Can A Memory Foam Mattress Provide Better Support and A Better Night Sleep? Not Quite. Not Always.

Aside from house and vehicle, many would consider mattress is among one of many important investments that could greatly impact on one’s quality of life. They are what we rely on for a good night sleep- to rest, to recharge, hence directly contribute to level of our function and sense of wellbeing in the next day.

Like every household items, technologies inbuilt in the mattresses have evolved over time. From box springs to pocket springs, to spring system that are comprised of different zones. From foam, to high density foam, to Ortho foam, and now the latest gel-infused memory foam, choices seem endless. If this isn’t confusing enough, how about the choice over its mattress top and fabric.

As complex as it sounds, the long list doesn’t stop here. Let’s not forget the new wave of mattress evolution in recent years- spring free, customizable, that is packed and shipped in a carton box.

So which one is the best? One may ask. The answer is however not so clear cut.

Mattresses of different firmness and construction may find their individual admirers based on one’s sleeping style, may that be a side sleeper, back sleeper, front sleeper, or a mix of these.

Mattresses that promise to alleviate joint pain, more often than not, do not provide enough support to the spine, resulting in back pain and restless nights. Sometimes this issue may lay in the thickness of the foam, rather than the material of its construction. Just like two people may have polarized experiences to a mattress that is equipped with the latest gel-infused memory foam, simply due to their difference in body weight. This too can be true when an overweight person who previously slept sound now finds himself, after dropping back to healthy weight range, waking up with pain in the middle of the night.

How about mattresses that provide a quality sleep for the first few hours each night, but later seem to be the source of back pain or shoulder pain that keeps one awake for the rest of the night? Was it the mattress, or does this person suffer from any undiagnosed back injury?


It’s a common question that’s usually arisen from patients’ determination to identify source(s) of their sufferings.


In order to provide an advice that is effective in addressing one’s specific needs, all the possible causes that are of relevance will need to be examined. This may include questions over pre-existing injuries, occupational duties, sporting activities, and house chores, in ways that they may provide a hint to predisposing vulnerability to particular type of mattress construction. Assessments on one’s resting spinal curvature (neutral, excessive lordosis, or excessive kyphosis), physical make-up, muscle tone, and body weight are extremely important that cannot be overlooked. One’s preference over the number of pillows and its collective height, along with previously mentioned sleeping style – all need to be assessed against the onset of discomfort (timing), area of complaint, and its discomfort / pain pattern before what thought to be an easy question can be accurately answered.


“Given that you usually sleep on the back and wake up with lower back pain 3 hours into sleep, but our assessments have cleared you of any signs of spinal or muscular injury, the issue is likely coming from the mattress. I would recommend that you look for a mattress that is made of spring system, high density foam, with minimum or even no memory foam, covered by mattress fabric with no padded topping. And try sleeping on a medium profile / medium firmness pillow.” 

This professional recommendation coupled with my assessment finding and reasoning was delivered to this patient who seeks advice about his next mattress purchase. Never had he thought an advice regarding mattress purchases can be so personalized and coming from such complex matrix.

Author: Brian Lee, Principal Physiotherapist