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Mattress Obsessed

The Dark Side of Demanding a ‘Firm’ Mattress

When You Say "Firm" Mattress, Do You Reallly Mean Supportive?

Lots of people say, "I want a firm mattress." You may be one of them. I think we are culturally conditioned to believe a firm mattress is a good mattress. But if you truly wanted the firmest mattress, why not sleep on the floor? Concrete is firm. Steel is definitely firm. Why not sleep on those?

"No, I don't want that kind of firm," you say. "I guess I want something that's supportive.

Bingo. Now we're getting somewhere.

The language used when selecting a mattress matters. Your sleep is too important to misinterpret by thinking firm is good and soft is bad. I want to give you some thoughts you can use to accurately communicate your preferences to the sales person, so he or she can guide you to the perfect bed.

Mattress & Body Support Are King

In a survey, shoppers voted support the most important consideration when buying a mattress (followed by comfort). It makes sense. Your body needs a feeling of elevation or your muscles continue to work to support your body mechanics.

Whether it's lifting a toddler or pushing mom in a wheelchair, your muscles, bones, and ligaments are working together to make you move. They're collectively keeping you from collapsing because the real world doesn't come with bumper rails to keep you upright. Your brain tells your muscles, "Tense, release, turn right, don't relax, keep going." All of these body mechanics happen without conscious thought and unfold because your body isn't fully supported.

Now imagine lying on a mattress that's not supportive. The heaviest parts of your body will sink and likely bottom out. For most of us, that means our hindquarters will keep heading downward until finding a stable base. Sinking throws your body out of its anatomically correct alignment. If you stand without tension, your spine typically has a slight "s-curve." That's your natural posture and it's a position your mattress should mirror. That means you need a bed that fills the gaps your body naturally creates when it's in a lying position and one that releases under heavier sections.

Your Mattress Needs To Deliver Proper Spinal Support & Alignment

If you want to get better sleep, start by evaluating your spine. Dr. Shari Peck is a Mattress Firm Store Manager who was a practicing chiropractor for 15 years. She knows spines and that's important because your perfect mattress needs to deliver proper spinal alignment. Spinal alignment is another way of thinking about comfort. If your spine is in alignment, and you're not fighting to keep it there, you're probably quite comfortable. Say it with me, "Make your spine align and you'll sleep fine!" If sleeping on the hard floor kept your spine aligned you wouldn't really need a mattress. But your body has curves and nooks that need to be filled and to feel good you need components that elevate to occupy those gaps.

Spinal Support Means A Mattress That Contours To Your Spine

"Many people come into the store saying they need a firm bed because they have a bad back," said Dr. Peck. "I gently explain, "What you're really telling me is you need a bed that has great contouring, pressure relief, and support." For most people, if they lie on the ground and look at the ceiling their lower back contours away from the floor. Nothing fills that cavity so there's no possibility of support. "If you have larger buttocks muscles, that distance between your lower back and the floor can be exaggerated," said Dr. Peck. Another note about your rear-end and your hips - your mattress needs to be soft enough so your rump rides down into the unit, but supportive enough so your spine reaches neutral alignment. It's a delicate balance.

Consider Your Body Weight Before Investing In A Firm Mattress

My wife suffered from the hips-too-high issue. She thought her hips were sore from running, but I became convinced she was too light for our firm mattress. I bought a new bed and after sleeping on the new, softer mattress her hip pain disappeared. Her rearend and hips were essentially propping up the rest of her body, creating pressure and wonky spinal alignment. After softening the surface her hips and backside are now positioned low enough in the mattress that her lower back isn't arching away from the sleep surface, which was creating pressure points on her hips and backside. If you're a lighter-weight person, you definitely want to pay attention and make sure you don't make the mistake of getting a bed that's too firm, or you may suffer similar issues. If you're heavier, you may need more support to keep you from hammocking, or sinking so low your spine droops.

The Best Mattress For You Is a Supportive Mattress

Here's what it comes down to: improper or insufficient support is taxing and stressful on the body. For example, frowning takes more energy than a neutral facial expression. Neutral is natural. And easy. And relaxing. The same goes for your Paraspinal muscles, the muscles next to the spinal column used for standing-when they are not neutral, which means they're not properly supported, you can't relax.

Finding The Right Combination of Pressure Relief & Contouring Support

To get good sleep, most people need a combination of pressure relief and support. It's not logical to only focus on pressure relief; infinite pressure relief is like quicksand that sinks to the center of the earth then spits you out the other side where you float into outer space. Infinite support doesn't make sense either-that's like sleeping on a flat diamond floor. Contouring support is what you're after. It's a pairing of pressure relief and active support.

Think about those extreme examples: If your mattress only offers pressure relief the heaviest parts of your body sink. That defeats the goal of sleeping with a neutral spine. If your mattress only offers firmness, the contours, cavities, nooks, and crannies of the human form remain untouched-you'll feel pressure (mainly on your hips and shoulders) and you will not feel supported since only those jagged parts of your body are touching the sleep surface.

As you can see, there's a dark side to demanding that firm mattress. My advice is to recognize your spine's need for neutrality, try a variety of mattresses, and forget the old adage, "I need a firm bed."

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