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Tips for Mattress Testing
Having recently gone through a mattress hunt and done quite a bit of research, recon, and speaking to experts (including our chiropractors), I wanted to share some of our personal experiences and techniques that we used to help narrow down our search and make a decision. Please bear in mind that these are merely the techniques that worked for us, and an aggregate list of information that we gathered along the way, and I am sharing them in the spirit of open exchange of information. Do not take them as objective fact, as I am not an "expert" by any means.
1. Find out what kind of a sleeper you are, and be aware of your body type. Be honest and objective about your body type and sleeping habits. We found that, although we did not want to buy from a big box store, their digital sleep analysis machine was very useful in giving us some objective feedback about our pressure points and where we needed extra support. We found that using that machine and the information from the report was very helpful, and was worth the trip to the "big box" store, even though we did not buy from them.
The main pressure points for most people are the shoulders and hips. The alignment of the lower back and neck are going to largely be dependent upon the proper support of those areas. If you are broad shouldered and thin hipped, you are going to need to find the right combination of softness and pillow height that allows the shoulders to sink into the mattress enough to bring them into alignment with the hips without cranking the neck in the process. Be aware of your type of body, and experiment with different ways of aligning your sleep position on different mattresses.
Directly related to this is that when you go to test a mattress, BRING YOUR OWN PILLOW(S), and lie on the mattress in the way that you normally sleep. Bring your body pillow and your head pillow (in nice, clean cases, of course) and use them. However, also be prepared to try different pillow types and heights to adjust your body to the different types of mattresses and alignments (more on that below).
When you lie on the mattress, simulate your normal sleep environment as much as possible. Take your shoes off, wear comfy clothes (don't wear a suit and tie or jeans and a belt to go try beds out...wear loose fitting, comfy clothes that are as close as possible to what you actually sleep in, or that have a minimal amount of variation. Treat it like working out...shorts or sweats and a T shirt, or yoga type outfits are great.)
2. Fitness FIRST! After speaking to many people, reading many people's problems, reviews, issues, etc. and speaking to our doctors and clients (my wife and I are both professional athletes and trainers), a theme often arises the we and our doctors both see, and that I find I must mention: Many times, those who are having a hard time sleeping are in such a position because they have fitness or health issues that are the cause....and whereas that makes finding the right mattress all the more important, the mattress itself is not really the problem. They often find themselves tearing through mattresses right and left, or complaining that there is no mattress that works for them and so they are returning 3 or 4 mattresses, re-selling and re-buying every few years, trying the DIY route when the problem is not really the mattress at all...it is their body. For those people, the mattress often becomes a mechanism of projection...an object to shift blame onto without having to deal with the real issue. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF, and if you are having a hard time sleeping, know that often times those sleep problems can be corrected or at least severely ameliorated with things like diet, exercise, and lifestyle change. If you eat right before you go to bed, stay up very late, look at screens for long hours into the night, have poor diet, are obese, etc....the mattress itself isn't really going to be the biggest factor in getting a good night sleep. The health of your body comes FIRST....the mattress comes second.
3.Spinal alignment is incredibly important when sleeping. My wife and I are both professional athletes, and so we are under constant chiropractic care (and have been for nearly 10 years). We are very aware of where our spines are, and how that affects our sleep patterns as well as our overall health. Many mattresses claim to give you perfect spinal alignment, and show these cute little pictures of wavy spines on other mattresses and straight spines on theirs. Know that the mattress that will properly align your spine is dependent upon many different factors, and not necessarily a function of how "firm" of "soft" the mattress is.
A great way to test this is to bring a yardstick or tape measure with you. When you lie on the bed (in your normal position, with your normal pillows), have the person you are with take a picture of your profile. Then, take the yardstick or tape measure and line it up with the center of their spine traveling straight across the plane of their body. What you are looking for is for the spine to be as straight as possible from the top of the head all the way down to the hips. Once you have the straight edge as a frame of reference, you will see much more clearly if the hips are hammocking down into the mattress, or if the head is too elevated and creates an unnatural neck curvature. Also be aware that the neck alignment is extremely important....if your back is straight, but your neck is cranked up, that's going to create issues.
For back or stomach sleepers, an important measure to look for is for the alignment of the middle of the ear (the hole of the ear), with the shoulder on that straight line. This line should extend all the way down to the hips. Most doctors recommend NOT using a pillow if you sleep on your back on stomach, and if the mattress aligns without the pillow, you won't need one. If you must, then make sure the measurement is done using the pillow that you plan to sleep with.
For each mattress measurement, take a picture both with the straight edge and without and keep them for reference later. If you have a Chiro, consult with them looking at the pictures, and they will offer advice about the alignment and pillows used. BE PREPARED TO TRY DIFFERENT PILLOWS ON THE MATTRESSES AS WELL. Using the normal pillow you use is good, but depending upon the type of mattress and it's alignment, you may have to switch pillow height and type to get the alignment correct. Make sure you do that.
4. Be prepared to change your expectations! When we started looking, I was so uncomfortable on our old mattress, which had grown soft and unsupportive, that I was convinced I would need a very firm mattress. The firm mattresses felt great initially, because they were so different from what I had grown accustomed to. However, after lying on many different mattresses, I slowly found that my idea mattress was much softer than I had originally thought. You may go into the process thinking one thing....have the flexibility and presence of mind to be able to switch gears and adjust your expectations.
5. Go as expensive as you can afford. Although value for dollar is very important, and EVERYONE is going to have a budget (even those who say "price is not an issue" probably aren't going to be in the market for a $50,000.00 mattress), do not skimp or pinch pennies in this area. There is an old saying that "the most expensive thing that you buy is the cheapest thing that you buy." I can't tell you how many people I have spoken to who spent $1000 on a mattress thinking it was high end, and being shocked to learn that $1000 is nowhere near the high end...or people who bought a $1200 mattress only to be horribly dissatisfied and find 3 years later that they needed to go and buy another $1500 mattress, when if they had originally set their budget at $2700, they would have been able to have many more options that would have increased the likelihood of being satisfied long term. Nobody wants to waste money, and Phoenix is AWESOME at suggesting products and manufacturers that are better bang for the buck options than "choice X". However, set your budget to reflect the importance of the purchase and your investment in your health.
6. Take your time and take notes! Go back and test the mattresses again...and again...and again if needs be. Lie down on it and stay there for an hour...or two. Take a nap on it. Take 3 hours to go from bed to bed to bed...get up, get coffee, stretch out...and do it again. Write down your impressions...your pros and cons for each thing that you try. Don't be rushed. Lie on them as much as you need to and pay attention to how your body responds.
Happy hunting everyone!
Thanks for taking the time to share all of your suggestions and insights. I think they're great