this kind of foam mattress in a box and are surprised at the differences, namely feeling like you’re sinking into the bed, and the experience some people have of retaining heat.
I have heard from people who really love their mattress in a box and others who haven’t loved it at all.
Which brings me back to my first point: it’s not what’s in the mattress, it’s what it makes you feel, personally.
Due to the huge variety of foam mattress websites, I’m not even going to bother to link to any particular site. You can check out some of the big names listed above. Keep in mind with foam mattresses, there is a large variety of foam forming technologies, with all kinds of claims about not retaining heat, not sinking into the the mattress, etc.
The options seem limitless, but you’re still dealing with polyurethane foam.
There are a number of online natural latex retailers, and you have options within the latex mattress world, as to the kind of latex formation, and whether you want a latex hybrid. My Green Mattress is one retailer, located in La Grange, IL, which is close enough to Michigan to perhaps cut down on some shipping costs.
Big name department stores are all going to have plenty of mattress to choose from, at a variety of pricing points, with the ability to order whatever you want on sight.
You also have the dedicated mattress store, often attached to or within a furniture retailer.
Personally, I would probably avoid shopping for a mattress at these locations, other than to get a few feel for the different kinds of mattresses available.
I don’t necessarily believe that the most expensive mattress is going to be the most comfortable, however, I do tend to believe that you get what you pay for, and the best mattress from a big name retailer may be more than I and most people want to pay.
There’s a possibility of getting a more “deluxe” mattress for less if you happen to have a discount mattress outlet with a reputable service history.
Now, there’s some controversy over discount mattress outlets, and their source for the mattresses that they sell. There are factory direct retail outlets, that report to get their mattresses “new” from the factory. Just for less. There are also discount mattress outlets that freely admit that their stock is last years overstock, discontinued models being liquidated, and freight “rub” models that have a minor blemish and can no longer be sold at a big-name retailer.
I tend to trust the overstock/freight rub suppliers as opposed to the “new from the factory” because it makes me wonder how is it that they are selling the same mattresses at a third to a half less if the factory is selling them at the same price.
In any case, most large metro areas have at least one or two discount mattress outlets with a storefront and stock on hand and you can always give them a call and find out their story on why their models are being sold for less than the big name retailers.
For example, I’m in the Detroit-Metro area, and we have The Mattress Closeout Center in Bloomfield Hills which sells overstock, unclaimed, and freight rub models.
There are also discount mattress “pop-up” vendors which we show up in a parking lot, and sell overstock mattresses at a discount off of the back of a semi-truck. You might be able to find them and their mattresses on an eBay storefront. I personally would rather deal with an established discount mattress storefront as you can see where these mattresses are stored.
In any case, if the mattress is still new, just “older on the shelf” with a minor blemish, I believe you’re going to buy a better mattress for less money, provided this is the same construction you would find for sale at big-name retailer. You should ask about that.
There are a number of interesting “mom and pop” mattress shops in the Detroit Metro area.
Mattress To Go offers something that they call Beducation(R), where you can learn more about mattresses and selecting a bed. They have an interesting shop in Shelby Township, which includes natural latex bedding.
Of course, as mentioned above, Mattress Closeout Center offers a liquidation mattress venue with a relaxed and no-pressure environment. Greg the owner was one resource for the writing of this article.
Reverie has a shop in Bloomfield Hills, and has developed a system using foam or latex that attempts to customize your mattress based on the location of your pressure points.
This is just a sample…I’m sure there are others.
Well, if you’ve read and understood this whole article, you’ve already started. You have the basics. Let’s review:
The best thing to do is to hop in the car and start shopping locally, and trying out a few models of a variety of kinds, including spring coils, hybrids, low-VOC memory foam, etc.
Once you have some idea of what feels good, then start looking online for other local options you might have missed, and for online retailers specifically.
If you find that memory foam feels best to you, then you have a variety of online retailers at your disposal with prices ranging from just a few hundred dollars, to several thousand.
If you decide that spring coil is the best, then once more you have a huge variety of coils, to a variety of comfort materials.
Don’t forget that upgrading your mattress may require an upgrade of its base of support, and even mattress covers, and other linens if you’re going to a low-VOC or no VOC set up.
There were a number of studies that were interesting to read, but didn’t contain any useful information.
The full text of some of these articles were not available, so they may not be great in their quality. In any case, you can see what’s in existence of what’s out there in the medical research…There is more than what’s found bellow, but there’s not much else.
Others may be added here as the article is updated over time.
Mattress Influence on Pain and Comfort
An investigation into mattress firmness and its effect on alignment of the body in a side-laying position. The study maps out the position of the the spine while side laying, and learns that firmer mattresses provide a better aligned spine while sleeping on the side. (Whether or not it is more comfortable for people with shoulder pain or larger hips is not discussed.) The study says something interesting when it states that mattresses should be custom built around body types rather than being universal in design. That’s an interesting idea.
This research trial showed a short term correlation between sleeping on an adjustable airbed mattress with a decrease in chronic low back pain compared to an innerspring coil mattress.
This study of 17 sleepers showed that sleeping in a sagging mattress is not comfortable and affected subjective sleep quality while sleeping on the side or stomach.
Patients from chiropractic offices were prescribed a latex or foam hybrid bed based on their sleep position, and were tracked for 3 months to determine if there was improvement in their sleep quality. A significant improvement in sleep quality was found, and the researchers conclude that mattress type can influence comfort levels while sleeping.
VOCs and Mattresses
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