Your bed – a place where you spend one-third of your life – has to be comfy, right? Nothing worse than a lumpy, hard or oversoft mattress making you ache and creak your way through the day and toss and turn at night.
When it comes to back health and a good night’s sleep, the right mattress can be everything.
We asked sleep guru Elina Winnel to talk us through just how much difference the perfect mattress can make and how to take care of it.
Q: Should I have a firmer or softer mattress for my back health?
According to Elina, this depends on a few factors.
“The optimal firmness level of our mattress depends on the individual. In particular, on the shape and mobility of our spine,” she says.
The “S” shape of our spine needs to be supported by our mattress. If it isn’t, the resulting strain can cause us to wake up with aches and pains.
“Hard mattresses can place excessive strain on your lower back. Soft mattresses, on the other hand, can cause the natural curves of your spine to sag, also causing strain on the joints of your spine.”
So how do you know which is better for you? If you have a relatively stiff spine, without a lot of mobility, a softer mattress is typically better.
“If your spine doesn’t bend particularly easily, a soft mattress will mould better to your body, helping you to feel comfortable,” says Elina.
However, if you’re pretty mobile, a moderately firm mattress could suit you better.
“If your spine bends relatively easily, a harder mattress, will stop your spine from sagging,” says Elina.
If you aren’t sure, she advises we all go with a medium firm mattress.
Q: How can I test the best mattress for me?
Take your time – this is a big long-term investment and one that could affect how you sleep and whether you wake without aches and pains.
Elina suggests you test the support with these steps: First lie in your favourite sleeping position, and place your head on a pillow. Move your hand to your neck and observe the shape of your cervical spine, then place your hand on your lower back and feel the shape of your lower spine. If the mattress has allowed your spine to maintain its natural ’S’ shape, it will work for you.
Q: How often should I clean my mattress and what’s the best way to do it?
Elina says a dry vacuum clean is the best way to go – you can use this to suck up hair and skin particles. It’s a good idea to have a mattress protector on the bed too so you can remove it and wash it regularly.
"Don’t use liquid to clean your mattress, though,” she advises. “It can lead to mould or mildew.”
You don’t need to vacuum every time you change the sheets – once every month, or two at most – is usually enough for optimum mattress health.
Tip: Sprinkle baking soda mixed with a few drops of your favourite essential oil then sprinkle on to the mattress and leave for an hour. Vacuum off, and your mattress will be freshened up (and those oils are antibacterial, too!)
Q: Are memory mattresses really better?
If you have a very fidgety partner, then you may want to try a memory foam or latex foam mattresses - these offer less 'partner disturbance', as the mattress companies call it. And there are some other benefits.
“Memory foam mattresses can absorb your weight and take pressure off your joints,” says Elina. “However, some people, particularly those who prefer softer mattresses, find them too dense and not springy enough.”
Q: I’ve had my bed for 15 years, should I get a new mattress?
Experts all say you should change your mattress every eight to 10 years - this is not only for hygiene reasons but because it will soften over time, reducing the support it gives you. If you feel sore when you wake up or you find you sleep better in other beds, it could be time for a change.
Q: Does it matter how good my mattress is if my bed frame isn’t great?
“It's important to have a solid foundation that supports the mattress” advises Elina. “If your bed frame is out, it may affect your mattress’ ability to support you. A broken slat for example, may cause a mattress to sag, especially if it's a soft mattress to begin with.”