Sleep Positions and Comfort Scale Ratings

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The question often comes up of “What is the best/most comfortable mattress?”. Simply put, there is no best or most comfortable mattress. You might as well be asking a chef “What is the best/most delicious food?”. The reason you can’t answer that question is mattress comfort preference, like taste preference, is subjective. What is comfortable for one sleeper might not be for another. There are, however, certain consistencies regarding sleep health, comfort, and mattress type that can be a good place to start to find the best mattress for you. For starters, sleep position and Comfort Scale ratings.

In the most basic terms, there are three main sleeping position categories: back, side, and stomach. Each position has certain benefits and drawbacks associated with different scores on our Comfort Scale. In general, stomach sleepers want a mid-range mattress, side sleepers want a softer mattress, and back sleepers want a medium-firm mattress. We will discuss the pros and cons of each to determine why these matches are ideal, so you can use that as a jumping-off point if you know your preferred sleep position.

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Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers will generally want a mid-range mattress, something that isn’t too hard and isn’t too soft. The ideal Comfort Scale rating would be a 5, with a range from 4-6.5 being best. The reasons why are fairly obvious: Too firm of a mattress (CSRs ranging from 1-3) will be uncomfortable on your chest and stomach where the majority of your weight is focused. This can restrict the lungs causing short breaths and also cause unnecessary pressure in the ribs and abdomen. On the other hand, too soft of a mattress (CSRs from 7 upwards) is usually bad for stomach sleepers as the mattress is too soft and the mid-section sinks into the mattress. The issue here is over-extension of the lower back. Although the lower back has a natural concave curve, forcing it to arch further than normal can be uncomfortable and unhealthy, especially for a full 8 hours of sleep. So for stomach sleepers, the ideal CSR range is usually a middle-of-the-road number that provides enough give to avoid feeling hard, but not so much give that the back is bent unnaturally.

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Side Sleepers

Side sleepers will generally want a mattress on the softer half of the scale that provides plenty of contouring. The ideal Comfort Scale rating can be anywhere from 5 up. The reason for this is that side sleepers, unlike back and stomach sleepers, are focusing all of their weight on a much smaller surface area. By lying on your side rather than lying flat, all the weight of your body is focused on your narrow side like the blade of a knife, rather than on the larger flat surface like the side of a knife. So what happens on firmer mattresses is the outlying parts of the side (namely the hips and shoulders) cut through the thinner comfort layers and put pressure directly on the core of the mattress. Similar to lying on a blanket on the floor, there just isn’t enough to cushion the body from the supportive coils or dense core compound. This can lead to discomfort, tossing and turning (switching sides), and the bottom arm and leg falling asleep. So unless you enjoy waking up with pins and needles in the middle of the night, shoot for a higher score than 5 on our Comfort Scale.

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Back Sleepers

Back sleepers have it a little less straightforward as there is no major problem with any mattress type. The ideal mattress will contour to the curve of the lower back, but be supportive enough to keep the spine properly aligned. Mattresses too low on the Comfort Scale will leave a gap between the lower back and the mattress, while mattresses too high on the Comfort Scale might cause you to sink in too much, sacrificing support. Generally those who require a firm mattress are back sleepers in need of above average support, but this category is more varied. Mattresses with a Comfort Scale rating of 4 are common for back sleepers as they provide enough contouring to properly align the spine, but provide firm underlying support. But Comfort Scale ratings both higher and lower than 4 might be preferred by some back sleepers, just beware of the potential drawbacks mentioned above.

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Couples

It is likely that you and your partner utilize different sleeping positions and have different comfort preferences, but don’t despair! Use the information above to find a compromise that works for both sleepers. For example, let’s consider a couple where one is a stomach sleeper and the other is a side sleeper. The suggested Comfort Scale rating for the stomach sleeper is mid-range (4-6) while the suggested Comfort Scale rating for the side sleeper is high (5-10). So the best compromise for this couple would likely be found in the overlap, mattresses in the 5-6 range.

This can get a little trickier with more specific Comfort Scale rating preferences, say a back sleeper who prefers a Comfort Scale rating of 2 and a side sleeper who prefers a Comfort Scale rating of 7. Although the compromise here would be in the middle at 4.5, you would need to consider the viability for the side sleeper at that comfort. It is possible that a mattress with a 4.5 CSR would cause too much pressure in the hips and shoulders of the side sleeper and just not be viable, even as a compromise. Whereas if you shift up to a mattress scoring a 5, 5.5, or 6 on the Comfort Scale, this may not be ideal for the back sleeper, but at least the sleeping position wouldn’t be incompatible. So in these trickier situations, find the average of the two Comfort Scale rating numbers and adjust accordingly depending on the specific situation. Say the back sleeper from the previous example had a lower back problem and needed a mattress that fell below a 5 on the Comfort Scale, it might be worth it to the couple overall to look at perhaps a 4 or 4.5, etc.

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Families

I’ll allow this last picture to speak for itself…

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2 comments

  1. Interesting post about sleep positions. I am a stomach sleeper and I have been told that this is really bad for my back. I will totally take your suggestions into account when shopping for my next mattress. I really appreciate the suggestions. Hopefully it will improve my back issues.

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    • I also read in my research that the stomach sleeping position is the “worst position,” but I myself am a stomach sleeper! I can see potentially how it can have a bad effect on your back, but at the same time, it’s not something we can just change our minds about and switch positions. This position, for whatever reason, is just comfortable to us naturally. So instead of being told its “bad to be a stomach sleeper,” the better question is “what’s the best way to sleep if I am a stomach sleeper?” As I covered in the article, you want to be sure to have a firm enough mattress where you aren’t sinking in and overextending your lower back, but even that isn’t a solution at, say, a hotel or if your partner is a side sleeper who NEEDS a contouring mattress.

      A personal tip from a fellow stomach sleeper is to make creative use of a spare pillow. I sleep on a mattress I would consider about a 6-7 as far as softness and contouring. You definitely sink in. If I just lay down to read a book for 20 minutes and don’t think about it, I can hardly get up because my back has locked up! But when I sleep, I always have an extra pillow I tend to hug and lie on top of. This is just naturally comfortable for me, and I realize now that it also keeps my midsection raised so I’m not bending backwards like I would without it. It’s a simple kludge if you find yourself sleeping in a plush hotel bed, and a way you can counteract the “unhealthy” side-effects of sleeping on your stomach. But first and foremost, you’re going to want a firm mattress that keeps you at a level plane, and try sleeping without a pillow under your head to avoid exacerbating the issue of arching your back.

      Thanks for the comment, Olivia!

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