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Choosing the Right Mattress For You

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Choosing the Right Mattress For You

Sep 19, 2017

What factors are important to consider when choosing a mattress? Sleep expert Dr. Milton Chua says comfort is different for each person, and things like spine posture, muscle tone, and body weight should all be considered. Learn what other factors to consider when you're in the mattress store, and find out where the expression "sleep tight" comes from.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Picking the right mattress, according to a sleep expert. That's next on "The Scope."

Announcer: Health tips, medical news, research, and more. For a happier, healthier life. From University of Utah Health Sciences, this is "The Scope."

Interviewer: You know, it can be a bit of an overwhelming proposition when you go into the furniture store and there's all those mattresses and you only have maybe an hour or so to pick the one you'll be sleeping on for the next 10 years or more. I mean, like, how firm, how soft? What's better, a spring-based or a memory foam mattress? Lots of questions, and hopefully we're going to answer some of those. Dr. Milton Chua's a sleep expert at University of Utah Health, and he's going to help us through this process. So, my very first question is what kind of mattress do you have?

Dr. Chua: What I have at home is just a normal, whatever-you-get-from-Amazon memory foam.

Interviewer: Oh, it's a memory foam, okay.

Dr. Chua: Yes.

Interviewer: So let's kind of break down, you know, should I just get that mattress? Is the memory foam the . . . this could be the shortest interview ever.

Dr. Chua: It depends on what your comfort is, what you find comfortable. And there are some studies trying to . . .

Interviewer: Kind of define that.

Dr. Chua: Define what comfort is. So . . .

Interviewer: Yeah, because it could be something different to each person.

Dr. Chua: Right, well, there's a study that was done, showing that the most comfortable position when you're sleeping is that it is something when your spine is similar to a position when you're standing. So, when you're standing straight, your spine curvature should be the same as when you're lying down on your back. So if you pick a too soft of a mattress, your spine would sag. If you pick a too firm of a mattress, it would be too straight. Then you'd get back pain.

Interviewer: Okay, and does that change from person to person?

Dr. Chua: It does. I mean, it depends on your body weight. It depends on your muscle tone. Because if you do a lot of exercise, you get more muscle tone and really that's . . .

Interviewer: Does that help you stay in that sleep position better?

Dr. Chua: Well, again, it depends on the mattress that you have.

Interviewer: Wow, okay. So let's go back quickly to good sleep quality. What exactly does that mean? Does that mean the ability to sleep through the night, or does that mean not waking up with aches and pains? Does that mean both? Is there some additional stuff there?

Dr. Chua: So, when we're looking at sleep in a sleep lab, we're looking at sleep stages and, you're going through different stages of sleep, light stage up to deep stage. And then you have the rapid eye movement. When we say that you're getting good sleep quality, it means that you're not waking up a lot of times during the night. So most of the time when we're waking up at night, it's to maybe change position, or it's because we're having some trouble breathing, or it's just comfort or we need to go to the bathroom. So we try to minimize the amount of arousals that we have during the night. And at least having a good, comfortable mattress, and the one that keeps your spine in that position would be comfortable.

Interviewer: Okay, so I'm in the mattress store. I'm taking into consideration I want to keep my spine like it is when it's standing, taking into consideration my weight, my fitness level. When I'm lying on those mattresses in the store, trying them out, what should I look for?

Dr. Chua: You know, it's funny. When I did my research on these mattresses, I went to different mattress stores and tried out myself, because I didn't know anything about this myself. So I went to some mattress stores. I didn't find anything really standing out. And then I went to one of these stores where they have these adjustable mattresses where they can make it soft or firm.

Interviewer: Those air mattress-type things.

Dr. Chua: The air mattress-type things.

Interviewer: Not mentioning any brands, but . . .

Dr. Chua: Not mentioning any brands. But it's amazing how different it feels when you first lay on these mattresses and they have pressure points that they look at when you lie on the mattress. And they're onto something for sure. So they look at the pressure points and make sure that you feel an even pressure throughout your body.

Interviewer: Okay, so regardless of the type of mattress, whether it's one of these air-type mattresses or a memory foam or a traditional spring, one of the things you're looking for is just kind of a consistent . . . what was your verbiage again?

Dr. Chua: Even pressure.

Interviewer: Even pressure throughout the body.

Dr. Chua: Throughout the body.

Interviewer: That's what you're kind of feeling for.

Dr. Chua: That's one, yes.

Interviewer: Okay, because when you go into the mattress store, like, it's kind of unfair because you're trying it out for only a few minutes at a time. You don't know how the cumulative effect is going to affect you. I think the tendency is to pick, "Oh, this one feels the most luxurious," but that might not be the best choice. But trying to feel for a consistent pressure throughout the whole body is what you're feeling for. Are you getting that support all along the whole body? Okay. What else should I look for?

Dr. Chua: So one other thing is, make sure that the mattress is not too cold or warm or absorbs that temperature and just makes it too hot after a while or too cold. It doesn't really absorb that heat.

Interviewer: Got you. So I wouldn't have considered that. What else should I look for as I'm laying on that mattress? I suppose I should try out the sleep position that I sleep in on the mattress, whether I'm a back sleeper or a side sleeper.

Dr. Chua: So, again we're looking at what the spine should be at when you're sleeping on your side. And if the mattress is too firm, then you get that poor position.

Interviewer: Yeah, but you should try out whatever sleep position you sleep in, even if it feels a little silly.

Dr. Chua: Yes.

Interviewer: All right. And how long should you lay on a mattress before you kind of start to notice?

Dr. Chua: So one of the reasons why I got a mattress from Amazon or the Marketplace is that they give out, like, a 30-day trial. And then you try it out 30 days. If you feel comfortable, then that's it. If you don't, then they'll pick it up from your house.

Interviewer: Yeah, so regardless of who you purchase from, see if they have some sort of a 30-day trial that you could return it.

Dr. Chua: Right, and I think most mattress stores have that. So . . .

Interviewer: And don't feel badly if you have to take it back?

Dr. Chua: Yes.

Interviewer: Okay. So we've done a lot of talking about mattresses, and there's all these different kinds of mattresses. What about our ancestors? How did they sleep comfortably without all these fancy mattresses?

Dr. Chua: Right, so I get that question all the time and we have this trend trying to go to our roots. Why did our ancestors . . . you know, they survived without mattresses or beds. Really, if you think about it, they did not need beds, or they should not have had beds at that time. If they slept on a bed and they slept for six or eight hours during that time, they would wake up their breakfast or their dinner. So as we evolved, what happened is we get more safe. We build houses, and now we're safer, so we try to look for more comfort.

If you look at beds, even our ancestors had makeshift beds. They put leaves on it. And then there's the evolution of a raised bed to get rid of the vermin on the ground. But if you also look at some of the ancient times, some people used to sleep on an inclined bed so that they're able to jump out of bed right away when the enemy comes in to attack.

Interviewer: All right, so our times have changed quite a bit, meaning our ancestors didn't know eight hours of sleep. Of course, I mean, most of us don't know eight hours of sleep, even though we should, right? They were only sleeping an hour or two at a time, so their needs were very different than ours.

Dr. Chua: Right.

Interviewer: Got you. How long should a mattress last before I need to consider getting another one?

Dr. Chua: It depends. It depends. I mean, if you . . .

Interviewer: Does it come back to that same thing? Once you feel that it's not giving you that even support, then it's time to start thinking about something else?

Dr. Chua: Yes, yes.

Interviewer: It all comes back to that.

Dr. Chua: Right. Oh, and one other thing on that point is you have the expression "sleep tight." So, in ancient times, when they were making beds, they made it on a weave of either leather or maybe a cloth. And when you're sleeping, or before they go to sleep, they tied in those strings tight so that they have that support on their back. So that's where the expression comes from. So when you're saying, you know, "When do you replace the mattress, when it sags?" Replace it.

Interviewer: When you're no longer sleeping tight.

Dr. Chua: Exactly.

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