People naturally have varied preferences for bed firmness / angle / temperature, but is there any evidence that a soft bed improves sleep quality?

Spending ~8 hrs a day on a soft cushion (instead of some leaves or animal furs) is a recent development in human evolution, but this practice has been widely adopted, seemingly to no ill effect.

Of course, any sleeping arrangement that makes it difficult to get to sleep or to stay asleep is inferior. But supposing that I can easily acclimate myself to sleeping on the bare floor, or on a $10K mattress, is there any reason to choose one over the other?

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    I am assuming that you mean a study that was not paid for by a bed manufacturer :p – JohnP Apr 16 '15 at 17:40

This seems like a common sense type of question (why don't you sleep on the floor when there's a sofa available, and why don't you sleep on a sofa when there's a comfortable bed available?), and it turns out it is.

According to a small study done recently in a sleep laboratory,

Information concerning the stages of sleep is one of the most important clues for determining the quality of a particular mattress. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of mattress type on sleep quality by measuring skin temperature, by using a subjective mattress rating system, and through the use of Polysomnogram (the recording of brain waves through electroencephalography, the generation of a video graphic record of eye movement, chin movements, and heart rhythm.) ...The percentages of wake after sleep onset and stage 1 sleep were lower when subjects slept on “comfortable” mattresses. Subjective ratings of sleep quality paralleled recorded sleep data.

"Comfortable" is the key word here. How comfortable a mattress is depends on personal preferences, position of sleep (side sleepers vs back/stomach), presence/absence of low back pain, heat retention properties of mattress/bedding, etc.

While this would seem like an important area to study, there has been very little in the way of well-developed recent studies.

Most of the recent studies on mattress types are concerned with the prevention of SIDS.

Quantitative effects of mattress types (comfortable vs. uncomfortable) on sleep quality through polysomnography and skin temperature

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    I've been told by health professionals that mattress firmness is very important for posture, at least for children, and that too soft a mattress can lead to scoliosis. Have you seen such literature while looking at the mattress studies? – rumtscho Apr 17 '15 at 10:26
  • I have to admit, I've never heard that. Scoliosis is an ancient disease, first recorded more than 4000 years ago. I don't know what kind of mattresses they slept on then, but it has been written about ever since. An Orthopedist might have a more informed opinion. I'm at a loss. – anongoodnurse Apr 17 '15 at 10:46
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    I heard this in my childhood, from professionals who grew up in a culture less swamped in information and less wary of bad information. Maybe they were just repeating an urban legend. That's why I thought I'll quickly ask if it's a frequently researched hypothesis - you'd have seen in in your search if it were common. I guess I should ask a separate question specifically about it when I have the time. – rumtscho Apr 17 '15 at 10:56
  • @rumtscho: Why would it be "important" if you sleep, say, on your stomach rather than your back? You're either straight or slightly bent shoulders-back - both should be ok for posture. Am I wrong? – einpoklum Dec 30 '18 at 12:45
  • @einpoklum I don't know the reasons, that's what just about every therapist and book I have ran across says. Belly: bad, back: good. – rumtscho Dec 30 '18 at 16:16

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