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Why Pressure Relief Matters in a Mattress

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The human body is a collection of curves, points, and planes. When lying on a mattress, certain body parts press down into the bed more than others. For example, the shoulders and hips make more contact with the bed than other parts of our body simply because of how we’re shaped.

If your mattress doesn’t provide good pressure relief, though, this can lead to pain in areas called “pressure points,” improper spinal alignment, and ultimately, worsened sleep. If you are waking up with pain, it may be because your mattress isn’t providing good pressure relief.


Any area on the body that is sensitive to pressure or pain can be considered a pressure point. A different definition of a pressure point is a part of the body that one intentionally presses down upon to help muscles relax, increase blood flow, and move “qi” energy in Chinese medicine1. Here, we’ll be talking about pressure points as sensitive areas in the body.

These pain-sensitive pressure points are also more impacted than other parts of the body in terms of circulation. When you lie down in one static position for a long period, such as sleeping, these sensitive areas of the body tend to have reduced blood flow. This can lead to bedsores2.

The parts of the body most prone to pressure points and bedsores are bony areas like the heels, ankles, hips, and tailbone.3 The shoulders, buttocks, sit bones, and the backs of the knees are also prone to pressure and bedsores3.

Even if your body doesn’t progress as far as developing bedsores, these pressure points make consistent contact with the bed throughout the night, and if your mattress isn’t providing adequate pressure relief, it can lead to worsened sleep quality4 and pain5.


To illustrate how important pressure relief is, lie down on a wooden floor. You’ll immediately feel an increase in pressure in these sensitive areas because a wooden floor provides zero padding for these bony or protuberant parts of the body. 

For people with especially fragile skin, bedsores can develop if they don’t move for hours on end. People who are not mobile due to neurologic disease don’t toss and turn normally at night, and might not move much during the day either. But even if you are healthy, excess pressure can lead to a bedsore after consecutive nights without adequate padding. 

This is why pressure-relieving mattresses are especially important for certain groups6, such as bedridden people, the elderly, people in wheelchairs, and those with diabetes, circulation problems, and poor nutrition. These people could benefit from specific, medical-grade beds for pressure relief that alternate and redistribute pressure through the night.

Learn More: What are the Best Mattresses for Herniated Disc Pain Relief?

For many of us, though, a lack of adequate pressure relief at night can lead to discomfort in these sensitive areas. Furthermore, nighttime pain and discomfort are directly correlated with poorer sleep quality7.

Conversely, another study shows the direct impact sleeping on a pressure-relieving material like memory foam can have “A significant reduction of cervical, dorsal, and lumbar pain… Significant shorter sleep onset latency… and slightly better sleep efficiency.”4

Components of a Mattress that Help With Pressure Relief

Coil Count 

Mattresses with a higher coil count are typically more comfortable and durable. If it has more coils, it probably does a good job at weight distribution, which in turn, can help with pressure buildup. 

According to Saatva, for example, a good coil number to go for is 300 coils for a Full-size mattress and 400 coils for a Queen-size mattress. A King bed should have around 480 coils. 

With that said, the number of coils doesn’t always guarantee more comfort because the quality of the coils can also impact this. 

Foam Density

Medium-density foam is typically the best for pressure relief because it’s not too firm or soft. It’s often used in transition layers, helping to relieve pressure in the hips, knees, and shoulders while ensuring you don’t sink too deeply into the mattress. 

By contrast, lower-density foams are the softest and most comfortable, so they’re often used for comfort layers, whereas higher-density foams are used for base layers. 

Edge Construction 

Some mattresses have enhanced edge support using higher-density foams or reinforced coils around the perimeter. This is meant to prevent the edges from collapsing when you sit or lie in this area. 

However, such strong edges could impact pressure relief for some folks who like to sleep in these areas because they might not sink enough to generate relief. In this case, it could help to go for something that gives you a slight sink but not so much so that you feel like you’ll fall off the bed.

What to Look for Based on Your Sleep Position

  • Side Sleepers – Out of all the sleep positions, side sleepers will need the most pressure relief. When you lie down on your side, your shoulder and hip press directly into the mattress. In this case, most side sleepers should opt for a softer, more cushioning mattress that will allow the shoulder and hip to sink in enough for pressure relief while still keeping the body well-supported. Memory foam, gel-infused foam, and hybrid beds are great choices.
  • Back Sleepers – When lying in this position, the spine should be in good alignment. If you find that your lower back arches up off the mattress, your bed may be too firm. Likewise, if you find you’re waking up with back pain and it is hard to get out of bed, your mattress may be too soft. Back sleepers need a balanced mattress.
    Medium-firm mattresses with zoned support can provide excellent pressure relief to back sleepers. Zoned support means the bed is firmer in heavier areas that need extra support and softer in lighter areas.
  • Stomach Sleepers – Stomach sleeping doesn’t tend to affect pressure points like side and back sleeping, but it can lead to improper spinal alignment and lower back pain if you’re not using the right mattress. In this position, the midsection will sink into the bed, so stomach sleepers need a firmer mattress that can properly support the hips and stomach. Firmer latex beds, beds with zoned support, or hybrid beds are good options here.
  • Combination Sleepers – Combination sleepers move between two or more sleep positions throughout the night, and these people tend to do best on a medium-firm mattress because these beds work well for most positions. Even though memory foam is excellent at relieving pressure, combination sleepers are likely to prefer latex or hybrid beds, which have a bit more bounce to make it easier to move around on the bed.

Related: Check out some more supportive stomach sleeper mattresses.

Pressure Relief Benefits

One of the primary benefits of pressure relief is improved sleep8 through better comfort, which can boost your physical and mental health. 

Additionally, good pressure relief can help prevent certain health conditions linked to sustained pressure buildup.

Pressure points like the heels, ankles, tailbone, hips, shoulders, buttocks, and the backs of the knees tend to be more sensitive to poor circulation and bedsores.2 However, a mattress that distributes your weight evenly may help with circulation and lower your risk of bedsores.

Even if your mattress does not go so far as to impact your circulation, a mattress with poor pressure relief can cause joint and muscle pain simply by being too firm. If you’re waking up with more aches and pains than when you went to bed, there’s a good chance your mattress is not providing the pressure your relief your body needs. In that case, make sure to look for the best mattress for pressure relief to help solve this problem.

Additional Pressure-Relieving Features and Accessories

  • Pillows – Along with a good mattress, the type of pillow you use can also alleviate pressure in your neck, shoulders, and head while helping to keep your spine in alignment. Side sleepers will want a pillow with a higher loft to keep the neck and head supported. A medium-loft pillow should work best for back sleepers, and a low-loft pillow will work best for stomach sleepers. Explore our picks for the best pillows here.
  • Mattress toppers – Mattress toppers can be especially helpful for a mattress that’s too firm, especially if you’re not currently able to buy a new bed. We recommend looking for mattress toppers made of memory foam or latex for optimal pressure relief.
  • Adjustable base – An adjustable base can do wonders for relieving pressure. Adjustable bed frames can be moved into different positions, including one called the “zero-gravity sleep position.” This position allows the body’s weight to be so evenly distributed it can feel like you’re floating in space, removing any pressure from sensitive areas like the lower back, hips, and shoulders. For more information, check out our list of the best adjustable bed frames.


A mattress with good pressure relief is about more than being comfortable at night; it’s also about preventing health issues like poor circulation, bedsores, and achy joints and muscles.

While some people need to focus on pressure relief more than others – for example, those with circulation issues, athletes, or people with painful joints – pressure relief is something everyone should consider. The right mattress will keep your spine aligned, evenly distribute your weight, cushion your joints, and most importantly, leave you feeling comfortable and well-rested in the morning.

Natalie Grigson

Natalie Grigson


About Author

Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.

Combination Sleeper


  1. “Acupressure for Pain and Headaches”. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Last modified March 1, 2023.
  2. “Bedsores (pressure ulcers)”. Mayo Clinic. Last modified May 13, 2023.
  3. “Common areas where pressure injuries develop”. Alberta Health. Last modified November 15, 2021.
  4. Ancuelle, Victor., et al. “Effects of an adapted mattress in musculoskeletal pain and sleep quality in institutionalized elders”. Sleep Science. 2015.
  5. Bolton, Roman., et al. “Effects of mattress support on sleeping position and low-back pain”. Journal of Neuroinflammation. 2022.
  6. “Bedsores”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Webpage accessed June 26, 2023. 
  7. Haack, Monika., et al. “Sleep deficiency and chronic pain: potential underlying mechanisms and clinical implications”. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2020.
  8. “Good Sleep for Good Health”. National Institutes of Health. Webpage accessed June 27, 2023. 
  9. “Poor Circulation”. Cleveland Clinic. Last modified September 27, 2021.