Bad back? What to Look for when Buying a Bed

I am asked roughly twice a week by patients about their bed and what should they look for when buying a new one. So here is my opinion!

  • Turn your mattress regularly - roughly every six to eight weeks. Get someone to help if you have back problems.

  • The mattress does need to be firm enough to allow for shifts of posture. It is not easy to turn on a "sagging surface". However the mattress needs to be comfortable at the same time and must have sufficient give to support the body's curves.

  • The key areas that require support are the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. The bed MUST contour to your body's individual shape, just like your clothes and your shoes.

  • Don't suddenly change to a very hard bed if you are used to a soft one. However the mattress does need to be firm enough to allow for shifts of posture during the night.

  • Try a bed out in the shop for at least 20 minutes. If you are buying a different base and mattress make sure you try them out together. A good heavy mattress will need a strong base. Try out a selection of beds. I believe that John Lewis will let you try it out for longer before returning it.

  • If you are going to put a board under the mattress ensure that it has holes in it to allow ventilation.

  • If you and your partner are different weights then consider a "zip and link" bed where you have separate mattress types on either side. The heavier partner may need a firmer mattress. You can also have different bases. This can also make for easier handling.

  • Visco-elastic mattresses have been shown to be of great help in reducing pressure and maintaining skeletal support. They are used widely in hospitals. However be warned that some people find this mattress makes them hot. Look for a combination of firm core support to hold your spine in correct alignment, with plenty of top layers creating a nice, soft sleeping surface. A soft sleeping surface makes for a warmer bed - it gives better insulation. Even firm beds can have softly quilted surfaces; or a mattress overlay can be used.

  • Don't head for the nearest orthopaedic bed - it may be too hard for you. Older people may have more back problems, but they also have more sensitive joints. Remember that "orthopaedic" doesn't mean much in the bed industry.

  • Choose a bed with high lines. It will be easier to get in and out of.

  • Beds with adjustable neck, foot, head and leg rests are now readily available - good for anyone who has to spend a lot of time in bed or has high blood pressure or rheumatism.

  • Foam mattresses are non-allergenic and do not need turning.

  • A bigger bed will help avoid one partner disturbing the other - particularly relevant for older people who sleep more lightly. With a double, choose at least a 150cm (5ft) bed; single beds should be at least 90cm (3ft) but the larger 105cm (3ft 6ins) would be even better.

So good luck and happy dreams.

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