According to The New England Journal of Medicine, about two-thirds of adults will experience low back pain at some point during their lives. While back pain impacts all areas of a person's life, it will dramatically impact sleep quality. Like all types of pain, back pain and poor sleep have a bidirectional correlation: poor sleep can intensify back pain, and more back pain reduces sleep quality.
Sleep is a basic need that our bodies want desperately to fulfill. It’s essential to a body’s healthy functioning. When we sleep, our spinal discs rehydrate, recuperate from the strain of the day, and regain their elasticity. This is why it is so important to get a full night’s sleep.
Back pain during sleep may be episodic in nature, meaning it is the result of an exceptionally strenuous activity or injury. It can also be related to chronic conditions such as arthritis, scoliosis, fibromyalgia, or herniated disks. Regardless of the source of your pain, health care professionals acknowledge the impact a mattress can have on alleviating or aggravating chronic back pain. Many doctors and physical therapists even recommend a mattress as a treatment choice for patients who suffer from chronic pain.
Shopping for a mattress that will help a painful back is tricky. Most mattress manufacturers reference their product’s superior ability to support the back. The challenge shoppers with back pain face is identifying a product that will truly address their concerns. Often a product is being advertised using standard, “back-health” rhetoric but designed without the necessary quality and thoughtfulness to be effective.
The Myth of the Straight Spine
The mattress industry has long underlined the connection between back health and mattress quality. Take the picture of the straight spine. This image is familiar to most mattress shoppers because it is commonly used to illustrate spinal alignment. In fact, many of today’s leading mattress brands incorporate the visual of a straight spine into their logos. Unfortunately, a straight spine shouldn't be our only concern when choosing a mattress. In fact, the pursuit of a straight spine is a limited, unrealistic approach to sleeping and back health.
Here’s a fact that might change the way you think about sleep: When we go to sleep, we don’t naturally position our bodies to align the back. The body’s primary concern is to find a position that allows for optimum breathing, swallowing, temperature control, and localized comfort (i.e., your hip feels better if you bring your knee up, or your shoulder likes it if your arm is a little under the pillow). It's not uncommon to want to sleep with our head and chest elevated slightly higher than our abdomen because it makes breathing, swallowing and circulation easier. Your body often knows what’s best, regardless of what you are thinking.
The straight spine picture is also misleading because it suggests we can only bend or flex along a single, vertical plane. But in addition to bending, our spines twist. A more important alignment consideration is the rotation or twisting of the hips, torso or head. For instance, twisting your torso towards the mattress during side sleeping is a real alignment problem and can be the underlying cause of back, neck and shoulder pain. The straight spine is the wrong mascot to advertise the success of a mattress. Although it’s an appealing aesthetic statement, it tells an incomplete story about how a mattress should work and why.
Temperature and Back Pain
It may sound odd, but there is a relationship between sleep temperature, sleep posture, and back pain. The softer and more contouring a mattress—the more contact your body is making with your mattres—the warmer you will potentially sleep. This is particularly true when a mattress is constructed from non-breathable materials such as memory foam. Feeling hot and getting sweaty prompts our bodies to reposition themselves to dry off and cool down. Sometimes these postural adaptations cause or aggravate back pain.
Can Your Mattress Reduce Back Pain?
Building a good mattresses is a challenge. Shoes make for an interesting comparison. We put on our shoes the same every time and our foot position is relatively fixed. But we use a mattress in many different body positions. We sleep on our sides, backs, and in between. We sleep high in the bed and low in the bed. Some parts of the body are bearing more weight than other parts of the body. A good mattress must be orthopedically sensitive regardless of where you sleep on the mattress surface or your sleep position. Designing the perfect ergonomic mattress is an impossible task. It’s like saying, “Make a shoe that doesn’t have a right or a left, works for walking, running, and aerobics, can be put on any way you like, and must be worn every day for 8 hours. Oh, and you only get one pair.” Good luck.
So, how do you make a “good mattress?” The answer lies in what a good mattress shouldn't do—roll towards the center, sag, bounce the other person, make you hot, wear out quickly, or be too soft or too firm (to name a few). If a mattress performs well, our bodies can often adapt to a variety of different sleeping surfaces.
The European Sleep Works Solution
It’s undeniable that pain-free sleep makes an enormous difference in the quality of one’s rest. Your mattress is an essential part of the comfort equation. You can develop back pain if you sleep on a mattress that doesn't provide appropriate support or is made of poor quality materials. For instance, inferior cushioning materials that lack elasticity or break down quickly can lead to center sag, increased pressure, and reduced comfort. You may wake up in the morning with back pain that lasts throughout your day.
European Sleep Works mattress systems were designed with back-health in mind:
- Customized, adjustable slat system—offers responsive and gentle support along the length of the body in all sleep positions.
- Densely-coiled mattresses—we feature 1,300-2,800 coils per queen-sized bed, compared to the 700-1,000 coils found in a typical queen. Using this many coils allows us to provide better overall support and reduce pressure points, allowing for deeper sleep.
- Quality, all-natural latex foam—cradles the body, but won’t break down after a short amount of time.
- Organic stretch cotton cover—another way to reduce surface tension, alleviate contact pressure, and create better body mapping.
- Natural wool quilting—for moisture transport and temperature regulation. Wool helps eliminate the discomfort that comes from dampness and overheating, which encourages deeper sleep.
If chronic back pain significantly affects the quality of your life and your sleep, it may be time to invest in a mattress designed to address and ease this pain.