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If you’ve held onto a mattress that’s say, more than 8 years old, you may be sleeping on a mattress that’s bad for your spine and health. Some of the indicators include sinking into that “oh-so-comfortable” mattress; waking up with a stiff, achy lower back; stretching and getting rid of the back pain—for now. Even if you went to bed at a fairly early hour, you still wake up tired in the morning.
If you can’t afford to put cash out for a new mattress, you have access to a couple remedies that will help you get that mattress (and you) through a few more months. But, you should start laying money aside regularly so you can buy a new mattress before very long.
Dr. Richard Guyer, orthopedic surgeon, cautions against sleeping on a mattress that, over the past few years, has gotten too soft for your spine. Guyer says, “If you lay down on a very, very soft bed, the curve is not supported and you lay like you’re in a hammock, I call it the banana position.”
What Guyer is saying is that your mattress doesn’t support the natural curvature of your spine. When you lie down on your back, it takes on the curve of a hammock, forcing your spinal column into an unnatural hunch. If you sleep this way all night long, it’s no surprise why your back hurts in the morning! When you are relaxing in a hammock, that position is okay for a short time, but not all night long.
When you change your sheets, take a close look at the entire surface of your mattress. Does it sag or have a dent in the middle? If so, that’s a sure-fire sign. Pull out a yard stick or measuring tape. Place it on the area that has a sag and look for any visible “empty space” areas between your mattress and the tape.
If you keep that old, too-soft mattress for too long, you are putting yourself at risk of losing the natural S-curve that your spine has. (Everyone has this curve.) Stand in front of a mirror so one side of your body is closest to it. Look at your spine’s curvature. At your lower back, there’s an inward curve. Your upper back curves outward just slightly.
You’re at risk of losing this normal and healthy curvature if you hang onto your old mattress for too long. While sleeping on this mattress for a few months may not do permanent harm, if you keep that mattress for more than a short period of time, you’re damaging the alignment of your whole spine. And, over time, you’ll find that your back hurts more and more. It’ll be harder and harder to get rid of that morning pain.
In the morning, when you get up, you notice that your lower back is achy. It may also be somewhat stiff. Even worse, this stiffness and pain has been going on for some time.
That’s not an organic back problem. It’s not arthritis or even scoliosis. Forget about sciatica—your pain is in the wrong part of your body. This is accumulated damage from sleeping on a mattress that’s too old and soft.
When you go to bed at night, do you have a hard time every night finding a comfortable sleeping position? This is another sign of a mattress that should be replaced soon. Yes, worry about one thing or another can make you stay awake much too long. If you suffer from insomnia, this is totally separate from mattress discomfort. Think about how long you spend after you get in bed, just shifting, turning from one side to your back, or from your back to the other side. (Sleep on your stomach? Forget it! You had to stop doing that long ago.) If you have a bed partner, they may also be tossing, turning and shifting positions for the same reason that you’re doing this.
How hard is it to get into bed, then back out? You feel “stuck” and unable to push off your mattress so you can finally get up. Or, you may find that one side of your body feels like it’s physically lower than the other side. (It is.) You may roll into the dent. If you feel like you’re sinking way, way down, your mattress has lost its ability to support your weight, even if you aren’t overweight. This is a sign that your mattress is way too old and should have been replaced a long time ago.
When you wake up, that overly familiar, nagging pain in your lower back is present again. Once you’re upright on the floor, you stretch, probably touching your toes. Or you twist your spine until you feel that welcome stretch. You may feel and hear a few vertebrae popping in your back. Once you’re done, the pain is gone. Are you normally vulnerable to back pain? If not, blame that mattress.
If the pain vanishes once you’ve stretched, that’s yet another telltale sign of a mattress that’s no longer supporting you at night. It’s hurting you, not helping you.
A bad mattress doesn’t allow you to sleep comfortably or fully. Its malformation keeps you closer to awake than fully asleep. You’ve probably heard about REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. When you enter REM sleep, you are deeply asleep, which is that sleep stage that allows you to get the rest and recovery your body and mental state need.
Stage One is called “n-REM Stage One.” You may still be physically awake, but your body is beginning to relax so you can fall asleep. You begin to nod off, but for some reason, you may catch yourself doing so and force yourself awake. Your muscles are pretty relaxed here.
Stage Two is “n-REM Stage Two.” Now, you’re asleep. Not heavily—if someone wakes you up, it’s easy for you to come to full wakefulness and awareness. Your brain has begun to relax. (When you take those short, 20-minute power naps, you enter Stage Two, which is why you’re able to become alert so fast when you wake up.)
Stage Three is “n-REM Stage Three.” Now, you’re beginning to enter a really deep sleep. Your body is fully relaxed and your brain is pretty relaxed as well. It’s during this phase that your brain and body actually begin to repair themselves. You grow and develop muscle. Your immune system reboots itself. If someone tries to wake you up at this point, you’ll feel and act groggy. It’ll take you a while to become fully alert.
“REM Stage.” This is stage four. You enter this deep-deep-deep sleep stage several times a night. In the first entry, you only stay here for about 10 minutes—every subsequent return to REM Stage gets longer and longer as you sleep. This is why uninterrupted sleep is so vital to your health and mental health. As long as you sleep without being woken up, your brain revs itself up and you begin to dream. It also works to consolidate every single, last thing that happened during the day, putting it into short-term memory. You can wake easily during this stage and feel fully rested.
After all of this, you’re wondering if you should take out a small loan or break into the savings account to buy a new mattress. You have just a few (temporary) remedies that will give your mattress a few more months before you replace it.
Buy a mattress topper. It shouldn’t be too soft or trap your body’s heat. After putting one onto your mattress, you’ll gain about a year before replacement time rolls around.
Maybe a new set of pillows would help. Just make sure it’s the right kind of pillow. A low-rise pillow placed between your knees allows you to sleep comfortably on your side, especially if you slide into that dent. If you sleep on your back, put the pillow beneath your knees. You’ll reduce strain on your lower back.
Remember, these remedies are temporary. Begin saving money for a new mattress. Also, start visiting mattress and furniture stores to find the mattress you want.