The Fallacy of the “Firm Bed Fixes All”
One of the biggest reasons people come to a mattress store is to find a way to increase their health. Whether it’s looking for a supportive pillow, an adjustable base or simply a new mattress, most customers need to find something that increases the quality of their sleep and, therefore, benefits their daily lives.
According to the Healthy Policy Institute at Georgetown University, approximately 8% of adults are diagnosed with chronic lower back pain (CLBP) in the United States, while over 32% of adults report having episodic back pain that affects their day-to-day activities. While episodes or even chronic back pain may not seem like a significant problem, these problems cause negative changes in one’s personal and professional life such as minimizing productivity at work and causing missed workdays, which can then result in a loss of income and a feeling of the loss of control. Remedying these issues could be as simple as altering your mattress, where your body spends an average of 33% of its time.
Listening To the Real Experts
While working in the mattress industry, often a sleep specialist will hear the words, “I have a bad back, so my doctor told me to get a firm mattress.” In fact, this idea that a “firm” bed can fix back pain or sleeping distress is a common misconception, perpetuated by an instilled idea in our society that firmness, hardness and strength are equivalent in all areas of life. It’s a phrase that’s heard often and frequently competes with the specialist’s desire to recommend a specific type of mattress for the customer, as now the sleep specialist has to vie for validation with a doctor, who is not an expert of mattresses but an expert of health. A chiropractor or doctor’s recommendation, in the eyes of many customers, supersedes the recommendation of the “salesperson” with whom they’re interacting.
The first issue that exists with this ill-advised recommendation is the term “firm.” As often alluded to by researchers and sleep specialists alike, the term “firm” is ambiguous and doesn’t declare what type of mattress is being requested. Some may feel that a rock-hard, smooth-surfaced mattress is the qualifier for a “firm” mattress, while others actually apply the term’s context to the support layer of the mattress, where there is “firm” pushback or minimal depression in the core layers.
Every Body is Different
The second issue with this misconception is the “one-style-fits-all” idea. The reason there are up to a hundred different mattress options is due to the variety of needs from consumers. All chronic back pain, neck pain, spinal issues or muscle stiffness don’t have the same derivation nor the same pathway to alleviation, therefore a “one-style-fits-all” mattress simply can’t be a go-to answer for combating these diagnoses. This argument against “one-style-fits-all” also applies to mattress-related accessories, such as bedsheets, pillows and even adjustable bases, as different products serve differing needs.
In order to remedy this misconception, we must start using terminology that is more representative of the standard mattress build. All mattresses have essentially two component layers: one being the “support” layer with the top layer acting as the “comfort” layer. While these two layers can usually be identified with separate and distinct components within a mattress, they don’t necessarily work outside the scope of the other. For example, a dense core of poly foam or a low-gauge wrapped coil (the bottom layers) can promote the idea of a “firm” support layer, but at the same time can affect how the comfort layers on top conform to your body – enhancing or limiting that conformation, thereby affecting your perception of the comfort (the top layers) of the mattress. Inversely, a thick layer of buoyant latex in the comfort layer will feel soft, yet due to the nature of latex to attempt to retain its loft and profile at all times, the natural push-back of even just two inches of latex will add additional support to the contours of your body. The two component layers have their own specific purposes, but they do overlap and in doing so, it’s important to acknowledge how that overlap and those layers individually will affect the sleeper.
In looking at the term “firm,” generally sleep specialists take away that the customer needs a comfortable mattress that doesn’t provide back pain. In generalizing the desire of the customer, sleep specialists can try a variety of mattresses to truly see what feels most comfortable and brings about the least amount of pain to the customer. Most customers benefit from a medium-firm feel. This reality coincides with what researchers have found in numerous studies: “hard” mattresses aren’t as comfortable as “medium” mattresses, and in providing medium-feel mattresses the amount of pain, stiffness and discomfort decreases by a surprising amount.
The Answer to Body Pain: Be Open-Minded With Your Mattress
Take this 2009 study by Bert Jacobson at Oklahoma University. In this study, a range of participants were monitored for four types of pain: back, muscle and joint stiffness, mattress comfort and shoulder. The participants rated these categories on a scale of one to seven weekly for three weeks, based on their current mattresses and if these characteristics were noticed each of these days of the week. After these three pretest weeks, each participant was given a customized variation of a medium-firm mattress – pocketed coils for the primary support layer, with a visco foam and talalay-latex comfort layer. The comfort layers were modified and made unique to each participant by altering the densities of the latex and of the visco to provide what the researchers would presume to be the best support for each respective participant.
From the very first week into this study up until the end of the 12th week, the result was eye-opening: there was an approximate 70% reduction in all of these areas of pain and discomfort. These dramatic results demonstrate that the concept of a “hard” mattress to provide superior results in combating chronic lower back pain and stiffness is at best inaccurate and at worst harmful to the person with said pain. In fact, the best type of mattress, or range of mattress feel, would appear to be one that allows for a differing amount of cushion between the body and the direct support layer.
Your Mattress Options
At Mattress Express there are a variety of mattresses that are of similar build to the test mattresses that were demonstrated in the aforementioned study. Such mattresses include models by Posh + Lavish (such as the all-latex Refine, the pocket-coil and latex hybrid the Preeminence, and the memory foam and latex hybrid Flux), Eclipse (such as the latex-topped Deville and the gel-infused memory foam Lido) along with outstanding models such as the double-sided, pocket-coiled Velika, with a separate wool and latex topper. These medium-feel mattresses have a variety of support layers and an array of comfort layers, yet they each provide a combination of support and comfort that customers rave about. These products allow for increased comfort at night while providing support and minimizing the amount of pain due to muscle soreness, stiffness and body tension while asleep.
The takeaway here is that when recommended a “firm” mattress, be wary of the one-style-fits-all conclusion that’s drawn from that recommendation. Instead, listen to two experts in this search: your sleep specialist, whose goal is to provide you a healthy and enhanced sleep surface that will alleviate your pain (and in turn make for a happy customer), and your body, which can tell you what truly feels comfortable and relieves the most amount of pain. Be aware that a mattress isn’t and won’t be a cure-all, but it is common knowledge that your sleep system and back pain do have a correlation and by altering your sleep surface, you can change the amount of back pain and stress that builds up overnight and disrupts your daily activities.
Need a mattress solution tailored to your specific sleep needs? The experts at Mattress Express will introduce you to your perfect-fit mattress. We guarantee it’ll be worth it.