How Your Mattress Is Impacting Your Sleep and Health

Posted by Meredith Willoughby on

How your mattress impacts your health

As humans, we tend to spend a significant amount of time each day sleeping. In fact, we can expect to spend upwards of a third of our lives asleep — and of course, since much of our sleeping is done at home, investing in a good mattress can truly pay off.

How Important Is It to Sleep on a Good Mattress?

Mattresses have been around since the beginning of the human race, in the form of piles of leaves or palm covered in animal skin. While this isn’t the luxury Sleep Number beds and Tempur-Pedic cushioning of today, early mattresses were a step up from sleeping on the floor of a cave.

The quality of sleep we get, in many ways, is determined by the quality of our mattresses.

The impact of sleeping on a bad mattress isn’t something you might notice immediately or connect to your bedding quality. However, low-quality mattresses can be uncomfortable and cause pain and discomfort — and over time, chronic pain or even the tossing and turning we sometimes do to stay comfortable has an impact on our sleep quality.

Sleep quality plays a significant role in all areas of our lives — from immune system function to our mood, metabolism and our ability to process information.

While it’s disheartening to learn that your mattress could be to blame for back pain and other health problems, the right one can be a real boon for your overall health.

The Effects Poor Sleep Can Have on Your Health

With busy days and evenings, we tend to forgo our requisite eight or so hours of sleep for obligations both familial and social, as well as those many late nights trying to beat the deadline or finish that one important project. After work, many of us have meals to prepare or friends to catch up with, networking events and errands, chores and more. It’s easy to see why we’re collectively not getting enough sleep — but it’s hard to change old habits.

As mentioned above, as well as by many well-meaning friends, family members and physicians, not getting enough high-quality sleep can lead to health problems much worse than brain fog or drooping eyelids. Here’s a look at the many ways sleep can affect your overall health, both physical and mental:

Cardiovascular Health

Over time, sleep deprivation can lead to chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as increase the risk of stroke. The risk for heart disease is tied to sleep apnea, a condition that causes people to awaken several times during the night due to their airway closing while they are asleep. With each awakening, sleepers experience elevated blood pressure, which, over time, can cause heart problems or chronic high blood pressure.

negative impacts of sleep deprivation

Immune Function

Sleep deprivation has a profound effect on immune function. Generally speaking, the immune system works to help the body fight off incoming infections like colds, flu or bacterial infections. The immune system is made up of a network of cells and proteins, including T-cells — which suffer when we don’t get enough shut-eye.

Diabetes

In addition to the potential for more frequent colds and cases of flu, lack of sleep can put people at risk of developing Type II diabetes, as sleep deprivation has an effect on the way the body naturally processes glucose levels — which cells use to power energy functions in the body.

Mental Health

It’s no surprise that lack of sleep causes people to be a little prickly — but sleep deprivation can cause some more serious problems to the psyche, beyond creating a severe case of the Mondays. Chronic sleeping problems may be linked to higher instances of anxiety and depression, as well as feelings of sadness, anger, stress and mental fatigue. While sleep in and of itself won’t cure any underlying mood disorders, not getting enough can exacerbate any existing mental health conditions, as well as create trouble that wouldn’t normally be there.

Aside from keeping stress levels down and moods on the rise, getting the right amount of sleep for your body can make you feel more sociable, optimistic and ready to take on the stresses of daily life.

Your Weight

There’s long been talk about the weight gain that accompanies insufficient sleep. While we sleep, our bodies release hormones that regulate things like energy, metabolism, appetite and how we process glucose. Poor sleep can cause the body to release more of the stress hormone cortisol, which can affect things like metabolism, heart health and more, as well as lowered levels of hormones known as ghrelin and leptin, which play a role in hunger regulation and appetite.

All of these factors play a role both in how quickly we process food, and how we can navigate through a sea of food options available to us. People who are sleep-deprived may fall victim to sugar cravings or pick something unhealthy due to convenience or an attempt to gain some quick energy. And, as the unfortunate kicker, we’re less likely to want to exercise when we haven’t slept enough. Therefore, the extra calories just stick around.

How to Determine the Reason Why You’re Not Sleeping Well

It’s obvious that not getting enough sleep can lead to a wide range of health problems, which have implications that ripple throughout your life. Bad moods can cause rifts in interpersonal relationships both at work and at home, and your metabolism and nutrition can suffer. We’re less likely to make smart choices that impact our lives and our health when we’re feeling tired, which makes it all the more important to get to the root of the problem to solve it. Here are some reasons you might not be getting the right amount of sleep.

choices when we're feeling tired

You’ve Had Too Much to Drink

Having too much to drink extends to any fluids, but alcohol specifically disrupts your sleep cycles, as it can make your sleep lighter, causing you to wake up throughout the night. You may also need to get up and use the restroom (in the case of all liquids), which naturally interrupts your sleep. Overall, it’s a good idea to try to consume most of your water or other drinks during the day.

Your Body Temperature Is Too Warm

While we tend to crave warmth during winter months and love getting cozied up before bedtime, we sleep better when our body temperature is running a bit cooler than it would during the day. Turn the heat off before bed (perfect for cutting down your energy bill, by the way), and don’t take a shower right before bed. If you’re a person who likes taking a nighttime bath or shower, do this at least an hour or two before bed, giving your body plenty of time to cool down before hitting the hay. Additionally, you can choose a mattress that has a cooling effect to help regulate your body temperature and keep you comfortable throughout the night.

You’re Stressed

If you are stressed, the good news is it’s not usually a long-term sleep disorder. But combating stress can be difficult. If stress is keeping you awake at night, try listing out the next day’s priorities before your work day ends. Getting on top of the week’s to-do list can mitigate some stress and help you sleep better when the time comes.

If you’re suffering from chronic stress, things like exercising, practicing yoga or meditation or just taking some time out for yourself to read something pleasurable (in dim lighting), can help you feel calm, preparing you for a better night’s sleep.

You’ve Had Caffeine Too Late in the Day

As much as you probably enjoyed that last coffee of the day, caffeine can stay in your system for a long time, potentially up to 12 hours. While some of us are more affected by caffeine than others, it’s worth keeping in mind that your coffee, tea or soda can not only cause you to stay awake, it can also cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night.

If you suffer from that inevitable midday slump — you know, when you’ve still got work to do and you’re fighting to stay awake —  try heading outside for a brief walk, or at the very least, spending some time outside or next to a sunny window — natural light can trigger the wakefulness needed for an increase in energy without the coffee.

Your Circadian Rhythms Are Out of Sync

We all have internal biological clocks which, evolutionarily speaking, dictate our sleep and wake cycles — which, for our ancestors, meant sleeping according to when the sun rose and fell. Daily life with our myriad devices, screens and different obligations have thrown this off a bit, but we generally sleep when it’s dark and get up in the morning. The problem is, our bodies are meant to sleep when we’re tired, not necessarily at a particular time, and we’re often waking up at all hours of the night.

To combat sleeping issues related to your circadian rhythm, make sure you give yourself designated dark/light cycles each day, preferably at the same time. Try waking before the sun comes up to trigger a sense of wakefulness, and spend time outside, exposed to sunlight throughout the day. At night, turn off your electronic devices at least an hour before bed and avoid bright lights.  

You’re Using Devices to Relax

For many of us, powering down after a long day usually involves Internet surfing, television or some form of digital interaction. It’s just a fact of today’s world. However, reading on your iPad each night before bed or repeatedly falling asleep in front of the television at night can impact your sleep rhythm or make it difficult to fall asleep in the first place.

First of all, reading or watching the news can keep our brains stimulated, causing thoughts to race, as well as a sense of mental alertness. Second, the bluish lights emitted from our screens — from phones and tablets to computers and televisions — can fool our brains into thinking it is still daytime. Because of this digital trickery, our bodies end up delaying the release of melatonin, a hormone that activates when it’s dark, signaling to the brain that it’s time to go to sleep.

To combat electronics-related sleep issues, try turning devices off an hour or so before bed, and instead, read a hard-copy book or do something similarly relaxing. If you must look at your phone or computer, consider turning your device to night mode. There are some apps that can optimize lighting for a better night’s sleep as well.

Turn off devices before bed

Your Mattress Is Making Things Worse

If you’re practicing good sleep habits — e.g. avoiding caffeine, not bringing your laptop into bed, etc. — and you’re still not getting proper shut-eye, your trusty mattress could be the culprit. Here are some signs of a bad mattress:

Your Mattress Is Too Soft — A mattress that’s too soft can seem alluring at first, but in fact, it is bad for your back, due to the lack of support. A telltale sign your mattress is too soft? There’s a dent in your bed each morning.

Your Mattress Is Too Hard — A too-hard mattress, on the other hand, may simply be uncomfortable and may leave you tossing and turning throughout the night, rather than sleeping.

Your Mattress is Too Old — There’s a reason the old rule of thumb is to replace your mattress every eight years. An old, lumpy or sagging mattress may not offer the necessary support, making it difficult to find that sweet spot — resulting in a night spent chasing comfort rather than receiving all the restorative benefits of sleep.

Beware of Allergens — Finally, one of the biggest health problems associated with old mattresses is allergy symptoms. Over time, dust mites, dead skin cells, body oils and more add up, giving sleepers symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, itchy skin and eyes, runny noses and even asthma. It is for this reason that professionals recommend you replace your mattress every 5-8 years.

How to Find the Right Mattress for You

While it seems like there’s a lot of room for error when picking out a mattress, it’s not as hard as it sounds. Mattresses degrade over time, and it’s a good idea to get a new one every five to eight years. If you’re finding you aren’t sleeping well or are just plain uncomfortable, sore or grumpy, consider upgrading as soon as you can.

When in Doubt, Go Firm — The best mattresses for back pain, as well as hip or joint pain, are on the firm end of the spectrum. Mattresses come with a firmness rating from 1 to 5, going from softest to the most firm. Most people receive proper support from a mattress with a rating of about 4.

Don’t Buy Used — Mattresses made before 2007 don’t have the same regulations of a modern mattress, like fire resistance. Additionally, even if your mattress was rarely used or sat around for years, it’s still subject to the allergens and dust mites you’ll want to avoid.

Don’t be Fooled by Fluffy — Many mattresses come equipped with thick, cushiony surfaces that seem comfortable, but won’t give you the support needed for long-term comfort and avoiding back pain woes. Rather than getting the pillow-top, look for memory foam for more comfort along with support.

Make Sure It Fits Your Body — Things get tricky if you’re sharing with a partner, but the ideal bed for you is one that makes you feel comfortable while allowing you to sleep with a neutral spine. Have a friend or partner look at you while you try out a few different positions. You should be relaxed, not tense, and your spine should be resting in a natural S-curve.

Give It a Little Time — Typically, it takes up to 8 weeks for the body to adjust to a new mattress and for the mattress to get used to you. Be sure to keep that in mind when you first receive your mattress as it may feel different than the mattress you tested out in the showroom until this break-in process is complete.

Need a Mattress? Look No Further Than Davids Furniture

With three different stores, each featuring our exclusive Better Sleep Gallery, Davids Furniture serves the Harrisburg, Mechanicsburg and Berks County areas of Pennsylvania, offering a range of consultation services and furniture for every room in the house. If you’re looking for a mattress, bed frame or need some advice on how to make your bedroom a more inviting place to get a good quality sleep, our experts are here to help. Contact us today, and we’ll get you on the road to a better sleep.

Find the right mattress for you


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