What Is the Best Type of Mattress and Firmness for Side Sleepers?

Last Updated On July 7th, 2024
What Is the Best Type of Mattress and Firmness for Side Sleepers?

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Side sleeping is the preferred position for most adults, with about two-thirds of people choosing this comfortable way to rest.

However, if you don’t have the bed for this position, you might wake up sore in the morning. That’s why finding the right mattress can make a significant difference in the quality of sleep for side sleepers. 

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The ideal mattress should provide a delicate balance of support and pressure relief, particularly for the shoulders and hips, which bear the brunt of body weight in this position.

Many side sleepers struggle with mattresses that are either too firm, causing discomfort at pressure points, or too soft, leading to improper spinal alignment. 

We will explore the key factors side sleepers should consider when choosing a mattress, including firmness levels, materials, and specific features that cater to their unique needs.

By understanding these elements, side sleepers can make an informed decision to enhance their sleep quality and overall well-being.

Quick Guide: A 30-Second Summary

Best Medium Mattress for Side Sleepers Amerisleep AS3
Best Soft Mattress for Side Sleepers Amerisleep AS5
Best Latex Mattress for Side Sleepers Amerisleep Organica
Best Hybrid Mattress for Side Sleepers Amerisleep AS5 Hybrid

Different Mattress Types

When it comes to choosing a mattress, understanding the different types available is crucial. Each mattress type offers unique benefits that can address the specific needs of those who prefer to sleep on their side.

Memory Foam Mattresses

Memory foam mattresses are highly recommended for side sleepers due to their exceptional ability to conform to the body’s contours. This material responds to heat and pressure, allowing it to mold precisely to the sleeper’s shape, providing targeted support where it’s needed most.

For side sleepers, this means excellent pressure relief at the shoulders and hips, which typically bear the brunt of body weight in this position. The foam’s slow response to movement helps reduce motion transfer, making it an ideal choice for couples.

Memory foam’s ability to distribute weight evenly across the surface helps maintain proper spinal alignment, crucial for side sleepers to avoid back pain.

However, some users may find traditional memory foam retains heat, so looking for variants with cooling properties can be beneficial for those who sleep hot.

Latex Mattresses

Latex mattresses offer a unique combination of responsiveness and contouring that can greatly benefit side sleepers. Unlike memory foam, latex has a more buoyant feel, providing an instant response to movement while still conforming to the body’s curves.

This quality helps prevent the feeling of being “stuck” in the mattress, which some side sleepers may experience with memory foam.

Latex offers excellent pressure relief for the shoulders and hips, crucial for side sleepers, while its natural resilience provides consistent support to maintain spinal alignment. These mattresses are also known for their durability and resistance to body impressions, ensuring long-lasting comfort.

Latex is also naturally hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites and mold, making it an excellent choice for allergy sufferers. Many side sleepers appreciate the cooler sleep experience latex provides compared to some other foam options.

Hybrid Mattresses

Hybrid mattresses combine the best features of innerspring and foam mattresses, making them an excellent choice for side sleepers who want a balance of support and pressure relief. The coil base provides a sturdy foundation and promotes airflow, while the foam layers on top offer the contouring and pressure relief that side sleepers need.

This combination allows for better weight distribution and spinal alignment compared to traditional innerspring mattresses. The responsiveness of the coils, coupled with the body-hugging properties of the foam, can help reduce pressure on the shoulders and hips while preventing excessive sinking.

Many hybrid mattresses also incorporate zoned support systems, providing firmer support in areas like the lower back and softer cushioning for the shoulders, which is particularly beneficial for side sleepers.

The variety of materials used in hybrid mattresses also allows for better temperature regulation, addressing the heat retention issues some experience with all-foam mattresses.

Firmness Level

Side sleepers typically benefit from medium to soft mattresses. These provide enough give to allow the hips and shoulders to sink in slightly, maintaining spine alignment.

Pressure Relief

Pressure relief is paramount for side sleepers due to the concentration of body weight on the shoulders and hips.

Materials that effectively cushion these pressure points help prevent discomfort, numbness, and potential pain. Look for pressure-relieving mattresses with layers specifically designed to distribute weight evenly and contour to the body’s shape.

Memory foam and latex are particularly effective at this, as they respond to body heat and pressure to create a custom-fit feel.

Some mattresses also feature zoned support systems that provide softer support under the shoulders and firmer support under the hips, further enhancing pressure relief for side sleepers.


Proper support is essential for maintaining spinal alignment, which is crucial for side sleepers to avoid back pain and ensure restorative sleep. A supportive mattress should keep the spine in a neutral position from head to toe, preventing any unnatural curvature.

This means the mattress should allow the shoulders and hips to sink in slightly while supporting the waist and lower back. Look for mattresses with a robust support core, such as high-density foam or pocketed coils, that can provide consistent support across the entire sleep surface.

Some mattresses also feature reinforced edges, good for those sharing a bed and sleeping near the edge of the bed.


A durable mattress not only provides better long-term value but also ensures that you continue to receive the specific support they need night after night.

It maintains consistent comfort and support over time, especially for side sleepers who put concentrated pressure on specific areas of the mattress.

High-quality materials are more likely to resist sagging and impressions, maintaining their shape. Look for mattresses with high-density foams, natural latex, or tempered steel coils, as these tend to be more durable.

Consider also mattresses with good edge support, as this can help prevent premature sagging around the perimeter where side sleepers often position themselves.

Tips for Mattress Shopping

Buying a mattress as a side sleeper doesn’t have to be complicated. These pointers will guide you through the shopping process and help you choose a bed that gives you a good night’s sleep.

Test Mattresses

When shopping for a mattress as a side sleeper, it’s crucial to test the mattress thoroughly at the store or in your home.

If you’re on a store model, lie on your side for at least 10-15 minutes to allow your body to settle into its natural position. This extended period gives you a more accurate sense of how the mattress supports your body, particularly at pressure points like your shoulders and hips.

During this test, try changing positions to see how easily you can move and whether the mattress provides consistent support. Pay attention to how well the mattress conforms to your curves and whether it maintains proper spinal alignment.

Remember, a brief test won’t reveal long-term comfort, so take your time and don’t feel rushed. You can apply the same logic to trying a mattress after buying it, too.

Consider Your Body Weight

Your body weight plays a significant role in determining the ideal mattress firmness for side sleeping. Heavier individuals typically require a firmer mattress to prevent excessive sinking, which can misalign the spine.

A mattress that’s too soft may cause the hips and shoulders to sink too deeply, leading to discomfort and potential pain.

Lighter individuals may find more comfort on a softer mattress that allows for some give at the pressure points. The goal is to find a balance where the mattress supports your body weight while still contouring to your shape.

Remember that firmness is subjective, so focus on how the mattress feels to your body type rather than relying solely on firmness ratings.

Use a Pillow Between Your Knees

Placing a pillow between your knees while side sleeping can significantly improve your sleep posture and comfort. This simple technique helps align your hips and reduces stress on your lower back and pelvis.

When you sleep on your side without a knee pillow, your upper leg tends to pull your spine out of alignment, potentially leading to lower back pain.

The pillow keeps your hips, knees, and ankles in better alignment, which can alleviate pressure on your lower back and hips. Experiment with different pillow thicknesses to find the most comfortable position for your body.

This small adjustment can lead to a noticeable improvement in sleep quality and reduce morning stiffness.

Keeps Your Neck Aligned With Your Spine

The right pillow is crucial for maintaining proper spinal alignment while side sleeping. Your pillow should fill the gap between your ear and the mattress, keeping your neck in a neutral position aligned with your spine.

If your pillow is too high or too low, it can cause your neck to bend at an awkward angle, leading to strain and potential pain. Look for a pillow that’s thick enough to support the weight of your head and neck, but not so thick that it pushes your head upward.

Memory foam or latex pillows often work well for side sleepers as they conform to the shape of your head and neck. Consider pillows specifically designed for side sleepers, which often have a contoured shape to provide better support.


Why do side sleepers need a special mattress?

Side sleepers put more pressure on their shoulders and hips. They need a mattress that cushions these areas while keeping their spine straight. The right mattress helps prevent pain and improves sleep quality.

How soft should a mattress be for side sleepers?

Most do best with medium to soft mattresses. These allow shoulders and hips to sink in a bit, but still support the body. Heavier people might need a firmer mattress for enough support.

What’s better, memory foam or latex?

Both can work well for side sleeping. Memory foam molds to your body and relieves pressure. Latex is bouncier and cooler. Try both to see which feel you prefer.

Are hybrid mattresses good for side sleeping?

Yes, hybrids can be great. They combine foam for pressure relief with springs for support. Many have special zones to support different body parts, which is good for side sleepers.

How can I test a mattress for side sleeping?

Lie on your side for 10-15 minutes in the store. Pay attention to how your shoulders, hips, and back feel. If possible, use a home trial to test the mattress for several nights.

Why is pillow choice important for side sleepers?

The right pillow keeps your neck aligned with your spine. It should fill the space between your ear and shoulder.

A pillow between your knees can also help align your hips.

Does weight matter when choosing a mattress for side sleeping?

Yes, weight affects mattress choice. Heavier people usually need firmer mattresses to prevent sinking too deep. Lighter people often prefer softer mattresses for more cushioning.


Choosing the right mattress as a side sleeper is crucial for achieving restful, pain-free sleep. By considering factors such as mattress type, firmness level, pressure relief, and support, you can find a bed that caters to your specific needs.

Remember to test mattresses thoroughly, take advantage of sleep trials, and pay attention to your body’s signals. And don’t forget the importance of proper pillows to complement your mattress choice.

With the right combination of mattress and sleep accessories, side sleepers can enjoy improved sleep quality, better spinal alignment, and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day.

About the author

Mitchell Tollsen is a graduate student and a freelance writer who’s contributed to the Early Bird blog for three years. Mitchell’s always been fascinated by the science of sleep and the restorative processes our bodies undergo when at rest. The self-titled “Sleep Expert” is always looking for ways to improve his shut-eye, and throughout the years has implemented numerous lifestyle changes and tried dozens of sleep-promoting gadgets to determine the best ways to truly get better rest.

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