Choosing a mattress is a big decision, and it warrants doing a little research into exactly what your body needs to feel well and rested. No matter whether you sleep on your back, stomach, or side, experts agree that the first thing you should look into is mattress material.
Beds made from synthetic materials like polyurethane foam or synthetic latex contain chemicals that seep into the air and might cause allergies or respiratory irritation. Experts advise opting for ones made from 100 percent natural latex foam and water-based glues instead.
"There is so much focus on softness, firmness, cooling, molding, memory foam, etc., but at the end of the day, almost all of those mattresses are made of combinations of synthetic materials that can leave you sleeping in a cloud of toxic off-gas," explains sleep expert and holistic psychiatrist Ellen Vora, M.D. "I think regardless of sleeping position, it's important to make the investment in an organic mattress made of natural materials, like latex or wool."
Functional medicine practitioner and chiropractor William Cole, D.C., agrees, adding the right pillow makes a huge difference. "Mattress firmness is a personal choice, but since certain sleeping positions can alter back and neck alignment—thus contributing to chronic pain and nerve problems—it's important to sleep with a pillow or other support under your neck or side to help keep proper alignment throughout the night. You'll decrease pain and inflammation, which will ultimately enhance your sleep quality."
Here are a few foam mattresses made with natural, organic material that won't disrupt your sleep:
And here is a selection of all-natural pillows to look into:
How to customize your bed and pillow based on your needs and sleep position.
If you're a side sleeper.
The majority of people report being side sleepers. If you fall into this camp, Haniya Rae, a mattress expert from Consumer Reports, recommends looking for a mattress that adjusts to the natural curve of the body. "To study mattresses for side sleepers, we take points along the spine and make sure they're parallel to the surface of a mattress. The firmness level depends on a person's body type and how much pushback they need because of their weight or height." Since side sleepers tend to move around during the night, she says a mattress like The Avocado Green, which has an internal pressure-point system to adjust to the body’s natural curves, is typically a good fit.
In terms of pillows, look for something that's thick and supportive. "Don’t forget to complete your spine alignment with a pillow between your bent legs," recommends functional medicine practitioner and chiropractor Mariza Snyder, D.C. "I’m a huge fan of body pillows for this reason." If you can afford to splurge, Coyuchi's body pillow is made to relieve the strain on the shoulders and hips that side sleepers can sometimes experience, and its wool filling helps with temperature regulation.
If you're a back sleeper.
Like side sleepers, back sleepers should look for a mattress that supports the body's curves. According to Snyder, back sleepers should look for pillows that are on the thinner side to help the neck stay aligned with the spine. Coco-mat's Sithon pillow is a nice option because it's filled with natural rubber flakes that can be added and removed to craft the perfect thickness.
If you're a stomach sleeper.
Stomach sleepers are a relatively rare breed, composing only 5 percent or so of the population. Since sleeping on your stomach can cause neck and back discomfort, Snyder says it's best to try to transition over to side sleeping, using a body pillow for support under the tummy.
If you have back pain.
Anyone with recurring back pain knows how important it is to find the right mattress. First and foremost, yours should be supportive enough to keep the spine neutral. "While firmer mattresses have been recommended in the past, more recent research suggests a medium-supporting mattress with firm inner coils or foam is the best option," says Snyder. Her pro tip for deciding if your mattress is firm enough? "If sleeping on the floor or on a hard cot alleviates back pain, that is a good indication that your mattress is too soft and you should opt for a new one!"
Zenhaven's mattress is one medium-firm option that has positive reviews from those with back pain, as do Avocado Green Pillows. Try placing one under your knees if you're a back sleeper and between the knees if you're a side sleeper to take some more pressure off the back.
If you're sharing a bed with a partner with different needs.
Prefer a softer bed but have a partner who is all about firmness? Coco-Mat's Atlas mattress (size queen and above) is technically two mattresses, and each one is reversible. One side is firm, the other more medium-firm. By layering foam with other natural material like coconut fiber and seaweed, the Greek company was able to fit two different sleeping experiences into the same mattress—both of which are super comfortable.
Learn more about the materials and labels you should be looking for as you shop for a new mattress here.
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