Is Memory Foam Good For Side Sleepers? (Buying Guide)

Are you thinking about buying a new mattress?

Then you might have heard that a memory foam mattress or mattress topper can help you feel more comfortable if you sleep on your side.

But is this really true?

Memory foam can be ideal for side sleepers when it’s included in the top layer of the mattress (or added as a separate topper) because memory foam is excellent at adapting to your exact body shape to relieve pressure on your hips and shoulders better than an upholstered spring mattress normally can.

But memory foam can also make you feel uncomfortable too.

I know this first-hand because when I transitioned from a spring mattress to a memory foam mattress, I ended up with severe lower back pain that stopped me from getting to sleep.

This is because comfort levels are subjective and depend on several factors such as your body weight, body type, dominant sleeping position, and how they all interact with the qualities and design of the memory foam mattress.

So before you go ahead and buy a memory foam mattress, I encourage you to take just a few short minutes to read this article in full.

Because I’m going to walk you through the process of finding a memory foam mattress that’s right for you if you’re a side sleeper.

Alternatively, you can check out my list of the best soft mattresses for side sleepers – for some excellent memory foam and non-memory foam mattresses.

Why Is Memory Foam Good For Side Sleepers?

Memory foam found in the upper ‘comfort layer’ of a mattress can be good for side sleepers because of the way in which memory foam is designed to soften to your body heat and then re-shape itself to contour to your body shape more precisely than the fabric of an upholstered innerspring mattress normally can.

These contouring properties of memory foam can be especially beneficial for side sleepers because the pressure that you typically feel in your hips and shoulders in this popular sleeping position is dissipated throughout the materials.

This can be good news for side sleepers that weigh less than 150 lbs because (depending on the firmness) the foam can potentially allow you to sink further into the materials to remove the compression forces on your joints that can cause discomfort when sleeping on a mattress with less cushioning.

Traditional ‘viscoelastic’ memory foam was originally invented by NASA in the 1970’s [1] and began appearing in beds in 1991 – initially as the Tempur-Pedic Swedish Mattress [2].

However, memory foam was initially very expensive and gained a reputation for ‘sleeping hot’ because in order for the material to change shape, it needed to absorb your body heat to reconfigure the molecules of the foam – which caused the foam to heat up and the sleeper’s body temperature to increase to uncomfortable levels.

The heat retention issue is less of a problem today, however, because many memory foam mattress manufacturers use an open-celled design and may even use cooling gel foam and/or phase-change gel beads that can help to dissipate heat and feel cool on contact to help regulate your temperature more effectively.

But even with these alterations and the infusion of copper and other materials, memory foam does tend to sleep warmer when compared to innerspring mattresses and latex mattresses due to having less breathability by comparison.

However, these open celled designs and gel layers can help to provide even greater pressure relief in the side sleeping position.

More on this below (and check out the video for more info on the pros and cons of memory foam).

The Pros and Cons of Memory Foam (Mattress Makers)

Pressure and Pain Relief

The biggest benefit by far of a memory foam-topped mattress for side sleepers is the foam’s ability to relieve pressure on the more angular areas of your body – namely your hips and shoulders.

And in addition to removing the pressure from these pain hot spots, the memory foam is also able to distribute your body weight more evenly across the surface of the mattress.

These qualities combine to allow for better circulation, reduced nerve pain (potentially even that resulting from sciatica), and even lessened joint discomfort associated with arthritis through better postural alignment – complaints that are often typically apparent in the side sleeping position due to the associated anatomical alignment and positioning of the limbs.

However, effective pain and pressure relief are contingent upon several other factors that I’ll discuss in the second half of this article.

Contoured Support

You can have a mattress that is either all-foam memory foam, or has memory foam in the upper comfort layer and latex and/or springs in the lower transition layer and support core.

When you opt for a mattress that’s made entirely out of memory foam, you’ll typically find that the support that your spine gets is more ‘contoured’ when compared to a spring support core.

This means that if you’re over 150 lbs, you’ll usually find that the memory foam support core is more ‘enveloping’ when compared to a ‘buoyant’ spring core – resulting in a deeper hug and support that’s highly individualised to your body shape.

All-foam, memory foam mattresses can be especially beneficial for side sleepers because whilst the surface allows for deeper compression, the adaptive support can help to reduce the shearing forces on your spine and lower back that often arise as a result of sleeping with one leg over the other when you’re on your side.

However, heavier sleepers over 200 lbs need to be careful when going for an all-foam, memory foam mattress because the greater weight can lead to deeper sinkage that can actually put pressure on the spine and cause discomfort.

More on this in the next section.

Good For Couples

Memory foam mattresses can be good if you sleep as a couple because not only are they very quiet due to the lack of springs, they also have excellent motion isolation.

This means that you’re less likely to feel your partner sitting on the edge of the bed and moving around in the mattress because the foam absorbs the shock waves better than a spring and even a latex mattress typically can.

How to Buy a Memory Foam Mattress For Side Sleepers in 6 Steps Cover Photo.

How to Buy a Memory Foam Mattress For Side Sleepers

Just because a mattress is made from memory foam doesn’t automatically mean that it’s going to be super comfortable.

In many cases, the exact opposite can be true.

Because the softer, deeper compression associated with memory foam can often lead to pain if you pick the wrong firmness, thickness, design, and level of support relative to your body weight and shape.

So to help minimise such issues, apply the following 6 steps below and you’ll be in a much better position to buy the right kind of memory foam mattress for your side sleeping requirements.

1: Define Your Side Sleeping Needs

Not all side sleeping positions are the same.

Here are some of the variations on the side sleeping position and how they can affect the qualities that you will need from your memory foam mattress:

  • Edge sleeper – if you’re the sort of side sleeper that hugs the edge of the bed then you’ll need a memory foam mattress that has reinforced edges; either through higher density support foam in an all-foam mattress, or firmer springs in the case of a hybrid memory foam mattress with a spring core. This added edge support will help to stop excessive compression at the edge of the bed that may otherwise lead to roll-off.
  • The log position – sleeping like a soldier with your arms down by your side and more weight on your hips means that you should look for a memory foam mattress with deeper compression in the upper comfort layer to take away the massive concentration of pressure on your hip joints. This is especially important if you have arthritis.
  • The yearner position – if you sleep on your side with your arms outstretched in front of you then this can place a lot of pressure on your shoulder joints. In which case you should look for a memory foam mattress with deeper compression in the upper comfort layers, and potentially zoned support; especially if you’re looking at a hybrid spring-memory foam mattress.

2: Pick the Right Firmness

Choosing the right firmness for your memory foam mattress is one of the most important steps you should take to ensure that you are comfortable.

‘Mattress firmness’ describes how ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ the mattress feels when you lie on it.

And although they combine to affect the final comfort, firmness is NOT the same as support – support refers to how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ the mattress is able to keep your spine supported and naturally aligned.

Many people make the mistake of assuming that all memory foam mattress are soft because of the spongy and adaptive feel of the material.

And whilst this can affect the cushioning (see the next section), it’s perfectly possible to have a ‘firm’ memory foam mattress.

Side Sleeper WeightBest Firmnesses (Approx)
<130 lbsVery soft, soft
130 – 230 lbsSoft, medium-soft, medium
>230 lbsMedium, medium-firm, firm

Side sleepers in the 130 – 230 lbs range are often most comfortable in a memory foam mattress with a ‘medium-soft’ or ‘soft’ level of firmness.

With lighter weighted side sleepers even choosing a ‘very soft’ level of firmness so that they can sink further into the materials and have the compression forces removed from their joints – which can otherwise cause discomfort when sleeping on a mattress that’s too firm.

Conversely, due to their extra weight, side sleepers over 230 lbs may need a ‘medium-firm’ or ‘firm’ mattress to provide more surface tension to stop them from sinking too far into the materials.

In many cases, side sleepers of average weights can be comfortable on a memory foam mattress with a medium or universal firmness – if the cushioning of the comfort layers is sufficient (see the next section).

3: Select the Comfort Layers and Cushioning

The cushioning of a mattress describes how far you sink into the mattress.

And whilst mattresses with a softer firmness will typically compress more, compression is also affected by the sleeper’s body weight, the materials used in the mattress, the density of the foams used, and the depth of the upper comfort layers.

As a side sleeper, you’ll typically need more cushioning than a front or back sleeper because you’ll want your hips and shoulders to sink further into the materials so they don’t become sore as you sleep.

Here’s what else you should look for in terms of the aforementioned variables to maximise your chances of being comfortable when you sleep on your side in your memory foam mattress.

  • The materials used – whilst latex can also be an excellent material for relieving pressure, memory foam is arguably superior for removing pressure in the side sleeping position.
  • Mattress thickness – heavier body weights will naturally tend to compress the materials more. Therefore, it is recommended that if you weigh more than 230 lbs, you go for a mattress that’s at least 12 inches thick to allow for sufficient capacity for support and pressure relief.
  • Depth of the comfort layer – the depth of the upper comfort layer should be around 3-5 inches thick to allow enough depth for your hips and shoulders to sink in.
  • Foam density – lower density memory foams tend to compress more but they also wear out faster. Look for a memory foam that has a density of at least 4 PCF to 5 PCF in the upper comfort layer, and more than 5 PCF in the lower support core.

4: Ensure the Support is Sufficient

When it comes to memory foam mattresses, you can opt for all-foam memory foam, or a hybrid.

Hybrids typically have memory foam in the upper comfort layer and then springs in the support core; although you can also get mattresses with memory foam in the top layer and latex in the support core.

These different structures can influence the type of support that you can expect as follows:

  • All-foam memory foam – mattresses made entirely from memory foam tend to sink in the most. This is typically fine for lighted-weighted side sleepers but sleepers over 200 lbs may find it harder to move around and sit up in the mattress. In all cases, look for a memory foam mattress with high density foam in the support core to provide the best support for your spine and joints.
  • Hybrid memory foam with spring core – memory foam mattresses with a spring core tend to have more bounce, better mobility, and are easier to sit up in. This makes them more appealing to heavier weighted sleepers – but lighter weights can enjoy them too. Look for individually wrapped coils to provide more contoured and adaptive support in the side sleeping position.
  • Hybrid memory foam with latex core – depending on the density of the latex used in the core, these types of mattresses can feel similar to all-memory foam mattresses but with less sinkage.

5: Finalise the Details

The firmness, support, and design of the mattress are going to have the most influence over how comfortable you are likely to be in the side sleeping position in your new memory foam mattress.

However, there are some secondary details that you should also consider, which are as follows:

  • Temperature regulation – if you tend to sleep hot then a hybrid memory foam mattress is probably the better option because the coil core will allow for better breathability. You may also want to consider cooling gel layers, gel/copper/graphite infusions, aerated foams, and a set of cooling bed sheets to help regulate your temperature even further.
  • Moisture wicking – if you are a sweaty sleeper then graphite infusions can help, and I would specifically go for a set of cooling bamboo bed sheets because they are both cooling and able to pull moisture away from your body better than regular cotton sheets can (without drenching).
  • CertiPUR-US® certification – memory foam is known for ‘off-gassing’. So in order to minimise smells and limit toxicity, make sure that you look for a memory foam mattress that uses CertiPUR-US® certified foams because they are made without harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and have low VOCs.
  • Toppers – the addition of a topper like the Real Bed mattress topper can help to make your mattress softer and make side sleeping more comfortable, but these are entirely optional.
  • Pillows – it’s important that the height of your pillow allows your neck to remain neutrally aligned to prevent pain. A medium loft height of around 3-5 inches is suitable for most people in the side sleeping position. However, you may need a thicker pillow if you have broad shoulders, whilst a thinner pillow may be required if your memory foam mattress is very soft because you will naturally sink further into the materials which can push your neck out of alignment.
  • Warranty – look for a non-prorated (or mostly non-prorated over prorated in the case of graded coverage) mattress warranty that’s at least 10 years in duration and covers indentations; since memory foam mattresses can be susceptible to body impressions (although the warranty will only cover defects and not natural impressions that build up over time).
  • Sleep trial – even when armed with the best information, you may find that your memory foam mattress isn’t comfortable. Look for a sleep trial that lasts at least 30 days so that you can return it if you don’t like it.
  • Buying online vs in-store – I personally think that buying online is better than in-store because you can save a lot of money and the sleep trial covers you if you don’t feel comfortable even after the mattress has adapted to your body type. Because lying on a mattress in the store isn’t a good representation of the final comfort levels because it can take up to 30 days or more for the mattress materials to adjust to your body.

6: Let the Mattress Adapt to You

You should sleep on your new memory foam mattress for at least 30 days before passing judgement on if you’re comfortable in it or not.

This is especially true if you’re a side sleeper because it can take a while for your shoulders, hips, muscles, joints, and connective tissues to get used to the foam.

If you’re moving from a spring to a memory foam mattress then the difference in the feel of the materials can take some getting used to.

Conclusion: Memory Foam is Ideal For Side Sleepers

A memory foam mattress can be ideal if you’re a side sleeper because the foam’s ability to mould to your exact body shape can relieve pressure, remove compression forces from your joints, allow for effective circulation, remove pressure on your nerves, and provide adaptive support.

However, to ensure that you are comfortable, you should choose the right amount of firmness for your body weight, ensure the upper comfort layers have the correct amount of cushioning, and that the support core is made from the right materials to ensure that your spine is correctly supported.

Finally, you should consider secondary comfort qualities such as temperature regulation, CertiPUR-US® certification to combat off-gassing, and cover yourself with a generous warranty and sleep trial.

If you still have questions about buying a memory foam mattress as a side sleeper – leave them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to help you.

Otherwise, click the button below to see my list of the best soft mattresses for side sleepers to buy – with memory foam and non-memory foam options.


Sources and References

[1] NASA – Memory Foam. Accessed 20/6/20.

[2] Wikipedia – Memory Foam. Accessed 20/6/20.

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