How Firm Should a Mattress Be For a Side Sleeper?

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The majority of us sleep on our sides. Side sleeping is a real thing, and in order for you to find the comfort that’s needed when sleeping on your side, consideration needs to be given to the firmness of your mattress.

It’s a challenge for side sleepers to find a mattress that perfectly aligns with their curves. Since there are more curves on the side of your body (shoulders, hips, knees), there are more opportunities to create tension and pressure with the wrong mattress.

How firm should a mattress be for a side sleeper? A side sleeper should use a medium-soft to medium-firm mattress. Side sleepers should watch out for hip and shoulder pain and a medium-soft to medium-firm mattress can give the correct support while gently cradling the hips and shoulders to prevent stress and injury.

Read on to learn more about the optimal level of mattress firmness for side sleepers.

What is Mattress Firmness?

Firmness relates to how a mattress feels when you lay down on it. This is directed to the top layers of the mattress and indicates how closely the mattress will conform to your body as you’re sleeping. Don’t confuse firmness with support.

Support is how well a mattress relieves pressure and keeps your spine in alignment, regardless of how soft or firm it is. Levels of firmness can be described in three categories: soft, medium, and firm. A mattress can go from being very soft to being very firm.

How do You Know if Your Mattress is Too Firm?

Most manufacturers use a level of firmness scale that lets you know the firmness of your mattress on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being very soft and 10 being very firm.

While no two people are the same, and what feels too firm to one person, may be just right to someone else, how we sleep affects our sleep. For a side sleeper, If the mattress is too firm, you’ll be putting pressure on the hips and shoulders and could awake to pain.

Your hips and shoulders should slightly sink into the mattress to keep your spine aligned. If the mattress is too soft, you’ll sink in too much and there won’t be enough support to maintain a neutral spine.

Weight also plays a part when deciding on a mattress. Although a medium soft firmness is recommended, if you’re heavier, you may need a firmer mattress to prevent sinking, while those with smaller frames should avoid firm mattresses.

Spine Alignment

The spine is in a straight, neutral position when it’s aligned. If the spine is misaligned during sleep, this can result in back pain and other issues. For this reason, it’s important to try to maintain perfect alignment during sleep.

Having the right mattress – one that responds proportionately to pressure points, cushioning the hips and shoulders – helps to keep the spine in neutral alignment.

How Sleeping On Your Side Affects Sleep

Since most Americans sleep on their side (75%), let’s look at how it affects us. If you’re a side sleeper, your weight is concentrated in the shoulder and hip areas, and if your mattress is too soft or too hard, it could prevent you from getting the sleep you desperately need.

If the surface of your bed is too hard or too soft, not only can it keep you from going to sleep, it could be harming your back and joints. While sleeping on your back is considered by sleep experts to be the perfect sleep position, there are some benefits to sleeping on your side.

Side sleeping opens your airways and reduces snoring and symptoms of sleep apnea. Sleeping on your side has been found to be beneficial for people with heartburn and pregnant women because it reduces acid reflux.

Choosing A Mattress

If you’re a side sleeper and are in need of a mattress:

  • Start your search on the softer side. Soft-medium to medium comfort level mattresses are best for side sleepers as they have enough padding to reduce pressure points like shoulders and hips.
  • Test out your options. Make sure to test out a potential new bed before making a purchasing decision. Lay down in the position you prefer to sleep in. From there you will be able to tell if this could be the bed you need every night.
  • Always remember that a good mattress for you will keep the spine in a straight position; contour pressure points, such as the hips and shoulders; and be consistently comfortable in every position, but especially for the one you tend to sleep in most.

The material of the mattress of a side sleeper is also important. When it comes to side sleeping, there are four types of material that are optional:

Latex Mattress

A latex mattress is constructed with latex comfort layers and a latex support base. It’s made with natural latex, which is manufactured with sap harvested from rubber trees. Latex is responsive and gently contours to the shape of your body, alleviating pressure points while preventing the feeling of sinking in too deeply.

This reduces shoulder and back pain for side sleepers. There is also more airflow around the body and better temperature regulation.

Memory Foam Mattress

A foam mattress has comfort layers and a support base of foam. This is a solid go-to choice for side sleepers. The comfort system of the mattress is often made with memory foam layers, and can include traditional viscoelastic memory foam, open-cell foam, or gel-infused foam.

The support base is usually constructed with high-density poly foam for added support and durability. Memory foam contours closely to the body, responding to pressure and cushioning areas like the hips and shoulders. For side sleepers, this promotes proper spinal alignment and reduces aches and pains.

Hybrid Mattress

A hybrid mattress usually costs a bit more than a memory foam mattress. It has an innerspring support system with thick comfort layers of memory foam or latex.

Combining elements of these different types of mattresses into a hybrid design maximizes the benefits of each, with fewer drawbacks. A hybrid mattress may include a transition layer of poly foam or micro coils beneath the foam comfort layers.

The base of innerspring coils adds air flow and support to the mattress. Also, a hybrid mattress typically has better temperature regulation due to the innerspring coils. For side sleepers, this means comfort without overheating.

Innerspring Mattress

An innerspring mattress has a support base of steel coils, with thin comfort layers of fiber or foam. It’s minimalistic and offers less contouring than a hybrid or foam mattress. They also tend to be more affordable.

The innerspring mattress also has enhanced edge support. This increases the supportive surface area of the bed, ensuring side sleepers who sleep near the edge of the bed experience consistent support.

Mattresses To Avoid

Waterbeds may seem appealing, but if you’re a side sleeper, you may want to steer clear of them. Waterbeds do not provide the right type of support for the position you favor while sleeping. They do not distribute the weight evenly, thus providing unsuitable bedding.

Any mattress that curves and deforms the body, or that provides too much stiffness or too much dipping will not benefit side sleepers. The result will be tense muscles, back and joint pain, and many restless nights. To avoid this, a side sleeper’s best option is neither soft, nor firm, but a medium to soft firmness in a mattress.

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas and I'm the author and content operator at The Bedding Planet. I've always had a big interest in bedding and more specifically sleep. If I find something that makes me sleep better, whether that's a lifestyle change or a better bedding environment, I'm ready to share it with the world!

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