5 things every side sleeper should look for in a mattress and bedding, according to sleep experts

Get it right, and get ready for the best night's sleep

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(Image credit: Future PLC/James Merrell)

A huge portion of the UK sleeps on their side, and if you’re one of them, you might not have thought much about it. It’s just how you sleep, right? Well, it turns out that there are 5 things to look for if you’re a side sleeper. 

At Ideal Home, we’ve had the pleasure of testing some of the best mattresses and the best pillows on the market today. But one thing we’ve learned is that these products aren’t one-size-fits-all. Some mattresses are designed with back sleepers in mind, while there are certain pillows that could spell disaster (and a trip to the chiropractor) for front sleepers. 

So, what about side sleepers? To keep your spine aligned and your comfort levels up high, side sleepers have more to consider. From choosing the right mattress to your bedding choices, these are the things you need to look for if you’re a side sleeper. 

5 things to look for if you’re a side sleeper

‘Research shows that over 60% of the nation are side sleepers, making this the most popular position for sleep,’ explains Laura Burnett, bed expert from Feather & Black. But as sleeping on your side can have some negative side effects, it’s important to choose the right products that work with your body rather than against it. 

1. A medium-firm mattress

There are so many mattresses out there, and buying a new mattress can be daunting. To make matters worse, many people base their decision on the price alone. And while affordability is definitely something you need to consider, so is support. In fact, insufficient support can result in back pain. 

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(Image credit: Future PLC / Douglas Gibb)

Laura says, ‘Side sleepers will find that their hips and shoulders are touch-points on their mattress, so they need an option that will fully support the body and keep the spine aligned.’

And if you want to ensure sufficient support throughout the night, most experts would agree that a medium mattress made from a supportive material like memory foam is the best option. 

Rebecca Swain, Mattress expert at Winstons Beds explains, ‘If you prefer to sleep on your side, we advise opting for memory foam as the material moulds to align with your body naturally. The material has a soft foam surface level, yet the mattress is firm enough to allow for a comfortable rest. A mattress which is “too soft” can cause an aching back as the spine won’t be aligned correctly.’

Pam Johnson, Head Of Buying at Bensons for Beds, also adds, ‘Medium mattresses can also be great for side sleepers, especially if you change from sleeping on your side and back throughout the night. This is because medium mattresses are a hybrid of soft and firm, which helps cater for the support you need while in either back or side sleeping positions.’

2. Supportive pillow

Although sleeping without a pillow can be beneficial for those who sleep on their front, a pillow is essential for side sleepers. We have a guide to help you find the best pillows for side sleepers, but the most important feature is to find one that is supporting.

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(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

‘The most important consideration for a side sleeper is ensuring that the shoulders are supported, the neck is positioned at the right height, and the spine is aligned,’ explains Laura. And once again, memory foam is top of the list. 

Rebecca says, ‘One of the best options to support side sleeping is a memory foam pillow. This will mould to your body as you sleep, providing maximum comfort. The material will support your neck and spine by easing any pressure which can cause achiness in the morning.’

And you might be interested to know that the trending V-shaped pillows (also called L-shaped pillows) are also a great option for side sleepers. 

Rebecca adds, ''L’ shaped pillows are also a great option for those who prefer to sleep on the side, allowing them to wrap their arms around the pillow. The long-shaped pillows can provide extra comfort and security, and wrapping your arms around the pillow can help you keep a more neutral spine.’

3. Invest in 1 pillow

When choosing bedding as a side sleeper, you should invest all your money in one good pillow instead of two, as one single supportive pillow will keep your spine in alignment. In fact, Rebecca suggests only using one pillow rather than two, as this will reduce the amount of strain on your neck. 

If you want to buy two pillows for aesthetic reasons, you can use one between your legs for extra support when sleeping on your side. ‘Using a pillow between your legs can also help you feel as supported as possible when sleeping on your side,’ comments Pam. 

However, you don't need to invest as much in this second pillow if you are using it as a support prop in this way. 

4. A firm mattress topper

We’ve long been advocates of the best mattress toppers at Ideal Home, and not just for comfort. Although mattress toppers normally measure just 5cm deep, they can add an extra layer of support on top of your mattress. 

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(Image credit: Panda, at Very.co.uk)

‘Mattress toppers add an extra layer of cushioning to your mattress to give that additional level of comfort and support, plus the feel of a luxurious night’s rest,’ says Laura. ‘A firm topper can help if the mattress itself is too soft for a side sleeper, and many are designed to regulate temperature, creating a healthier sleeping environment.’

‘Mattress toppers can be beneficial for side sleepers as well. Side sleepers often put more pressure on their hips and shoulders, which can lead to discomfort or pain if the mattress doesn’t provide adequate cushioning or support,' she adds. 

'A mattress topper can help alleviate pressure points, improve spinal alignment, and enhance overall comfort for side sleepers by adding an extra layer of cushioning or support to their mattress.’

Because of this, a mattress topper is something you should look for if you’re a side sleeper on a budget. With a mattress topper in tow, you might not need to replace your mattress at all. 

5. A king-size bed

Side sleepers come in all different shapes and forms. Some people lie straight on their side like a pencil, some lie in the fetal position, and others sleep on their side with one leg bent up towards their chest. 

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(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

With this in mind, when working out how to choose the right mattress size we'd recommend going on the bigger side if you’re a side sleeper. If you and your partner curl yourself up into a ball, you are going to take up more space width ways than you realise. If you want to avoid kneeing each other in the back, be cautious and go for as big a bed as your bedroom ideas can take.

Laura echoes this, saying, ‘You do need enough space so that you and your partner sleep most comfortably, and for this reason, we recommend a king-size bed, it is our most popular seller and gives that sweet spot of comfort and space in the bedroom.’

Rebecca also suggests recording your nighttime movements to choose the right bed frame. She says, ‘A mattress frame entirely depends on your sleeping habits. If you move constantly throughout the night, it’s best to opt for a larger bed frame like a king or super king.’

‘This will allow your body to feel comfortable and safe as you have the extra space available. The same goes for those who overheat at night. A larger size bed frame allows for more breathable space and can make you feel less restricted.’


What should side sleepers be aware of?

Although many people find sleeping on their side to be the most comfortable sleeping position, there’s no denying that sleeping on your side comes with its risks. 

Pam Johnson from Bensons for Beds explains, ‘The first negative sounds small but can really affect your sleep – it’s a numb arm. When you lie on your side, if your arm is beneath you, it doesn’t usually take long for it to go numb. While this part might not disturb your slumber, when you move and your arm is free, ‘pins and needles’ take hold, and that can be hard to sleep through.’

‘The second negative is spinal alignment. Lying on your back usually keeps your spine aligned (as long as you’re well-supported with the right mattress for your body). However, lying on your side can put pressure on your spine, especially if you’re not supported with the right level of firmness from a mattress and even more so if your pillows are more like pancakes than the supportive head-proppers they should be.’

Because of this, it’s important to look for certain products that will take the pressure of side sleeping. This includes the right pillows, a supportive mattress, an additional mattress topper and the right bed frame.

What should side sleepers look for in a mattress?

If you’re a side sleeper, you need to look for a supportive mattress that will promote healthy spinal alignments. Most experts agree that this is a medium mattress, so it offers some firmness while still having the softness to hug your body. 

If you can, it’s also best to opt for a memory foam mattress that will once again align with your body. 

If you’re a side sleeper, this guide should help you get the best night’s sleep of your life. 

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.