Sleeping on your side is one of the most common and recommended sleep positions. When sleeping on your side, your shoulders and hips bear the brunt of your body weight.
This can lead to pressure points and pain without proper cushioning comfort. That’s why many side sleepers assume they need an ultra plush soft mattress.
But is plush always best for side sleepers? Or could a firmer mattress actually provide better support?
This article dives into whether strict side sleepers need a firm or plush mattress for optimal comfort and spinal alignment. We’ll provide tips to find the right balance of contouring and support.
Benefits of Plush Mattresses for Side Sleepers
Here are some potential advantages softer, plush mattresses can offer side sleepers:
Pressure Point Cushioning – Plush foam layers contour around the shoulders and hips to alleviate pressure points. This reduces discomfort at areas bearing weight.
Spinal Curvature – Soft mattresses conform to the natural lateral curves of your spine in the side position. They fill in space rather than pushing back.
Joint Comfort – Added cushioning can minimize pain and stiffness around joints like the shoulders, hips, knees, and elbows for side sleepers.
Improved Circulation – Allowing the shoulders and hips to slightly sink in can take pressure off nearby nerves and blood vessels for better circulation.
Easy Movement – Plush, responsive materials make it easier to change positions and rotate throughout the night without fighting the mattress.
Lightweight Sleepers – Those under 130 pounds often prefer a softer mattress that allows proportionally more sink around lighter shoulders and hips.
For these reasons, plush mattresses seem like the obvious match for keeping side sleepers comfortable and properly supported overnight. But potential drawbacks exist too.
Benefits of Firm Mattresses for Side Sleepers
While not seemingly as intuitive, firmer mattresses around 7-8 on the firmness scale also have benefits for side sleeping:
Spinal Alignment – Firmer beds don’t allow as much sink which can help keep the spine aligned if you have lightweight shoulders/hips.
Durability – Firm mattresses tend to retain their shape and support better long-term. Soft mattresses are more prone to sagging issues after a few years which can throw the spine out of whack.
Ease of Movement – Firm, responsive surfaces allow changing positions without sinking into the foamy comfort layers too much. This makes moving easier.
Heavier Weight – Heavier side sleepers over 230 pounds often need the enhanced support of a firmer mattress to lift their frame and prevent excessive sink.
Combination Sleepers – Firmer mattresses accommodate back, stomach, and side positions well. Soft beds that conform closely to side sleeping make other positions less comfortable.
While counterintuitive for some, a moderately firm mattress has benefits for side sleepers depending on individual body type and sleep style.
Drawbacks of Too Soft or Too Firm for Side Sleepers
Here are the potential issues with going too plush soft or too firm:
- Increased pressure on shoulder and hip joints from deeper sink
- Spine drops out of alignment due to midsection dip
- Difficulty changing positions due to enveloping sink
- Trapped heat from close body contouring
- Impaired edge support makes getting in and out challenging
- Insufficient pressure relief leads to discomfort at shoulders and hips
- Lack of curvature accommodation can torque the spine
- Lightweight sleepers have minimal shoulder/hip sink
- Discomfort trying to side sleep on an overly hard surface
- May exacerbate pain or arthritis for some
The right balance mitigates these issues to offer the ideal blend of cushioning comfort and robust support.
Mattress Firmness Recommendations for Side Sleepers
Here are the general mattress firmness guidelines based on weight that provide the best support for side sleepers:
- Soft (4-5.5 / 10) – Best for side sleepers <130 lbs
- Medium Soft (5.5-6.5 / 10) – Best for side sleepers 130-230 lbs
- Medium Firm (6.5-7.5 / 10) – Best for side sleepers >230 lbs
- Firm (7.5-8.5+) – Rarely ideal for all side sleeping
In most cases, a medium soft to medium firm mattress will offer the right blend of contouring for pressure relief while still supporting proper spinal alignment for side sleepers. But physical factors impact needs.
Factors That Impact Ideal Firmness
Elements beyond weight that influence the optimal mattress firmness include:
Body Frame – Petite frames need softer mattresses for proportionate sink while tall/large frames do better with firm.
Shoulder Width – Broad-shouldered side sleepers need additional shoulder cushioning which may mean a softer surface.
Sleep Style – Strict side sleepers need more plushness than combination sleepers who also rest on their stomach or back.
Chronic Pain – Those with shoulder, back or hip pain may benefit from added softness to minimize pressure points.
Mattress Materials – How deep you sink in will vary with different mattress materials like latex, memory foam, innerspring, etc.
Personal Preference – Some simply prefer the enveloping feel of a soft mattress over a firm surface.
Consider your individual physical traits, sleep tendencies, and preferences when choosing mattress firmness as a side sleeper.
Signs Your Mattress is Too Firm or Too Soft
Notice these signs that your mattress firmness isn’t right for your side sleeping needs:
Too Firm Mattress Signs
- Hip, shoulder and back stiffness upon waking
- Upper body heaviness, numbness, or tingling
- Changing positions frequently during the night
- Avoiding side sleeping position
- New aches and pains after getting a firmer mattress
Too Soft Mattress Signs
- Mid/lower back pain and sinking in feeling
- Hamstring, hip or shoulder pain from uneven support
- Resisting getting out of bed due to enveloped feeling
- Sagging indentations on the mattress surface
- Shoulders and hips feel strained and sore
Adjusting firmness helps restore comfort and support if your current mattress isn’t meeting your side sleeping needs.
FAQs About Mattress Firmness for Side Sleepers
What firmness is best for side sleepers with shoulder pain?
Medium soft to medium firmness offers the right blend of cushioning and support. Soft cradles shoulders while medium prevents excessive sinking that can increase pain.
Is a soft or firm mattress better for side and back sleepers?
A medium firm mattress accommodates both positions fairly well for combination back and side sleepers. Soft lacks back support while firm feels uncomfortable on the shoulders and hips.
Should a side sleeper have a soft or firm pillow?
A medium soft to medium pillow with moderate contouring works best. Too soft allows the head to tilt down and too firm over-arches the neck. Density matters more than firmness level.
Can side sleepers have a firm mattress?
Moderately firm around a 7/10 could work for some side sleepers if they have a thick, cushy mattress topper. But most side sleepers report better comfort on a softer to medium bed.
Is plush or firm better for side and stomach sleepers?
These sleepers need firmer support since stomach sleeping works best on a more solid surface. Aim for medium firm to prevent sink while side sleeping.
The notion that all side sleepers need an ultra plush soft mattress is a common misconception. While side sleepers need pressure relief, too soft a surface can create spinal misalignment and joint strain.
Look for a high-quality medium soft to medium firm mattress optimized for side sleeping. This provides close contouring to cushion shoulder and hip pressure points while keeping your spine properly aligned. Weight, body type, sleep habits and personal inclinations impact finding your ideal firmness and mattress type.
Give your body the tailored support it needs by choosing a mattress with the right blend of comfort and resilience. Say goodbye to mornings full of aches and pains by optimizing your mattress firmness as a side sleeper.
Ready to experience plush, yet supportive side sleeping comfort? Check out our top-rated mattresses for side sleepers. We offer unbiased reviews and expertise to help choose the right firmness and design for your needs. Start sleeping comfortably tonight!