Sleep is an important aspect of health and wellness for everyone, but for people living with the additional challenge of a progressive spinal condition like scoliosis, it’s even more important. Not only is good sleep important for mental and physical health, it also helps better equip the body to deal with the rigors of treatment. As a person’s sleep is only going to be as good as the mattress they’re sleeping on, let’s explore what type of mattress is best for people living with scoliosis, plus some additional scoliosis-friendly sleeping tips.
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Before we move on to specific mattresses that can be helpful for people with scoliosis, let’s first talk about what is happening in the body of a person with scoliosis and how the condition can affect sleep.
People who have been diagnosed with scoliosis have an abnormally curved spine. Their spinal curvature will bend to the side, rotate, and have a minimum Cobb angle of 10 degrees.
Cobb angle is a measurement obtained via X-ray that determines just how far out of alignment a scoliotic spine is. A patient’s Cobb angle also places their condition on its severity scale. The Cobb angle is determined by drawing intersecting lines from the tops and bottoms of the curvatures most-tilted vertebrae (bones of the spine), and the resulting angle is measured in degrees:
In general, the more severe a condition, the larger the abnormal curvature, and the more likely it is that the condition will produce noticeable symptoms such as postural changes and pain.
The more severe a condition, the more likely it is to produce symptoms and/or potential complications that can disrupt sleep. Whether from pain and an inability to get comfortable, or in severe cases where lung impairment comes into play, disruptions to breathing can also make it more difficult to maintain a healthy sleep-life.
If a spine loses one or more of its healthy curves, it is no longer aligned, and realigning the spine becomes a goal of treatment, which is why when considering the best mattresses for scoliosis, one that promotes proper spinal alignment is key.
While not every person with scoliosis will automatically experience sleep problems, for those that do, it can be helpful to understand why, and know some scoliosis-friendly tips for creating healthy sleep habits.
This leads us into discussing an important aspect of scoliosis: pain. Let’s talk about how painful the condition can be as that can be a big factor in how scoliosis affects sleep.
One of the first questions people ask about scoliosis is how painful it is. Like many scoliosis-related questions, the answer is complex and differs depending on a number of important patient/condition characteristics.
Scoliosis can range in severity from mild to moderate, severe and very severe. For people on the mild side of the spectrum, it’s not uncommon for conditions to go unnoticed and undiagnosed because symptoms can also be mild, especially in young patients who have not yet reached skeletal maturity.
Growth is an important factor in scoliosis treatment because as a progressive condition, it’s going to get worse at some point, especially if left untreated, and growth is the number-one trigger for progression.
We also know that patients who still have growing to do are not as likely to find the condition painful. This is because the spines of people who are still growing are experiencing a constant lengthening motion, and this counteracts the compressive force of the abnormal curvature.
Although, I should mention that approximately 20 percent of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients do report experiencing some related muscle pain.
In adults who have reached skeletal maturity, they experience scoliosis-related pain very differently. As the spines of older patients are no longer growing, they are vulnerable to the curvature’s compressive force felt by the spine and its surrounding vessels, muscles, and nerves.
So for my adults patients, scoliosis can cause varying levels of pain, depending on multiple factors such as condition type, curvature location, and condition severity.
As scoliosis progresses, the abnormal spinal curvature increases in size and severity, along with any related symptoms such as postural changes.
While every case is different, in general, common postural changes that scoliosis can cause involves impacting the overall symmetry of the body. As scoliosis introduces a lot of uneven forces to the body, it can disrupt its positioning, posture, and overall symmetry.
Shoulders and shoulder blades can become uneven, along with the hips, the development of a rib arch, and a visibly-crooked spine. These postural changes can cause pain as muscles located closely to the spine are strained trying to support and stabilize the scoliotic spine.
Again, not every case of scoliosis is painful, and especially not in patients who are still growing, but pain can be a common aspect of the adult experience of living with scoliosis, and in severe cases, pain levels can be debilitating, especially if left untreated.
Anyone who has lived with chronic pain, or even mild temporary pain, will know how disruptive it can be to sleep.
Scoliosis can cause pain felt not only in the back, but also in other areas of the body, especially if nerve compression is an issue. In addition, as the muscles that surround the spine have to work extra hard to support and stabilize a scoliotic spine, they are exposed to adverse tension and uneven wear.
When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, people with scoliosis can find that back and/or muscle pain and the postural changes they are facing can complicate things. If they can’t find a comfortable sleep position or have pain keeping them up, sleep can become a challenge.
While healthy sleep habits and knowing the best sleep positions are important for anyone, for people living with scoliosis, they have to be extra aware of which positions promote healthy spinal alignment to minimize any additional stress placed on the spine.
Knowing the best mattress for people with scoliosis can help create the ideal sleep environment and optimize the chances of developing a healthy sleep-life; after all, for people living with scoliosis, they need the health benefits that sleep can provide so their bodies and minds are better able to handle the rigors of treatment and life with the condition.
When people face a scoliosis diagnosis, the reality is that they will likely have to make some changes to achieve a scoliosis-friendly lifestyle. Just as certain activities should only be performed under the direction of a medical professional as some might not be considered safe for an individual’s particular condition, adjustments might have to be made in multiple areas of life, even sleep habits.
Following are some of the factors to keep in mind when deciding on a mattress to invest in that encourages spine health.
There is no one mattress that will be perfect for everyone with scoliosis. Many factors go into determining if a mattress is comfortable, and what is comfortable for one person won’t necessarily feel the same for another. Factors like height, body type, weight, age, body temperature, sleep position of choice, and condition severity all play a role in determining a person’s comfort level, not to mention preferred firmness.
For people with scoliosis, patient/condition characteristics like age, condition type, curvature location, and condition severity also play a role in how, or if, a person’s condition affects their sleep, and the types of mattresses they find the most comfortable.
While not everyone living with scoliosis will find their condition to be painful and disrupt their sleep, there are additional reasons to look for a good-quality mattress; considering how much time the average person spends on their mattress, one that provides the spine with adequate support and promotes a healthy neutral alignment during sleep is ideal for optimal spine health.
Just as there are multiple different types of scoliosis and severity levels that make each patient’s condition unique, there are different types of mattresses that offer their users different benefits.
One thing that is true, for both people with and without scoliosis, is that a good mattress should minimize pressure points. Pressure points are the areas of the body that bear the most weight while sleeping: generally the hips and shoulders (especially for side sleepers), and this is why sleeping on your back is the best position.
In terms of scoliosis and pressure points, the shoulders and hips are parts of the body that commonly experience postural changes due to the introduction of uneven forces caused by scoliosis. In fact, it’s often uneven shoulders and hips that are the telltale early signs of scoliosis.
A good-quality mattress will spread a person’s body weight out evenly to minimize pressure points and avoid overstressing those areas.
The best mattress for minimizing pressure points offers solid support that evenly distributes body weight, helps encourage good posture, even while lying down, and conforms to the body, regardless of position; these factors will provide optimal support while reducing pressure points and keeping the spine in an aligned and neutral position.
Everyone has their personal preference of mattress firmness, just as most people have a certain firmness/softness they prefer their pillows to have. When it comes to firmness and flex, a scoliosis-friendly mattress will offer enough firmness to support the spine, maintain comfort, and enough flex to make changing positions easy.
A mattress that is too soft or too firm can aggravate a person’s pressure points. A mattress that is too soft might not provide the spine with optimal support, which is an important aspect of spine health, both for people with and without scoliosis; conversely, a mattress that is too firm can be uncomfortable if it doesn’t conform to the body, or adjust to changes in sleep position, and this can also irritate a person’s pressure points.
Basically, when it comes to firmness, everyone has their own preference, and in the context of scoliosis, the ideal firmness is a level that provides the spine with adequate support, while promoting healthy alignment and allowing the spine to remain in a neutral position.
When I explain the concept of spinal alignment, I like to use the image of a snowman. Think of each of the snow balls having to stay balanced and centered so they can lend each other support and structure; this is the type of spinal alignment to strive for. You want the head centered over the torso and the torso centered over the pelvis. Once one section of the spine becomes off-balance, it can throw off the alignment of the entire spine.
As scoliosis is structural, this means the abnormal curvature will always be there regardless of position; however, to return to the snowman example, if there is a curvature between the snowballs, good positioning and structure of the snowballs themselves still helps the spine stay as aligned as it can, and that’s where a good mattress and healthy sleep positions comes into play.
‘Flex’ refers to how well a mattress can conform to a position and then re-conform once the position is adjusted. Basically, it’s how responsive the mattress is to movement.
Flex is important because, for many people, sleep isn’t as simple as staying in the same position all night, especially if there are extra factors making it difficult to find a comfortable position.
Mattresses aren’t just about comfort in terms of firmness and flex, but also in the area of temperature regulation.
Anyone who leans towards the extremes of body temperatures, either sleeping too cold or too hot, will understand how disruptive it can be to getting a good night’s rest. Constantly waking up to adjust, remove, or add, covers can make it difficult to settle in.
Thankfully, there are materials and designs that optimize temperature regulation. Some materials are known to absorb heat, such as polyurethane foam, while others are known to distribute it through gel pockets or more natural, organic, and breathable materials.
Following are some examples of mattresses that offer users numerous scoliosis-friendly benefits.
Mountain Air Organic Beds
The Mountain Air organic bed is a luxury mattress designed to deliver a lifetime of optimal sleep.
People are specific about their sleep habits: the type of pillow they use, mattress firmness, temperature, and sleep position. For people with, or without, scoliosis, sleep is a highly personal thing.
For a person living with a progressive spinal condition, sleep preferences can become even more specific, especially for those dealing with sleep troubles caused by their condition.
A great feature of the Mountain Air organic mattress is how customizable it is. Thanks to the multiple layers and easily-adjustable zipper casing, levels of comfort can be adjusted by moving the layers around. This also makes it ideal for partners sharing a bed with different mattress preferences.
As this mattress is organic, it’s made from 100-percent certified organic cotton and rubber. In addition, it’s naturally antimicrobial, anti-bacterial, and dust mite repellant. This mattress is an ideal choice for people with allergies or sensitivities to certain materials.
There are no coils to increase pressure points; instead, the Mountain Air relies on layers of GOTS-certified organic latex and GOTS-certified organic cotton for premium comfort. The entire mattress is hypo-allergenic with no toxic off-gassing.
This is a mattress that offers customizability, increased comfort, decreased pressure points, and is made from 100-percent natural and organic materials.
Mountain Air organic beds are an excellent option for those with allergies, sensitivities, or for those wanting to make a more environmentally-friendly choice. In terms of comfort, the coil-free layers give the pressure-point relief that can be highly beneficial for people with scoliosis.
As the Mountain Air is nontoxic, it’s often one of our top recommendations for patients.
The Purple Mattress
The Purple mattress features an innovative gel grid and a dual-layer of foam for the ideal blend of support and flex. It’s also hypoallergenic and non toxic.
This mattress is ideal for those needing help with temperature regulation; the temperature-neutral gel grid has 1,800 built in air channels for maximum air flow and uses highly-breathable foams for comfort and support.
The highly-elastic gel grid replaces the need for coils by immediately flexing to support a sleeper’s position and springing back into place as adjustments are made and positions are changed throughout the night.
The grid also provides optimal cushioning so that the hips and shoulders are cradled by the multiple layers of foam for extra padding, reducing pressure points.
The Purple Mattress is also known for its durability. Made from hyper-elastic polymer, the gel grid easily matches, and often surpasses, the longevity of other comparable mattresses on the market.
For those living with scoliosis, the Purple Mattress offers an ideal blend of spinal support and flex, temperature regulation, and comfort.
Made from GOLS-Certified Organic Latex and GOTS-Certified Organic Cotton
The Saatva Classic innerspring mattress is award-winning and chiropractic-approved. It is a hybrid mattress that offers people the best of both worlds: the support of inner coil springs and the soft comfort of foam for reducing pressure points.
This mattress offers back and joint pain relief via the plush Euro pillow top that provides contoured support and reduces pressure from the coil springs below.
Its patented spinal-zone technology and memory foam keeps the spine in a healthy and neutral alignment, working to reduce pressure on the lower back.
As a chiropractic-approved product, the Saatva Classic mattress has been given a formal endorsement and seal of approval from the Congress of Chiropractic State Associations.
In addition, the Saatva classic can be customized by selecting your preferred firmness level for optimal comfort: plush sort, luxury firm, and firm.
Nectar Lush Mattress
The Nectar Lush provides people with multiple layers of award-winning comfort.
In addition to being named the Mattress of the Year (2020) and Best Overall Mattress by USA Today, this product was also declared the Best Memory Foam Mattress of 2020 by the Sleep Foundation. It was also the winner of the Tuck award for Best Value Memory Foam mattress in 2019 and Mattress Advisor recommended it as 2019’s Best Value Mattress.
The first layer is a cooling cover that pulls body heat away from the body, so is ideal for people who tend to run hot and wake up uncomfortably warm.
The 12” layer of premium materials provides optimal spinal support while the coils provide sleepers with flex and support, and the higher-density foam helps relieve pressure points.
As hip pain can be an issue for people living with scoliosis, especially older adults and side sleepers, a mattress that provides extra pressure-point relief is ideal.
The Zoma mattress is a premium mattress designed with pressure-point relief, body temperature regulation, and movement in mind.
Declared by Healthline as the Best Mattress for Active Lifestyles, Best Mattress by Sleep Foundation, Best Mattress by News Week, and Best for Athletes by Medical News Today, the Zoma is ideal for those who frequently switch sleep positions throughout the night.
This foam mattress combines responsiveness, support, comfort and temperature-regulation.
The first layer is made from Aircloth, a ventilated performance fabric known to wick away sweat and heat. The next layer of Triangulex gel memory foam provides targeted comfort to ease pressure-point pain.
The Reactiv layer is designed with responsiveness and flex in mind so mattress support is quickly restored with frequent position changes.
Durable support is provided by the final layer that encourages proper spinal alignment, which is very important for people with scoliosis who are dealing with the challenges of living with a misaligned spine.
Now that we have discussed some mattress features and important factors to consider in choosing a scoliosis-friendly mattress, let’s talk about sleep position and scoliosis.
When it comes to the best sleep positions for people with scoliosis, much like the ideal mattress, it’s about keeping the spine well supported and in a neutral position. The healthiest sleep position for people with scoliosis is flat on the back, then side sleeping, followed by stomach sleeping.
Sleep position plays a role in promoting healthy spinal alignment for people in general, and for people living with scoliosis, as their spines are already exposed to adverse tension and misalignment, this is especially important.
For people with scoliosis, their spines are abnormally bent to the side and include rotation; this means their spines are not aligned the way they should be.
A healthy spine has three main natural curves that give the spine more strength, flexibility, allow us to stay upright and practice good posture, and help the spine to evenly distribute mechanical stress caused by movement.
For people living with scoliosis, the overall biomechanics of the spine are disrupted due to a loss of its healthy curvatures, and this can make it more challenging to find a comfortable sleep position.
Following are the best sleep positions for people with scoliosis, in terms of promoting a healthy spinal alignment, which also happen to be the best sleep positions for people in general, for the same reasons.
The best sleeping position, in terms of spinal alignment, is flat on the back. This position supports the natural and healthy curves of the cervical spine (neck) and the natural lordosis (inward curvature) of the lumbar spine (lower back).
Sleeping flat on the back eliminates pressure points as the body’s weight is evenly distributed, and there is no added tension or stress placed on the spine.
For people with and without scoliosis, sleeping flat on the back is ideal because it aligns the spine, supports the spine’s natural curvatures, and doesn’t introduce extra adverse spinal tension.
The next best sleeping position, after flat on the back, is sleeping on the side, which is what the majority of people prefer.
This is why it’s so important to choose an appropriate mattress to help peoples’ spines stay aligned and supported during sleep. Ideally, you want to keep the head neutrally aligned with the torso and the torso in alignment with the pelvis.
A way to achieve this optimally while sleeping on the side is to place a thin pillow between the knees during sleep, and this will help keep the spine optimally aligned and supported.
Adding a pillow between the knees is a simple adjustment to make, but for someone with scoliosis, it can be just enough to make sleeping on the side more comfortable and healthy for the spine.
Stomach sleeping is the worst sleep position in terms of support and alignment. When you lie flat on your stomach, the back is unnaturally arched, exposed to adverse tension, and this position is not healthy for the upper back and/or neck.
Sleeping flat on the stomach is a position many find comfortable, but it unnaturally arches the back, puts the thoracic and cervical spine in unnatural positions, and places extra stress on the spine; for people with scoliosis, this can be particularly disruptive as their spines are already exposed to adverse tension through the uneven forces the condition introduces.
As stomach sleeping places the spine in an unnatural position and doesn’t offer adequate support, it can exacerbate scoliosis-related discomfort, making sleeping that much harder, in addition to potentially increasing the uneven forces already being exposed to the spine.
In addition to a good mattress and healthy sleep position, many people are unaware of just how beneficial a properly-customized pillow can be.
Most people don’t realize the benefit that a customized scoliosis pillow can provide. An average pillow is just that: an average pillow. They are one size fits all and don’t address the vast range of body types.
Clearly, a 6-foot tall person is not going to need the same size and type of pillow as someone who is 5-feet tall. As discussed, when it comes to positive body positioning and scoliosis, the idea is to keep the spine as neutral and aligned as possible during all activities, including sleep.
Sleeping with a pillow that adequately supports the head means it’s held in a natural and neutral alignment with the torso, keeping the torso aligned with the pelvis. The idea behind getting a customized scoliosis pillow is that it’s fitted to suit a person’s size, body type, shoulders, back, and pelvis, and this all works towards maintaining healthy spinal alignment.
Measuring and fitting patients for a customized pillow is something we do here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center, and while switching out a pillow can seem like a relatively minor change, it can have a big impact.
When it comes to the topic of the best mattress for people with scoliosis, it’s all about comfort and support.
While not everyone with scoliosis experiences pain and/or sleep troubles, it can be an issue, and regardless, it’s always good to practice positive sleep habits that promote spine health, even for those who don’t have scoliosis.
I should also be clear that no sleep position, on its own, is enough to impact scoliosis on a structural level. Some people think that if they sleep on the side, opposite of their curvature, that it might coax the spine back into alignment, but that’s not the case.
In order to impact scoliosis on a structural level, which is what’s needed for effective treatment, a curvature reduction can be achieved through a combination of chiropractic care, in-office therapy, custom-prescribed home exercises, and corrective bracing.
While a good mattress and healthy sleep habits can help people with scoliosis improve their sleep-life and promote better spine health, structural improvement is beyond their scope and can only be achieved through an integrative and functional treatment approach, like the one we offer here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center.
A good mattress for someone with scoliosis is one that makes them feel comfortable and keeps the spine in a neutral and aligned position. The aforementioned examples of mattresses, particularly the Mountain Air Organics mattress and the Purple Mattress, are made from hypoallergenic and natural materials and offer temperature regulation, spinal support and alignment, comfort, reduced pressure points, and durability.
People facing the rigors of living with scoliosis, and especially those undergoing proactive treatment, need their sleep. Sleep helps us face what the day is bringing, helps us with stamina, and can help create a healing environment within the body.
While every case is different, as are my treatment plans, the most intense treatment phase is generally at the onset when we push to make the biggest impact structurally, and a patient’s ability to get a good night’s sleep is of paramount importance when it comes to their mental and physical ability to commit and respond to treatment.
Here at the Center, we treat the whole patient, including any and all symptoms they are experiencing. I provide my patients with guidance on many aspects of how to live a scoliosis-friendly lifestyle, including how to choose the ideal mattress, pillow, and sleep position.
As scoliosis is progressive and incurable, it will be a part of these patients’ lives forever. Being able to strike a balance between the physical demands of the condition and the restorative effect of sleep is key.
All aspects of a healthy sleep-life are important: a good mattress, scoliosis-friendly sleep positions, and even a customized scoliosis pillow. When combined, these seemingly small elements can have a cumulative effect of creating the ideal conditions for healing within the body. Being able to withstand the rigors of treatment and any additional challenges the condition poses is hugely beneficial, and sleep is a big part of that.
When it comes to choosing a mattress that is as scoliosis-friendly as possible, consider one that feels comfortable, has a level of firmness and flex that works for you, and offers adequate support while promoting spinal alignment. In addition, keep in mind that scoliosis-friendly sleep positions and a customized pillow can also improve a person’s sleep.