Taking a look at your sleep style and preferences can help choose a more comfortable mattress.
Whether you’re having trouble finding a comfortable bed or aren’t sure where to begin your search, knowing how your own habits and preferences relate to mattress comfort can make shopping a little easier.
In this guide, we’ll look at how sleep position, preferences and other personal factors influence mattress satisfaction, and give tips on identifying what might be most comfortable for you.
What Factors In To Mattress Comfort?
Since comfort is pretty individual, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to question of which mattress is best. We all have different shapes, different firmness preferences, and different ways of sleeping, which is why there are dozens and dozens of bed brands out there.
But, taking a look at your needs and preferences (and your partner’s, too) can be a helpful way to narrow the field and identify which types of beds are most likely to offer a good night’s sleep.
Sleep Position and Mattress Comfort
Different positions place stress and pressure on different areas of the body, and require different types of support in a bed.
For those who prefer the side sleeping position, your hips and shoulders support most of your weight. A bed that is too hard can cause pain on hips, shoulders, knees, ankles and elbows, and will likely cause your lower back to sag rather than maintain natural, straight alignment.
Your ideal mattress firmness is likely in the medium to soft range, and the comfort layer of the bed should be thick enough to accommodate your curves and cushion pressure zones. You should feel as if your spine is straight (in parallel to the ground) when you are lying down.
Back sleeping places most of your body weight on your upper back, bottom, and heels. A bed that is too firm and rigid can cause pressure points and leave your lower back unsupported, contributing to muscle tension and pain. A bed that is too soft can also lack support or allow your upper body to sink too far in, also contributing to discomfort.
Your ideal mattress is likely in the medium to medium-firm range, with a comfort layer just thick enough to cushion pressure points, but not so thick or plush that your upper body sinks too deep. You should not be able to fit more than 1 finger between your lower back and the mattress when laying flat.
Stomach sleeping places pressure on sensitive areas like your chest, face, and elbows. A mattress that is too soft can allow your lower back to sag downward or place added tension on your neck. But, a mattress that is too firm can also cause pain and pressure points.
Your ideal mattress is in the medium-firm range, with a thin but supportive comfort layer. Your back shouldn’t feel strained or tense when you lie down. It may also be helpful to place a pillow beneath your hips to prevent your lower back from sinking too far.
Size and Mattress Comfort
How much you weigh can play a role in mattress comfort, as gravity will cause heavier sleepers to have a different experience than smaller people.
People that are very thin or lighter than average often prefer softer beds. This is because their lighter weight may reduce contouring, and they may also have less natural padding around pressure points.
People that are heavier than 200 pounds or so may prefer beds that have deeper comfort layers, as they will experience more downward pressure and need greater contouring from the mattress.
SleepLikeTheDead.com (a website that analyzes reviews) says that people over 200 pounds tend to rate memory foam and latex as most comfortable. They also find that people 250-300 lbs are most comfortable on beds at least 12 inches thick, while people 300-450 lbs prefer mattresses at least 14 inches thick.
If you are under 6 feet tall, Twin XL, Queen, and King mattresses should work perfectly fine for you. If you are 6 foot to 6 foot 4 inches tall, a California King mattress may be ideal, since it is 4 inches longer than standard kings (but also 4 inches slimmer). Some mattress companies can also custom make mattresses if you need even greater length to get comfortable.
Health and Mattress Comfort
Your health status and many conditions can also play a significant role in mattress comfort.
If you experience chronic pain due to arthritis, fibromyalgia, old injuries or sources, you probably are well aware how difficult it can be to get comfortable. If joint or back pain is your concern, make sure your bed provides good full body support that encourages natural alignment.
For back pain, the old adage that firmer is better may not be accurate. A 2003 Spanish study found that medium-firm beds were more effective at relieving chronic low back pain than firm mattresses. Another study from the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine found that sleeping on new medium-firm mattresses also reduced back pain and improved comfort compared to participants original beds.
If you have muscular or pressure pain, support is also important, but you might get particular benefit from memory foam or latex beds, which both all higher ratings for pain relief compared to spring beds.
Sleep Apnea, GERD or Swelling
Though nearly all mattresses are flat, not everyone can get comfortable sleeping in a flat position (even if the mattress itself might feel fine). Elevating the head or feet while laying is known to help alleviate certain conditions, for example, a raised head can reduce snoring and apnea, or lessen acid reflux symptoms, while elevating feet about the heart can relieve back and boost circulation.
If you have difficulty getting comfortable flat or your doctor suggests it, an adjustable bed or wedge pillows could improve comfort. You can find adjustable sets paired with mattresses, or select the base and mattress separate (just make sure it is compatible with an adjustable frame).
If you are a hot or cold sleeper, this might impact your mattress satisfaction. Cold sleeping is usually only an issue with unheated waterbeds (you can always add more covers), but a significant proportion of people have an issue with mattresses feeling uncomfortably hot. About 8% of memory foam mattress owners sleep hot, versus 5% of innerspring owners (without memory foam layers).
Since cooler temperatures result in better sleep, sleeping hot can indeed affect rest. If this is a concern for you, look for medium/low density or temperature-neutral memory foam, open-celled foams, and breathable fabrics. Gels may offer slight “cool-to-the-touch” sensation, but Consumer Reports’ test showed little difference compared to non-gel beds.
Considerations for Couples
How your partner sleeps can also affect mattress comfort. If your partner’s movements disturb your sleep, you might need a bed with better motion isolation (foam mattresses and pocketed coils beds rate best). You should also choose a size that can comfortably accommodate both of you. Queens offer 30 inches of space per person, while kings offer 38 inches and cal kings offer 36 inches.
If you have vastly different preferences, you may also be happier with a mattress than can be customized on either side. Many brands of latex beds allow this, and some lines of memory foam and springs also allow for customization.
Getting the Most Comfortable Mattress
It’s a lot of information, but if you take your key preferences and concerns together, you can begin to develop a better picture of what mattress traits to seek.
- For example, if you are a 150 lb middle aged woman who prefers side sleeping, is sensitive to pressure points, and is easily disturbed, you might want to try a medium to medium soft memory foam or latex bed at least 10 inches thick.
- If you are a 250 lb middle age man who prefers back sleeping, likes firmer beds, has no major pain complaints, and generally sleeps warm, you might consider a medium-firm to firm pocket coil or latex bed at least 12 inches thick.
Learning about mattress basics, being conscious of what you want in a bed, and getting familiar with a wide variety of options can make it easier to choose a comfortable mattress. But, comfort is very individual and even a mattress showroom test isn’t an infallible test of how a bed will feel over time.
For that reason, you should make sure you have the option to return or exchange if necessary. Most stores offer at least a couple weeks, and some (especially niche and online brands) may offer several months. Read the fineprint for returns so you know about applicable fees. It’s also wise to use a mattress protector, as stains can void return and warranty policies.
Online research and reviews are an excellent tool for mattress shoppers as well. See what other owners say about their experience with the mattresses you’re considering – do any reviews have the same concerns or needs as you? What do people say about quality, comfort, expectations, service, and so on? Check several sources to get a good picture (the brand/retailer website, consumer review websites, forums/blogs, etc.).
We hope this guide offered a helpful starting point for your search, and let us know if you have any questions or comments about mattress comfort below!