If you talk to most people and the subject of sleeping on an air mattress comes up, they will talk about air mattresses as an necessary evil in some circumstances, like moving, traveling, camping and having more guests than your house can accommodate.
If you ask them about why they prefer a regular mattress, chances are that among the first arguments you will hear is that a regular mattress provides better support for your back and is better for your back overall.
Should you ask why is that, this is where their argumentation becomes vague and it becomes obvious, and let me be blunt here, that they don’t quite know what they’re talking about.
Having reviewed hundreds of air mattresses and knowing the subject inside out I decided to write a short article and make a few things clearer and, frankly, debunk a couple of common misconceptions about air beds and a healthy spine.
Here’s what I’ll share in my story on
air mattresses and back p
I personally have a history of back problems so I also know first hand that some of the things even doctors told me are not quite right. Here, I’ll share what I learned over the years of battling with the problem of sever lumbar back pain and a more than one trip to the emergency room.
Three focal point of this article are:
- Clearly defining where the problem is in the first place
- My 7-year trial and error with finding the right mattress that would help
- The mattress that solved it all and is right here by my table as I’m writing these lines
Clearly defining the problem
Let us first demystify what “healthy” means in terms of the position of your back while side sleeping with a graph that explains it a lot better than I ever could with words:
So, you see that when sleeping on a surface of optimal firmness, it will allow your pressure points like the shoulders and the hip bone to sink into the mattress just enough so that the spine is properly aligned and there is no pressure on the vertebrae and the spine does not form an arch. Simple.
Let us now take a look at another image of the optimal position of your neck when sleeping:
7 years of trial and error
For me, the first half of this decade were years of popping pain-killers like candy, waking up up in the middle of the night and not feeling my left leg AT ALL and then getting up in the morning to a half an hour routine of stretching just so that I can walk and get through the day.
You name it, I tried it, chiropractors, acupuncture, TENS nerve stimulation, all kind of meds – from over-the-counter stuff like NSAIDs and muscle relaxants to serious medication.
At one point, around 2008, Tramadol seemed to be helping but I took a step back before it was too late and I god addicted to it. Taking opioids daily…no way I was going down that road.
An air mattress that solved it all
There’s a smile on my face as I’m writing this because the experience changed my life in more ways than one. Apart from giving me my life back, it was what led to me starting this website.
I sound like an infomercial when I say than I probably spent about 5K n mattresses, from foam to latex, from Sleep Number to Personal Comfort (both costing thousands) before I found my solution in “cheap” air mattress.
The air mattress I’m talking about is one of the beds I talk most about on the website – the Sound Asleep Dream Series.
I go this mattress in 2014, I believe it was mid-May and slept on it for a few days not because I thought it would help my terrible back but because we were moving and I needed a temporary solution for the few days or so. I could feel the change within the first days so the few days turned into a week and a week turned into a month.
My Sleep Number was just sitting there in the bedroom
while I was sleeping on mattress that costs
about 3% of the Sleep Number’s price
You should see the looks I was getting from my wife as the expensive mattress we saved money to get because of my back problems was sitting in the bedroom and I was sleeping on my SoundAsleep in the den.
I didn’t pay much attention because finally something was helping.
To date, this inexpensive mattress is my my permanent bed and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
This is the mattress I’m talking about – below the image is a link so that you can see it on Amazon and read what other people are saying about it.
I can’t say with certainty why expensive mattresses like the Sleep Number didn’t help and the Sound asleep did.
Sure, the SoundAsleep is the best air mattress in the “normal” price range and it features 40 air coils that distribute weight very-well, but then again, the Sleep Number and it’s competition, which I also tried also feature adjustable chambers.
If I try to describe the feeling the best I could do is say that with the other mattress I felt that the foam had too much give and my back felt arched no matter what firmness settings I choose.
The SoundAsleep feels like a hug
My best guess is that it’s all about the chambers and weight distribution, but the SoundAsleep feels just right regarding the pressure on my hip and shoulders when I turn to the side.
It feels like it “hugs” the parts that are sticking out, meaning my hips and shoulders and I can feel the tension in my back muscles loosening.
Whatever it is, it solved the biggest problem i had in my life and I’m grateful for it.
If you have any kind of back problems, you shouldn’t blindly trust me – take a short look at the video of the company explaining what’s special abou the SoundAsleep and then read what people are saying about it on Amazon using the links provided under the video.
90 seconds demo of the SoundAsleep
That is pretty much it, I shared my story and what helped me, the rest of the text will be some general analysis of potential cause of back pain and other similar questions that people frequently ask about back pain which is there for reference purposes.
Frequently asked questions about back pain:
- The possible causes of back pain
- Different kinds of back pain
- What can and what aggravates it
- And, finally what you can do about it
Potential reasons for back/shoulder pain and connection to your mattress and sleeping habits:
- A back injury – whatever the cause of the injury the pain here is most often caused by a strained disc that is putting pressure on the nerves coming out of the spine and causing pains not just in your back but in the body parts the affected nerve in controlling.
- Weak back muscles that cause bad posture and cause to much stress on the spine.
- Pains caused by poor sleeping posture and a lifestyle that includes a lot of sitting and little or no exercise. This pains are mostly caused by the tension in the neck muscles that might cause headaches, neck and back pains and even press a nerve if the tension persists.
- Stiffness and pains in the back caused by the lack of support of the surface you sleep on. As seen in the images above, this can force your spine into an unnatural position. Sleeping on a surface that doesn’t offer adequate support over prolonged periods of time can even cause the spine joints dislocation and again, compressed nerves, which can lead you into a chronic back pain condition.
- Stiffness and pains caused by ‘too much support’ or, in other words, sleeping on a surface that is too firm, which again causes your spine to be in an unnatural position and cause the same problems as too sleeping surface that is too soft.
Let us speak in plainer terms – as you can see in our images, when the bed is too firm your hip bone and your shoulder are not allowed to ‘sink’ into the sleeping surface enough and this forces your spine into an arch. It this happens for one or two nights, you might just be stiff, but over time this can lead to a chronic problem. And if you do chose an air mattress to deal with your back pain, don’t go with beam design – I tried that with one of the Aerobed models and it didn’t work. You can find the , which is the air mattress I tested as a solution for my back pain and failed.
This was one of the worst advise I personally got from a doctor – to sleep on a surface that is a hard as a board. For a while I thought that how bad I felt was due to that old ‘it will get worse before it gets better’ but since the ‘better’ was not happening I consulted a few more specialists and used common sense to get a bed that will allow me to sleep with my spine properly aligned. This is what I look at when I choose my bed and what I am looking at I was choosing an an air mattress and stumbled upon the SoundAsleep.
What can be done?
I am not aiming here for medical advise, but looking into what favor you can do to your body by choosing the right surface to sleep on. Our body is not a straight line and sleeping on a surface that is too firm can cause pressure points and cause all sorts of issues with our back and joints.
Now we are getting to the bottom of things, that is why air mattresses (if chosen properly) can even provide benefits to a person suffering from back pains. If you read through so many reviews (and I probably read tens of thousands over the years) of some of the best air mattresses on the market you can often see people saying that they thought an air mattresses would be just a temporary solution and then chose it as their main bed.
This gets us to the gist of the analysis of how an air mattress can actually help with the back pain.
Simple – firmness adjustment.
Almost all air beds nowadays offer it and it can be the solution to choosing the right mattress for you. If you sleep on it and feel bad in the morning the next night you try making it a bit sturdier.
So you see, again, with the pillow we are aiming for natural. Natural straight position of the spine when you are sleeping on your side and a natural curve of your neck when sleeping on your back. In the third image we can see what can go wrong with the way your pillow aligns your neck vertebrae in side sleeping:
It the pain is persevering
Then probably it is to firm and you have to many pressure points that cause the spine to arch as we talked about and as you saw in the images.
Next night you make it softer and see how you feel. You do this until you find the firmness that makes your spine straight as an arrow in side sleeping and you get that good night sleep you’ve been longing for.
You can’t do this with a regular mattress, even if it’s perfect for you to start with, no doubt it will sag over time. Even with the high-end regular mattresses that you paid multiple times the cost of an air mattress, there is no way around it.
If not in 6 months, maybe not even in a year or two, but it will happen. That is where the strengths of an air bed shines through. Adjusting it until you have your optimal support. This did miracles for my back.
And the soft foams and finishes on the better air mattresses can provide the same luxurious feeling that you find in an expensive regular bed. In other words, you can adjust your air bed to distribute the weight and relieve the pressure points just right. That’s all there is to it.
This is not something I am just saying, this has been proven over and over again in official studies (is a good example).
So, things are not so simple after all. If something is not paid thousands of dollars for, doesn’t mean it’s not as good for your back or even better than the high class regular mattresses.
That concludes our analysis of the connection between back pain and sleeping on an air mattress.
Reference & Sources
A Korean medical study: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/866586_2
Reference article: Three eras of sleep science
Lancet study: Lancet 2003; 362 1599-604
High end luxury air mattress that did nothing for my pain – the Innomax Medallion.
Regular air mattresses I tried that didn’t work:
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