Regularly getting sufficient restorative sleep sets the foundation for health and wellbeing at any age, but it’s vital for seniors ages 65 and older.
The body performs various crucial functions during sleep, including cellular regeneration, waste management, memory, and information allocation. A lack of adequate sleep can cause or exacerbate an array of health conditions, from chronic fatigue to cognitive difficulties and chronic pain. On top of that, these are all problems that get worse with age.
Unfortunately, due to changes in the body’s natural sleep cycle and the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions with age, older adults are more likely than their younger counterparts to have trouble getting the rest they need.
Along with healthy habits, like a set nighttime routine, daily exercise, and a nutritious diet, the right mattress can help older adults sleep more soundly. Here’s some advice on finding the best mattress for seniors.
How Does Age Affect Sleep?
Changes in sleep patterns and conditions like arthritis, chronic pain, and sleep apnea may be responsible for increased insomnia in older people.
Changes in Natural Sleep Patterns
Natural sleep patterns are dictated by the body’s internal master clock located in the brain’s hypothalamus region. This master clock contains about 20,000 cells forming the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which controls circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythms dictate a range of processes, including hunger cues, the production of certain hormones like cortisol and melatonin, and sleep vs. wakefulness.
Like the rest of the body, the SCN ages, and its efficiency starts to decline as it deteriorates, disrupting circadian rhythms.
One issue is that circadian rhythms are heavily influenced by light. The SCN receives light cues from the retina, which can be weakened over time as the muscles weaken and the pupil size decreases. Furthermore, many older people do not get enough daylight exposure. Reduced sunlight exposure is even more of a risk for people with Alzheimer’s or other incapacitating conditions and those who are in nursing homes.
The body also produces less melatonin, the primary sleep hormone, with age.
Additional Age-Related Health Conditions
Health challenges, including primary sleep disorders, medical conditions, and medication side effects, can also affect older adults’ ability to get sufficient shuteye.
Primary sleep disorders, for which there is not an underlying psychiatric or physical cause, include:
- Insomnia (Both a Condition and Symptom of Other Medical Issues): Characterized generally as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Sleep Apnea: Periodic loss of breath during sleep, which may be the result of either an obstruction or an error in the brain’s signals
- Sensorimotor and Movement Disorders: Includes restless leg syndrome, which causes an intense urge to move the legs or arms, and periodic limb movement disorder, which causes repetitive cramping, jerking, or twitching of the limbs.
- Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders: Dysfunctions in the body’s sleep-wake cycle
Other conditions that can affect your sleep include:
- Arthritis: A group of conditions involving inflammation and pain in the joints
- Joint Pain: Pain in the area where two bones meet (like the hips, shoulders, elbows and knees), which is sometimes caused by arthritis, bursitis, or other conditions
- Chronic Pain: A general category of conditions that result in long-term pain, including back pain, fibromyalgia, lupus, shingles, multiple sclerosis
What to Look for in a Mattress for Seniors
Choosing the best mattress for seniors will ultimately come down to personal preference. However, there are some standard features to look for.
Seniors, particularly those with mobility restrictions, may find getting into and out of bed challenging. Because of this, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a mattress should be no more than 20 to 23 inches high from the top of the mattress to the floor in order to meet accessibility standards. The best beds for elderly adults are ones that meet these accessibility requirements.
The average wheelchair seat is about 19 inches tall, and it may be difficult for an older person to move from a wheelchair to a bed that is higher than 23 inches.
You may also consider shopping for beds with adjustable bases. An adjustable bed base can improve independence by allowing users to lower the bed’s height as needed to get in and out of bed.
Firmness is one of the most important factors when looking for a mattress at any age. Beds should be sufficiently firm to maintain spinal alignment. Otherwise, an off-balance spine may result in excessive pressure on areas like the hips, knees, shoulders, or lower back, which can cause or exacerbate issues such as pain and stiffness.
Generally, the best mattress for seniors with back pain is a medium-firm or firm mattress. Medium-firm and firm beds are also typically the best mattresses for seniors with arthritis.
Edge support is often overlooked, but it is essential for preventing accidents and extending the bed’s lifespan. A mattress for an elderly person should have strong edge support to hold the sleeper’s body weight at the perimeter without sinking. This can reduce the risk of falling out of bed and make it easier for the sleeper to get out of bed. It also helps maintain the mattress’s structural integrity.
Pressure relief is another must-have for seniors, particularly those with chronic pain. Some mattress materials are inherently better suited for pressure relief than others, including memory foam, latex, and gel.
Some mattresses also contain “comfort zones,” or different tension levels, density, or depth designed to relieve pressure from pain points, like the hips and shoulders. When searching for the best mattresses for seniors with arthritis, back pain, or joint pain, pressure relief should be prioritized.
Temperature Control & Breathability
The body naturally cools slightly to facilitate sleep, and most people sleep best in a cool, well-ventilated environment. Unfortunately, some mattresses and bedding trap heat, which can cause the sleeper to wake up uncomfortably warm and sweaty.
Look for a bed with built-in cooling and ventilation to prevent this. Materials like latex and gel tend to be cooler than traditional memory foam. However, memory foam manufacturers have developed strategies to solve this problem, including built-in air channels, cooling beads, and cooling and moisture-wicking materials.
Some mattresses produce a “sinking” feeling or are not very responsive, making it challenging to move around. Some prefer these mattresses because they isolate movement and reduce the likelihood one sleeper will disturb the other with movements during the night.
For seniors however, especially those with mobility challenges, a bouncier mattress can make it easier to change position and get in and out of bed. Adjustable mattresses are best for seniors with significant mobility restrictions.
What Type of Mattress is Best for Seniors?
With these features in mind, it’s time to narrow down your search based on the type of mattress you prefer. There are pros and cons of any mattress type, so let’s take a closer look at how these options compare.
Innerspring mattresses tend to be less expensive than others. They’re also well-ventilated and cool and can offer a good deal of support and bounce. Because this type of bed is generally firmer with better edge support than memory foam, an innerspring mattress could help you get in and out of bed more easily.
However, they do not usually provide as much pressure relief as other mattress types, memory foam in particular. They may also wear out more quickly if the manufacturer has cut costs by using lower-quality coils.
Memory foam, which was developed initially to support astronauts launching into space, provides exceptional support and pressure relief.
However, some memory foam mattresses are not very responsive, and their cradling effect may make it more difficult for the sleeper to get out of bed. Also, memory foam tends to trap heat more than other materials because it is designed to respond to body heat and pressure.
With that said, many manufacturers have found ways to get around memory foam’s tendency to retain heat by including a gel top layer or adding gel beads to the foam itself.
If you’re looking for an adjustable bed, most of these will be either memory foam mattresses or adjustable air mattresses.
An air mattress allows the sleeper to freely adjust the firmness level of their mattress with just a few clicks of a remote. This allows you to make adjustments based on what you need to sleep comfortably—even if those needs change from night to night.
The drawbacks of adjustable air mattresses, however, is that they’re much more mechanically complicated than a traditional mattress. This means that set-up is a bit trickier, and individual moving parts may wear down and break over time.
While many companies offer 10- to 20-year warranties, they often do not cover the cost of replacing individual parts after the first few years.
Latex has many of the same benefits as memory foam, including supportiveness, responsiveness, and pressure relief. Latex foam does have an edge over memory foam in temperature regulation as it does not trap as much heat.
Natural latex is also an eco-friendly, sustainable material, which may appeal to earth-conscious buyers. Just keep in mind that harvesting natural latex is time- and labor-intensive, so you will likely pay more for a quality natural latex.
Hybrid mattresses are relatively new and provide the best of both worlds, usually a combination of innerspring and memory foam, gel, or latex. These mattresses tend to be some of the best for supportiveness, maneuverability, pressure relief, and temperature control.
The most notable downside of a hybrid mattress is that they tend to be more expensive than other mattress types due to the cost of the materials.
What Is the Best Mattress for an Older Person?
There is no one best mattress for seniors, as the ideal bed varies from person to person depending on factors like body type, health conditions, and sleep position.
That said, the perfect mattress for an elderly person facilitates getting in and out of bed easily, keeps the spine in alignment, relieves pressure points, has sufficient edge support, and provides temperature regulation and breathability.
When searching for the ideal mattress for you or a senior loved one, read the brand and mattress reviews thoroughly and check for a robust warranty and 30-day minimum sleep trial.