Mattress Quality – does it matter?

You often hear: to get a good night’s sleep you need a good mattress.  (or bed).

At Sleepdex, we’re all in favor of individuals taking the steps necessary to getting a good night’s sleep, but we wonder about the veracity of that statement.  Does the quality/hardness/feel of the surface you sleep on matter all that much?  And are some mattresses more conducive to good sleep than others?

We read a lot of literature about sleep, and we could not find any even remotely scientific evidence to support claims that mattress type influences sleep quality or duration.  And considering the amount of money spent on bedding, you would tend to think that if there were real difference in mattresses, it would be publicized.

Why hasn’t any medical association publicly advocated sleeping on expensive mattresses?  If mattress quality or type were important in preventing or relieving back pain, you would think the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons or the National Association or Orthopaedic Nurses would issue public statements.  If bed quality mattered to duration of sleep you would think that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine would tell people so.  The Surgeon General would issue an advisory on beds.  But none of this has happened. Further, we know of no formal study showing mattress type or materials matters.

Given the high profit margins from mattress sales, you would think that mattress makers would jump on any chance to validate their claims with science or medical opinion.  It would not be that hard to set up some studies.  Sleep quality could be quantified by measuring sleep latency, sleep efficiency, and amounts of time spent in slow-wave and REM sleep.  This is easy to do with a polysomnogram, which is a well-established diagnostic technique.  One set of sleepers could get the high-priced quality mattresses and the other set low quality inexpensive mattresses.  A comparison of the two would tell if the difference in mattresses affected sleep This technique could be used to compare coil mattresses vs. air mattresses, soft mattresses vs. hard mattresses, thick mattresses vs. thin mattresses.  Yet we could not find any evidence that systematic comparisons of this sort have been done.  Why?  We have to conclude that the mattress manufacturers do not sponsor these studies because they are afraid of the results.  Results that might show expensive mattresses are not worth the extra money.

Now it is true that medical authorities tell people to sleep in certain positions to avoid or alleviate pain.  Here’s a Mayo Clinic webpage on that topic:  But that is different from telling people to buy fancy mattresses.  Further, with increasing availability of home diagnostic devices, individuals can measure their own sleep quality in different settings (the bed vs. the couch vs. the floor) and see what works best for them.

There is also the dubious claim that your mattress doubles in weight from when it is new until it is eight years old – and that this added weight is due to absorption of undesirable things.  Sweat and dust are often mentioned as the bogeymen in old mattresses.  While it is true that mattress materials are absorbant (to a degree that varies with manufacture and materials) and that weight will increase, there is no reason to be alarmed.  The couch in the living room increases in weight over time also.

The moisture level inside a mattress probably reaches an equilibrium early on and depends on ambient humidity and the sweatiness of the sleeper.

The amount of material your mattress absorbs depends on things like how clean the bedroom is, what kind of mattress cover (if any) is used, and the sheets.  Even so, there is no particular reason to think that a heavy mattress will cause poor sleep.

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