How to Choose the Best Memory Foam Mattress for Your Sleep Position
Memory foam mattresses are popular for a reason. Well, two reasons, says Terry Cralle, RN, a certified clinical sleep educator and Saatva's sleep consultant. First is the way memory foam conforms precisely to all of your body's curves. That contouring ability makes it ideal for pressure relief and a comfortable choice for all types of sleeping positions. Second is how well memory foam cuts down on motion transfer, which means one sleeper's movements in bed won't be felt by the other. Memory foam owners are big fans of those qualities, reporting greater levels of satisfaction with their purchase than owners of any other mattress type.
That said, not all memory foam mattresses are alike. The key to finding the one that's right for you is matching the mattress to the way you sleep. Here's how.
If you're a side sleeper
Most people—70%, according to the National Sleep Foundation—sleep on their sides. Side sleeping puts pressure on the hips, shoulders, and neck. An overly firm mattress can cut off circulation and lead to numbness or tingling, which is why side sleepers do best on a mattress that allows for some "sinking in" and provides cushioning for sensitive joints.
“A good mattress for side sleeping should conform to your body, taking the pressure off your hips and shoulders and aligning your spine so that your muscles can relax," says Joe Auer, editor of the mattress review site Mattress Clarity.
The right memory foam mattress for side sleepers: The best mattress for side sleepers is neither too firm nor too soft—something in the middle will keep your spine in its natural alignment so that you don't wake up with aches and pains. Look for added reinforcement in the lumbar region, which will help support the heaviest part of your body, across the hips and belly. Because of its contouring ability, memory foam “hugs" a side sleeper's curves and excels at pressure relief on hips and shoulders.
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If you're a back sleeper
It's estimated that 10% to 20% of people prefer to sleep on their backs. Back sleeping is considered the healthiest position, because the body tends to remain in a natural, relaxed posture. This means less contorting of arms, legs, and spine. By slightly elevating the esophagus relative to the stomach, back sleeping can also reduce acid reflux. On the downside, back sleeping can increase snoring and the risk for obstructive sleep apnea.
The right memory foam mattress for a back sleeper: A range of firmness options will work for back sleepers, but it's best to avoid anything that's too soft or too firm. “When it's too soft, it doesn't provide enough support, which causes you to sink into the bed," says Michael Breus, PhD, a Los Angeles sleep disorder specialist and author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health.
An overly firm mattress can be just as bad, he says, particularly for women. “Most of us carry our weight through our pelvis, which in women can be tilted due to childbirth," Breus explains. That means a memory foam mattress with a bit of give will likely be most comfortable for your lower half.
For all back sleepers, weight is another factor to consider. If you are of lower weight (below 130 pounds), you'll want something softer. A slightly firmer mattress will better suit you if you're a bigger person.
If you're a stomach sleeper
The least common sleep style—only 7% of Americans sleep this way—stomach sleeping presents the biggest challenges for spinal health. Because most of us carry our weight across the midsection, sleeping on one's stomach makes it hard to stay comfortable, as weight pulls the spine out of its natural alignment.
Sleeping on your stomach “affects the curvature of the spine and makes it hard for it to stay in a neutral position," says Breus. That misalignment can result in chronic back and neck pain, especially if you sleep with your head turned to one side.
The right memory foam mattress for a stomach sleeper: Memory foam molds to the shape of your body when you lie down, which may not be ideal for stomach sleepers, especially those on the heavier side. That being said, if you like the feel of memory foam, choosing one that's firm enough to give you the support you need is key to making a memory foam mattress work for you. A medium to firmer mattress will support your stomach-sleeping body and let you wake up feeling pain-free and refreshed. You should feel like you're floating rather than sinking.
If you share a bed
Sleeping with a partner adds another layer of mattress considerations. Now you have to think about two people's sleep styles and preferences. (That's why a medium-firm mattress is a good choice for couples with different sleep styles.) One of the biggest issues for couples is motion transfer—getting jostled and having your sleep disturbed whenever your partner moves around in bed or gets up during the night.
The right memory foam mattress for a couple: One of memory foam's chief virtues is the way someone sleeping on one side of the bed feels little if any movement when the person on the other side moves around. Keep in mind that memory foam mattresses are known for sleeping hot, so if you do share a bed with someone else, look for a memory foam mattress that has cooling features, such as cooling gels, more breathable foam, and other materials that help dissipate heat.
Learn more about memory foam mattresses: