Side sleeping is the most common sleeping position. It offers many health benefits but comes with some unique challenges, as well. A quality mattress for a side sleeper addresses these difficulties and promotes a good night of sleep.
We made this guide to help side sleepers know what they should look for in the right mattress. We discuss health needs to keep in mind, features to look for, and types of mattresses that may be able to meet the needs of a side sleeper.
Our Recommendation: Zoma Mattress
Our Zoma Mattress is soft and contouring, well equipped to give side sleepers a comfortable night of rest. Standing at 11 inches tall, the mattress has three foam layers to offer you the perfect balance of support and give.
Breaking the mattress down, we see the first layer is 2 inches of breathable gel-infused memory foam. The memory foam eases the pressure points in your shoulders and hips, while the cooling gels prevent you from sleeping hot.
The bed’s first layer also offers extra relief with the included Triangulex™ technology. The foam layer is solid in the middle for needed support with triangle-shaped cutouts in the shoulders and legs areas for added comfort.
The second layer is 2 inches thick and made to promote muscle recovery with the latex-like Reactiv™ foam. The Reactiv™ is bouncy and responsive to add support and transition between the plush memory foam above and the bed’s base underneath.
The base layer is 7 inches of durable Support+ foam. The Support+ core provides the bed with its structure and longevity.
Our Zoma mattress is $750 for a queen size mattress. A risk-free 100-night sleep trial and a 10-year warranty come included. If you’re not satisfied with the mattress, we will work with a local partner to pick it up and recycle it.
About Side Sleeping
You may not have given much thought to why you sleep on your side. It may just be what you naturally find comfortable. But there are quite a few health perks and concerns for side sleepers you may not know.
Benefits of Side Sleeping
One benefit of side sleeping is the position helps the brain cleanse itself of waste proteins. Waste proteins build up and block the brain’s interstitial spaces. When you sleep, your glymphatic system gets rid of the proteins. The glymphatic system does so as well when you’re awake, but it’s most active while you sleep.
A 2015 study found side sleeping was the most efficient position for glymphatic transport of waste. Researchers examined MRI images of the three different sleep positions, and side sleeping was found to have “a clear advantage” over other positions.
It’s theorized the glymphatic system may work to prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, so it’s good to ensure it’s working at its best.
Side sleeping has also been found to reduce snoring. When you sleep on your side, your airway can open more for easier breathing than if you were to lie on your back. Side sleeping to stop snoring may not be effective without other lifestyle changes, though.
A 2001 study examined the effects of sleep position and obesity on sleep apnea and found that side sleeping helped with oxygen saturation while noting that prior studies had similar results. Side sleeping was more effective in the study’s lighter sleepers, but it still made a difference for heavier sleepers as well.
Which Side: Right or Left?
Your body lacks a symmetrical design, which means your left and right sides do not provide the same benefits. Of particular note is how your heart falls on the left side.
Our editors recommend right side sleeping. The right side promotes a healthy heart better by alleviating pressure on the heart muscle. Gravity pulls the heart into the chest cavity for right-side sleepers, whereas left-side sleepers would have gravity pulling their heart into their rib cage.
A 2003 study found that patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) tended to avoid sleeping on their left side, citing discomfort and sleeping on the right side instead. The study examined two groups of 75 people, one a control group and one composed of patients with CHF. The control group did not avoid sleeping on their left side.
The smaller amount of time CHF patients spent sleeping on their left side supported the idea that right-side sleeping is better for heart health.
Challenges of Side Sleeping
There is no one perfect sleeping position. For all its health perks, side sleeping still comes with its drawbacks and challenges.
Side sleepers need a mattress to provide the right balance of support and give, being neither too soft nor too firm. If a mattress is too soft, it will swallow the sleeper, causing the spine to bow as their hips and shoulders sink in too deeply. Too firm, and the spine will be raised out of alignment.
When you sleep on your side, your body weight and its pressure aren’t distributed evenly like they would be lying on your back. Pressure stacks up on one side, with your hips, shoulders, and ankles as the major points of pressure. Too much pressure, and you wind up in pain, tossing and turning and disturbing your sleep. If the pressure isn’t eased, you can wake up sore and tired.
There are mattresses made with these challenges in mind, though, with features to address and eliminate concerns. A soft comfort layer can alleviate the pressure in your body.
Different Side Sleeping Positions
Side sleeping is one of the three basic sleep styles, along with sleeping on your back or your stomach. If we break it down further, we find there are four separate positions that fall under the umbrella of side sleeping.
Fetal is the most common of the side sleeping positions, named for how the position mimics a fetus’s position. Fetal sleepers tend to bend both their legs at the knees and curl their knees toward the chest.
The second most common position among side sleepers. The sleeper’s arms and legs stretch out from the body, and the spine kept straight.
The yearner position takes its name from how sleepers stretch their arms out as if trying to reach for something while keeping the back and legs straight.
The least common of the four side-sleep positions. In the sprinter position, sleepers keep their arms and back straight, with one leg bent at the knee while the other remains straight.
There are variations on all of these positions. You may also move throughout a few of these in the night, shifting sides or even switching to your back or stomach as you sleep.
Positions with extended legs can shift your spine out of alignment. Sleeping with a pillow between your legs can help improve your posture while lying down.
More About Mattresses
We’ve covered a lot of what you need to know when it comes to side sleeping. However, you may want to know more about mattresses.
The type of mattress can influence its comfort level, with certain types better suited for side sleepers than others. We will be examining the four main types of mattresses on the market today: memory foam, latex, hybrid, and innerspring mattresses.
Memory foam mattresses are some of the best for pain relief. A memory foam bed molds itself to your body and lets you sink into it, which alleviates pressure and reduces the impact of your bodyweight. The top layer tends to provide a cradling feeling while the bottom layer(s) supports the mattress.
Memory foam is also one of the best materials to prevent motion transfer, a must-have for any restless sleeper.
Traditional memory foam does have the problem of trapping body heat. Many brands address this by adding cooling gels or other cooling material such as copper or graphite to the foam. Gel memory foam mattresses are designed to take excess heat away and disperse it into the air.
While memory foam mattresses are great for side sleepers, they are not all made the same. Carefully read information about materials and construction before you purchase one.
Much like memory foam, latex mattresses are a good choice for side sleepers, offering a comfortable blend of support and sink. However, a latex bed is bouncier and naturally firmer than a memory foam mattress. Side sleepers may wish to consider latex mattresses with plush pillow tops, to be sure the mattress will mold to their body.
The durability of a latex bed is a big plus, as a natural latex mattress can last on average about 15 years. When considering a latex mattress, you should favor ones made with Dunlop or Talalay latex. Beds with synthetic latex have shorter lifespans.
A hybrid mattress combines the cushy top layers of a foam or latex mattress with the coil system of an innerspring, the goal being to provide the best of both. You don’t sink in as deeply as you would with an all-foam bed. Most hybrid mattresses include pocketed coils, which is where the coils are individually wrapped for better motion isolation.
A drawback to a hybrid mattress is the price tag. As hybrids aim to take the best of foam and innerspring mattresses, their construction requires many high-quality materials.
Innerspring beds are the traditional mattresses, centuries old and still a best-seller. They’re also relatively inexpensive, often costing less than a hybrid or latex mattress and with price points comparable to quality foam beds.
Innerspring mattresses, however, are not recommended for side sleepers, as the material can’t easily contour to the body and relieve pressure, a necessity in a side sleeper’s bed. These mattresses are better suited for back sleepers and stomach sleepers, providing the firmness needed for healthy spinal alignment.
There’s no one firmness level right for all when it comes to mattresses. Different firmness levels suit different sleepers.
Side sleepers need to look at soft mattresses, as a too firm mattress will not contour to their body fully and can aggravate pressure points. However, the bed should not be too soft as the mattress will then provide insufficient support and cause aches and pains. Proper firmness will keep your spine neutrally aligned, rather than let it sink or be raised too high.
A mattress for heavier people needs to be on the firmer side, while lightweight, petite sleepers need a soft and plush mattress. The basic breakdown goes as shown below.
|Weight||Ideal Mattress Firmness|
|Less than 130 pounds||Medium soft to soft|
|130 to 230 pounds||Medium to medium-firm|
|230 pounds and more||Medium-firm to firm|
Many brands also measure a mattress’s firmness with a firmness scale from 1 to 10, 1 being the softest and 10 being the firmest. Most mattresses fall within the 3 to 8 range.
As a general rule, side sleepers find mattresses with a soft to medium firmness the most comfortable. The mattress provides enough support for the spine to stay healthy and enough give to relieve pressure points.
Think about your firmness options before you commit. Do you want a cradling bed that molds to your curves, or a bed with a firmer, supportive feel?
Read customer feedback and mattress reviews for any mentions of firmness before buying, particularly with online mattresses. Firmness can be subjective, and what one brand calls firm another may consider only a medium-firm.
Side sleepers will want to consider not just their mattress but the pillows they’re using. The best pillows can address and eliminate worries about shoulder pain and hip discomfort from sleeping on your side.
We recommend you look at three types of pillows— a head pillow, a knee pillow, and a body pillow.
A quality pillow for a side sleeper will offer the neck a higher loft than the head without adding more pressure to reduce stress in the neck and relax your muscles. We recommend searching for a memory foam pillow specifically designed to provide this loft. A high-quality head pillow costs quite a bit, between $50 to $150.
Knee pillows are small pillows with indentations on the surface. They are designed to keep your hips aligned and prevent awkward rotations. You should be able to find a suitable knee pillow for less than $50.
Body pillows can give support and keep your back muscles relaxed. With a good body pillow, a head and knee pillow may not be needed. A body pillow should run between $20 to $100.
How Much to Spend
With a wide selection of mattresses on the market, it can be intimidating to find your best mattress at a fair price.
We recommend a budget between $1000 to $2000 for a mattress suitable for a side sleeper. The softer mattresses best for a side sleeper tend to cost more than firmer mattresses, as a softer mattress is often a thicker mattress, with more material used in its construction.
The quality of material can raise the price as well. A mattress made with organic materials will be more expensive than one made without.
Our editors advise against going for a mattress just because it’s cheap. Your mattress is an investment, a product you’ll use for years to come. You want them to be restful, restorative years, and not years that will leave you with health issues like chronic lower back pain.
Even if you’re on a tight budget, it’s quite possible to find a high-quality mattress for under $1000.
A Mattress Topper
Is your mattress still in good condition, just needing a bit more plush give to let you sink in a bit for a good night of sleep? If you’re shopping on a tight budget for better sleep, then you may want to think about a memory foam mattress topper.
A topper can offer a couple of extra inches of soft memory foam that will shape itself to your figure, providing pressure relief at a low cost. A mattress topper can also help extend the lifespan of your mattress, though if you want to get the most out of your current mattress with a topper, you should also consider investing in a good mattress protector.
The exact thickness best suited for you depends on your preferred firmness and body weight. Side sleepers should generally look at thicker toppers, no lower than 2 inches and going up to 4 inches.
Before you buy a topper, check the measurements of your sheets and see if they’ll fit over the added thickness of your mattress topper. Otherwise, you might need to reconsider the topper or add some new sheets to your shopping cart.
Always check the details of the warranty and return policy before you commit to a mattress topper, as you would with a mattress. Sometimes there’s even a sleep trial attached.
Sleep Trials, Warranties, and Return Policies
Before you make a big purchase with a new mattress, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the attached sleep trial period, warranty, and return policy. A lengthy sleep trial and warranty is the sign of a quality mattress, while a return policy can make a good fallback if your mattress doesn’t come with a sleep trial.
You’re unlikely to have a chance to try a bed in a box mattress before you buy. A sleep trial period lets you try out your mattress at home. If you’re unsatisfied with your mattress, you can exchange it for a more fitting bed or return it for a full refund.
Most sleep trials range between 90 to 120 nights, some shorter and some longer. Companies often ask you to give yourself a month to adjust before deciding if a mattress isn’t right for you, as it takes about a month to adjust to a new sleep surface completely.
Sometimes a mattress is defective because of simple, unavoidable human failure. And if you’re a customer who happens to get a bad bed, then you’ll want a good warranty as a back-up.
It’s smart to read through the exact details of the warranty before you buy, so you’ll be able to keep in mind what is and isn’t covered and what renders the warranty void. Common defects covered include:
- Cracks or splits in the foam
- Tears in the mattress cover
Most mattresses come with a warranty of at least 10 years, as per industry standard. Some run a bit longer with prorated coverage.
We strongly advise against buying any mattress without a warranty. Warranties are the proof of the company’s faith in its product, a guarantee it’s a quality item and will last you years. If the company isn’t willing to back its product, then why take a chance on it?
If you’re not satisfied with your mattress and wish to return it, you’ll want to know the details of how you’ll initiate a return, whether it be by phone call, email, or live chat with a company representative.
Many brands offer free pickup and exchange right at your door for returns. Others may need you to ship it back on your own. It’s good to know how much it will cost to process a return and if there’s an added restocking fee.
Frequently Asked Questions
How should I have my arms as I sleep?
Arm position is important for side sleepers, as the wrong placement can mean an early awakening to a numb arm. It’s best to keep your arms close to your sides as you sleep. Experiment a little to find the exact position that works for you and lets you sleep in undisturbed comfort.
How do you stay on your side as you sleep?
An easy trick to stay on your side as you sleep is to sandwich your body with a couple of supportive body pillows, to keep you from rolling over onto your back or stomach as you sleep.
Another trick is to attach a tennis ball to the front and/or back of your sleepwear with tape, glue, or by sewing it on (or the easiest approach of all —wear a sleep shirt with a pocket on the front and just slide the ball into the pocket). If you try to turn over as you sleep, the feel of the tennis ball will halt your movement.
Did We Help?
Side sleeping may be the most popular position. But all the benefits the position offers and how you can best take advantage may not be as widely understood. Our goal in writing this guide is to leave you with a better understanding of your preferred position and allow you to make the most of it with a mattress that’s right for you.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.