You spend about a third of every day in bed. Whether that time is spent blissfully slumbering -- or tossing and turning -- depends a lot on your mattress.
"A mattress can impact a person's sleep," says Michael Decker, PhD, RN, associate professor at Georgia State University and spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
One way that your mattress affects your sleep has to do with the network of fine blood vessels, called capillaries, that runs underneath your skin.
"When you lie on any part of your body for an extended period of time, the weight of it reduces the flow of blood through those blood vessels, which deprives the skin of oxygen and nutrients," Decker says. This causes nerve cells and pain sensors in your skin to send a message to your brain for you to roll over. Rolling over restores blood flow to the area, but it also briefly interrupts your sleep.
Ideally, a mattress that reduces the pressure points on your body should give you a better night's sleep, Decker says. Yet the ideal mattress is different for each person.
Finding the right mattress isn't about searching out the highest-tech brand or spending the most money. "A much more expensive mattress doesn't necessarily mean it's better," Decker says. A high price tag is a product of both the materials that go into the mattress, and the marketing that helps sell it.
Instead of focusing on price and brand name, think about what you want in a mattress. "Selecting a mattress is very personal," Decker says. Some people prefer a firmer mattress; others favor a softer style.
Although there isn't a lot of scientific evidence to prove that one type of mattress will help you sleep better than another, people with certain medical conditions do seem to rest easier on a particular mattress style.
Anyone with back or neck pain should take a Goldilocks approach to mattress buying: not too hard, and not too soft.
"If you're on too soft [of] a mattress, you'll start to sink down to the bottom. But on too hard of a mattress you have too much pressure on the sacrum, and on the shoulders, and on the back of the head," says Howard Levy, MD, an Emory University assistant professor of orthopaedics, physical medicine, and rehabilitation.
A medium-firm mattress, or a firm mattress with a softer pillow top, will give your spine that "just-right" balance of support and cushioning.
An adjustable bed can be a good buy if you need to sleep with your head raised. Doctors sometimes recommend elevating the head to help people with COPD breathe easier, or to prevent nighttime heartburn from GERD. These beds can also allow you to adjust your knees and hips to a 90-degree angle, relieving some of the pressure on sore joints, Levy says.