What's the Best Mattress for Side Sleepers?
More than half of all adults are side sleepers, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you're among them, you'll be glad to know that it's one of the best positions for your health.
Benefits of being a side sleeper
Side sleepers can benefit from decreased symptoms of acid reflux and prevent back and neck pain. It's also a good position for snorers or anyone who suffers from sleep apnea, because it helps keep airways open.
But sleeping on your side on the wrong mattress can cause problems of its own, like sore joints and spinal-related discomforts. “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. While no one mattress is best for any particular kind of sleeper (though we recommend choosing a mattress that works with your sleep position), certain materials and features can make a side sleeper more comfortable.
How to find the best mattress for side sleepers
If you're a side sleeper, here are some things to keep in mind as you shop.
Sleeping on your side puts a lot of pressure on your hips, shoulders, and neck, which in turn puts pressure on your spine. That combination can trigger back pain, says Auer. A mattress that's too firm "can cause aches and pains because it doesn't contour to the widest points in the hips and shoulders." Laying on a too-hard mattress will also cut off circulation to those areas, leading to numbness or tingling if you're a side sleeper. The result? You wind up tossing and turning as you struggle to find a more comfortable position.
The best mattress for side sleepers is soft enough to cradle a side sleeper's hips and shoulders while supporting the spine in a neutral position.
While you want softness to cushion your hips and shoulders, a too-soft bed isn't good for side sleepers either. In that scenario, explains Auer, you could sink into the surface of the mattress too far "and your spine will be thrown off its natural alignment, which can lead to back and neck pain." A "neutral" position is one that maintains a straight line from your head and neck down your spine. Too hard and your neck won't be properly supported, Auer says. Too soft and your spine will be unnaturally curved.
Learn More About Saatva's Best Mattresses and Pillows for Side Sleepers
Ideal side sleeper mattress
So which type of mattress, and which mattress firmness, is best for a side sleeper? Here’s what you need to know.
Because of its contouring ability, memory foam "hugs" a side sleeper's curves and excels at pressure relief. "The good thing about quality memory foam is it doesn't just offer quality and support—it also has tremendous orthopedic benefits," Auer says.
For optimal spinal health, the best mattress for side sleepers needs to provide adequate support in the lumbar region, where a side sleeper's weight is concentrated. (Saatva's memory foam Loom & Leaf, for example, includes an extra layer of spinal gel in the center third.)
Top-quality latex mattresses provide a nice level of “give" while still offering the desired support. Latex also sleeps cool and keeps its shape well, which helps prevent indents for side sleepers when you lie in the same spot every night, says Ben Trapskin, editor of mattress review site Sleep Sherpa. “Since the mattress accurately conforms to every curve of the body, it provides greater pressure relief and leads to improved circulation and blood flow, so you're less likely to wake up with that pins and needles feeling."
If you're looking at innerspring mattresses, make sure the top, or comfort, layer is cushioned enough to let your hips and shoulders sink in a bit, or choose a hybrid style, like Saatva's flagship innerspring, that combines springs and memory foam.
Firm or soft
As a side sleeper, you need a mattress that is soft (or “plush”) enough to cradle your hips and shoulders while supporting your spine in a neutral position. A too-firm mattress will cut off circulation to your hips, shoulders, and neck, leaving you with aches and pains.
How to maximize side-sleeping comfort
Even on the perfect side-sleeper mattress, you may need to improve your position. A better pillow can help. The National Sleep Foundation recommends choosing one that makes it easy to keep your head in a neutral position, so that it rests in line with your shoulders and doesn't tilt too far back or forward. For side sleepers, that usually means a firm pillow that will fill the gap between your ear and shoulder. If you have back pain, try sleeping with another small pillow between your knees to further align your spine.
Finally, if possible, lie on your left side. "Sleeping on your right pushes on blood vessels, which can impede circulation," 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.
Whatever mattress you choose, take it for a test run, preferably a long one. While a mattress might feel awesome during a 10-minute lie-down in a store, you won't really be able to tell if it leaves you sore from misalignment until you sleep on it for a few days or even weeks, says Auer. Look for a generous home trial (at Saatva we offer 120 days), so you can be comfortable—whether you sleep on your side, back, or stomach.