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Do Adjustable Beds Really Help You Sleep Better and Reduce Pain?

If you’re having trouble sleeping well, you’re snoring or you’re experiencing chronic back pain, you may wonder whether an adjustable bed might help. With these beds, you can raise your head, feet or both with a remote control. And it seems like it makes sense that adjusting your bedtime position might alleviate some of your sleep and chronic pain problems. 

But do these beds stand up to scrutiny and are adjustable beds better for sleeping? And are they worth an investment of several hundred to several thousand dollars?

We connected with Jeffrey Moller, MD, a sleep medicine specialist with Banner Health, to learn more about the pros and cons of these popular bed types.

What are the benefits of an adjustable bed? 

For people with certain medical conditions, sleeping in specific positions could help. Some of those conditions include:

  • Chronic pain, since adjustable beds give you more options to reduce the pressure on the parts of your body that hurt (pressure points).
  • Sleep-disordered breathing, such a sleep apnea, since certain positions can minimize breathing disturbances.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or acid reflux, since stomach acids, are less likely to travel into your esophagus if the head of your bed is elevated.
  • Mobility problems, since it can be easier to get out of bed if the bed can help you shift to an upright position.

However, don’t necessarily count on an adjustable bed frame or mattress to do things like improve poor circulation, lower your blood pressure,  improve digestion or treat insomnia. “There are a lot more claims about specific beds and the health benefits they provide, but unfortunately, they are not all based on sound research. And while certain people may benefit from a specific type of bed or mattress, it is not a one-size-fits-all situation,” Dr. Moller said.

What to look for if you're considering buying an adjustable bed 

Whether you’re in the market for an adjustable bed or a traditional mattress, you want to base your decision on comfort. “At the end of the day, the most important feature of any mattress should be the quality of sleep you obtain and how you feel in the morning,” Dr. Moller said.

But it’s tough to know how well you’ll sleep on a bed base or mattress you tried for a few minutes on the showroom floor. You really need to spend several nights in a bed before you know if it’s right for you. So, Dr. Moller recommends purchasing from a company that allows returns so that you can swap out an uncomfortable mattress—maybe even more than once—until you find the best sleeping surface possible. “You’ll spend more time with this item in the next five to ten years than any other item in your life, so choose wisely,” he said.

What to know about smart technology in adjustable beds and mattresses

“Every year, more and more technology enters the sleep field, and it is now possible to track every moment of sleep (and wake) using technology,” Dr. Moller said. You’ll find adjustable beds and mattresses that collect data about your sleep quality, movements, heart rate and breathing; automatically elevate the head of your bed when you’re snoring; and customize your mattress firmness. Plus, apps that pair with them can control your room temperature, audio, video and more. Unfortunately, there’s no good way to accurately interpret all the data that’s being collected and be sure the technology claims are reliable.

The health data these beds can collect might suggest that something is wrong or right, but the information isn’t reliable enough to make a diagnosis. “There just have not been enough studies comparing these devices to the medical-grade, U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved tools we use to diagnose sleep disorders,” Dr. Moller said. “Until studies are done, these devices and the data they collect won't serve a huge role in diagnosing sleep disorders.”

The sleep industry spends a lot of money on marketing

“Marketing reigns supreme when it comes to sleep and sleep technology,” Dr. Moller said. “People are willing to spend a lot of money for a good night’s sleep. But more money and more features don’t guarantee to improve your sleep. You might be better off using the extra money you would spend on advanced features to seek medical care to address the root problem behind poor sleep.

Dr. Moller points out that humans have been sleeping for thousands of years, well before any of today’s advanced features and technology were available. “You don’t need these things to get a quality night’s sleep, and they may simply get you to spend more money on your purchase.”

The bottom line

If you have certain health conditions, an adjustable bed might be a good choice. You can also find an adjustable bed with a generous trial period, so you can try it out and see if you like how you feel when you sleep on it. But many of the health claims of adjustable bed companies aren’t backed by research, so don’t assume an adjustable bed will solve all your sleep problems. 

It might be more beneficial talking to a sleep specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Need help diagnosing and treating sleep disorders?

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