How long does a mattress last?

How long does the average mattress retain its support and comfort?

That question remains unanswered. But in the study we recently completed at Oklahoma State University comparing a set of sleep variables for participants sleeping on their old beds – five years old or older – to the same variables when sleeping on brand new beds, we found significant and sustained improvement in sleep quality, sleep comfort and sleep efficiency, as well as significant reductions in back pain and stiffness. In light of our findings, I find it interesting that people tend to buy cars or appliances more frequently than beds. Likewise, joggers retire their running shoes after a certain number of miles to avoid the risk of pain or injury. It should be axiomatic that beds are not built to last forever. The average age of the participants’ old beds for this study was 9.5 years. With an average of seven hours of sleep per night, this adds up to over 24,000 hours spent in that bed! If the bed subtly breaks down over the years, it is reasonable to conclude that an equally subtle onset of pain and stiffness and reduced sleep quality follows. However, subtle increases in stiffness and pain over a decade are typically blamed on a person’s age rather than the mattress. Too few people are considering the possible benefit of a new mattress.

New mattress benefits immediate

Through our research, we found that new bedding improved sleep quality by 62.0% and sleep comfort by 70.8%, and reduced back pain by 55.3% and back stiffness by 50.7% over a four-week period. We also found that lower back pain was much more prominent for those sleeping on the cheaper beds and the older beds. But regardless of their personal bedding systems, participants experienced immediate reduction in pain and stiffness and improvement of sleep comfort and quality when sleeping on new mattresses. The reduction in pain and improvement in sleep became more prominent over time, and participants improved regardless of age, weight, height or body-mass index. Moreover, when participants were assigned to high and low pain groups based on initial evaluation, both groups experienced significant reduction in pain when sleeping on new bedding. Even those who reported minor problems sleeping showed significant improvements in sleep quality and comfort – at levels similar to those who were poor sleepers.

“New bedding improved sleep quality by 62.0% and sleep comfort by 70.8%, and reduced back pain by 55.3% and back stiffness by 50.7%.”

Sleep loss is a growing problem

Everyone recognizes the sensation of contentment and satisfaction upon rising after a deep, dead-to-the-world sleep. Unfortunately, the luxury of a good night’s sleep is one that eludes a great many in our society. In harsh contrast, most people are familiar with how it feels to lose valuable and needed sleep, either through burning the midnight oil or as a result of a troubled, toss/turn night. A poor night’s sleep coupled with the need to rise early to face the challenges and obligations of work and family compromises our ability to do our best. Our brains are not sharp, our thought processes not focused, and our social interactions are strained. Approximately 70 million Americans are affected by sleep problems. About half of all adults experience occasional trouble with sleeping, and the extent of reported sleep problems is increasing annually. For instance, a survey by the National Sleep Foundation in 2000 found that 62% of American adults reported having at least one night with poor sleep per week, and in 2005 the proportion rose to 75%. In the same survey, 26% reported getting a good night’s sleep only a few times per month or less. Recent research has found that our school children are also in need of sleep. The lack of sufficient sleep affects their functioning and cognitive ability and relates to higher levels of depression, anxiety and fatigue, as it does with adults.

Sleep debt is accumulating Americans average less than seven hours of sleep per weeknight, which represents a condition of sleep deprivation for many. While
the standard recommendation for sleep is eight hours per night, some can function on less and many require more. A comparison of the recommended eight hours sleep to the national average indicates that most Americans incur an accumulated sleep debt of over six hours per working week. Specialists have suggested that, in today’s society, sleep deprivation is extensive and that the problem is due in part to a high-paced lifestyle, stress and commitments. Since sleep is a basic physiological, integrative and restorative need, disturbed sleep affects daytime activity, social interactions, mood, quality of life and numerous other factors. Impairments in cognitive and motor performance due to lack of sleep have been compared to alcohol intoxication. The cost of sleep deprivation related to lost productivity and accidental injury on the job is enormous. A recent study by the Institute of Medicine found that sleep-related fatigue contributes to an estimated direct and indirect cost of $150 billion annually in absenteeism, workplace accidents and lost productivity. Perhaps the key to better sleep, health and productivity is as simple as sleeping on a new, quality mattress. Certainly, if a new mattress can contribute to greater sleep quality and efficiency, as our study found, it is a much healthier alternative than many other methods of sleep inducement.

New data on stress, sleep and mattresses

The latest bit of data we extricated from our study at OSU deals with the relationship between stress and sleep. In a survey conducted by the Better Sleep Council, 65% of Americans said they are losing sleep due to stress, 32% are losing sleep at least one night per week, and 16% are experiencing stress-induced insomnia. While we know that stress can interfere with sleep, it is also probable that lack of sleep contributes to stress. Based on this theory, we had our study participants complete a stress questionnaire while sleeping on their old beds and again after a month of sleeping on the new bedding. We found that both stress behavior and symptoms were greatly reduced. Additionally, a follow-up after six months indicated that the stress levels remained as low as or lower than those recorded a month after the introduction of the new mattresses. Our findings overall strongly suggest that new bedding systems can significantly improve selected sleep variables and that continuous and sustained sleep quality may be dependent on timely replacement of bedding systems.