Testing a Mattress for Support and Spinal Alignment

This is the final stage of your field testing, and perhaps the most difficult, but when it is done you will know the overall makeup of the mattress that works best for you. You could be your own custom mattress “designer”. This step may take a little longer than the others so make sure you set aside enough time so you can do this in an unhurried environment. Sleep testing needs to be a "mellow" experience that brings an easy smile to your face. Remember that what you do today, along with the other steps, will have a big effect on the third of your day you spend sleeping and on how you feel in the other 2/3 as well, every day for many years. Take your time. There is no pressure allowed :).

Getting ready:

So far, you have narrowed down the overall feel of the mattresses you like, you have a good idea of the thickness and type of support materials that work well for you (and if you don't, our forum is there to help you narrow this down and complete step 2), and now it's just a matter of deciding on which support core underneath in combination with your comfort layers gives you the best alignment. In this step you will be specifically testing what is underneath comfort layers that are similar to those you have chosen in step 2 to see how well they work together for alignment and add or take away from the overall feeling of your mattress. You have probably already developed some support layer preferences as a side effect of your previous reading or testing as some of them may have felt better or "more supportive" than others. These preferences would be a good place to begin.

As a reminder, your 4 realistic choices of support layers are Innersprings, Polyurethane foam, Latex foam. or waterbeds (unless you are seriously looking at airbeds in which case we would strongly urge you to do some research and read the information here to validate some of the claims you have likely heard).  Narrow these down to two as early as possible in your testing if you haven’t already done so or already have a likely favorite type.

For this step you will need a pillow that is suitable for your sleeping positions (thicker for side, medium for back, and thin for stomach) and a yardstick or a broomstick handle (and no you won’t be pretending to be a witch in the store :). It is also preferable to take someone with you ... preferably someone you trust or your sleeping partner ... to help you check your alignment. If they are a sleeping partner they too should be following the same steps as you. Failing this you will need some help from the salesperson so make sure you trust that they both can and will give you exactly the information and feedback you are looking for.


In the Store


Your Sleeping Positions


Special Considerations

Some helpful tips:

Although I question the real value of air chambers as a permanent support layer (see my previous post about airbeds), finding a good airbed in a store that has comfort layers similar to what you chose in step 2 may provide you with a chance to test out more extreme customization in zoning (within each side and side to side) that the two of you require so you can discover what combinations of support work for both of you with your chosen comfort layers. They are readily available with many different comfort layers and provide a good "testing ground" when all else fails (although they may not be the best value in a purchase compared to a correctly zoned innerspring of latex core which provide a wider response for different sleeping positions).

Now you are done:

It's probably been a long day but you've done the most difficult part and now your field testing is over. You have a clear idea of the type of support system works the best for you. This in combination with knowing your preferred comfort layers (from step 2) and preferred overall feel (from step 1) means you are ready to go home and evaluate exactly what you need in your perfect mattress. You should now be able to write down a very close description of how it is made. All that's left now is deciding between different options based on quality/ durability and price/value and deciding where to buy your mattress. As always, if you need help, our forum is always available to help.

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jpgavin's Avatar
jpgavin replied the topic: #2 22 Oct 2019 07:14
I am curious if there is a recommendation for shoulder alignment when testing for alignment while laying on your back. In this post, you talk about mid/upper back pain caused by a

mattress that has comfort layers that are too thick and/or soft and allows your torso to sink in a little too far but "holds up" the lighter shoulders (pushing them forward).

Is there a way to test to make sure this isn't happening or alignment that I should be looking for across the shoulders when laying on my back? It seems too simple to just say that my shoulders should be in a straight line with no curve, but is that the case?
phoenix's Avatar
phoenix replied the topic: #3 25 Oct 2019 21:23
Hi jpgavin.

Welcome to our Mattress Forum :) !

Is there a way to test to make sure this isn't happening or alignment that I should be looking for across the shoulders when laying on my back? It seems too simple to just say that my shoulders should be in a straight line with no curve, but is that the case?

Maintaining neutral alignment of the spine does not equate with a “straight line” spine in the shoulders area or even across the shoulders …You must sleep in a position that, allows as much as possible for the spine to assume it’s natural position (not a learned position that it is often a result of the body trying to compensate with any misalignment issues) The slight natural curvatures of the spine would allow for the spinal fluid to be unobstructed to lubricate and return into the spinal disks to maintain their 3 primary qualities (shock absorbers, ligaments holding vertebrae together, and flexibility to help facilitate the movement of the spine). A “perfectly straight spine” can certainly lead to pains and issues over time. The neutral alignment will facilitate the entire system of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, tissues, and joints to relax, reset, and repair any alignment issues or tensions accumulated during the day.

You did not mention what your primary sleeping position is or if you are trying to pinpoint the cause of any pains but I usually recommend to work closely with a chiropractor to assess and learn how neutral alignment would look for you. A chiropractor is trained to feel muscular tensions and manipulate and release them with subtle movements over several sessions.

Generally, to help with your assessment specifically on testing for alignment and its symptoms in all your sleeping positions there are several things that I usually recommend to keep in mind:

~ Try to sense whether your muscles are able to completely "let go" and allow the mattress to support your natural alignment rather than using muscle tension to keep you in alignment. This means that you can sense your body and muscles fully relaxing without a tendency for any area to be tense.

~ Next is to pay particular attention to any tension or discomfort (or even pain) in the areas where poor alignment tends to produce symptoms for you. This can be different for different people but is usually in the lower back or lumbar curve, and the upper back and neck where the spine also curves. Test in all your sleeping positions making sure to move slowly when you change position and stay relaxed. Bear in mind that minor discomfort when you are testing can be amplified when you are sleeping for longer periods of time.

~ Next is to make sure that all the inner curves of the spine are filled in so that there are no "gaps" in-between your body and the mattress. It should be fairly difficult to slide your hand under the lower back or waist (if the mattress is too firm then this area will not be filled in well enough and sliding a hand under it will not have enough resistance and will be too easy).

~ Finally, you can use the help of someone who can see you on the mattress to make sure there are no obvious issues of alignment such as those that are in this diagram. If you stand up with "good posture" then your "helper" will be able to get a sense of your natural curves from the side and back and this can help them see if your posture is close to what it is when you are standing up and whether any part of your body is sinking in a little too far (usually the hips/ pelvis) or not enough (usually the upper body and shoulders). They can also make sure that your head and neck is also in good alignment when you are testing because this can affect how a mattress feels in the upper body area.

On your side ... your spine should be relatively straight (like it is when you look at someone from behind) and your body profile along the side of your body should be similar to your standing position (shoulders and hips in roughly the same relative position). On your back ... the spine and body profile should be similar to the side view when you are standing with no obvious areas where parts of you are sagging or sinking in too far or not enough (within reason).

If you test more objectively and specifically for alignment using these suggestions and the more subtle cues from your body in conjunction with some help then you should be much closer to your ideal than if you only test for more subjective ideas of "comfort".

The testing guidelines in step 4 of the Mattress Shopping Tutorial should help.

Your alignment when you are lying down should be very similar to when you are standing up straight with good posture.


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