Is your bed the reason you're not sleeping well? It could be, say experts

We talked to sleep experts on how to make sure your mattress, pillows, and bedding are in top shape.

woman having trouble sleeping
(Image credit: Getty)

Is your mattress sagging? Pillow lumpy? Or waking up with terrible night sweats through the night? What about constant tossing and turning? Well, your bedding could be to blame. 

Maybe it’s just the mattress or a situation as simple as investing in new sheets … or perhaps you're feeling receptive to a complete bedding overhaul to help you get the sleep experience you not only need, but deserve. After all, we spend roughly a third of our lives in our beds. Why would you accept anything less than perfect? If you're not sleeping well, you're simply not able to function properly, and it can ultimately affect your health and wellbeing. 

To help you solve your sleep woes, we connected with several top sleep experts about all the ways your bed may not be serving you, and how to fix it, so you can get right back to your very important beauty sleep. Here's what they had to say.

March 14th-20th is National Sleep Week. All week, we'll be sharing resources on how you can sleep better. 

Is your mattress the source of your aches and pain?

Casper mattress

(Image credit: Casper)

Mattresses can negatively impact sleep in a number of ways.

"Older mattresses are particularly likely to cause sleep disruptions," said Dr. Michael Grandner, a Casper Sleep Advisor and director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona. "It may be too firm or too soft, or uncomfortable in a different way. Sometimes a mattress that is comfortable at the beginning of the night might not be as comfortable at the end of the night, when it has changed shape as you have been in it for several hours."

Victor Ajpacaja, a sleep expert at one of Mattress Firm's 'store of the future' concepts in Houston, is at the forefront of new sleep technology, new programs and new products. His job is literally to help shoppers find the best mattress for them, and he's undergone more than 200 hours of training for it. 

Ajpacaja identified three core reasons why your mattress might be causing sleepless nights. 

First, a lack of pressure relief can cause aches on joints, shoulders, and hips. A lack of support in a mattress, on the other hand, can cause back pain from a misaligned spine. Finally, poor temperature management from your mattress trapping heat can lead to restless nights. One or all of these issues, "creates fragmented sleep, and disrupts sleep quality," said Ajpacaja. 

Is it time to buy a new mattress?

Everything has a lifespan, and mattresses are no exception. Mattresses should be replaced every 7-10 years, although many warranties last longer than that time frame. Another scary (and gross) fact: ten years is also the time it takes for a mattress to double in weight from sweat, dead skin, dust mites, and more that settle into your mattress. Ick. 

But beyond a mattress being close to its replacement date, your own body will let you know when something is wrong. If you’re feeling tired, waking up in pain, can't stay in a position for long, experience a lack of energy, or numbness on arms, aches, shoulders or hips, these are all signs it may be time for a replacement. 

Then there are the other obvious signs: sagging, lumps, or divots in your bed that come from years of use.

"You should look for dipping over time and if your mattress has springs you’ll be able to tell if they are losing their tension, BUT that’s why it is important to really invest in the right one that is well made," said Macy's vice president fashion director of home, Roberson Keffer.

Before you settle for just any mattress, it's important to consider your sleep position, as well as the many types of mattresses available to you. If you need some guidance, you can even check out our best mattress guide to help you sort through our top picks.

What to consider when buying a mattress

First, it's essential to consider your sleep position -- side, stomach, back or combo -- as it makes a difference in comfort layers. More on that and specific mattress picks below. 

Also think about the types of pain you may experience, preferred sleep conditions like ideal sleeping temperature, and if you're sensitive to any allergens. 

Then look into any special sleep technology that is important to you, brand, and of course price. 

"Mattresses should provide sufficient support to keep you aligned during the night without being too firm and uncomfortable. For some people, temperature and moisture control are also important features. And, people who sleep with a bed partner may need to balance their needs as well," said Dr. Grandner. "My advice is to not rely on a first impression since mattresses change shape after you spend some time in them. So whatever mattress you choose, make sure that they have a return policy just in case it is not right for you."

Another option to guide you to the right mattress right away is to consider the in-store mattress testing technology that many mattress retailers are equipped with. Mattress Firm's Mattress Matcher, for example, is a special software designed to guide you to the right fit based on what your body needs. It even takes into account common health conditions like back pain, sleep apnea, and acid reflux before providing the best mattresses for you based on your needs. "So you’re not overselling or spending on features you don’t need,"  Ajpacaja explained. 

Which mattress is best?

There is no one-size-fits-all-mattress, though medium-firm mattresses tend to suit the widest range of sleep positions, and are ideal for couples who can't decide on a sleep position or firmness level. Mattresses are available in various firmness levels including plush, medium, and firm. They're usually placed on a scale between one and 10, with 10 being your floor and one being a cloud. Some mattress brands offer different variations for the same mattress, while others will suit many sleep types.

In addition to comfort level, the type of mattress also comes into play.

Innerspring mattresses are known for offering the ultimate support, They have a certain aspect of buoyancy, thanks to the springs. Today's models are an elevated version of what we all grew up with. 

Foam and latex mattresses offer true motion isolation, making them excellent for light sleepers who feel your sleep partner's most subtle movement. They're also great for those that need extra pressure relief. 

Hybrid mattresses are the perfect combination of both technologies for both contour and support. Or, as we like to say, the best of both worlds! 

"There’s a science to sleep, and a mattress should be looked at the same way,"  said  Ajpacaja. "Look at it as an investment, not an expense." 

If you have back pain:

If you have chronic back pain, or any type of constant pain when you wake in the morning, then you should seriously be considering a new mattress. A firm mattress is typically a safer choice to provide adequate spine alignment, but also take in to account your sleep position. Memory foam or latex mattresses cradle all your natural curves, provide the necessary support for pressure points like shoulders and hips, and relieve pressure for reduced pain.

If you're overheating at night:

Whether you suffer from night sweats, or it's your mattress causing unwanted heat, look for a mattress that is both breathable and cooling. Cotton, bamboo, and wool covers are helpful for temperature and moisture control as well as mattresses infused with layers of cooling gel or open-cell foam. 

If you are sleep on your side

Sleeping on your side is actually one of the most common sleep positions, but if your mattress isn't serving you, you may be noticing shoulder or lower back pain. Side sleepers need a slightly softer mattress to cushion and cradle their bodies, and should look for mattresses with cushioning zones where their shoulders and hips lay. On the firmness scale, you should look for a mattress in the 5.5 to 6.5 range for firmness.

If you sleep on your stomach (front sleeper)

Stomach sleepers need a slightly firmer mattress in the 6.5 to 7.5 range, allowing for individual preferences. You won't want to sink into your mattress, otherwise, that could cause lower back pain and improper spinal alignment. Stomach sleepers are also more likely to experience neck or shoulder pains from turning their head to the side. It's also important to pay attention to the type of pillow you use, and that is isn't too lofty. 

If you sleep on your back

Back sleepers need support around the low back in order to protect spinal alignment. You'll want to opt for a medium-firm sleep surface to and should aim for around a 6 to 7 on the firmness scale. 

If you are a heavier person

While most mattresses can support hundreds of pounds of weight, persons who weigh over 250 lbs need added support and may prefer mattresses with more durable materials and less sinkage. 

A medium-firm or firm mattress that conforms less and provides strong support will probably be the most comfortable option. Innerspring and hybrid models are typically preferred over memory foam for their to avoid that stuck-in-bed feeling from sinking into a mattress.

If you have gastro-problems or snore:

If you suffer from health conditions like acid reflux, heartburn or GERD, or even experience snoring, consider an adjustable base bed to help elevate your top half while you sleep, so that acid stays low in the belly. Most memory foam and hybrid beds work with these types of bed, and they can range from manually adjustable models to high-tech designs that connect to a smartphone app. 

If you're not ready to buy a new mattress:

Not everyone is in a financial position to buy a new mattress or go through the hassle of disposing of an older model. That's completely OK. The best mattress toppers and pads are extremely helpful at giving new life to an old mattress, a little extra support, or the cooling tech properties an older mattress can't provide. What mattress toppers are not are a bandage fix for your old, faulty mattress. If it's sagging or uneven, it's time to invest in a mattress. 

Are you sleeping with the right pillow?

woman sleeping with a pillow

(Image credit: Getty)

The wrong pillow can cause pains in your neck or back, snoring, or general that lead to lost sleep. 

Your sleep position also affects the pillow you should use, in addition to your mattress.

"Softer pillows are typically great for stomach sleepers, while a more firm pillow is great for supporting side sleepers," said Katie Elks, director of product design and development at Brooklinen, also noting that the most versatile pillow will offer a medium level of firmness, such as their Mid-Plush Down and Down Alternative Pillows. "However, it all comes down to personal preference.

Pulling from his own experience, Keffer added that if you're a side sleeper, you should have a firm pillow, as it helps to ensure spinal alignment. "I would seriously wake up with the worst lower back pain in the mornings and at first I just thought…well I’m getting older, this is life now. Instead of giving up and accepting my new fate, I decided to purchase a firmer pillow and honestly, it changed my life. It was a little hard to get used to at first because I was used to the more plush pillow, but the first morning, however, I was a changed man."

Pillows also have a shorter lifespan than your mattress, but luckily, they're typically not too much of a hassle to replace. 

But before you do replace a flat pillow, you might be able to salvage a perfectly good pillow. 

"I find that a lot people don’t really realize (or just don’t do) is that you absolutely can and should wash your pillows," said Keffer. "Throw them in your washer and dryer and it will re-fluff and revive your pillow for a bit longer."

What to look for in a pillow?

Like mattresses, pillows are available in a dizzying range of materials and options from down and down alternative pillows to memory or gel foam, and of course specialty shapes, sizes, and features like hypo-allergenic, adjustable loft and cooling tech. 

Depending on how you sleep, side sleepers should seek out firm to extra firm pillows for proper neck support. Stomach sleepers need a soft and fluffy pillow that you just sink into to help keep their head inline with the rest of the body... being raised up to high, can cause additional discomfort. And back sleepers will do well with a medium to firm pillow that properly cradles their head.  

For combo sleepers

For stomach sleepers

Best for side sleepers

Best for hot sleepers

Are your sheets disrupting your sleep?

linen sheets brooklinen

(Image credit: Brooklinen)

If you find yourself overheating or just not comfortable, it may be as simple as swapping out your linens. "For those who run hot at night or for warmer months, sleeping on the wrong style of bedding can lead to more tossing and turning, thus a poorer quality of sleep, " explains Elks. She suggests linen sheets or a cotton percale weave are the best for hot sleepers or warm weather. 

In addition to swapping sheets with the season, Elks also suggests swapping heavier comforters for quilts or lightweight comforters.

You can take this a step further by switching out warmer comforters for quilts or lighter-weight comforters in the summer! Brooklinen actually offers a Lightweight version of both our Down and Down Alternative Comforter, as well as Cotton and Linen Quilts that can be subbed out for comforters as the weather warms up. 

"You should replace your bedding as you start to notice signs of wear," said Elks. "One example is that you may find you need to replace your fitted sheet and pillowcases more often than a top flat sheet, or a duvet cover. These products generally absorb more sweat or body oils and wear in faster due to the weight on top of them."  

Maintenance (i.e. following proper care instructions) also goes a long way into ensuring that your bedding lasts longer. For instance, Brooklinen suggests washing sheets every two weeks (more often if you sweat a lot in your sleep) and alternating between two different sets to increase longevity. 

What to consider when choosing new bedding?

"Sheets are the one part of the bedding that directly touches your skin so you want something that feels amazing and suits your personal needs," said Macy's Keffer, and we couldn't agree more. 

The options available when it comes to choosing sheets don't make it any easier. Add the question of which thread count to choose, and it'll get even more confusing.

Hotter sleepers may gravitate towards materials like linen, cotton percale as these are naturally cooler than a slightly warmer fabric like sateen. However, some natural linens are not regarded as the softest fibers (it truly varies by brand, and are getting much softer), and cotton percale, while keeping you cool, wrinkle pretty easily "so if you are OCD about wrinkles, it might not be the right one for you," Keffer interjected. Those who love a truly soft pair of sheets may prefer sateen or cashmere, as these are softer and smoother. Bamboo and eucalyptus sheets offer a silky feel, while offering excellent temperature regulation. 

 "Thread counts are not an indication of quality but fibers really are.  There are plenty of very high thread count sheets out there that are very inexpensive because they are blended with manmade fibers, which can be bad if you sleep hot, but if you a super cold sleeper, a high thread count and manmade fibers would be great for you because it keeps you nice and warm.  Just remember, the higher the thread count the heavier the sheet," Keffer explains. 

And if you want more guidance, check out our round up of the best bed sheets of the moments. 

If you're looking to sleep cooler

If you prefer soft and cozy

Jaclyn Turner
Jaclyn Turner

Jaclyn is an eCommerce editor at Future Home Interest, and scouts out the best of the best for buying guides to help you fill your home with housewares you will love. She joined the team in January 2021. She has previously worked with sites like Apartment Therapy, The Kitchn, The Spruce, The Spruce Eats, and MyDomaine, but got her start at the trade mag Home Furnishings News, which fueled her excitement for innovation in the home category and seeing the newest launches.  When Jaclyn's not working, she loves long strolls through HomeGoods, unwinding with a chilled glass of Rosé, and entertaining her Cavapoo puppy, Reese. 

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