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How to Test a Mattress for Correct Back Alignment for Your Body to Sleep Healthy

Updated on April 17, 2016
Be a Picky Princess When Choosing a New Mattress!! Photo: Ermolaev Alexandr
Be a Picky Princess When Choosing a New Mattress!! Photo: Ermolaev Alexandr

Things to Keep in Mind While Mattress Testing

The type of mattress that will work best for you will depend mostly on you and/or your partner's body weight and favorite sleeping positions.

And don't worry about one of you liking a firmer mattress and the other a softer one - it IS possible to find a good compromise mattress.

1) A typical mattress will often feel a little more firm when it is new. The foam in mattresses is kind of like a new pair of jeans, it needs to 'loosen up'. The mattresses on most showroom floors are often worn a bit - expect your new bed to feel the same way after a few weeks to a few months.

This is one of the reasons why mattress stores often insist that you KEEP a new mattress for a few weeks before giving you the option to exchange/return it. It is VERY RARE that you start sleeping well and deep until you and your new mattress get used to each other.

2) A mattress protector and sheets will make most mattresses feel a little more firm than without them.

3) PLEASE get into and out of the mattresses to test them the same way you would at home - absolutely NO 'butt bombing'! (I know, some of you smart-alecs out there claim to do this on your mattress at home - well, you shouldn't and you know it. ;)

Keep in mind that the mattresses don't usually have any protection on them - there is no mattress protector or sheet/blankets to help break an impact. So many of our mattresses were TORN because of people digging in keys and popping off buttons...

You don't need to be gentle with them - but, be nice. I'll tell you the differences between stronger and weaker mattress coils, later - you don't need to get medieval with mattresses to test their strength.

4) Pay attention to motion distribution if you share a bed - whether with a Human sleeping partner or pets. There are different kinds of motion-reducing mattresses you can try. Don't be afraid to bounce around and roll around on them to test them as best you can 'like you sleep at home'. So, if your partner is a 'flopper' and you're testing motion on a mattress - have them flop like they would during the night.

5) Yeah, mattress shopping is silly and ideally should be done when everybody is in a good mood and frame of mind - ideally.

Believe it or not, you get to experience couples arguing more often than you think you would as a mattress salesperson. Most of the time you try to stay out of things, but sometimes you get pulled in as sort of a playground monitor. ;)

6) Test the mattress for 'spooning' effects if you are a couple. Make sure you're not both falling into a hole - it should still support you both comfortably.

Easy on/off sandals are a good choice to wear while mattress shopping. Photo: tiverylucky
Easy on/off sandals are a good choice to wear while mattress shopping. Photo: tiverylucky

7. Wear comfortable clothes - something that feels similar to what you usually sleep in, if that's possible. Empty bulky pockets full of keys, cell phone, loose change, etc. You'll get a better feel for the mattresses - plus, you're less likely to lose those items.

This is a good day to wear a cute pair of sandals or easy on/off shoes - take them off while trying the beds if you can do that. Shoes probably won't affect things much, depending; but they DO prevent our feet from sinking into the mattress with the quite the same alignment to our knees as when we are usually sleeping.

Besides, doing this also makes things more comfortable and realistic. Bring your favorite pillow if you don't intend to buy a new one.

You're going to be getting up and down on the beds - Ladies, this is NOT the day to wear a mini skirt. (Yes I've seen you do this. Some of you either enjoy flashing or you have no shame, ha!)

Mattress Shopping is like a tournament - eliminate the ones that don't hold up to your personal standards. Photo: pat138241
Mattress Shopping is like a tournament - eliminate the ones that don't hold up to your personal standards. Photo: pat138241

Mattress Testing is Like a Tournament

8) Treat this testing part of shopping for a new mattress like a tournament by keeping mattresses 'in the ring' that pass your tests; while making notes of what you liked/didn't like about them for your reference during rounds 2 & 3, etc. - until you find a winner.

Some people find it helps to get a good mattress-choosing perspective, to do this mattress testing round in two parts. First, by testing mattresses to narrow options down; and then going home to sleep on their old mattress for a few more nights before returning and finally choosing one.

While you're testing mattresses - don't bother going back to ones you've already tried and rejected. The Human Body doesn't hold the memory of 'feel' very well for trying to analyze things like this - don't confuse yourself.

Body Weight & Distribution play a role in choosing the correct mattress for you. Photo: hartphotography
Body Weight & Distribution play a role in choosing the correct mattress for you. Photo: hartphotography

Body Weight Factors

9) Body weight doesn't necessarily refer to 'heaviness' - you can be a large 250lb football player and be 'height-weight proportionate'. Weight is more of a factor on a mattress when body weight is disproportionately distributed - like some of us who are thicker in the middle - because the coils beneath those areas in the mattress are being used harder.

10) Keep in mind that a mattress will FEEL DIFFERENT to a heavier person as compared to a lighter one because you will sink into a mattress deeper.

This can sometimes be a helpful factor in finding a compromise mattress for two people with different comfort preferences. You might be surprised to find that some mattresses feel right to you both despite your differences. (I'll talk more about compromise mattresses when I get into mattress types.)

For instance, a heavier person who likes a firmer feel may 'feel' a plush-but-firm mattress as being plenty firm; and their lighter, likes-soft significant other may find that mattress to have plenty of cush on it for them, as well.

11) For larger people, wherever you are heaviest - that's where your body needs the most support. Larger people will naturally need a strong mattress. That doesn't mean you have to sacrifice comfort.

12) Smaller, lighter people on the other hand need support to 'fill in the gaps' in places where they are lightest - like that curvy side on women.

Curves NEED to be filled-in for women when shopping for a new mattress! Photo: stockimages
Curves NEED to be filled-in for women when shopping for a new mattress! Photo: stockimages

Yeah, btw guys - so many of you come in insisting that you NEED a FIRM mattress, when your wife wants/needs cush. I've said this to more than a few of you out there: "You appreciate our curves most of the time. We would really appreciate it if you would help us take care of them the rest of the time." ;)

If you're really SURE you absolutely can't sleep on anything that doesn't feel much different than the floor (and it's not just men who insist on this, sometimes) - hogwash. Your body can get used to a little more cush, just stick it out for 2-4 weeks - AND it is better for your JOINTS.

When you're young this won't mean much to you - but as we get older, our bodies change and blood circulation becomes an issue.

So many customers came into my mattress store complaining that they were in pain. Inevitably, after I asked them what kind of mattress they currently slept on, it was one of two answers: an old, out-of-shape mattress that was long past it's prime, or a FIRM mattress.

If you're in pain on a firm mattress, you're on a mattress that is too hard. It IS possible to have the best of BOTH worlds!

If you like a firm mattress that you already have, but your body is in pain - and if it is still in good, 'supportive' shape; try adding cush with a 3-5" Topper before you spend a bunch of money on a different bed.

If you're a side-sleeper, heavier and/or with broad shoulders - go for the thicker options. If your mattress is firm beneath you, your back won't 'sway' or hammock like you do in a 'too soft' mattress.

A topper won't fix an out-of-shape bed except maybe to make it a little more comfortable to sleep in for awhile until you can get your sleeping situation solved. In that case, it would only be a temporary band-aid for your mattress.

Pillows can help you sleep better! Photo: artur84
Pillows can help you sleep better! Photo: artur84

The Importance of Pillows for Correct Neck Alignment

13) Your PILLOW will very much effect your sleep experience; and the amount of plush on top of your mattress will factor into the kind/thickness of pillow that will give you the best, deepest sleep.

For instance, a thicker pillow with good neck support will go a long way toward helping to keep a shoulder from digging too far into a mattress - but make sure it isn't too thick to give you neck aches.

I advise choosing a pillow after you've chosen a mattress for this reason. If you have a pillow now that you love and know you're likely to be keeping; bring it along on your mattress-buying adventure to make sure it will work well with the new mattress you choose (or to see if you're going to need to spring for a new one, anyway).

A lot of pillows feel cozy, but very few pillows have enough neck support in them - we're always re-positioning them and fluffing them up, aren't we?

Sleep Style
Best Mattress
Best Pillow
Stomach
Plush w/ Firm Support
Thin w/ Neck Support
Side
Soft Top w/ Firm Support
Depends w/ GOOD Neck Support to keep too much weight off shoulder
Back
Plush w/ Firm Support
Not Too Thick w/ GOOD Neck Support
Back sleepers probably sleep the most peacefully - and loudest with their snoring. Photo: marin
Back sleepers probably sleep the most peacefully - and loudest with their snoring. Photo: marin

Back Sleepers

A lot of back sleepers claim that they need a firm mattress because they sleep on their back. But, your body should be sinking into a mattress a bit - because there ARE parts of your body that still stick out while you're laying on your back, like your butt and shoulder blades.

You should not be able to slip your hand easily underneath the small of your back. The small of your back is one of those places that needs support, so that should be filled in.

Even on your back, if a mattress is too hard, blood circulation can still be cut off in places like shoulder blades; and your pelvis is NOT in the correct position - not to mention, if you're ever on your side, that poor shoulder and probably neck.

This sleeping girl looks cozy now, but ask her how she feels when she's 50 or 60. Photo: Danilo Rizzuti
This sleeping girl looks cozy now, but ask her how she feels when she's 50 or 60. Photo: Danilo Rizzuti

Stomach Sleepers

This is common knowledge... It is never recommended that you sleep on your tummy. I know it's hard to alter your cozy sleeping patterns, but there are ways... It really is NOT good for your body, and you will likely to be paying for it dearly later in painful ways.

If you absolutely must sleep on your stomach, definitely go for a firmer, plush mattress (not hard - never 'hard') and use a very thin pillow.

Yes, you NEED a pillow even if you sleep on your stomach (I know a lot of you out there don't use one). Your neck needs some support no matter what position you are sleeping in, or your neck muscles will be working to support themselves while you sleep.

Those muscles need to rest, too - plus, less achy neck/shoulders and probably headaches.

This guy looks like he could use more cushion under that shoulder AND a thicker pillow with more neck support. Photo: graur codrin
This guy looks like he could use more cushion under that shoulder AND a thicker pillow with more neck support. Photo: graur codrin

Side Sleepers

Did you know that the most ideal sleeping position to keep your back correctly aligned is in the fetal position? Bodies don't stay sleeping rolled up in a ball like that, however.

But, most people spend the majority of the night sleeping on their side. For this reason, it is IMPERATIVE that IF you are a side-sleeper at ANY point of the night - whether you go to sleep or wake up that way or not - to make sure your body is most correctly aligned on your new mattress IN THIS POSITION. (Imagine your knees bent a little in the image below.)

Correct sleeping body / back alignment includes the best of both worlds - strong support with softer comfort layers for pressure point relief.
Correct sleeping body / back alignment includes the best of both worlds - strong support with softer comfort layers for pressure point relief.

Because a mattress can cause the most backaches and long-slow-developing back, shoulder or neck harm if it is not supported enough OR soft enough when your body is sleeping in this position over the course of years. (Stomach sleeping is worse - but again, you really should change that habit.)

Side sleeping is actually the healthiest position to sleep in IF your back is correctly aligned AND your joints have enough pressure point relief - less snoring, anyone?

Tips & Tricks to Test for Correct Back Alignment for Side Sleepers

It is a good idea to use your cell phone camera to take pictures from behind while laying on your side - so that you can see how straight and/or swayed your back is while lying on the mattress. (Most sales people are happy to help you with this - or take a mattress shopping buddy.)

I also used to 'draw a line along the back' of customers with my hand while they were lying down so they could get a better feel of the position of their spine. It won't always be perfectly straight - believe it or not, a LITTLE 'natural sway' in the middle is okay. But shoulders & hips should be relatively aligned.

Most of the time, you get that 'middle' sway when you need a SOFTER bed to help fill in a curvy side - or a broad shoulder or hip needs to sink into the mattress, deeper. But since a new mattress will 'loosen' - your body will likely be supported enough as your NEW mattress (that no one has made an impression in, yet) conforms to your body.

Give a 15 Minute Nap Test to Each Mattress That Seems Worth It.

Once you find a mattress that you 'look good' on - STAY on your side for a good 10-15 minutes to test it for pressure point relief. Sometimes a sore shoulder or hip will let you know that - even though you seem to be well-supported, those areas need more cushion. Your bones shouldn't feel too much pressure anywhere.

Some customers get a little confused about this 15-minute mattress testing rule. It doesn't mean that you need to spend 15 minutes on every mattress that you lay down on. If you can tell right away that something about a mattress doesn't agree with your body - don't waste time on it.

SOMETIMES that 'perfect mattress' isn't QUITE perfect. You'll like everything else about it - and you haven't found another one close. You can always ADD more cush to a mattress, but it is impossible to remove it. Consider buying an additional topper for a 'too hard' but almost perfect mattress.

To each their own as far as comfort goes... Photo: Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee
To each their own as far as comfort goes... Photo: Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

What to Expect from a New Mattress

After you get your new mattress home, don't be surprised if you don't sleep well right away and/or wake up with aches for the first 2-4 weeks.

Our bodies like familiarity - even if it's a bent-out-of-shape mattress that has been causing you back problems. And, since your back now has to get used to being correctly aligned during sleep, that adjustment period can feel like you've made a bad mattress choice, at times.

Sometimes you did... But IF the mattress seems to be supporting you correctly like it did in the store, stick it out. And keep in mind that if it feels a 'little too hard' now it may still soften more.

I've had MANY mattress customers call me within a day or two of receiving their new mattress, wanting to exchange it - despite that I had already explained all this to them in preparation.

After asking a couple questions to determine that there was nothing wrong with the mattress; and advised them to keep it longer - I had more than a few calls back THANKING ME for 'making them stay on it'. Because AFTER mattress customers finally get used to sleeping on their new bed - most of the time - they really do feel like they are sleeping better & deeper.

Other times I already KNEW the customer was going to be calling back for an exchange because they wouldn't take my advice the first time around, ha! Yeah, I was nice and just gave them an exchange as soon as they were ready for it.

A happy mattress customer is one who sleeps well - eventually.

A USDA circular promoting home production of cotton mattresses. Materials needed to make a mattress included "10 Yards--8 oz. Ticking," "50 Pounds Long Staple Cotton," "Mattress Roll Needle," and "Thread for Making Roll." Photo: Wikipedia Commons
A USDA circular promoting home production of cotton mattresses. Materials needed to make a mattress included "10 Yards--8 oz. Ticking," "50 Pounds Long Staple Cotton," "Mattress Roll Needle," and "Thread for Making Roll." Photo: Wikipedia Commons

© 2013 Catherine Mostly

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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      thanks for the tips, next time i will use these tips

    • Catherine Wambui profile image

      Catherine Wambui 10 months ago from Kansas City, Missouri

      My bed has really been causing my back to hurt. I bought a new frame and mattress in the last two years but did not replace the box spring. So now, I'm back to looking for a new box spring or a new matress set. I'll be sure to keep some your tips in mind while shopping.

    • Jo Lim profile image

      Jo Lim 8 months ago

      Really great tips. Thanks for sharing.

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