We could all use a little more sleep. According to research from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, a good night’s sleep can improve your health and memory. What about the effects of a lack of sleep? We probably all know what that can do. As the researchers put it, poor sleep “affects mood, motivation, judgment, and our perception of events.”
Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control, most people are not getting the sleep that they need. Surveys indicate the population of bad sleepers has grown steadily over the decades as well. A Gallup poll found that “the number of Americans getting six hours or less of sleep each night increased from just 11% in 1942 to 40% in 2013.”
What’s the Best Mattress for You?
If you’re looking to buy a new mattress that is more comfortable for your body, here are some guidelines, courtesy of Robert Wagner, MD, of the Virginia-based National Spine and Pain Centers. He is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating injuries of the spine, joints, tendons and nerves. “We tend to think of sleep as a time when the mind and body shut down. But this is not the case; sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs,” he says. “For the 60 million Americans who suffer from back aches and other forms of chronic pain, sleep may be even more critical. Research shows that poor sleep quality is positively correlated with pain-related disability, as well as depression, and also that a new mattress can be beneficial relative to quality of sleep and reduction of pain.”
Dr. Wagner says that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to finding the perfect mattress, as your needs will vary by your body type. Some people need their mattresses soft, and while others need more support. If you’re a bit confused as to what your needs could be, a chiropractor or other medical professional might be able to help. “Every brand rates the firmness of its mattresses by its own terms. For example, If you have wide hips, a slightly softer surface may be better; you need some more give in order to keep your spine in alignment. Someone with narrower hips might be better off with a firmer surface.”
Here’s what people who suffer from chronic pain should consider relative to their mattresses and the quality of their sleep, according to Dr. Wagner:
• Know when it’s time to get a new mattress. If your current mattress sags visibly in the middle or is no longer comfortable, it is probably time to purchase a new one.
• Good posture is important when you sleep. The muscles and ligaments (tissue that holds joints together) in your back need to relax and recover while you snooze. If a mattress is too firm – or too squishy – it won’t support your spine at your neck or lower back the way it needs to.
• Overall comfort while sleeping on the mattress is just as important as sufficient back support. Patients who want a firmer mattress for back support may consider one with thicker padding for greater comfort.
• If you have a great night’s sleep and wake up pain-free after staying at a hotel or in a friend’s guest room, copy down that mattress’s model representation. Or choose a mattress that comes with a money-back guarantee: A growing number of companies will let you buy a mattress and use it for anywhere from 30 to 100 days and send it back for a refund if you’re not happy with it. (The refund policies of major online mattress brands are listed in Money’s regularly updated story on the best mattress deals right now.)
“We spend almost a third of our life in bed, so it is important to have a comfortable mattress that meets your needs,” concludes Dr. Wagner. “The one clear choice about sleep and pain is that you should visit your doctor if the pain regularly disrupts your sleep.”
This advice is echoed by Christina Pierpaoli Parker, a resident of clinical psychology at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB), and a sleep and health researcher who has written about sleep and sleep products on CNBC, Healthline, and Shape.
“Sleep undergirds every facet of our physical and psychological health and a great mattress can promote our recommended daily dose of it. But if your sleep issues cause significant impairment and/or distress, consult with your physician or a behavioral sleep medicine provider who can diagnose, manage, and treat your symptoms,” she says. “A mattress, no matter how great, can’t and won’t fix the underlying root causes.”
With that in mind, as part of our ongoing series of product recommendations from experts, here are the best mattresses, according to chiropractors and sleep experts.
Best Mattress for Back Pain, Updated July 2020
Amerisleep AS2: Queen on sale for $909.30 (list price $1,299)
“Back pain is often a result of excessive sinkage,” says Erin Rossi, a Phoenix-based Medical Assistant, Certified Sleep Science Coach and a writer at the sleep health publication Simply Rest. “When one part of the body sinks too far into the mattress, it can force the spine out of alignment, putting pressure on the back and causing pain to worsen.”
For those with back pain, she recommends “Amerisleep’s AS2, which has a medium-firm comfort level that contours to the body to prevent pain-causing pressure points and ease muscle tension. When the back muscles fully relax, they can repair and rebuild quickly, alleviating pain in the upper back, lower back, and hips,” she says. “The slight firmness of the AS2 keeps the heaviest parts of the body lifted, so the spine remains in a safe, neutral position that removes any tension in the back.”
Additionally, Rossi points out, “Amerisleep uses a unique plant-based memory foam called Bio-Pur. This material is non-toxic, eco-friendly, and more breathable than traditional memory foams—creating a sleep surface that is always cool and inviting.”
Casper Nova Hybrid Mattress: Queen on sale for $1,795 (list price $1,995)
Parker, from the University of Alabama Birmingham, is a fan of the Casper brand — and the Casper Nova Hybrid mattress in particular. “Their Nova Hybrid model includes seven zones of support for spinal and lumbar alignment, making it a lovely option for chronic back pain sufferers,” says Parker. “Its ‘hybrid’ design with two layers of perforated foam and springs make it plush, breathable, and cool. And cool in more ways than one – it even has an eco-friendly mattress cover for more environmentally-conscious consumers.”
As Money has previously highlighted, the return policy of online mattress sellers is incredibly important because it’s often hard to tell how you will like (or hate) a mattress before sleeping on it for a few weeks. Like other mattress brands, Casper offers a generous 100-night trial period, which is invaluable for consumers.
“We spend a significant portion of our lives asleep, presumably, and hopefully, on a mattress. Casper recognizes this and offers a beautiful, customer-oriented extended trial policy that allows you to spend 100 nights on your desired mattress” while you’re able to return or exchange it, Parker says. “I respect this policy because it makes good sense; the body needs time to adjust to a new mattress.”
Best Mattress for Side Sleepers
Casper Original Mattress: Queen on sale for $986 (list price $1,095)
“Finding a mattress that supports the lumbar spine is essential in preventing low back pain,” states Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, the owner of the Pennsylvania-based Montgomery County Chiropractic Center.
“We recommend the Casper bed for side sleepers due to its reinforced lumbar cushioning. The Casper helps those who sleep on their side avoid spinal compression with its reinforced support zones in the shoulder and low back regions. This keeps the spinal column in anatomical position while sleeping, which will help prevent pain for low back suffers.”
Best Mattress for Snoring
Zoma Hybrid Mattress: Queen on sale for $999 (list price $1,149)
Does your partner complain about your snoring? Don’t feel bad, as it’s not really your fault. There’s a variety of reasons why we snore, from body mass to a little too much wine before bed to nasal issues. Sometimes snoring is a one-off thing, but if snoring is a persistent issue, then Rossi recommends the Zoma Hybrid Mattress. “The Zoma has a responsive transition layer and a base of pocketed spring coils. Both these layers guard against excessive sinking, so the body is never forced into awkward sleep positions that cause tension build-up.”
Rossi says that “this foam is softer near sensitive areas like the hips and shoulders. But, along the back and neck, this layer is firmer to provide more stability.” This stability is key, as “the combination of these layers creates a responsive mattress that keeps the body lifted and in alignment. When you sink too far into the mattress, the soft muscles in your throat are more likely to narrow, leading to snoring. However, the Zoma Hybrid Mattress lifts and aligns the body to alleviate stress on the trachea and reduce snoring.”
Best Mattress for Restless Sleepers
If you can’t sleep, it’s very likely you roll around at night — meaning that your partner isn’t sleeping well either. There are plenty of reasons why some us toss and turn all night, from diet to stress to underlying conditions such as chronic pain or restless leg syndrome. Again, see a doctor to figure out the best course of action. And depending on their recommendations, Parker says the ComforPedic from Beautyrest 10-inch Gel Memory Foam Mattress might be able to help you remain still enough to rest.
“Combined with placement in a cool, dark bedroom, ComforPedic’s Beautyrest Gel Memory foam mattress gently hugs the body’s contours to reduce excessive movement as well as to eliminate joint and muscle pressure throughout the body while also feeling supportive. Another great option for chronic pain sufferers and even athletes,” she says. “Its tri-layered design includes an initial 2-inch layer of AirCool memory foam with gel to also regulate temperature, keeping things airy, breathable, and comfortable. Plus its reinforced edge support, border treatment, and lovely floral design make it you feel like you’ve purchased an affordable classic.”
Best Innerspring Mattress
Stearns & Foster: Queen for $1,499
Memory foam and Temperpedic have become popular for people who want to feel like they are sinking into their beds. But some people’s backs need firmer support. Additionally, some consumers find that memory foam mattresses tend to get too warm, while the more traditional innerspring, which features a layer of coils under the mattress, tend to run a bit cooler because of the spaces between the coils. Again, it’s all about one’s particular needs and preferences.
Jared Heathman, MD, a Houston-based sleep psychiatrist, notes that “our bodies are not made equally. While Temperpedic options are well advertised for their cushion and minimizing the disturbance of your partner, they make it difficult to roll and adjust positioning,” he says. He prefers innerspring mattresses, noting that Stearns & Foster make high-quality ones. “They provide some comfort, but they also remain firm to allow movement. Back pain can be agitated while staying in one position for too long.”
Best Sleep Accessories for Hot Sleepers
Some of us just naturally run a little hot. There’s no shame in it, but it can be another reason why some of us can’t get to sleep. “When our core body temperature drops at night, the heat gets transferred/distributed to neighboring areas and our nightwear, sheets, and mattresses that absorb and trap it,” Parker says. “Sharing a bed partner can contribute, and so can engaging in certain ‘thermogenic’ behaviors that raise core body temperature too close to bedtime, including eating heavy meals, drinking alcohol, and exercising vigorously.”
An innerspring mattress can help those who have trouble sleeping when they feel too hot. Additionally, Parker recommends the following sleep accessories:
chiliPAD Sleep System: Starting at $499
“Light and core body temperature work to synchronize our circadian rhythm—our internal clock. To initiate and maintain deep sleep, our core body temperature needs to drop by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Counterintuitively, passive body heating 60-120 minutes before bed via a shower or bath can facilitate this process but for those who prefer to stay dry or find their mattress less than breathable, I recommend placing the chiliPAD atop it,” Parker says.
“Using a water-based hydronic pad, the chiliPAD’s thermal delivery system aids in this thermoregulatory process, cooling your mattress throughout the night to aid deep and restful sleep. While we don’t yet have empirical evidence to support this product’s efficacy or effectiveness for treating chronic pain, some sufferers may find that its coolness provides some relief for things like fibromyalgia or joint issues.”
“I also quite like the breathability of these Casper sheets and these silk pajamas available on Amazon,” Parker says. “Combined with keeping your room dark and cold and adding a tower area fan, light sleepwear can promote airflow for optimal thermoregulation.”
“Beyond refraining from excessive heat-producing activities before bed, ‘hot’ sleepers can also consider keeping a tower fan like this at or near their bedside,” Parker says. “I have and use this product myself because it keeps my side of the bed cool without compromising my husband’s preferences for a warmer area and adds some ambient white noise — helpful for maintaining sleep in noisy environments.”
How to Sleep Better at Night
If you’ve been having trouble catching some shuteye, sometimes it just takes a few simple lifestyle adjustments to do the trick. Here are a few sleep tips to try, according to the non-profit sleep education and advocacy group The Sleep Foundation:
• Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wakeup time, even on the weekends. This will help your body’s clock adapt to a set pattern, and could possibly help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
• Exercise daily.
• Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening, all of which can disrupt sleep. Give yourself two to three hours after dinner to let your body digest.
• Spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. And you might want to do that reading the old-fashioned way — which is to say, without tablets, laptops, or phones. For some, reading with an electronic devices such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
But sometimes, there are deeper issues at play that cutting back on screen time won’t fix. There are plenty of reasons why people don’t get enough sleep, from diet to stress, but one of the common factors is chronic pain, often in the back or the joints. Fortunately, there are plenty of specialty mattresses designed to help people with sleep issues find their way to slumberland.