Signs, Symptoms & Effects of a Bad Mattress


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signs of a bad mattress

If you’re constantly uncomfortable in bed or have begun to notice discomfort in your joints and back, your mattress may be to blame. A bad mattress can cause a range of problems that may stop you from sleeping and may even cause illness or pain throughout the day.

This guide will help you decide if it’s your mattress that’s causing your problems. It will take you through each of the signs and symptoms of a bad mattress and give you some support to decide what to do about it.

How to Tell if Your Mattress Is Bad

sagging mattress example

A mattress can sag and distort over time, internal layers can wear away and some have structural problems. Here are some common things to look out for if you’re concerned that you might be sleeping on a bad mattress:

    • You can’t get to sleep – If you just can’t settle or find yourself tossing and turning trying to get comfortable, you might have a bad mattress. Uneven mattress support or a sleep surface with excessive wear and tear will make it hard for you to get in a position comfortable enough for sleep.
    • Visible distortion down the sides – If the sides of your mattress show excessive bulging or distortion it’s likely a sign that the internal structure is breaking down. When you lie on any mattress, it should bulge slightly, but over time this will get worse and may become irregularly shaped in some places.
    • Visible sags or bumps on the surface – Most mattresses will show some bumps or dips after you sleep on them, but most should return to normal during the day. If your mattress shows permanent depressions or bumps, it may be a sign of a problem.
    • You always feel hot and sweaty at night – The layers inside a mattress are designed to support and control temperature regulation. If these layers get old or begin to break down, you might notice that the mattress feels too hot and you regularly wake up feeling sweaty.
    • The mattress is over eight years old – While a good mattress should last longer than eight years, some may begin to become uncomfortable at this age. If your mattress is older than this, you should check it regularly to ensure that the surface remains even and the support is adequate.
    • The mattress feels too firm or too soft – Mattresses are designed to provide a certain level of support. When they get old, or parts of them stop working as they should, you’ll likely notice them getting harder or even softer. Both issues can result in a range of problems, including discomfort at night and persistent back problems.
    • The mattress has a bad odour or is triggering allergies – The mattress is a nesting ground for bed bugs, mould spores and dust mites. Further, the mattress collects dead skin cells, dust and sweat. If you find your allergy symptoms peaking at night, it’s an indicator your mattress needs care. If you notice a damp, mushy smell from the mattress, there is mostly mold growing in the mattress. And if you experience itchy skin after you hit the bed, there is a good chance your bed is infested with bed bugs.


If you think you might be sleeping on a bad mattress, it might be time for a new one. Get the latest advice and recommendations in our article: How often should you change your mattress?

What Are the Effects of Sleeping on a Bad Mattress?

A bad mattress isn’t just uncomfortable; it can cause a range of problems and have a significant adverse effect on your health and quality of life:

  • Irritated eyes and constant cold symptoms – Old mattresses can build up lots of dust and even attract dust mites. For some people, this can cause an allergic reaction resulting in red, itchy eyes or a runny nose. 
  • You always wake up tired – This could be down to a late-night or a medical condition, but it could also be due to an uncomfortable mattress. Waking up tired is a sign that you’re not getting enough good quality sleep. 
  • You suffer from back or neck pain – A mattress that no longer provides adequate support can cause pain in your neck or lower back, particularly in the morning.

Can a Bad Mattress Cause Body Ache?

Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals, and you should not take this as medical advice. If you suffer from back problems or body ache, you must speak to your doctor.

Body ache can be caused by various things, including a bad mattress. If your mattress is too firm or soft, this can prevent your body from achieving the optimum neutral position during sleep. This puts pressure on some parts of your body and you might notice aches and pains when you wake up. 

If the mattress is firm, you may experience upper body pain and a softer mattress usually causes lower back pain. 

Other causes of body ache can include:

  • Your pillow – A good pillow will support your head and neck enough to keep it aligned with your spine.
  • Your sleeping position – Some sleep positions force areas of your body out of their natural alignment, causing discomfort and body aches.
  • A medical condition – Although some body aches can be caused by your bed and sleeping habits, it’s important to remember that they can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition. If you’re concerned about body aches, you must talk to your doctor.

How Will I Know if My Mattress Is Causing My Back Pain?

If you suffer from back pain, it can be challenging to work out what’s causing it. If you feel uncomfortable in your bed and struggle to get comfortable, this may be a sign that it could be your bed causing your back problems.

Also, it’s important to take note of when the back pain is most noticeable. If you experience it when you wake up, but it feels better after about 30 minutes, your mattress may likely be causing it or making an existing problem worse.

Can an Old Mattress Make You Sick?

Over time some mattresses can build up dust and dirt, which becomes a home for bacteria. Consequently, some old mattresses can make you sick. This is particularly a problem for mattresses that have not been aired regularly and can include staphylococcus, enterococcus, norovirus and even MRSA

Can You Fix a Bad Mattress?

Before trying any of the solutions mentioned below, it’s always a good idea to check if your mattress is still under warranty or not. Most mattresses come with 5 to 10 years of warranty that covers visible indentations anywhere from 0.5″ to 1.5″, depending on the brand. 

Although it’s not possible to completely fix a bad mattress, there are a few things you can try to get a few more years out of it and to make it a bit more comfortable:

  • Use a mattress topper – A mattress topper provides extra layers of foam or other types of cushioning. Good toppers will effectively even out any bumps and add additional support. If the sag is deep, go for at least a 7cm topper. Latex mattress toppers are good to firm up your mattress, and memory foam toppers are a great option to soften your existing mattress.
  • Air your mattress during the day – Folding back the sheets, quilt, and topper improves airflow, combats bat odours and prevents the build-up of bacteria.
  • Rotate or flip the mattress every three months – This will reduce damage to the mattress by alternating the areas that receive the most wear. You can set up a google calendar reminder to keep track of the rotation schedule.
  • Replace the base or box spring – Sometimes, a sagging mattress can be made worse if the base is also getting old. Adding extra support under the mattress or replacing the box spring will likely firm up the mattress as well. One way to check if the box spring is bad is by placing the mattress on the floor and see if the mattress still feels saggy or feels supportive enough.
  • Place plywood under the mattress – Try placing a 1’4″ thick plywood under the mattress for increased support. A 1/4″ thick plywood will have a bit of flex to it yet be supportive so that you don’t feel like you’re sleeping on the floor. You can also use 1/2″ thick plywood if you want to make your mattress feel a bit firmer.


A bad mattress can be responsible for several issues; however, it’s important to identify exactly what the problems are. Then you can decide if you can address the issue or need to buy a new mattress.

If you’ve discovered that you’re sleeping on a bad mattress, and none of the above solutions makes it any better, you can consider going for budget mattresses. Check out our picks for The Best Budget Mattresses in Australia 2022. Also, if you plan to buy a new mattress, make sure you responsibly dispose of your old mattress.

Tom Russell

Tom Russell

Tom Russell is a web content writer who specialises in health and wellness. He has a particular interest in sleep quality and how it can affect our day-to-day lives and overall health.

Five years ago, Tom was suffering from regular bouts of insomnia, which led him to explore the concept of sleep hygiene. He learned that a few changes and the introduction of a night-time routine could improve his chances of a good night's sleep. Now he avoids caffeine after 12 pm, puts all screens away at least an hour before bed, and sleeps like a log.

Tom and his wife share their home with two daughters and a lifetime's collection of books. He grew up in Norfolk, UK, and graduated in English and History at Anglia Ruskin University.


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