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The Correct Mattress for Back Sleepers

The general rule of thumb for back sleepers is that when shopping for a mattress, go firm.  Unfortunately, people often mistake a firm supportive mattress for one that is just plain hard.  The reason a firm mattress works better in this case than a more soft type is simply that the spine needs to be kept straight when you are on your back.  A mattress that gives too much or bends inwardly will not be supportive enough for the spine.  Back sleepers have a larger area to lay on than side sleepers, which translates to less weight per square inch of the body.  Therefore a mattress that is more firm will hold the spine in check without irritating the muscles and joints.  However, this does not mean that a mattress a supportive density cannot also have enough give to conform to the bumps and curves of the body, therefore providing more comfort for the muscles and joints. 

A memory foam density will accomplish this the most effectively (see pictures below).  Memory foam is a visco-elastic, temperature sensitive polyurethane foam that has the ability to compress, but then slowly come back to its original shape.  Therefore memory foam does not place nearly the same resistance on the joints as spring, air, and other materials that bounce back more rapidly.  The more memory foam heats up, the more soft it becomes.  Memory foam mattresses are usually composed of 3 inches of the temperature sensitive visco-elastic foam, over 5 inches of regular polyurethane foam.  Memory foam is usually found in 3-5lb. densities.  5lb. memory foam is more temperature sensitive, heavier, usually stiffer and bounces back more slowly (see right side below for an actual example of 5lb. memory foam).  4lb. memory foam will therefore be less temperature sensitive and less dense, more soft, less expensive, but also a little less supportive.  There is a bed now that combines the two, so that the top layer is a 4lb. density and the next two inches are a 5lb. density.  This will give you that immediate soothing sensation, but still be a little firmer underneath for better support (see left side picture below for recommended 3-layer memory foam mattress).  Certain types of latex foam will also be soft enough to contour the body, but provide a bit more of a spring effect. This material can be combined well with memory foam to make up a mattress, but neither substance should be used in the bottom base layer of the mattress.  This is because you never want to sink too much into the mattress, as this would cause a folding effect of your body and you would loose support.  For this reason, people who are primarily side sleepers can utilize more of the memory foam and latex material.  This is due to the fact that the shoulders and hips stick out farther, and therefore need more contouring if you are going to attempt to evenly distribute your weight over the whole of the mattress. People who are primarily back sleepers may need more of a firmer support material underneath the latex and/or memory foam, as less contouring is needed.  If your current mattress is still solid enough, you may only need a memory foam topper (center picture below). 

Placing a pillow or using a support knee elevating wedge under your legs while on your back will be beneficial, as it can reduce the traction from the psoas muscles attached to the spine.  We recommend the support wedge depicted underneath as it is provides the stability necessary to stay on your back all night, and the comfort to allow a good night sleep. The best kind of mattress for back sleepers will have a supportive and firm density, but also have enough give to conform to the joints, with a softer overlay to provide more comfort for the muscles and joints. 

kneewedge.jpg (28657 bytes)
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orthopedic knee elevator and memory foam mattress
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   (3-layer Memory foam mattress)         (Memory foam topper)          (Memory Foam in action)

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 found at Relief-Mart and Selectabed.com




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