Simon Stanley asks the question are hard beds good for you?. Photo by Vinh Dao.

At one point in history, everyone slept on the floor, or at least on a mammoth-skin thrown on the ground. As time marched on and people began to raise themselves up from the cold and the dirt, two distinct styles of bed emerged: hard and soft. As Europeans stuffed their beds with straw, leaves and hair (eventually giving us the sprung mattress we know today), many parts of Asia stuck with firmer surfaces. For those in poorer countries, of course, regardless of location, the floor was often the only choice.

As anyone who has travelled across Asia will tell you, the preference for hard beds remains, and indeed many Vietnamese will still take the floor over a soft mattress any day. For Westerners, however, the idea can be baffling – the softer the better, right? Wrong.

“In general, the vast majority of people will have back problems develop much more readily on a soft bed than on a hard one,” explains Dr Wade Brackenbury, founder of HCMC’s American Chiropractic Clinic. “A soft bed tends to allow the body to sag which puts the spine into a slight ‘C’ curve. If you are sleeping on your side, this means that the top side of the spine will be compressed while the bottom of the spine, being on the outside of the curve, is stretched. This is often a problem caused by cheap, box-spring mattresses that have worn out.”

If you’ve ever spent the night on an old cheap mattress, you’ll know the feeling. In the short-term, it might mean a crabby morning and a dozen hip circles in your PJs, but over time, poor quality sleep carries numerous health risks – not just back problems: anxiety, headaches, reduced cognitive ability; the list is long and scary. Expert advice suggests that if you frequently wake up with back pain that can be stretched out within 15 to 30 minutes, your mattress may be harming your health.

Are hard beds good for you?Taking to the Floor
People all over the world, including many professional health advisors, boast about the benefits of sleeping on a solid surface; improved posture, better hip and shoulder alignment, and reduced back pain are all supposedly up for grabs if you’re willing to overlook a few days of bruised shoulders and hips as your body adapts.

It is, however, only recommended for those who sleep on their back. In contrast to soft beds that have sunk in the middle, a sideways sleeping position on a hard surface can raise the pelvis above the head and shoulders, leading to an S-shaped curve in the spine.

So, are hard beds bad for you? In short, it seems that the answer is ‘not entirely’. For Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy, the question is not about how hard or soft a bed is, but how well made it is. Thuy is a director at Family Care Asia, the sole importer of global mattress brand Sealy Posturepedic in Vietnam.

“Sealy beds are famous for their special coil design system,” she explains. “It’s a linked system, not a pocket system like many cheaper beds, which are easily broken.”

Made with titanium, this interlinked arrangement is virtually indestructible and offers the best support for the spine regardless of which model you choose, she says.

“It just depends on how you feel. We don’t say that a hard mattress will be better or a soft mattress will be better, it’s based on your needs.

“Sealy coils react to the weight of your body, so the heaviest part – the hips and the waist – will sink more, so the position of your body will not change and the spine will remain straight.”

Sealy beds’ bombproof design and cloud-like comfort have made them the choice for high-end accommodation all over the globe, with the Caravelle, the Hotel des Arts and the Intercontinental among their long list of local clients.

“The Sealy warranty lasts for 10 years,” says Thuy. “After that time, many hotels will sell them on to other resorts. We checked with them and found that some beds had been in use for 18 years. It’s quite unbelievable that a bed will last that long in a hotel and is still in a good condition.”

Let’s Talk Price
A Sealy mattress is not cheap – prices start at around VND42 million (US$1,880) – yet given that we spend around a third of our lives in bed, it’s not such a bad investment, particularly when spread over a decade or more.

For those looking for something a little cheaper, Dr Brackenbury suggests opting for a bed that is soft on the very top but firm deeper in. “This prevents sagging, and, therefore, pain, yet the bed still feels soft enough to be comfortable,” he says.

Though Sealy has had a retail presence in Vietnam since 2004 (mainly prompted by hotel guests wanting to purchase their own piece of five-star luxury), many older Vietnamese are still happy with the traditional option. “In Vietnamese culture, we don’t really care about our beds,” says Thuy. “We don’t really mind because we can sleep anywhere. People prefer to spend their money on things like TVs and air-conditioning. But nowadays, young people are getting more educated, their quality of life is improving and they get to travel more. Also, work is getting more stressful and many are realising that sleep is very important, so they are paying more attention to their beds.”

While sprung mattresses may take a while to become commonplace in Vietnam, both Thuy and Dr Brackenbury point to South Korea as being the most hardcore nation when it comes to beds. “I spent several years there in the 1980s,” says Dr Brackenbury. “At that time nearly all Koreans slept on hard, heated floors, often made of concrete with rice paper on top. When they travelled, they usually slept on the floor of the hotel, sometimes even finding the carpet to be disagreeably soft.”

The American Chiropractic Clinic is at 161 Hai Ba Trung, D3. Visit acc.vn for more information.