Best Mattresses for Side Sleepers – Our Top Ten Tips!

A woman is sleeping with her ands folded under her head on a white pillow
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What is the best mattress for side sleepers?

Most of us Prefer to Side Sleep

Most people really prefer to sleep on their side over their stomach or back.

Estimates range from 65-75% of the population opting for side sleeping.

It’s heaps better for your sleep overall as it reduces the risk of snoring and having sleep apnoea.

This is Huge!

Sleep apnoea is a BIG DEAL. It’s been implicated as a major cause of myocardial infarction (heart attack), congestive heart failure, stroke, and diabetes mellitus (Jordan et.al. 2014).

So it’s pretty safe to say that we should continue sleeping on our sides. And if that’s the case, we’re going to want a mattress that’s perfectly suited to side sleeping.

Which begs the question: Which mattress should we choose to get the best sleep as side sleepers?

In a Rush? Scroll down to see our Top Ten Tips for Side Sleepers!

In This Article:

We look at what type of mattresses and pillows are most appropriate to give the best possible sleeping conditions for this very common sleeping position.

We also take a look at what if any are the downsides to sleeping on your side?

Tip for Side Sleepers

Placing a pillow between the knees is a important tip given by many health professionals. 

Also, the knees and hips should be slightly flexed, but not too much! 

Too much flexion will put extra stress on the lower back and more tension on the sciatic nerve. 

An illustration of the best pillow placement for side sleepers. One between the knees and one under the head.

The pillow between the legs helps to hold the knees in a more natural position, a position closer to good posture when you are in a stance position.

Better Sleep Quality!

Probably the biggest positive for side sleepers is the decreased likelihood of snoring and sleep apnoea.

Side sleeping does not eliminate snoring completely, as some people manage to snore no matter what position they are in.

A man sleeping on his side with his hand under his head.

These people are strongly advised to speak to their medical professional, because the consequences of chronic sleep apnoea can range from fatigue during the day to increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Of course fatigue itself can be fatal as there have been many deaths recorded involving cars and machinery.

Expert Opinion:

In a study in 2012 by Antonio Sanna in the journal Chronic Respiratory Disease they remarked:

“It is also known that, in addition to increasing risk of diseases and medical conditions, it (obstructive sleep apnoea or OSA) is the major independent risk factor for MVA (motor vehicle accidents).

There is increasing evidence that OSA is also a major risk factor for occupational accidents and work disabilities.” (A. Sanna, 2012)

Downsides for Side Sleepers:

Reduced surface area:

Because the sides of our bodies are narrower, there is less surface area in contact with the sleeping surface for side sleepers.

This means that the areas which are in contact with the sleep surface will bear more weight per square centimetre.

This causes more pressure to be placed typically on the hips and shoulders. This means that any surface that is too firm can make side sleepers quite sore, especially if they have any other medical issues going on like osteo-arthritis or other musculo-skeletal conditions.

On The Other Hand:

Conversely something that is too soft will be more likely to sag in the two main areas of pressure.

This causes the spine to flex into a position which is poorly aligned and will cause the sleeper to possibly wake up with a very stiff back and pain in their legs and neck as well.

A woman sleeping on her side facing the camera with her eyes closed.

You Might Be Wondering:

When we sleep on our side, what is the best position for our heads?

Side sleeping can be a real problem if the pillow is not of the correct height and density. If so the neck will be in a twisted position and the sleeper is likely to wake up with a “wry neck.”

This can be very debilitating as it can cause headaches that last for days and can even cause arm pain and tingling in the hand if the nerve is being pinched due to the cervical (neck) spine position.

Shoulder pain:

Another consideration when choosing the best mattress for side sleepers is what condition are your shoulders in?

A man sits on the examination bed in his doctor's office clutching his shoulder.

If you have had injuries to your shoulders or you suffer from osteo or rheumatoid arthritis involving the shoulders, then sleeping on your side may be out of the question.

This relates of course to the problem above which is that the side position puts most of your body weight through the shoulders and hips.

The Truth is:

Finding answers to these drawbacks is crucial when shopping for a mattress or pillow.

If not considered correctly these issues can cause side sleepers a lot of pain and disablement leading to days off work and many visits to the doctor, chiropractor, physiotherapist or osteopath.

In fact this is the cycle that many of us find ourselves in.

Therapists will commonly focus on symptoms and a short term fix for them to give immediate relief, without drilling down deeper into what the actual cause of the problem is.

Get Some Expert Advice:

Ask your health professional if they think your pain could be related to a poor sleep surface or pillow for a good place to start.

Many are quite knowledgeable on what type of mattress and pillow would be particularly good for your situation. 

They may also be able to steer you in the direction of someone who is able to assess you and then determine the ideal pillow and mattress for you.

Top of the mattress tree:

Mattressify.com is a leader in reviewing mattresses of all types, for all types of sleepers. 

Here’s what they had to say about the best mattress for side sleepers in their assessment.

“…in our opinion a spring based mattress will never be the solution for a side sleeper. 

A cross cut of the Serta 12" mattress with a woman side sleeping on it.

However thick the padding, at some point, the pressure points of the hip and shoulders will start to come into contact with the springs, and very quickly sleep-filled nights will be a dim distant grumpy memory.”

In their review of the best mattress for side-sleepers they rated the Serta 12 inch at the top of the heap.

This mattress has three layers of foam ranging from a memory foam on top which moulds to your body increasing the surface area of your body in contact with the bed (remember earlier we said that side sleepers have less surface area in contact with the bed?).

There is an air foam layer below which helps to circulate the air and keep you cool (as one of the problems with memory foam beds has been that they can generate more heat).

The base of the mattress is a high density foam providing your spine with good strong support.

It makes sense that a bed with a combination of materials which adjusts to the shape of your body and a firmer base will be the ideal environment for side sleepers.

Consider this Alternative!

Slumberyard.com are leaders in the field of reviewing mattresses.

A great alternative they found which I had never heard of before is the “Layla” mattress.It’s a mattress that is flippable with different firmness on each side!

I’m actually amazed that this wasn’t thought of earlier.

One side is soft and one is firm. 

With Slumberyard.com reports that strict side sleepers should stick to the soft side as it is really a medium-soft when compared to other mattresses.

You can go straight to their article “Best Mattress For Side Sleepers” here.

What does the future hold?

What will be the future of mattresses in relation to side sleepers?

How far will sleep science go to find the perfect sleep?

Over time the public has become more discerning about mattress purchases.

Plus, there is an increasing interest in gaining a good sound night’s sleep given that we now know there are a multitude of health benefits to be gained.

So companies will continue to push the envelope in competition with each other to find a bed which can bring the best results for the sleeper.

On the Cutting Edge:

There have been patents submitted to the United States government where there are cavities in key parts of the mattress to provide more support with firmer or softer materials where they are needed.

Personal assessments of which mattress may be the best fit for the buyer are becoming more detailed and will likely only continue to do so.

The ability to split the mattress now makes it even more personalised as you can select an entirely different mattress set up to your sleeping partner.

Pillows:

Once you have your mattress set up sorted out, you need to make sure that your pillow is appropriate as well.

It hardly seems sensible to spend thousands of dollars on a bed only to have an inappropriate pillow undermine your sleep quality.

Traditional feather and down pillows have made way for different types of foams including latex, memory foam and gel foams.

There are also pillows available with an inflatable insert, or a firm core with a memory foam on the outer layer.

The Pillow Experts:

Chris Zdeb from the National Post did some research talking to expert Physiotherapists and Chiropractors and found: “If you’re a side-sleeper, you need a higher profile or thicker pillow, Linford (physiotherapist) says.

Measure the distance between the bottom of your ear and the top of your shoulder – generally about four inches.”

“The most comfortable pillow will be one that will fill that space with your head resting on it, keeping the neck aligned with the rest of the spine”, Linford says.

Comfort and Support are Key:

Basically a combination of a reasonably firm but still comfortable pillow which will hold your head in the best position to keep your spine and your head in the same alignment will serve you the best.

“A water pillow (a pillow with a bladder that can be adjusted by adding or taking water away) or a good firm foam pillow might do the job.

A woman sleeps on her side on a pillow facing us.

 

The drawbacks are water pillows tend to be heavy to move and some people find foam pillows too hot because they don’t breathe.”

Our Top 10 Tips for Side Sleepers:

  1. Side sleeping has distinct health advantages over sleeping on your back. Including a reduced risk of sleep apnoea, heart disease, diabetes and fatigue.
  2. Side sleepers may benefit from a pillow between their knees with the knees and hips slightly bent.
  3.  If you suffer from arthritic shoulders, it will be important to have a soft mattress topper.
  4.  The bed should be firm enough to hold your spine in a straight position.
  5. Mattressify.com recommend the Serta 12 inch Gel Memory Foam mattress (as of 4/20/18), it’s 3 layers are firm in the base and become softer near the top in order to support and cushion.
  6. Mattressify.com also recommend a foam mattress over spring mattresses which they believe will put too much pressure on one part of the body.
  7. Mattress technology is deveoping fast, so be on the lookout for new advancements.
  8. Pillow height is critical. Measure the distance between the bottom of your ear and the top of your shoulder — generally about four inches. Your pillow should fill this space. 
  9. Your pillow should be firm enough to hold your head at a good height but soft enough for comfort. Generally foam pillows will fit the bill.
  10. Seek out advice from your health professional, physiotherapist, physician, chiropractor or other before committing to a pillow and mattress combination.
  11. Bonus Tip! Give the flippable mattress by Layla a try. As mentioned in the article “Best Mattress For Side Sleepers” Here

Our mission for great sleep:

We are on a mission! 

If you’ve heard of better tips for side sleepers, or a great mattress for side sleepers, thence’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment and we’ll investigate it and incorporate it into our blog post.

We want traveler with all types of ailments be they back pain, bad shoulders or hip arthritis etc., to be able to find themselves the “best sleep on the road.”

Register with us and leave a review of a hotel bed that you’ve either enjoyed or had a sleepless night with, or leave a review of one of our blog articles or someone else’s hotel bed review.

Look out for informative articles or funny facts as they appear regularly in this spot.

Please write to let us know if you hear of any big news in the world of sleep and we’ll credit you with any information.

Whether it’s what you’ve found to be the best mattress for side sleepers, or what was the most comfortable sleep in Europe, we’d love to hear it!

References:

  1. Dr Amy SJordanPhDabDavid GMcSharryMBceProfAtulMalhotraMDcd Adult obstructive sleep apnoea, The Lancet Volume 383, Issue 9918, 22–28 February 2014, Pages 736-747
  2. Chronic Respiratory Disease 10(1) 29–33 ª The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1479972312473134 crd.sagepub.com
  3. “Tears on Your pillow?; Whether you’re a backsleeper or a side- sleeper, there’s a special place to lay your head.” Zdeb, Chris . National Post ; Don Mills, Ont. [Don Mills, Ont]06 Mar 2008: AL.9

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