Sometimes there’s no better feeling than getting into bed after a long, exhausting day. The goal: Burrow into your cozy haven, clock a solid seven to nine hours of sleep, and wake up refreshed and ready to have an excellent day. But sometimes your mattress can make achieving this goal impossible in various ways, all of which can ultimately affect your health. Read on for ways your mattress could be harming your health, plus what to do about them.
1. Your mattress could house dust mites, which might trigger allergies.
Ever heard of dust mites? These microscopic creatures, distantly related to ticks and spiders, live in humid climates and feed off the dead human skin found in household dust, according to the Mayo Clinic. Unfortunately, they can make their home in your home even if you keep your place as spotless as possible, Rita Aouad M.D., an assistant professor of sleep medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. Dust mites do especially well in warm, humid spots like your bedding, mattress, and upholstered furniture.
If you’re allergic to dust mites, your body has a sensitivity to their feces and decaying bodies. Coming into contact with this debris can cause symptoms of an allergic reaction like coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy eyes. If you have asthma, it could also trigger symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, coughing, and wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe). Whether you’re dealing with allergies or asthma, having dust mites in your bed can translate into restless nights full of symptoms.
The bad news is that it’s impossible to totally eradicate dust mites. The good news is that there’s still a ton you can do to cut back on them as much as possible. For instance, you can buy an allergy-proof cover made of tightly woven fabric to zip around your mattress (and other components of your bed, like your pillows). This creates a barrier between you and the dust mites, meaning they can’t trigger your allergies or asthma, plus the dead skin you shed can’t get to them, which prevents them from eating and reproducing. Washing your bedding at least once a week with water that’s at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit is also a clutch way of killing dust mites.
If you really have a problem with dust mites, your vigilance will need to extend far beyond your bed. Here’s all the expert-approved intel you need on how to eliminate as much dust from your home as humanly possible.
2. If your mattress isn’t supportive enough, it could contribute to back pain.
When it comes to your mattress, adequate spine support is simply non-negotiable, Fredrick Wilson D.O., director of the Cleveland Clinic Solon Center for Spine Health, tells SELF. Your spine—which is made up of interlocking bones called vertebrae—has some natural curves in it. You want to sleep in a way that supports those natural curves. Any push or pull on your spine, even a seemingly slight one due to an excessively soft or saggy mattress, could put pressure on the ligaments and tendons that connect your spine to other bones and muscles. “When you sag, your spine gets bent, and that can lead to discomfort,” David Rapoport M.D., the director of research in integrative sleep medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells SELF.
Lower back pain is very common—the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimate that 80 percent of adults will experience it—and a ton of things can cause it. So, how do you know if your mattress is contributing to your lower back pain? “If you wake up and you’re sore, that’s a good telltale sign,” Dr. Wilson says. That could be a sign it’s time to buy a new mattress, or to buy a mattress topper that offers added support until you can get a new mattress entirely.
3. A sagging or lumpy mattress could be a factor in neck pain.
“You want to keep your head even with your trunk,” Dr. Wilson explains. “You don’t want your neck to be tipping back or tipping forward.” Obviously, your pillow plays a big role here, but a mattress with a ton of lumps or saggy parts can affect where your body ends up in relation to your head. In addition to sleeping on a mattress (or topper) with no dips or bumps, Dr. Wilson recommends that you use one or two flat pillows to support your head and neck at night.
4. A super-firm mattress could play into joint pain.
When you’re releasing your full body weight onto a surface for hours, you need that surface to have the right amount of give. If your mattress is too firm, excess pressure on areas like your shoulders, hips, knees, side, and back can lead to aches and pains, Dr. Aouad says. Again, mattress toppers might come to your rescue here, especially as they’re often designed to offer the plush experience that a too-firm mattress can’t.
5. Your mattress could contribute to night sweats, which can interrupt your sleep.
Do you ever wake up in what feels like a literal pool of your own sweat? A few different things can lead to night sweats (the term for repeated periods of excessive sweating at night for a medical reason) including medications like antidepressants and conditions like anxiety or menopause, according to the Mayo Clinic. But sometimes there’s no medical reason for getting super sweaty at night—it’s just that someone is too hot while they sleep, potentially because of their mattress.
“It is possible for a mattress to contribute to sweating,” Dr. Aouad says. “If a mattress is made from a material that hugs the body, such as a dense foam, the heat released from your body during sleep can be trapped, leading to excessive heat retention and sweating.”
You might be able to fix this by wearing airy pajamas made with breathable fabrics like cotton and linen if you’re not already (or you can just sleep naked). You can also opt for sheets made of these fabrics if they seem lighter than your current set, Dr. Aouad says, or look into mattress toppers that contain cooling gel to keep you from overheating at night. There are even entire mattresses made with specific cooling technology. If you have night sweats, though, a good first step is addressing the underlying problem with your doctor. They may be able to suggest fixes for your specific situation.
6. Finally, any of the above mattress issues can lead to trouble sleeping.
A super uncomfortable mattress might cause interrupted sleep, or even long-term sleep deprivation. Constantly being tired can obviously mess with your mood, concentration levels, appetite, athletic performance, and immune system. But a lack of sufficient sleep is also linked with a slew of chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. It can also make every single day feel like a monumental struggle, rounding out the long list of reasons why you should prioritize good sleep.
Ultimately, it’s incredibly important that you sleep well, and your mattress plays a big role in that.
“I can’t go quite as far as to say if you have a lousy mattress you won’t live as long, but there’s certainly evidence that you want to optimize your sleep,” Dr. Rapoport says. “If you’re waking up sore and achy, there is good reason to believe your mattress is mismatched to what you need.”