To Flip or to Turn; That is the Question

By: Dale J. Buchberger, PT, DC, CSCS, DACBSP

It is a common assumption that we spend approximately one-third of our lives asleep, unconscious or generally oblivious to our surroundings. Why is it that we spend such little time and give such little consideration to choosing the surface we sleep on? In some ways the general public takes for granted the value of a good nights sleep related to daily activities and our general productivity. Some research does verify that a good night’s sleep is directly related to not only improved productivity but also reducing many of those chronic aches and pains that we feel each morning on waking.

Patients will ask questions such as, which mattress is good? Is one better than the other? How long does a mattress last? Unfortunately it is not that simple. The mattress industry has made their products as confusing to buy as the shoe industry. Both are extremely individual choices and require time and research to purchase. My first recommendation when looking for a mattress is to take your time and plan on spending a day in the store. Both you and your significant other should be in agreement on the choice of mattress. Don’t let the sales people rush you into a decision and be ready to go home and think about it.

Regardless of our personal choices there is some science behind choosing the right mattress. According to Professor Allan Hedge from the Department of Ergonomics at Cornell University, a mattress needs to be: Ergonomically correct, meaning the natural curves of your spine should be maintained in any position. You should not feel the movements of your partner. The pressure on the supported areas of your body should be minimal. Your mattress, together with your quilt should create a balanced microclimate to moderate temperature. A recognized Eco-Label Institution like Oeko-tex should, have tested your mattress, pillows, and quilt. You should be able to wash the covers, quilts and pillows for hygiene purposes.

A study that appeared in the March 2008 issue of the Journal of Applied Ergonomics, provides solid scientific evidence of the critical link between health and sleep benefits and mattress quality, and underscores the importance of regular assessment of one’s mattress. Improvements from pre- to post-test in specific variables were reported by significant percentages of study participants. These included reduced back pain (62.8%), shoulder pain (62.4%), and back stiffness (58.4%) and improved sleep quality (64.4%) and sleep comfort (69.96%).”Our work showed that new mattresses have a considerable impact on reduced back pain and improved sleep quality, among other benefits,” said Bert Jacobson, EdD, and lead researcher at Oklahoma State University. “Based on our research, there’s no question that a new mattress can sustain these benefits for just about anyone, regardless of age, weight or gender.”

As previously stated mattresses are an individual choice. What is undisputable is that anyone will benefit from a new mattress. Generally speaking a moderate-firm mattress is best for people having a “bad back” not necessarily a firm mattress. Side sleepers may benefit from a memory foam mattress. The down side to the memory foam is that you can’t rotate or flip it. If you tend to sleep “hot” then memory foam will make you “hotter”. This is where the choices have to be made. Air cell mattresses such as “sleep-number” brand beds have tried to combine the concepts of memory foam and innersprings.

To flip or to turn; that is the question. The answer is both, when appropriate. Many of today’s mattresses are designed to be “flip free”. If you have an older mattress the routine should be to flip it once per month and rotate it once per month. Basically every two weeks you should either flip or turn your mattress in an alternating fashion. This will extend the life of your mattress and allow you to maximize the return on your financial investment. If you have a pillow top mattress at least rotate the mattress every two weeks as well as spread the filling by beating the top with your hands at the time of rotation. Mattresses can last anywhere from 5-20 years depending on the type of mattress and how you take care of it.

Remember that a mattress is a significant investment. Like any other investment you want to take care of it and make sure that you get the most from it. Protecting your mattress investment starts with the day you make the purchase. Take your time, ask questions and buy based on facts and feel not looks! If you are experiencing new aches and pains don’t necessarily shrug it off to the aging process. Examine how long it has been since you changed your mattress. You may need to go to the mattress store and not necessarily the chiropractor or physical therapist!