When patients come to see me complaining of neck or back pain, one of the questions that I ask them is how old their mattress and pillow are. Because these are two items that we use everyday, we don't give much thought to them. Both of these two essential sleep items have a definite life span.
The life span of a mattress on average is about 10 years. If you are good with flipping it and rotating it every couple of months, you will extend the life of the mattress. If you do not do this often, the mattress will wear out earlier than the 10 year average. To check your mattress, take all of the bedding off of the bed. Look at the mattress at eye level. You should not see any significant dips or valleys in the mattress. Next, take your fists and push down on the mattress in the center of the bed, the foot and head of the bed and then the sides of the bed. It should be uniformly firm. It should not be significantly firmer at the head and sides compared to the area of the bed where your body lies. If it is, it may be time to replace the mattress. If you consistently wake up in the morning with pain and stiffness, it may be time to replace your mattress. A new mattress should be medium firm to allow for support of the spine but also to give at pressure points. I also suggest to patients to write the month and year on the end label of the mattress or put the warranty paperwork in a pocket that sometimes comes at the end of the mattress so you can tell in the future how old the mattress really is rather than guessing how old it is. I have had patients tell me that their mattress was 30 years old and swore it was still firm!
Having the right pillow for your head and neck can make a big difference with your cervical spine health. Your head weighs 10-12 lbs. Pillows wear out from the constant daily use of them. They need to be replaced every 2-3 years. No matter what the pillow is made of, the material breaks down and needs to be replaced periodically. A good pillow should support the head and neck so that the head is level and in alignment with the body. Too big of a pillow causes the head to now not be neutral. Too soft of a pillow gives little support to the neck. Pillows that work best are made from foam or polyfill. Feather pillows give very little support and lose their shape and support after the head is on them for a short period of time. The best sleeping position is on your back or side, not the stomach. You want the neck supported with the head neutral and in line with the rest of the body.
So check your mattress and pillow to see how old they are and if the discomfort and stiffness you may be feeling is because you have had them too long and they need to be replaced.