Though people often find it comfortable to stretch out in bed on their back when reading or watching TV, only a small percentage of people actually prefer to sleep in this position. If you’re a back sleeper, it may be helpful to know that there are both pros and cons to sleeping this way and that there are ways to enhance your comfort and support.
When sleeping on your back, the body tends to assume a relatively straight and natural posture; but this posture can be disrupted if the body doesn’t get proper support. As a result, it is necessary for back sleepers to choose their mattress carefully.
In this guide, we’ll start by reviewing some basic information about sleeping on your back and about the most important aspects of mattress design for back sleepers. We’ll also cover the types of mattresses that are on the market and which ones usually work best for people in this sleeping position. Keep reading to find all of this information or click here to jump straight to our recommendations for the best mattresses for back sleepers.
About Back Sleeping
It is estimated that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of people regularly sleep on their backs. Within the general category of back sleeping, there are two main positions. The “Soldier” position involves the legs being mostly straight and the arms pointing down toward the legs. The “Starfish” position involves having the legs slightly further apart and the arms up above the head.
There are benefits and downsides to sleeping on your back. One benefit is that there tends to be less contorting of the body or limbs, even in the Starfish position. Another benefit is that back-sleeping can reduce the risk of facial wrinkles since there is not direct pressure on the face from being pressed against the pillow or mattress. Lastly, because the head and esophagus can be slightly elevated relative to the stomach, back sleeping can sometimes reduce acid reflux.
The major drawback to back sleeping is an increase in snoring and a greater risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). When on your back, the base of the tongue can sink toward the back of the throat, narrowing the airway. This narrowing can produce snoring, which can be disruptive both to the sleeper and to a partner. If the narrowing becomes a full obstruction, it inhibits breathing and can contribute to OSA. OSA is related to a host of health problems including an elevated risk of several cardiovascular conditions.
If you are a back sleeper and find yourself with serious issues related to snoring or breathing in the night, it is important to talk with your doctor. In some cases, lifestyle changes (such as weight loss) can reduce sleep apnea. In other cases, a doctor or sleep specialist may prescribe a machine – a continuous positive airway pressure device, often called CPAP for short – to help keep your airway open through the night.
What Are the Most Important Mattress Considerations For Back Sleepers?
If you sleep on your back, you’ll want to make sure that you select a mattress that contributes to a restful night’s sleep and that doesn’t induce back pain. As you start shopping for mattresses, these are the key factors that you’ll want to look for:
Every sleeper should aim to have a mattress that promotes proper spinal alignment. A supportive mattress is one that contours to the body so that cushioning is provided in the places where it is most needed. For back sleepers, it’s important to have a mattress that is highly responsive or else the natural curve in the lower back can be exaggerated. On the flip side, though, if there is too much hug or sink in the mattress, the pelvis can push too deeply into the mattress, which can also cause misalignment.
For most sleepers, the best firmness level is medium-firm, and this remains true for people who sleep on their backs. A mattress that is extra plush will be too soft to keep the body in a straight line. A mattress that is too rigid will typically be both uncomfortable and will put undue pressure on the neck and the small of the back. Medium-firm mattresses fall between 4-7 on the typical firmness scale, and back sleepers typically do better with mattresses toward the higher end of this range. This is especially true for back sleepers who weigh over 200 pounds.
A track record of success with real-world customers is one of the best indicators of the performance of a mattress. Back sleepers should look for reviews that are only from verified purchases and ideally that come from other back sleepers.
A mattress is a big investment, and part of that investment is wanting to have a product that lasts. There’s not much worse than a sagging mattress, especially for people whose sleeping position requires proper support. If you want a mattress that stands the test of time then avoid mattresses with cheap components that have a greater propensity to wear out quickly.
When you buy a new mattress, it is a great opportunity to take a hard look at your pillow(s). Since you are counting on both the mattress and your pillow to offer comfort and support, you need to know that they are working in concert to meet that goal. Back sleepers typically benefit from a pillow of medium height and firmness with light contouring so that it keeps the head flat and in line with the spine.
What Mattress Features Should You Look For?
While the characteristics of the mattress — like its support, firmness, and durability — are primary themes that you should keep in mind, it can be confusing at times to know what specific features to analyze when comparing mattresses. This section reviews the most important things to evaluate as you look at potential mattress options.
It’s tempting to think that most mattresses are made with great materials, but the truth is that it’s not uncommon for companies to cut corners. Companies may invest more in marketing their mattress than in the components used to build it. This can make it so that a mattress sounds great on paper, but in reality may not live up to high customer hopes.
To avoid this, start by prioritizing mattresses from companies that fully disclose the specifications. This means that the information is posted on their website to be easily accessed by any customer. Specifications should include a list of all the layers of the mattress including how thick those layers are, the materials they are made of, and further details about those materials, such as their density and ILD if they are made of foam.
If the company doesn’t post the specifications, it may be because they don’t want it to be known that some parts of the mattress are of lower quality. While we understand that some companies claim that this is proprietary information, we believe that in the vast majority of cases, having this information publicly available benefits customers far more than competitors. Failure to disclose this information doesn’t mean a mattress isn’t well-built, but it is cause for skepticism.
If the company does disclose their specifications, look closely to see if the materials are consistently high-quality. One rotten apple can ruin the bunch – if even one layer is built with substandard components, it can drag down the total performance of the mattress.
Robust comfort layer
Another important element to consider when looking at mattress specifications is the design of the comfort layer. As the part of the mattress that most immediately supports your body, a strong comfort layer is essential. The comfort layer, which can be made up of multiple thinner layers, should be no less than 3” thick. High-density foams (generally greater than 3.5 pounds per cubic foot of density) in the comfort layer have a much better track record when it comes to durability and support.
With all of the mattress options on the market, you can get a great mattress at a great price. Before making any final purchase, make sure that you look for any coupons or discounts that may be available. You can also help judge value by comparing your top mattress choices with similarly-designed mattresses from other manufacturers.
Simple return policy
If you buy a mattress online, then you don’t have the opportunity to test it out as you would if buying in a store. However, most online mattress sellers have customer-friendly return policies that allow you to get a full refund if you aren’t satisfied. This sleep trial time period can vary in length, but 100 nights is an industry standard. We suggest looking for a sleep trial of 100 nights or more and with free return shipping or pickup if you decide to make a return. This kind of no-hassle return policy can help protect your investment and make sure that you wind up with a mattress that works for you.
Most mattresses are delivered without any additional cost for shipping, especially if you’re buying online. However, there are exceptions, and some companies also do not refund shipping charges if you make a return. We advise that you carefully look at the terms for shipping and if free shipping is not included, to make sure that you budget for this extra cost when assessing the value of the mattress.
What Types of Mattresses Are Available?
As you survey the abundant mattress models available either online or in stores, you’ll find that these models can be classified into 5 types.
- Foam: these mattresses are built using a layered approach that typically involves at least two different types of foam. Memory foam mattresses the most well-known of this type. While most foam mattresses are known for their responsiveness and contouring, the exact feel will depend on the way the foams have been arranged within the mattress as well as the thickness and type of foams used.
- Latex: if all of the mattress is made up of latex rubber, it is categorized as a latex mattress. Latex in mattresses is most commonly derived naturally from rubber trees, but it can also be produced synthetically. A mattress of this type can also be referred to as an “all-latex” or “true latex” mattress to differentiate it from mattresses that may have only one layer of latex. While latex offers contouring, it is best known for a very resilient or bouncy feel.
- Innerspring: innerspring mattresses are the most traditional type and utilize a support core of metal springs. There are different types of springs and designs for the coils, but the general feel of an innerspring is characterized by more bounce than contouring. At the same time, many innerspring mattresses have padding above the coils — often of foam or latex — to try to add some extra support.
- Hybrid: like innersprings, hybrids include a support core of springs that provide a base level of bounce and resilience to the mattress. What separates a hybrid, though, is that it includes a larger amount of other materials like memory foam or latex. If a mattress has 3” or more of these other materials forming its comfort layer(s), then we consider it to be a hybrid.
- Airbed: airbeds have a support core that is an inflatable and deflatable air chamber. The more air that is pumped into the chamber, the firmer the mattress will feel. The air level is controlled by a remote or mobile app that lets the sleeper make adjustments in real-time. Some airbeds also have foam or latex top layers added on top of the support core.
Which Mattress Types Are Best For Back Sleepers?
Best: Foam, Latex
Foam and latex mattresses are the best for providing contouring that back sleepers need. While too much contouring can be counterproductive, most medium-firm latex or foam mattresses will have a positive effect on spinal alignment for back sleepers.
Honorable Mention: Hybrid
Because they have a thicker comfort layer, most hybrids are able to offer more contouring than traditional innersprings while also having a bounce that some customers find to be beneficial.
Proceed With Caution: Innerspring, Airbed
Because of the less robust comfort layers in these mattress types, back sleepers should approach them with caution. Unless they have very well-designed comfort layers, these mattresses are unlikely to offer adequate support for the lower back, hips, and shoulders.
What Are the Best Mattresses for Back Sleepers?
We know that it can be hard to narrow down your mattress choices, so we’ve simplified that process for you by recommending our best bets for back sleepers organized by mattress type.
The Novosbed is our top recommendation for a memory foam mattress for back sleepers.
- The Novosbed is built with thick comfort layers, all of which include high-density memory foam.
- Customers can select from several different firmness levels while knowing that all of these options include high-end components.
- Though an excellent value, the cost of the Novosbed is slightly higher than other all-foam mattresses and may be above the budget of some shoppers.
- Novosbed’s sleep trial is not simple and straightforward. While it provides opportunities for returns, its terms and conditions can be confusing.
The Leesa mattress is a solid choice for a foam mattress for back sleepers.
- The Leesa is designed to offer a blend of support and bounce through its combination of two distinct 2” foams in the comfort layer.
- While only offered in one firmness choice, the Leesa’s medium-firm feel is the most comfortable for the majority of back sleepers.
- Customers who weigh over 250 pounds have reported some issues with the Leesa and premature sagging of the mattress. While not a widespread issue, it is cause for concern, especially among heavier people.
You can find more in-depth information in our Leesa mattress review.
Our top pick among innerspring mattresses is the Saatva mattress.
- Unlike many innersprings that don’t offer much contouring, the Saatva’s coil-on-coil design using pocketed coils gives it a much more responsive feel.
- Saatva has been selling its mattress since 2010 and has a track record of positive customer service and support throughout that time period.
- Customers who want a medium-firm mattress can opt for the company’s Luxury Firm model, but Saatva also offers this mattress in two additional firmness options.
- The Saatva sleep trial is not completely risk free because the company will deduct $99 from your refund if you decide to return the mattress.
You can read more about this innerspring option in our full Saatva mattress review.
The Zenhaven mattress is our choice for the best latex mattress for back sleepers.
- Zenhaven’s mattress comes with two built-in firmness options. One side of the mattress is medium-firm, but if you want a softer feel, you can simply flip the mattress over.
- This mattress utilizes a high-quality latex that can provide the support you need without the issue of sinking too deeply into the mattress.
- The cost of the Zenhaven mattress may be prohibitive for some customers.
- If you decide to return this mattress, the company takes $99 out of your refund, which makes the sleep trial not entirely risk-free.
Further information about this mattress can be found in our Zenhaven mattress review.