How to Choose a Mattress Based on Your Sleeping Position

We all move around during the night, but most of us have a preferred sleep posture. Whether side, back, or stomach, let’s look at how to choose a mattress based on your sleeping position.

By Sheryl Grassie

There are a large number of mattresses on the market, made from different materials and with different levels of support. Latex, memory foam, innerspring, airbeds, pocketed coils, organic, natural, hybrid—the list goes on.

It can be difficult to know where to start when picking a mattress. In the top five considerations is always your sleep position. How you sleep is a big clue as to the best type of mattress for you.

Sleeping positions don’t dictate the kind of mattress material or what you should spend, but it is a great indicator of the level of firmness you need and the kind of support that works best. Different positions are best supported by different levels of firmness to keep your spine aligned and your body cushioned while you sleep. Firmness is measured on a scale of 1 to 10, with the #1 being extremely soft, and the #10 being extremely firm. Most mattresses are in a range from 3 to 8 for firmness.

Where to Start

Although there are really more like eight different sleep positions, with fun names like freefaller, stargazer, and pillow hugger, all positions fall into one of three categories: either side, back, or stomach. You may know specifically what you are, but if not, go with the broad category of how you sleep most. Even if you change positions overnight, like falling asleep on your side and waking on your back, you still have a dominant posture. Determine what that is and shop accordingly.

If you and a partner have very different sleep positions, that is important to know as well. If you are the same, it makes things easy, if different, you may want to choose a mattress that can accommodate both your needs.

How to Choose a Mattress Based on Your Sleeping Position

Each position comes with different criteria that points to a different kind of bed. If you have certain health conditions, and especially as you grow older, some sleep positions are better for you than others. Research at Johns Hopkins points to individual maladies and the best sleep position, with wrinkles and back pain alleviated by back sleeping, snoring and acid reflux by side sleeping, and with sleep apnea, try your stomach.

The downside to this, however, is that people find it difficult to change their sleep position. It is like changing your personality, it can be done, but usually it takes great effort. So, go with the way you sleep now and find a mattress that fits.

Let’s examine the three predominant sleep positions and what works for each.

Side Sleepers 

Side sleeping is the most common and the most preferred sleep position. Estimates range from 47% to 74% of Americans sleeping on their sides. More women than men, and about a third of the population think this is the healthiest position.

Sleep experts also support it as a preferred sleep position. It is recommended for pregnancy to keep circulation flowing, encourages a straight spine for less pain and better sleep, and supports nerve functioning. It keeps you relaxed and is linked to recent research about a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Side sleeping helps the body to clear waste better and to detoxify.

Related: Best mattress for side sleepers

Side sleepers are encouraged to purchase a softer mattress to accommodate the sharp angles of the shoulder and hip. Because your body is the most curved when on your side, there is the greatest differential between the mattress and you. This means you need a mattress with lots of give. It allows you to sink further into the mattress and have the whole contour of your side supported. This support cushions joints for less pain as well.

For the side sleeper, a medium soft mattress with at least a 3-inch comfort layer is ideal. Latex and memory foam are both good choices and offer support for those deep curves. Find a mattress in the 3 to 5 firmness range.

Back Sleepers 

Once considered the healthiest position, it is still recommended, especially for certain conditions. Back sleeping does not put pressure on the neck or spine and keeps them readily aligned. The only area that does not meet the mattress and may need additional support is the curve of the lower back.

Estimates range from somewhere between 8% and 15% of all people sleep on their backs. It is a much smaller percentage than side sleepers, and frankly, just way less popular. Most people do not find it a comfortable position, and it can exacerbate breathing problems like snoring and sleep apnea. One major plus to sleeping on your back however, is the cosmetic benefits. With no facial contact to the pillow or mattress, your skin can breathe freely and is free from pressure that can cause wrinkles. Back sleeping can also help with acne. Add silk pillowcases and really support your skin.

For the back sleeper, a medium firm mattress works best. Something in the 4 to 6 firmness range, with a 2-inch top layer. Latex can be a good choice as well as innerspring.

Stomach Sleepers 

With stomach sleepers the information varies somewhat. Some articles support a plush, cushy mattress that the body can sink into, but most of the literature recommends a firmer mattress. What everyone does seem to agree on, is that sleeping on your stomach is the least recommended position for health and comfort. Only about 16% sleep of the population sleeps on their stomachs, which is slightly more than back sleepers.

The concern about stomach sleeping is that it puts pressure on internal organs and does not give adequate support to the neck and spine. This can result in back and neck pain and misalignment. One plus to sleeping on your stomach, is that it is almost impossible to snore in this position.

For stomach sleepers, a medium to firm mattress works best. Choose a firmness rating between 5 and 7 with a moderate top layer in the 1.5-inch range for full support.

The chart below, shows in red, the range of firmness for each sleeping position.

Firmness scale


How to choose a mattress based on your sleeping position is relatively simple. First, know what your predominant position is, then check the firmness range and top layer thickness that is recommended for your sleep position type. Once you know what you are looking for, say a medium firm mattress with a 3-inch top layer, you can choose from a wonderful selection of mattresses to support your sleep position.

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