Choosing a Mattress for Arthritis

Finding "the perfect mattress" can be a challenge – especially as there is, in truth, no such thing. Everyone sleeps differently, and everyone has their own needs and personal preference as to the right mattress for them.

When you live with a condition that causes chronic pain, however, finding the right mattress can be even more of a challenge, and is all the more important to get right. Whether you suffer from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or another form or similar condition such as fibromyalgia, it's essential to find a mattress that helps you sleep comfortably.

How do sleep and arthritis affect each other?

As there are different kinds of arthritis and different ways it can affect the body, the condition can obviously affect sleep in a number of fashions. Joint, hip back and neck pain can all make it uncomfortable to lie down, or stop you from finding a comfy sleeping position, and it'll mean you're more likely to wake during the night. You might also find that you don't feel rested when you wake up.

We're sure none of this is news to you if you're reading this page. Studies have found that as many as two in three arthritis sufferers experience insomnia or trouble sleeping. But you might not be aware of exactly what the knock-on effects of disrupted sleep can be – indeed, many simply attribute these extra symptoms to the condition itself, rather than the true, avoidable cause of a bad night's rest. It's something of a vicious circle – one thing affects the other, and the ongoing cycle makes things worse and worse.

Disrupted sleep patterns can make many conditions worse, and arthritis is no different – not least because it can reduce your pain threshold during the day, making any discomfort or pain feel even worse than normal. It can also result in localised aches and pains becoming more widespread.

Increased fatigue, stiffness, muscle tension and headaches, fluctuating moods, poor memory and reduced concentration are bad for anyone, but when it's aggravating an existing condition such as arthritis of any kind, it's all the worse – and the fact that disrupted sleep is the cause may just go unrecognised.

How can the right mattress help?

Studies have been done into how a change in mattress can improve sleep even for people who don't experience chronic pain, and that even small changes in the level of support can improve the quality of sleep. So for someone with arthritis, finding the right mattress – usually an orthopaedic mattress designed with sleepers with back issues in mind – can vastly improve the quality of your sleep.

Research has found that the amount of pain you're in before you go to bed doesn't necessarily affect how well you sleep, but a bad night's sleep is a very strong indicator of how much pain you'll be in when you wake up – which highlights the importance of a mattress that will ensure you keep pain, discomfort, and strain on your back and joints to a minimum while you're sleeping.

Your mattress needs to hold your spine in place correctly, to reduce the amount of strain on your back and joints – and as a result, the amount of pain. But mattresses don't last forever – eventually they will sag, go lumpy, springs will end up out of place, and will no longer be able to provide the proper support for your spine. The life of a mattress can be extended by rotating and flipping at regular intervals to reduce the strain on a certain point, but eventually they will need to be replaced to keep providing the same benefits.

In short, the right mattress will provide better support and comfort, which will help you sleep easier – and in turn help to reduce pain and discomfort during the day.

What's the right mattress for someone with arthritis?

There is so much advice on the internet as to the "best" mattress for someone with arthritis. You will be able to find endless suggestions on arthritis and general health message boards, and they may all be totally different. This is because everyone's condition affects them differently, and everyone has different preferences and needs – not to mention height, weight and body differences that will affect the way you sleep.

Some people will tell you without fail, for example, that a stiff wooden board under the mattress is the best way forward, while others will tell you that it caused them no end of extra discomfort when they tried it. There's no universal solution.

Ultimately, finding the right mattress is such an individual thing that your best bet is to head out to a showroom and try them out for yourself before you buy – but here are some points to consider:

  • Support is the most important thing. Your mattress absolutely has to provide you with adequate support for your spine, neck and shoulders, but the waist, hips, legs and knees are just as important too.
  • Support doesn't mean firmness. We often think that a supportive mattress means the one with the least amount of give in it – the firmer the better. While some people love a firm mattress, a mattress for someone with arthritis should reduce contact pressure on your most sensitive joints – so there needs to be some softness.
  • Stability is also essential. Yes, we just said a mattress needs to be soft – but not too soft! Whether you're a fidgety sleeper or not, it's important to move around in your sleep to reduce stiffness caused by staying in one position, and if you're sunken into a too-soft mattress then it'll be harder for you to move with ease.
  • Consider orthopaedic mattresses. Orthopaedic mattresses are designed to provide optimum support, and they can have great benefits for people suffering from chronic pain. Pocket spring ortho mattresses usually have a higher concentration of individually-contained springs to provide more flexible support. Memory foam and latex mattresses or toppers conform to your body shape to provide that firm, flexible support.

Many find that an orthopaedic pocket spring mattress with a memory foam topper provides the right balance of firmness, softness, support, flexibility and comfort – but then, others don't. If you find orthopaedic mattresses don't help, then don't force yourself to use one just because it's supposed to be better. The most important thing is what you find comfortable.

What else can you do to reduce discomfort?

If you share your bed, then you might find your partner's movements in the night only adds to the problem – a comfortable position can be ruined by a shift in the mattress caused by a nearby restless sleeper. The answer doesn't have to be separate beds, but separate mattresses – two single mattresses underneath a single sheet.

Make sure your bed frame is big enough to accommodate two singles, of course – but whether you both need the same levels of support or not, having individual mattresses will reduce the amount of impact you have on each other's sleep.

Even your sleeping position can affect the level of discomfort you experience – no matter how good your mattress is.

Sleeping on your front is almost certainly a bad idea – you'll end up twisting your neck, and your spine won't rest in a natural position. Maintaining its 'S' curve is really important to comfortable sleep, and this is easiest to achieve by lying on your back.

If that's not comfortable, and you prefer lying on your side, then make sure you keep your back straight, and place a pillow or gel bad between your knees to avoid extra pressure on your joints.

When it comes to pillows, some find memory foam is perfect for reducing pain, while others find them too hard to get comfortable – it is unfortunately down to trial and error for your body's own needs. However, whatever you choose, ensure you're not using too many or propping them up too high, as this will increase strain on your neck.

There are plenty of other tips for a good night's sleep that apply much more generally – everything from keeping screens out of the bedroom to avoiding caffeine and heavy meals before bed are more or less the same whether you suffer from arthritis or not. However, if you are on steroid tablets, then taking them too late in the day can disrupt your sleep – the hormones that they affect are meant to be at their lowest point before you go to sleep.

Finally, remember, a good mattress will help you sleep better, and can help reduce pain throughout the day as a result, but it's by no means a replacement for medical treatment. The right mattress is just one part of taking care of yourself.

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