An old mattress can affect a lot more than just your sleep.
A good night’s sleep is important to your health in so many ways. It can give you more energy and cognitive clarity, help you fight off sickness, and put you in a better mood. Sticking to a consistent bedtime routine and practicing good sleep hygiene can set you on the right path, however, sleeping on the wrong mattress can foil even your best efforts at achieving some quality shut-eye.
Sometimes, the wrong mattress is one that isn’t designed for your sleeping position (side, stomach, back) or your body type—and it’s simply a matter of choosing the right mattress for a good night’s sleep. Other times, though, your mattress may simply be past its prime—and it can have a number of negative affects on not only your sleep, but your overall health. Below, learn about some of the ways that sleeping on an old mattress can be detrimental to your health—and how to know if it’s time to replace your mattress.
Ways Sleeping on an Old Mattress Can be Bad for You
Aches and pains
According to the National Health Interview Survey, in 2019 (the latest year with data) 39 percent of U.S. adults experienced back pain. And Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, at the Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, Pennsylvania, says lower back pain is one of the major reasons people get a new mattress. “An older mattress loses support for the lumbosacral region of the spine, which can lead to back pain and sciatica,” Dr. Conrad says.
As the mattress ages, it loses its firmness and starts sagging, which pushes the spine out of its normal position. “This puts additional pressure on the muscles and ligaments, and can lead to pressure on the spinal discs and nerves, and result in painful conditions like sciatica,” Dr. Conrad says.
Sapna Sriram, DC, MBA, a chiropractor and injury expert at Integra Health Centre in Toronto, Ontario, says that physicians and orthopaedic surgeons commonly agree that mattresses play a part in the management of back pain. But she also warns that an old mattress may contribute to aches and pains in the neck and back area, too. “When an old mattress is being used, it goes through wear and tear over the years, creating pockets of space which are more ‘worn in’ and can sag with one’s body weight, rather than stabilizing and supporting it,” she says.
After you’ve had your mattress for a while, you may notice some other unpleasant effects as well. “As a mattress gets older, it starts to collect allergens and dust,” Dr. Conrad explains. And unlike a set of sheets that you can remove and toss into the washer, it’s not as easy to clean a mattress. “Some research has indicated that breathing problems like asthma can be made worse from an old mattress,” he says. “In fact, a study published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy stated that children could experience breathing problems like asthma from allergens in older mattresses.”
In addition, Samina Ahmed, PsyD, a sleep advisor at Pluto, tells us that according to the ISPA Sleep Council, old mattresses can host a multitude of organisms which may contribute to diseases or sensitivities. “If mattresses are not cleaned or aired out regularly, they may accumulate dust and bacteria which can contribute to issues with sleep quality and breathing,” Dr. Ahmed says.
One reason you may be tired and exhausted during the day is because you’re experiencing a poor quality of sleep. “If your old mattress doesn’t offer full support, you tend to toss and turn,” Dr. Conrad explains. And he says you’ll wake up feeling like you didn’t get enough sleep or you’ll feel exhausted before you even get out of bed. “[A 2021 study] concluded that beds with medium firmness can lead to improved quality of sleep and sleeping longer, and this will lead to your body getting its full REM sleep patterns, which leads you to waking up feeling refreshed and energized,” he adds. But you won’t reap those benefits with an old mattress that’s worn-down and sagging.
And it’s important to understand the link between quality of sleep and health. A lack of refreshing sleep leads to other problems as well. “In addition to worsening health issues, like experiencing pain, fatigue, and daytime sleepiness, there can also be a worsening of hypertension, sugar levels, and other health factors,” Dr. Ahmed says.
If you suffer from existing mental health challenges, including anxiety and mood disorders, Dr. Ahmed says sleeping on an old mattress that does not provide a good night’s sleep can exacerbate these issues. “And there may be significant delay in cognitive processing, memory, word recall, and decision making,” she says. Those delays can result to a host of other problems that can affect everyday performance. According to Dr. Ahmed, the snowball effect of not getting enough sleep can lead to tardiness and absenteeism, work-related accidents and mistakes, a decrease in productivity, and avoidance of social plans.
More Disadvantages of Using an Old Mattress
With an older mattress, not only are you missing out on better sleep, but you good also be missing out on beneficial new technology. Advances in sleep science are ongoing, but an older mattress may not reflect them. “[An old mattress] is likely to have technologies that cannot adapt—i.e. innerspring mattresses—and they can be noisy, get very hot, and be prone to breakage and difficult to repair,” says Dr. Sriram. “Modern alternatives—i.e gel memory foam—can be more durable, provide better relief, cooling and improve a night’s sleep.”
Dr. Conrad agrees that older mattresses were not designed with temperature variations in mind. He notes that there are new hybrid types that can help you stay cooler as you’re sleeping, which is especially beneficial to people who tend to sweat at night. “Some new mattress designs also may have a fan built right into the boxspring, which can help keep you cooler with circulating air,” he adds.
When and How Often Should You Replace Your Mattress?
On average, Dr. Ahmed recommends replacing your mattress every 7 to 10 years—but if it’s a lower quality mattress, she says it will probably need to be replaced sooner than that.
“Signs of needing a new mattress include: waking up with aches and discomfort, having a difficult time getting comfortable in bed, poor sleep, sagging, poor support, noticeable stains from wear, and lumps in the bed,” she says.
In addition, Dr. Sriram says if you’re getting hot while sleeping, or your allergies or asthma are getting worse, those could also be not-so-subtle signs.
Another indicator that you should replace your mattress, she says, is if you find other sleeping spots (hotel beds, a guest room bed, even your sofa) more comfortable and more likely to encourage restful sleep.
How to Extend the Life of Your Mattress
Understandably, consumers often look for alternatives to replacing an old mattress. Dr. Conrad admits that mattresses can be very expensive, ranging from $500 to $5,000, not to mention, the task itself can be rather taxing. “It’s a hassle to get rid of the old mattress and box spring, and it’s usually a two man job to lift it, so many will just keep using their old one until it gets too worn down.”
However, there are ways to make your current mattress last a bit longer if you’re not quite ready to replace it. “You can help extend the life of an old mattress by rotating or flipping it every 3 months,” Dr. Conrad explains. “And with memory foam mattresses that can’t be flipped, simply rotating it will help extend the life expectancy and help prevent wear and tear in the same areas.”
Dr. Sriram also recommends using a mattress protector, opening the windows to reduce moisture buildup and dust, and washing your sheets on a regular basis to keep your mattress in better condition.
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