It’s 2 a.m. and you’re awake, tossing and turning as you attempt to find a comfortable position that doesn't leave your back screaming. Your movements bounced your partner up and down, waking them. Sleep disruptions have become a nightly occurrence and it’s starting to take its toll. You’re not just tired, you’re sleep-deprived – and that can have serious implications.
“Sleep deprivation affects your mood and can make you irritable and sleepy,” according to Sleep on it Canada, a campaign to promote the importance of sleep to maintain good health. “It impacts your brain, can increase pain perception, hinder memory consolidation mechanisms, and make you inattentive. It can also exacerbate existing physical and mental health problems and create ripple effects on the other pillars of health.”
The campaign warns a sleep deficit accumulates after one sleepless night and increases each additional night in which sleep is disrupted.
There are behavioural ways to improve sleep habits, but the nightmare of repeated awakenings will continue if you're spending the night on a bad mattress.
Irene, a sale representative for Airdrie Appliance and Furniture, said no matter what your sleep issues, the "best bed is the one where your spine is aligned.”
“The bedding industry is still fighting, to this day, [because] people think that a firm bed is the best bet. And that's just not true," said the sales rep, who boasts multiple years of experience in mattress sales. "You want your spine aligned – that's the whole key.”
To tell if a spine is aligned, Irene said to look from the tail bone to the T1 vertebrae, the first thoracic vertebra that marks the end of your neck vertebra and the beginning of your back. If this section of the spine is straight and level, the mattress is a good fit. If there is any curvature, it’s best to move on.
Irene said trying out a mattress before making a purchase is essential. Like a car, the models may look the same but have very different pros and cons.
However, there are considerations before you begin the hunt for a better night’s sleep.
“You should never wear your coat when you're trying a mattress,” she said. “If you're taking a partner with you to look at the spine, it's easier if you wear a solid colour with no linear line because…if there are linear lines on there [that] aren't perfectly straight and level, your eyes will follow that.”
She advised against using a pillow or putting your hands under your head when trying out a mattress because they alter how the spine fits with the mattress.
“If [alignment] goes slightly uphill toward the T1 vertebrae, that means that is too firm. It's actually pushing your shoulder out of the mattress. That hurts,” Irene said.
She added this "pushing out" indicates a pressure point, which is vital to note when trying out a mattress. If the area is uncomfortable when trying out the bed, one can only imagine how painful it would be after a full night on the mattress.
Another common misalignment-related pressure point is at the hips – particularly for women, who tend to have wider hips than men.
Irene added to never sleep with two pillows under your head, as this will push your neck up.
“If your pillow’s too high, what your spine and neck will look like is a hockey stick,” she said. “Great Canadian sport, but keep it out of your bed.”
The materials that make up the mattress can also impact sleep.
“Mattress coils, or mattress springs, are integral to the mattress’ support, which in turn impacts comfort and sleep quality,” according to Mattress Clarity, a platform to help consumers navigate the mattress industry. “For those with back pain, back issues or other concerns for support, considering various alternatives of mattress coils may be key to finding the ideal mattress.”
Coils are found in innerspring, pocketed coil or hybrid mattress and come in three main types – hourglass, pocketed and continuous coils.
Hourglass coils are wider at the bottom and top and are thinner in the middle. According to Mattress Clarity, this is the most common type of coil and comes in two subtypes – Bonell and offset.
Bonnell coils are hourglass-shaped and interconnected with a mesh of metal to make the spring system, according to slumbersearch.com. Offset coils maintain the hourglass shape, Irene said, but the large top and bottom are reduced and “the very end of the wire is offset to the side so that they can join them together.”
According to Mattress Clarity, Bonnell coils are less expensive to make and are therefore more popular. However, offset coils make less noise when slept on and conform more to the user’s body shape.
The next type of coil is the pocket coil, also known as Marshall coils or encased coils.
“Pocket springs are individually wrapped coil systems that are stitched into mattresses below a comfort layer of foam or other material," states slumbersearch.com. "Unlike traditional innerspring systems that are interconnected, pocket springs are entirely independent, allowing for added contour and pressure point relief than older innerspring models.”
Lastly, there is the continuous coil, which Mattress Clarity described as a series of S-shaped curves made from one long wire. The more stable, interlinked coil structure, according to the platform, is more durable than other coil types.
Other coil terms you’re likely to hear when mattress-hunting are gauge, number of and tempered.
The number of coils relates to mattress longevity, according to Mattress Clarity.
“The lower the gauge number of the mattress coil, the thicker the coil. Therefore, the lower the gauge number, the firmer and stiffer the mattress will feel, offering a harder surface for the mattress,” the platform stated.
Mattress Clarity suggests avoiding mattresses with low coil counts, thought an absolute minimum coil count is difficult to determine because of the variety in mattress sizes. In general, the platform stated, a full mattress should have at least 300 coils, a queen should contain at least 400 and a king should have at least 380.
“However, mattresses with coil counts much greater than the minimum level of coils may not actually offer a substantially higher level of comfort or support,” according to Mattress Clarity.
Lastly, tempered indicates the coils have been heated and cooled repeatedly to solidify the shape. This process makes the coils more durable, according to the platform, making them a good option for someone with a larger frame or heavier weight.
If you prefer to sleep on your side, consider a Memory Foam™ mattress. Made from a polymer known as polyurethane, Memory Foam was first created for use by NASA but has since become a staple in the mattress industry. Known for contouring to your body, Mattress Clarity declared Memory Foam mattresses are "one of the best mattress types for side sleepers."
These mattresses are virtually silent as there are no coils to squeak and no creaks or other noises as you move around. They are also known to limit motion transfer because the foam absorbs movement, isolating it to that specific area.
“Memory Foam generally has a soft feel that slowly compresses when pressure is applied,” according to Mattress Clarity. “If you lie on a Memory Foam mattress, you should feel yourself slowly sink in.”
Irene added the material is temperature-sensitive and can take about eight minutes to mould to your body.
“If your room is cold, your mattress will be firm until your body warms it up,” she said. “And if your room is warm, then it'll already be almost ready for you.”
When shopping for a Memory Foam mattress, you will likely also be introduced to hybrid mattresses. The main difference between the mattresses is the presence of coils – Memory Foam doesn't have them, while hybrids contain both coils and foam.
On top of the coils in a hybrid mattress sits a comfort layer consisting of latex, polyfoam, or even Memory Foam. The cost to construct the coils generally makes hybrids pricier than Memory Foam, according to Mattress Clarity, but hybrids offer a level of support “so they can handle heavier weights than a Memory Foam mattress.”
“They also offer more support for back sleepers and are some of the best mattresses for stomach sleepers,” the platform stated.
Once you’ve selected your mattress, Irene said it’s important to purchase the matching box spring. The metal system inside the box spring is engineered to go with each mattress manufacturer's specific coil design.
“It's like putting brand new Chevy parts on an old Ford – that doesn't work,” she said. “What you do is you shorten the life of your mattress. And you could conceivably void your warranty.”
Whichever mattress you select, it is important to protect the warranty by rotating it from head to foot four times a year and investing in a high-quality mattress protector, according to Irene.
She added spots on the mattress void the warranty because it's not up to the manufacturer to prove the stains aren’t biohazards.
Irene said warranties work, but it's up to the consumer to hold up their end of the agreement. She likens following these steps to adhering to routine maintenance of a car.
“If you don't do the same things to your mattress, why would they honour the warranty?” she said.
While mattress purchasers have a lot to consider, the benefits of weighing their choice will pay off in the long run.