Best Mattresses for Side Sleepers: Which Is Right for You?
Nov 08, 2023
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I’d never really thought much about my preferred sleep position, or how it should help guide my choice in mattresses until I got older and started to experience a variety of aches and pains—including my neck, lower back, and shoulders (usually alternating and not necessarily at the same time). I was aware of the benefits of an ergonomic chair and the need to prevent my spine from remaining in a twisted or misaligned position for an extended period of time while awake, but I hadn’t really paid any attention to what was happening while asleep.
Like many people, I’m predominantly a side sleeper. After some initial research I discovered that my mattress was likely too firm, putting pressure on my shoulders and hips and not allowing my spine to rest in a neutral, straight position. In other words, instead of waking rested and rejuvenated, I was only making my aches and pains worse.
If you’re experiencing similar problems and are in the market for a new mattress to help combat them, this guide is for you. Below are some of our picks for the best mattresses for back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, or all three.
The Premier Rest from DreamCloud offers an impressive balance of contouring and support. Quilted with polyfoam, the cashmere blend top cover shapes around your body while the inner pocketed coils prevent you from sinking too far into the depths of this thick mattress. There’s also a memory foam layer with a cooling gel, though very hot sleepers may still find it too warm.
The Winkbed is a mattress that comes in four different firmness options. The luxury firm is the company’s most popular model and works especially well for those who suffer from lower back pain, due to the strategically arranged support zones of the individually wrapped coils. This means the mattress provides pushback support where needed while allowing you to sink down in other spots. Plus, the pressure-relieving quilted pillow top helps to ease muscle tension.
For side sleepers, the plush version of the Aurora Luxe is a great choice, especially if you like the feeling of sinking into a soft, soothing hug. This mattress is constructed with multiple foam layers infused with cooling and contouring properties, plus individually wrapped coils, positioned for support in the shoulder and hip areas. The Aurora Luxe arrives tightly rolled inside a box, making it easier to transport up stairs.
With a thick memory foam layer, the Nectar Mattress is another one for people who like to sleep in a bed, as opposed to on a bed. The gel-infused top foam layer adapts to the individual, meaning it relieves the pressure caused by some other mattresses (the whole idea behind memory foam). There’s also a polyfoam base layer that supports the center and helps to mitigate annoying sagging. One of the most appealing things about the Nectar is the price point: It’s a quality, supportive mattress for those on a budget.
Foam mattresses tend to be warmer than hybrid or coiled mattresses, but this one comes with a stretch knit cover equipped with phase material that helps to regulate body temperature by dissipating heat. The upper memory foam layer contours to your body as you sleep, providing support. It's not as soft as the Nectar option here, so you won’t get as intense of a ‘sink into a soft hug’ experience (which may not be something you want anyway because, honestly, not everyone does). This is also a great choice for couples, as it has excellent motion isolation.
The Nolah Evolution offers prime cooling technology with an ArcticTex cover and graphite-infused air foam. The ‘plush’ (soft) version provides ample spinal support and the deep body contouring that side sleepers need, as well as targeted pressure relief at the shoulders, hips, and knees, thanks to the tri-zone coil system.
This mattress has a much firmer feel than the other options on this guide. While that isn’t usually something that’s conducive to side sleeping, if you’re a side sleeper who doesn’t care for that sink in sensation, this might just be the Goldilocks bed you’ve been searching for. What it has that many others in the ‘firm’ category do not is a two-inch layer of natural Dunlop latex at the top, so you’ll experience some excellent cushioning and contouring around your hips, shoulders, and knees, while still getting the feel of a firm mattress.
Covered by Ghost Ice quilted fabric that manages to remain cool to the touch, this mattress is worth considering by anyone who routinely wakes up because of temperature issues. Under the Ghost Ice fabric is a gel memory foam layer for contouring, followed by five more layers, including a ‘Ghost Bounce’ layer to keep you from sinking down too far into the mattress.
The Helix Midnight Luxe was designed specifically for side sleepers, with zoned lumbar support and a cushioned foam surface. There’s also a breathable cooling cover, designed to avoid trapping your body heat. The optional upgrade of the GlacioTex version offers even more cooling technology, though some users feel it makes the mattress too slippery (as in, your sheets slide around and bunch up). If you’re not sure if this Helix mattress is right for you, the company has a handy online quiz that will help you decide. Good to know: Helix also makes some of the best bed sheets for hot sleepers, the Helix Ultra-Soft Sheet Set (starting at $111, and available in sizes from twin to California king).
The Saatva Classic’s dual coil system sets it apart from other mattresses on this list and makes it an excellent choice for side and stomach sleepers. The pocketed coil layer sits on top of another layer of thick steel coils, providing superb support. On top of those there’s a plush, comfortable, 3-inch pillow top for pressure relief. This isn’t a mattress you’ll sink into, but rather one you sleep on top of. It’s also customizable, available in two different heights and three firmness options.
While you’re shopping for a mattress, don’t snooze on Saatva’s bedding collection. The Saatva Down Alternative Pillow, for example, made our list of the best pillows.
Designed for heavier folks, the Titan Plus Luxe is equipped with extra tall coils and multiple foam layers. The 8-inch core coils provide the added lift that heavy sleepers need, as well as incredible motion isolation. The gel memory foam layer on top resists body impressions, while the TitanPlus foam layer delivers targeted pressure point relief.
The Bear Star Hybrid features copper-infused memory foam and individually wrapped coils to provide exceptional support and pressure relief. Designed with athletes in mind – who often suffer from back pain and other aches—the Star Hybrid features a cover made from Celliant, which is thought to help with blood flow and muscle recovery while additionally providing cooling effects. It also has exceptional edge support, so you’re comfortable and supported no matter how much you sprawl across it.
There are a dizzying number of mattresses to consider on the market. The first factor to take into account is whether or not your mattress of choice allows your spine to rest in a relatively straight position.
The majority of the mattresses we recommend here are considered hybrid mattresses, meaning they have a foam or memory foam top layer for cushioning and an innerspring layer for support. There are also mattresses constructed entirely of foam layers (which tend to be warmer) and, of course, more old school models that are innerspring only.
When you sleep on your side, most of your body weight ends up being supported by one shoulder and one hip, which means you’re essentially driving these into the bed. For this reason, you want a mattress that will reduce pressure in those areas, with some give so your shoulders and hips sink in a bit. Of course, like Goldilocks, the ideal spot is somewhere in the middle—you don’t want the mattress to have so much give that your hips bottom out.
If you’re able to, visit an actual physical store that has mattresses on display—and leave any self-consciousness at home. Bring your pillow and lie down on each for ten to 15 minutes to see how they feel. Bring a friend with you and have them take a photo of you in your mock sleep position, then use it to see if your spine appears to be in a straight line or not.
If you can’t go to the store, the good news is that most companies offer a trial period for their mattresses. Also, check the return policy to ensure there are no restocking fees in the event you find out that the mattress isn’t working for you.
We selected the best mattresses for side sleepers by sifting through academic research, online product reviews and specifications, talking to a wide range of people about how they sleep and what mattress they have, and our own personal experiences (we all have to sleep, after all).
I’m a side sleeper myself, a cyclist, and I have two careers, both of which require sitting for extended periods of time. I suffer from both neck and lower back pain on a pretty regular basis, so I’ve spent oodles of time trying to find remedies, one of which turned out to be my choice of mattress.
In general, side sleepers need a mattress with enough cushion that their shoulders and hips will sink in slightly, as opposed to just sitting on top of the mattress. You don’t want to sink in too far though, as that will cause spine misalignment in the opposite direction. For the majority of side sleepers, this means a medium plush to medium firm mattress is best.
When sleeping on your side, use a pillow that is thick enough to support your head and neck in a horizontal line from the rest of your spine: you don’t want your head to sink too much lower or rest higher forming a “crick” in your neck.
Many people also find that placing a pillow between their knees helps achieve a comfortable night’s sleep with proper spine alignment. The pillow supports the weight of your top leg, which will help prevent lower back pain by keeping your pelvis better aligned.
The best mattress topper for side sleepers is usually a softer one, like a memory foam or foam topper that will allow the shoulders and hips to sink slightly, creating a cradling effect.
The mattress firmness level that’s best for side sleepers is typically a softer one, somewhere between plush and medium firm. Side sleepers, in general, need more pressure relief to keep their spines aligned as they sleep.
Which side is better to sleep on if you’re a side sleeper depends on the health issues you may face. The left side is believed to benefit those with gastroesophageal reflux disease, as well as pregnant people. Those with heart failure, though, may find that sleeping on their right side is more comfortable.
The healthiest sleeping position is the one that keeps your spine in healthy alignment from your hips to your head. In light of this, sleeping on your side or back is often best for most people, as it's easier to keep your spine supported and balanced.
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