09/19/2014 07:00 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:00 EDT

Mattress key for proper rest and back health; try before you buy, experts say

VICTORIA - Of all the items in our homes, the one we use the most, and that could be most integral to our quality of life, is a mattress.

With so much time spent sleeping, a suitable mattress is not only important for a good night's sleep, but also for back health.

"The amount of time you spend in your bed is significant," says Patricia Roney, a physiotherapist at Fix Health Care in Victoria. "If you have a really poor mattress you're looking at an increased risk of degenerative changes in the spine or in your shoulders. Arthritis and degenerative changes in the spine can be influenced by the quality."

Walking into the mattress section of a store can be overwhelming, and with so much selection Roney recommends not rushing a purchase.

"It is best to take some time and try a few different places and mattresses," she says. "I usually make sure there is a decent return policy because not every mattress is going to work. The one thing to test when you have firmness you like is try laying down, and try rolling into a few different positions."

Roney says the mattress needs firmness cushioning to reduce pressure on areas like the head, elbows and, depending on the sleep position, heels and bum bone.

"These areas normally have increased pressure so it is important to have cushioning there," she says. "When you are lying on your back, you don't want a big gap between your back and the mattress. It should conform slightly to the curve. If there is a big gap it could be too firm."

The feel and support of a mattress is often related to how many coils are in it. Dr. Jeff Reihl, a chiropractor in Moose Jaw, Sask., says the more coils there are in the mattress the more it is able to conform to the curves of the body and provide support.

Reihl, who is also chair of public relations for the Chiropractors' Association of Saskatchewan, says when people wake up with back pain, they make the mistake of blaming it on the mattress, but he says even the Cadillac of mattresses may not solve morning aches and pains.

"Inherently the act of sleeping is something that contributes to back pain because we are in one spot for a relatively long period of time, and we can't get away from that," says Reihl.

"The act of sleeping will cause things to seize up. Where a bed mattress fits in is it gives us the proper support to keep our body lined up. The mattress is also imperative to helping with proper sleep posture."

Even though sleep posture can vary from person to person, Reihl says the position that maintains a neutral spine posture is to lie on the side with knees tucked up in the fetal position.

"I educate patients to put a pillow between their knees so basically you keep the knees together and you've rounded off the back a little and your shoulders should be square," he says.

With the help of appropriate pillow height, the head should be kept square with the shoulders and centred.

Because it is easy to move out of the side position into a poor sleep posture, Reihl says it is often best to lie on the back with some pillows tucked under the knees.

"You can buy the most expensive mattress, but if you've got poor sleeping habits and posture it won't make any difference," he says.