Step 3: Support and Spinal Alignment

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So far, you have learned about evaluating the initial feel of a mattress and determining what you are looking for in terms of comfort and pressure relief. The third step to choosing your perfect mattress is support and spinal alignment. Many say that this is the most important step because you are essentially selecting the heart of your mattress. This decision will ultimately play one of the largest roles in the quality of your sleep, which affects your long-term health.

Mattress Spinal Alignment

Get Familiar with Your Choices

You basically have four primary options, when it comes to support layers. You will want to get very familiar with them. Here is a brief overview.

  • Innersprings- This is the most common option and it is further broken down into four categories: Bonnell, Continuous Coil, Offset, and Pocket Coil. They all offer a different feel and are paired with a wide range of comfort layers. Innersprings have dominated the industry for years. When evaluating their effectiveness of assisting with pressure by contouring to the body, Pocket Coils win, followed by Offset, Bonnell, and continuous.
  • Latex- Latex can be natural or synthetic, and it is manufactured using one of two methods: Dunlap and Talalay. Latex is resilient and durable, and its progressive firmness quality is a unique and attractive characteristic. Of all types of foam, latex has the most impressive technical qualities.
  • Polyurethane- Also called polyfoam, this material is available in three grades, ranging from budget-friendly to very high quality. It is not uncommon for manufacturers to mix lower quality polyurethane support cores with higher quality comfort layers made of latex or memory foam. This makes it possible to create a fairly supportive, comfortable, and durable mattress at a surprisingly affordable price.
  • Waterbeds – Back in the 70s, nearly everyone had a waterbed. Although they are not as popular today there are still plenty of people who are fiercely loyal to this type of bed. They have experienced some significant design improvements through the years and they do have some very specific strengths and weaknesses.

If you browse the site, you will find that airbeds offer another support core option, but they are not recommended, if you are looking for a quality, supportive, and durable mattress that will last for a while. Some people choose to narrow down the support core selection first because this decision will essentially dictate the path you take shopping for a new mattress.

Preparing to Select a Support Core

If you already have an idea of what type of support core you want then this process will be fairly easy for you. However, if you do have one selected, hopefully you have fairly evaluated your other options. Some people assume they know what they will like and get it set in their mind that it is the only option they are interested in. If you do this, you could miss out on the perfect mattress for your body and sleeping position.

Compare your options and read mattress reviews. When you are ready to actually go to a mattress store to put some to the test create a list, so you know which ones you want to try out in the store. Give yourself a nice variety to try.

You are going to be trying out some beds, so bring along your own pillow. Don’t worry; you will not be the only person walking through the door with a pillow in your hand. Will they have pillows on the bed? Sure, but they won’t be “your” pillows. If you typically sleep on your stomach or side then trying out a mattress with a pillow designed for back sleepers won’t give you a true feel.

Testing the Mattress

When you compare support cores, try to get a friend or family member to come with you to help.

If you have never been in a mattress store, you may feel very overwhelmed. There are a lot of options. This is why you made a list of mattresses you want to try earlier. If you are having troubles finding what you are looking for don’t be afraid to ask a salesperson, but make sure you tell them you are not interested in buying anything today.

Get comfortable with your pillow, and this means laying in your regular sleeping position. This is crucial because your body creates very unique gaps between you and the mattress.

  • Creating an Imprint – Sit on the bed with good posture. Have your friend stand behind you and visualize the curve of your spine. If at any point they forget this curve, you should repeat this step. It’s important that they remember what you like and don’t like about each style.
  • Evaluate Alignment – If you lie on your side the natural curve of your body is fairly straight in this position. If you lie on your back or stomach, your helper will need to visualize that “s” curve of your spine to make sure there are no points that sink lower than others. If your alignment is compromised then a small pillow between you and the bed may help. Start looking for different comfort layers.
  • Test Gaps – There are “pockets” of air or empty space between the mattress and your body. These are naturally created in every person. If your helper is able to slide their hand through that gap you need a mattress that will contour more to your body. Keep in mind that support and firmness are two very different things.

Unique Posturing

  • Stomach – If you typically sleep on your stomach then you probably use a pretty thin pillow, which is exactly why you want to bring along your pillow for this testing. Give yourself plenty of time to evaluate how you feel in this position. It tends to take the body a little longer to relax. Your helper should be looking for areas that allow you to sink a little too low thereby letting your spine become hyperextended.
  • Back – In this position, your helper will look for gaps in the lumbar area. This would likely be caused by the pelvis sinking too deeply.
  • Side – Gaps that form in this position are generally caused by the shoulders and/or hips sinking too low. You also want to make sure you are not experiencing any strain in your back or neck. Firmer support in the hips is generally needed for side sleepers because they tend to sink. However, shoulders may not sink enough to keep spinal alignment changing the firmness or ILD.

Soft vs. Firm

Some people have a very strong opinion about if they want a firm or soft mattress, but they don’t really know much about either. The thought of a super soft mattress may seem great, but if it is too soft then the heaviest points of your body will sink deeply, thereby creating gaps that cause some aches and pains. This is especially true if you are a heavier person. You will sink a little deeper, which can really compromise your spine and neck. On the other hand, an extra-firm support core can cause recessed areas. There needs to be a balance between firm and soft.

Consider Zoned Construction

Some people can try 50 different mattresses and not get comfortable on any of them. If this sounds like you then a zoned construction variety may be exactly what you need. For this style, manufacturers literally design each area to address a different need. A zoned mattress can be tailored to provide extra support to the hips, lumbar, neck, shoulders, etc. These mattresses are ideal for individuals who struggle to get their alignment right.

You and Your Partner Have Different Needs

You are your partner may be the perfect match, but that does not mean you are always going to agree, especially where sleeping preferences are concerned. Side-to-side zoning allows you to both enjoy your ideal mattress without sleeping in separate beds. These mattresses can be found online and in specialty shops made by local and regional manufacturers.

You may be wondering if airbeds are a good option in these situations. Well, they can be a solution and at least give you a testing ground to work with to see if side-by-side zoning is right for you. This will allow you both to determine what combinations work. Then, eventually you can upgrade to a thoughtfully zoned latex or innerspring core.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a support core will be one of the most important decisions you will make when shopping for a mattress. Once you have decided on one you can combine what you learned in this step with the first two steps of the process.

Give everything a fair try. Saying you don’t like any mattress with a particular support core could get in the way of you finding a perfect mattress. Rather than comparing materials think in terms of smaller details, such as firmness vs. softness, etc.

Now that you have essentially created the exact mattress that you want in your mind it is time to take a closer look at price, values, durability, and quality.

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Joe Auer

Joe Auer is the editor of Mattress Clarity. He mainly focuses on mattress reviews and oversees the content across the site.

He likes things simple and take a straightforward, objective approach to his reviews. Joe has personally tested nearly 250 mattresses and always recommends people do their research before buying a new bed. He has been testing mattresses for over 5 years now, so he knows a thing or two when it comes to mattress selection. He has been cited as an authority in the industry by a number of large publications.

Joe has an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and an MBA from Columbia University.

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