Last year we took a look at some sleep disorders and how they can impact our quest to be Thriving. This year we’ll take a look at two pieces related to sleep: our mattress and technology we can use to help us improve our sleep. This month let’s look at the basics of our mattress. What we sleep on is going to literally make or break our night’s sleep. Recently, on a trip, I marveled at how awful the mattress was that I was sleeping on! It looked right, to the general touch it was fine but a night, or several, only left me at the end of each night wondering if there was really concrete hidden in there somewhere. To say I ‘hopped’ out of bed each morning would be a gross exaggeration ~ relieved to justify getting out would be more like it!

How to avoid this? Well, on the road, short of bringing your own mattress with you wherever you go, it’s going to be difficult. At home however we have a tremendous amount of control and here’s where you can really focus your attention and resources. When we sleep the small blood vessels just under the skin are subject to the pressure of the weight of the position you’re in. Over time your skin begins to send messages to your brain to change positions so that area of your skin gets some much needed blood flowing and some other part of your skin can be uncomfortable for a bit of time. A good mattress therefore allows for good support, fewer pressure points and more comfort to your skin when you sleep.

No one mattress is right for everyone but it is possible to find one that is good for you (and maybe even your sleep partner!). Both brand name and price tag can be very misleading so instead its better to focus on what works for you personally. And here’s where it’s good to know yourself. Brand and price tag best reflect the materials that went into the mattress as well as the marketing dollars spent to get you to think they are the best.

Howard Levy, MD, an Emory University assistant professor of orthopedics, physical medicine, and rehabilitation, suggests if you have neck or back pain to choose a mattress that is neither too soft nor too hard. To do this be prepared to go and lie down on a mattress in the showroom. Don’t want to do that? Ask people whose homes you’ve slept in what mattress brand they are using if the mattress is newer that would be a good place to start your search.

If you have breathing problems or need to have your feet elevated at night is handy to have an adjustable mattress and bed. The older trick of putting the head of a bed or the foot of a bed up on blocks isn’t really that safe so better instead to get a real, adjustable bed.

Those with asthma or allergies would be better served to invest in a zippered and removable bed cover rather than spend money on beds marketed as hypoallergenic. Paul V. Williams, MD, a pediatrics professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and an allergist at Northwest Allergy and Asthma Center in Washington State says that dust mites rely on food for survival and its our dead skin which is their food. Depriving them of this, by regularly changing your sheets and washing the mattress cover, is a better way to manage the problem than anything else. “There are a lot of claims made by mattress manufacturers that their mattresses are hypoallergenic or don’t support the growth of dust mites, but I don’t know of scientific evidence to support these claims.”

Space age foam vs coil vs water vs futon vs sheet of plywood with a foam topper? That’s all personal preference.

When to go out and start making those decisions? The age of your mattress is a good place to start thinking about going out to get a new one ~ 10 years is the standard for when its time to start to think about new. The materials in mattress begin to break down about then and no matter how you much you may like it the mattress might not have more to give you. Waking up in pain, being unable to find a comfortable position and obvious dips and sags are also good indications that its time.

Please, for the sake of yourself and your drive to Thrive go get a new mattress before you too complain that its feeling like you’re sleeping on concrete! Sleep tight!