Sleeping on your side comes with a variety of health perks. But to get the most out of your sleeping position, you need the right mattress.
What is the best mattress for side sleepers? Often, the answer is a memory foam mattress.
So the next question might be, how do you find the right memory foam mattress for yourself? How do you judge what is the right firmness? How much should a quality memory foam bed cost you? We discuss the answers to these questions in our guide, covering the pros and cons of memory foam, the health benefits of side sleeping, and how to find the memory foam mattress right for you.
Why A Memory Foam Mattress?
Memory foam is one of the more conforming mattress types available and is well-known for its ability to reduce pressure and soothe pain. Side sleepers do best on a pressure-relieving bed that can keep their spinal alignment neutral. The plushness of memory foam can give a side sleeper the cushioning and give needed to sleep in comfort and awaken without soreness or aches.
By sleeping on your side, the pressure of your body weight is not distributed evenly across the body. Instead, the pressure concentrates in the hip, shoulder, and neck. If this pressure is not alleviated and builds up, you might toss and turn, decreasing the amount of quality sleep you get and increasing the pain in these three pressure point areas.
This is why a mattress that can offer a balance of support and softness is important for a side sleeper. An overly soft mattress can cause the sleeper’s hips and shoulders sink in too deeply, drawing the spine out of alignment. A mattress that’s too firm will conversely raise the spine out of alignment by not giving enough space for the shoulders and hips to sink in.
Our Recommendation: Zoma Mattress
We drew upon more than 25 years of mattress-making experience when we built the Zoma Mattress to help sleepers achieve restorative sleep. The mattress’s design promotes faster muscle recovery and deeper sleep.
Three layers of foam make up a Zoma Mattress— it has two top layers that are 2 inches each and a bottom layer 7 inches tall. This brings the Zoma Mattress to a total height of 11 inches.
The first layer is gel-infused memory foam, creating a cooling mattress to relieve pressure and alleviate pain as you sleep. Our Triangulex™ technology is found in this layer, using triangle cutouts in the leg and shoulder areas for extra contouring while keeping the midsection solid for support. This added comfort pairs well with the side sleeper style, relieving key pressure points.
The second layer is our Reactiv™ foam layer. Though made with polyurethane, Reactiv™ has a latex-like feel to aid with recovery and act as a buffer layer.
The third and final layer is a base of Support+ foam, providing the bed with its durable structure.
Included with the mattress is a mattress cover. The cover is 97 percent polyester and 3 percent elastane for an elastic knit that creates breathable air channels.
Our Zoma Mattress is $750 for a queen size, which includes a 100-night risk-free trial and a 10-year warranty. Sleepers not satisfied by the mattress can return it within the sleep trial period for a full refund. We make returns easy for you by working with one of our local partners to pick it up at your home, so don’t worry about recompressing the mattress to ship it back.
Advantages to Side Sleeping
Science has found quite a few health benefits to side sleeping. However, the sides do not offer equal benefits as humans do not have a symmetrical design to their bodies. We recommend sleeping on the right side, as research suggests it promotes a healthier heart.
When you sleep on your right side, gravity draws your heart into your chest cavity. Whereas when you sleep on your left side, gravity draws your heart into your rib cage, which puts unneeded pressure on the heart.
Sleeping on the side is also tied to a more active glymphatic system. Your glymphatic system clears out the waste products of your brain while you sleep. In a 2015 study, scientists examined which sleep position made this process more effective, and they concluded side sleeping was the best position for this process.
Why is it important your glymphatic system gets the job done as best it can? The hypothesis is a build-up of waste proteins may be connected to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
One last benefit to side sleeping is a reduction in snoring. By sleeping on your side, your airway opens more for easier breathing than if you were to lie on your back.
Similarly, side sleeping can prevent or reduce the effects of sleep apnea. Side sleeping is more effective in preventing sleep apnea in patients who aren’t obese, but can still make a difference regardless of body weight.
Different Side Sleeping Positions
Side sleeping is a popular position with four variations:
- The fetal position is the most common of the four, named for how it mimics a fetus in the womb. The sleeper bends the legs at the knees and tucks the knees toward the chest.
- In the log position, the sleeper extends their arms and legs out while the spine remains straight.
- Yearner is named for how the sleeper stretches their arms out while the legs and back are kept straight.
- A sprinter sleeper keeps their arms and back straight, with one leg kept straight and the other bent at the knee.
If you sleep in a position with your legs extended outward, you run the risk of stretching the spine out of alignment and stressing the hips and back. A simple solution is to sleep with a pillow between the legs for better sleep posture.
Pros and Cons of A Memory Foam Mattress
A memory foam mattress is one of the best mattresses for a side sleeper, as it can cradle the hips and shoulders and relieve the pressure side sleeping places on them. However, like all mattress types, memory foam is not without its pros and cons.
We’ve already discussed how memory foam can ease the pressure placed on the body and soothe pain. Essentially, memory foam can alleviate existing pain and prevent future pain by molding to your body, providing the support each area of the body needs.
A memory foam mattress offers better motion isolation than any other type of mattress, which makes it a good choice for anyone who shares a bed. While an innerspring or hybrid mattress might cause some springs to creak when you move during the night, a memory foam mattress provides a quiet night of sleep.
Sleepers who need a hypoallergenic bed can find relief in a memory foam mattress. The density of memory foam acts as a deterrent, offering little room for allergens and dust mites to accumulate. Memory foam can also be a good fit for a sleeper with a natural fiber allergy, as typically a memory foam bed doesn’t include any natural fibers in its construction and mostly uses synthetic materials.
A memory foam mattress is also easy to obtain from the comfort of your home. They’re one of the more popular types of online mattresses, thanks to the ease with which they can be compressed and delivered. No need to drive around to different mattress stores when you’re looking for a new memory foam bed.
Memory foam’s most concerning drawback may be its tendency to trap heat. Traditional memory foam retains body heat, and if holds too much it may overheat you as you sleep, giving you an early awakening.
Many manufacturers are aware of this and add new components to create a cooling mattress for hot sleepers. A popular solution is to infuse the memory foam mixture with cooling gels to create a gel memory foam that will absorb heat. Other companies may add copper or graphite for a similar result.
Some sleepers report a feeling of being “stuck” or “swallowed” in their memory foam bed. The mattress does not snap back into shape fast enough to let them easily move about. This is because of the bed’s response time, which gauges how quickly a bed returns to its original structure.
Low-quality foams often have a slow response time, and some foams are over-sensitive to temperature and soften as they warm up. A mattress made with higher-quality, temperature-neutral foam rarely makes a sleeper feel stuck in their bed.
The smell of a newly opened memory foam mattress is another frequent complaint. Known as “off-gassing,” this smell should dissipate within a few weeks at the most, and even sooner if the mattress is given a chance to air out.
How Much to Budget?
With mattresses prices reaching up to thousands of dollars, it can be tough to know how much you should pay for optimal comfort.
A budget of $1,000 to $2,000 should cover a quality queen-size memory foam mattress for a side sleeper. Mattresses suitable for a side sleeper can be more costly as more material is needed to make a mattress softer and plusher. Side sleepers should not compromise on the softness they will need for a good night’s sleep.
If you’re a side sleeper with a lower mattress budget, it’s possible to find a good mattress for under $1000. However, do not settle for a mattress just because it has a low price point. An expensive mattress that will last you 7 to 10 years is a better deal than an inexpensive mattress that might fall apart after only a few years of use.
A high-quality memory foam should last you at least eight years, and ideally, it should be good to sleep on for a decade or more.
Other Mattress Types
While a memory foam mattress can be a good choice for a side sleeper, we know it’s not the mattress type for everyone. Your best mattress might be one of the three other main types of mattresses: latex, innerspring, and hybrid.
Latex mattresses can come from two sources— rubber tree sap or synthetic manufacturing. The first is known as natural latex, the second is known as synthetic latex.
A latex mattress can offer needed pressure relief to a side sleeper, and like a memory foam mattress, it can mold to a sleeper’s body. But a latex mattress is bouncier than a memory foam mattress, so it doesn’t isolate motion as well.
Latex can have a more firm feel than expected, which may not work for a side sleeper. However, some latex mattress brands do offer an optional pillow top for added softness.
A natural latex mattress can last about 15 years, which can make the high cost a worthwhile investment for some. When looking at latex mattresses, we recommend those made with Dunlop or Talalay latex. Both are made from rubber tree sap, though Talalay is not 100 percent natural.
An innerspring is one of the oldest types of mattresses as it debuted in the late 1800s. A coil system inside the mattress provides the bed’s support, while the space between the coils promotes the bed’s breathability. You can find an innerspring mattress in most mattress stores and some furniture stores.
We do not recommend an innerspring mattress for a side sleeper, as the mattress cannot conform to the body and ease pressure as well as other types of mattresses can. Innersprings pair better with back and stomach sleepers, who need more support and firmness and less contouring from their mattresses.
A hybrid mattress has the coil support system of an innerspring and at least three inches of foam. On a hybrid, users aren’t as cradled as they would be on a memory foam bed, but a hybrid does typically mold to the body better than an innerspring mattress would.
Hybrid mattresses can come with a high price tag, as they combine coils and foam rather than rely on only one. And what you pay for a hybrid mattress may not be worth it, as after six or seven years you’ll likely have to replace it. With a quality memory foam bed for a comparable or lower price, you can expect around a decade of use.
Other Sleep Styles
Aside from sleeping on your side, there are two less common sleep positions— back sleeping and stomach sleeping.
Back sleeping has the advantage of naturally keeping the spine in a neutral alignment and evenly distributing the body’s weight. A back sleeper sleeps best on a medium-firm to firm mattress.
We do not recommend stomach sleeping, as it can cause health issues such as lower back pain and neck pain. Sleeping on your stomach moves your center of gravity to the torso, which can push down on your hips and stomach and create an unhealthy curve in your spine.
A sleeper who continues to lie on their stomach should look for a firm mattress to better keep their spine in a healthy alignment.
What If You’re A Combination Sleeper?
You may not stick solely to sleeping on your side in the night. Some mornings you might wake up on your back or stomach. Many sleepers are combination sleepers, moving throughout different sleep positions in the night.
If you’re a combo sleeper, one option is to find a mattress to accommodate various sleeping positions. A mattress with a medium firmness can suit most sleep styles. Combination sleepers should consider a mattress responsive enough to allow for easy movement and prevent motion transfer, particularly if they share a bed.
You can also take steps to become solely a side sleeper. Sleeping with a body pillow can deter you from rolling onto your back and side, as can the cheaper alternative of a tennis ball glued to the front and/or back of your sleepwear. A third option is to combine the two ideas and improvise a “support pillow” by filling a pillowcase with tennis balls.
There is no one firmness option to fit everybody, but there are factors that can help you narrow down what firmness level fits you.
A side sleeper should consider soft to medium mattresses. Not all companies use descriptions such as “soft” or “medium-soft,” though. Many of them use the firmness scale.
The mattress firmness scale stretches from 1 to 10, with 1 as the softest and 10 as the firmest. Typically, you’ll find most numbers on the firmness scale match a firmness description as shown in the table below:
|Firmness Scale Rating||Firmness Description|
Body weight impacts the feel of a mattress, too. A good mattress for heavy sleepers will likely be on the slightly firmer side, to better take on their weight. A lightweight sleeper will want the opposite, a softer and plusher mattress than normal. You qualify as a lightweight sleeper if you’re less than 130 pounds, and as a heavyweight sleeper if you’re more than 230 pounds.
Firmness can be subjective by brand, as each company has its own slightly different take on the firmness scale. Before buying, you might want to investigate further by reading mattress reviews and customer feedback. Did anyone receive a mattress firmer or softer than they were expecting? A few minutes of research can save you from having to later return or exchange a mattress.
If you want a technical rating of a mattress’s firmness, there’s the Indentation Load Deflection (ILD) rating. The ILD rating of a mattress is found by seeing how much weight it takes to compress a mattress to 25 percent of its original height. The higher the ILD rating, the firmer the mattress is.
Most companies don’t put the ILD rating on the website or other advertising material, so if you want to know you’ll likely have to reach out to customer service. Often, the firmness scale is sufficient enough to gauge a mattress’s firmness.
Density and firmness are not interchangeable terms, though they are not unconnected. Density is used to describe how compacted the materials in a layer of foam are.
The density of a foam layer is measured by taking a cubic foot of foam and weighing it to find the pounds per cubic foot (PCF). The more the foam weighs, the denser it is. Foam density breaks down into three different categories, as shown below:
|Foam density||Weight per cubic foot|
|Medium-density||4 to 5 pounds|
|High-density||6 pounds or more|
Often low-density foam is used in a mattress’s top layer for its softness, while higher density foam is used in a mattress’s support core. Sometimes, though, you’ll see high-density foam in the top comfort layer.
Edge support is a mattress feature where the edges are firmed up to prevent the sleeper from rolling over the side. With edge support, the edges should be firm enough to sit upon and can make it easier to get out of bed.
However, a mattress with edge support decreases the available sleeping surface by firming up the edges. The edge support of a bed may also break down faster than the rest of the mattress.
Edge support is often a matter of preference, though there are sleepers it can benefit. Overweight sleepers might find edge support helps a mattress better take on their weight. Sleepers with chronic pain or physical ailments might find edge support makes it easier to get in and out of bed.
Sleep Trial, Warranty, and Return Policy
Whenever you buy a new mattress, you’re also purchasing the included sleep trial, warranty, and return policy. All three of these are factored into a mattress’s price, so you might want to take the chance to read through each before you buy. We strongly advise against any mattress that does not come with these three protections.
The sleep trial is the trial period you have to try out a newly bought mattress. Often the trial period is between 90 to 120 days, though you may find some lasting for a full year.
As it takes a sleeper around a month to adjust to a new mattress, a fair sleep trial should cover at least 30 days.
A warranty covers any defects in the mattress from faulty structure or workmanship. It’s a seal of the company’s faith, a guarantee that if the bed is made right and taken care of it, it should last you for years.
A mattress warranty often covers:
- Sagging beyond an inch
- Torn seams
- Tears or splits in the foam
- Burst coils
- A damaged zipper on the mattress cover
Most mattresses come with a warranty covering 10 years, although some offer a 20, 25-year, or even a lifetime warranty (a warranty that lasts as long as you own it). If the warranty extends beyond a decade, it’s typically prorated, which means you will have to pay a percentage of the costs to repair or replace it.
Like a warranty, a return policy is a sign of the company’s confidence in its product and gives the customer peace of mind. Reading through the return policy before you buy will better leave you prepared for how to deal with a mattress that’s not right for you.
Here are some questions a read-through of a return policy should answer:
- How do you file a return claim? Some companies require an email, others a phone call.
- How do you send back a mattress for return? Will it be picked up, or is it on you to ship it back or donate it?
- When can the mattress be returned? You might have to wait a month or more before you can make a return.
- What condition does the mattress need to be in to be eligible for a return? Some companies stipulate they won’t take back a stained mattress. Some won’t take a mattress back if it’s been opened.
- Is a full refund offered, or can you only exchange the mattress for another?
- If you do an exchange for a mattress that costs less, will you be refunded the difference?
When it comes to return policies, we recommend choosing mattress companies that offer at least 30 days to return the bed and who will pick up the unwanted mattress at your door.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if you sleep on memory foam before it expands?
Nothing should happen to your memory foam mattress if you sleep on it before it finishes expanding. It may take slightly longer for your mattress to expand and the bed may not be as comfortable as it would be fully expanded, but sleeping on it should not harm the mattress.
If your memory foam mattress does not fully expand after 72 hours, you may have a defective mattress. Reach out to customer service to begin the return or exchange process.
Can you put a memory foam mattress on top of a box spring?
No, a box spring cannot provide the uniform support a memory foam mattress needs. Placing a memory foam mattress on top of a box spring will likely lead to premature sagging.
However, if you have a box spring you want to continue using, we recommend a flat foundation at least ¾ of an inch thick, such as a bunkie board. Place it on top of the box spring and your mattress should have sufficient support.
Can you flip a memory foam mattress?
As memory foam mattresses are built in layers, with a memory foam layer on top and supportive foam underneath, flipping it can mess up the support and comfort of the bed. You may even void the warranty by flipping a memory foam mattress.
Memory foam mattresses designed to be flipped often have a soft side and a firm side. If you flip it after sleeping on one side, you may find the other side is not as comfortable.
Did We Help?
With so many memory foam mattresses on the market, there is a wide variety suitable for side sleepers. We recommend a plush mattress with a 10-year warranty and a 100-night sleep trial.
When you’re shopping for the right mattress, you might want to consider what pillows you’re sleeping with as well. Side sleepers should look at pillows tall enough to minimize the space between their neck and the mattress, at least 3 inches tall. You can use a thin pillow to tuck between the legs, to better keep the spine aligned and prevent hip pain in the morning.
No matter how you choose to sleep, a good mattress with ample support and pressure relief is key to a good night’s rest.