CR reveals the innerspring, foam, and adjustable-air mattresses at the top of the heap for back support
By Consumer Reports
The key to finding your best mattress is to choose one that balances support with comfort. In our lab tests, to zero in on terrific mattresses for back sleepers, we’ve found that many are medium-firm to firm, though those looking for something softer will also find a few options in both the innerspring and foam categories.
For those with partners who don’t sleep on their back, rest assured: The recommended mattresses in this article should work adequately for most side sleepers, too.
Beyond lab tests, we’re also curious about what it’s like to live with a particular mattress. That’s why we also provide scores for comfort and owner satisfaction, based on data from recent surveys on CR members’ experiences with nearly 70,000 mattresses purchased in the past decade. We asked them to rate the comfort of their mattress and used the data to generate ratings by brand and type of mattress. Owner satisfaction is based on a member’s overall judgment of such factors as firmness/softness, value, quality of sleep, and more.
How CR Tests Mattresses for Back Support
In our support tests for back sleepers, we use people, both small and large. That’s because a mattress that has great back support for a petite back sleeper might not work for a back sleeper who’s substantially larger: Heavier folks may find that the mattress doesn’t keep their spines aligned as they sleep, which can result in an achy back in the morning.
So in the lab, technicians graph 36 points along the subjects’ spines, and use displacement sensors to map how the surface of the mattress moves and conforms to their shape as they’re lying on their back.
“The majority of those sensors are located from the neck to the hips and provide the basis for our analysis of back support,” says Chris Regan, who oversees mattress testing at CR. “The data from those sensors will identify the mattresses that do not properly support the natural curve of your spine. It’s that lack of support that makes you shift around on a mattress trying different positions.”
This test is combined with another that uses hundreds of sensors on a bed to measure the level of pressure where the body comes into contact with the mattress. We average the results of the small and large test subjects to produce a score for average-sized sleepers.
We also evaluate the firmness level of a mattress. Generally speaking, back sleepers often prefer a firmer feel to their mattress than side sleepers do, but one person’s "too firm" is another’s "too soft." So we use an objective industry test standard, in which we apply a load of up to 1,000 newtons (4.4 newtons equal about a pound) to each mattress and measure the surface displacement. We then plot the results on a scale of 1 to 10 (10, being the firmest), so that we can accurately compare the firmness of one mattress with that of another.
CR members can read on for ratings and reviews of standout models for back sleepers. You’ll find foam, innerspring (including hybrid), and adjustable air mattresses, from brands like Avocado, Casper, Sleep Number, and Sleep on Latex. For even more recommended mattresses, see our complete mattress ratings, and check our mattress buying guide as you shop. For a list of recommended mattresses customized to your needs (including budget, sleep position, size, and more), explore our CR’s interactive mattress selector.
Best Innerspring Mattresses for Back Sleepers
Innerspring mattresses combine a layer of coils with layers of fiber padding or (in the case of hybrids) foam. Expect at least some resilience and a buoyant feel.
Best Foam Mattresses for Back Sleepers
These mattresses are made entirely of foam layers. They tend to score well in the area of stabilization—that means you’re less likely to disturb your partner when you toss and turn—but they’re likelier than innersprings to retain heat.
Best Adjustable Air Mattresses for Back Sleepers
These mattresses are typically pricey, but sleep partners appreciate that each side can be inflated (or deflated) to match their own comfort needs.
Sleep Number 360 p6 Smart Bed
CR’s take: The 11-inch Sleep Number 360 p6 Smart Bed delivers first-rate performance—with scores of Very Good—for back and side sleepers of all sizes. Our members’ surveys on Sleep Number air mattresses show that people tend to be pleased with their purchase: The beds receive ratings of Very Good for both comfort and owner satisfaction.
How to Choose a Mattress
If your mattress is making you toss and turn all night, it may be time for a new mattress. On the “Consumer 101” TV show, CR expert Chris Regan shares tips on what to look for when mattress shopping.
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