Seeking sleep wisdom!


I hope this finds you all well.

I’d like to first say thank you for taking the time to put together such a detailed, informative, and responsive forum as this is. I started an official new mattress search several weeks ago, and after perusing all the standard mattress review websites, and beginning to feel as if I was being slightly hoodwinked somehow, it was such a huge relief to stumble upon the mattressunderground, and uncover a trove of what feels like real information, and science/fact-based recommendations. I have not been here long, but since I have been here, have been digging deep, and trying to educate myself as best as possible.

Now to my situation. My partner and I have been sleeping on an air mattress that was gifted to us, for the last five years.

He is 5’10" and 170 lbs, with shoulders wider than hips and weight evenly distributed, not sure of BMI. Sleeps mostly on the side as well as the back. 36 yo.
• I am 5’8" and 140 lbs, female, with hips slightly wider than shoulders and more weight concentrated in the hips, not sure of BMI. Sleep mostly on the side. 33 yo.

Our mattress has never been incredibly comfortable. We purchased a 3" foam topper from some standard bedding store several years ago to put on top of it to try to help. I wouldn’t even begin to be able to recall where we got the foam topper, or what exactly it is made of. What I do know is that we just can no longer use any of it, and have both been waking up with great pain, in different parts of the body, for a long time.

Having read through the forum, I understand that an air mattress is not the most appropriate choice for us, and am seeking a better solution. I’ve also understood through perusing the forum, that’s it’s important to try and break down why what we are currently sleeping on is not working. As part of that exercise, we removed the foam topper to attempt to get specific about the firmness we were needing/not needing. The foam topper was severely degraded with indentations and pieces missing (dogs), so we felt it would not be accurate to keep it in the mix while evaluating.

We’ve been trying to notice our spinal alignment while laying on the bed in our usual positions to ascertain if a lower setting in the air mattress (assuming this is slightly representative of a softer mattress) or a higher setting in the air mattress (assuming this is slightly representative of a firmer mattress) is best at keeping us in alignment. I need help understanding what I’m observing in this exercise. I’ve been trying to take pictures, (as I saw recommended in the forum), of our spinal alignment when laying in a sideways position on the bed.

For both of us, it SEEMS as if neither of our shoulders/head are sinking down far enough (our spine is curving up starting a few inches below the bottom of the shoulder blades and then continues curving further up in that direction moving into the neck). For my partner, the rest of his spine seems to be relatively straight, even into the hips. For me though, it looks as if my hips might be sitting a little too high (an assumption of mine as I guess it could be that my torso is not getting pushed up enough?) -my spine, after coming down from the curve in the shoulder blades, straightens out in the torso, but then goes back up slightly (not as steeply up as in the shoulders area, but in a shorter span) at my hips. Please note that these observations are seen at air mattress settings around 40%.

I do want to put a caveat in here and say that we are also most likely not sleeping on the most ergonomic pillows possible, and my partner does not always sleep with a pillow between/under his knees when sleeping on the side/back, so we do know that both of those things need to be modified in order to experience improvements. We do not know however, the specifics to change regarding the mattress itself, and that’s where I need help.

In terms of the details of the issues we’ve been experiencing with the mattress, they are many. For my partner, he has been plagued with severe lower back pain when waking up in the mornings. He delivers for UPS and has an incredibly physical job, so being able to rest his body at night, in a way that won’t do further damage to him, is really important. He also has frequent shoulder pain. For me, I’ve been experiencing some lower back pain, but more frequently neck pain, as well as pain in my ribs and sternum. I have been trying to research the rib/sternum pain, and have not been able to find too much information on this. The only thing I can say about it is that it occurs sometimes when I am sleeping on my side (the mattress setting frequently gets accidentally changed), and wakes me up at night and keeps me up. It feels as if sometimes my ribs are “crunching” down on top of my sternum, and when I wake up after having been in this position for some time, it is a sharp pain when trying to breathe in, so I turn on to the other side to try to escape it (also because after laying on one side, the ribs on that side sometimes feel “bruised”) but this never really solves anything, just lessens the pain until it begins to occur on that side. Please note I do always sleep with a pillow between my knees. We both either wake up in the middle of the night to take ibuprofen, or have to take it in the morning.

I’ve been trying to dissect what to make of these observations, and most importantly, how to apply them to a new mattress. I feel drawn to the customizable mattress (where I can select the layers I want/materials/ILD, etc). I realize this opens me up to some trial and error, and I’m more comfortable with this then committing to something pre-fabricated that I don’t fully understand, and can’t change. I’ll also say that we have done one round of mattress testing at a standard mattress store, and we both tended to gravitate more towards the mattresses with a medium level of firmness. We don’t like the feeling of sleeping on a firm surface, so need some cushion, but haven’t found enough support to be provided in the foam topper that we’ve used for all these years (again, it’s probably not good quality). I can also say that my mom has a Tempurpedic mattress that I’ve found more comfortable than our bed. However, I’m not certain I’d really be getting what I’m paying for there, and have been attracted to the description of latex/hybrid mattresses in the forum.

My main questions right now are regarding how many layers to use at what firmness, and whether you might recommend zoning given the issues described (and if so, either in a pocket coil support layer or further up with different latex foams)?

What I have been contemplating so far is starting with:

  1. pocket coil support core. When researching the different cores, I do have a question here regarding whether you might hypothesize that a pocket coil layer using coils that are all the same would be better, or a zoned pocket coil layer would be better? I realize pocket coils can be complicated. I’ve heard a lot about the Quantum Edge Elite CombiZone. I would love if someone could tell me in plain terms if this type of system is the type that would be firmer or softer underneath the shoulders? I’ve been getting confused trying to translate how all the different specs of that particular coil system play together. I have read through the various descriptions of the different types of zoning, and think that we MIGHT be needing a softer zone at the head of the mattress. But, I am not sure if I am diagnosing this correctly, and if instead of lowering the shoulders, we really need to lift up the torso, or a combo of both? I’m so confused…

I was then thinking of having a second layer of 2) Dunlop latex foam, 3", not sure on ILD. This is because of the great things I’ve heard about its durability/elasticity, and because we have been going back and forth about a hybrid vs 100% latex mattress. In our one testing trip, we seemed to be equally comfortable in both. My question here would be what thickness of Dunlop to use as a middle layer, and what ILD?

Lastly, I was thinking of having a final layer of 3) Talalay latex foam, 3", not sure on ILD. This is again because of the great things I’ve heard here in the forum, and its ability to provide more cradling support. I read in the sleeping positions article that side sleepers should shoot for between 2"-4" on top, aiming at 3", so that’s how I landed on 3". My question here would be what thickness of Talalay to use as a top layer, and what ILD? I have read here that blended Talalay can sometimes prove to be longer lasting than all natural, so had been considering blended, but please let me know if this wouldn’t be the best move for us.

Additionally, if this instinctively seems like the wrong type of setup, wrong order, missing a layer, too many layers, etc., please advise as to where you might recommend a change. I do realize that each person is unique and you can’t write a prescription that will automatically suit, but I’m looking for the best place to at least start. I want to get something ordered. Given the severe pains we’re experiencing, and that we often dread going to sleep, we have been saving for this purchase and are willing to spend what we need to. Still, I would like to try and keep it under $5k. Hopefully this gives some amount of room to purchase additional trial layers and perform some experimentation. We are leaning towards a customizable mattress, but if our situation seems to almost perfectly fit a pre-made mattress you’re aware of, would be open to exploring it.

If there is any additional information/pictures/experiments that would help best assess our situation, please let me know and I am happy to provide. We probably still need to do some additional testing on our own bed, as well as trying out more mattresses. We are located in central NC. Also, if it matters, we do have two large dogs that somehow con their way into the bed each night… Thank you in advance for your time and expertise!

Hey ouchneednewbed,

Welcome to the Mattress Underground :slight_smile: ! Thanks for your question.

[quote]I’d like to first say thank you for taking the time to put together such a detailed, informative, and responsive forum as this is. I started an official new mattress search several weeks ago, and after perusing all the standard mattress review websites, and beginning to feel as if I was being slightly hoodwinked somehow, it was such a huge relief to stumble upon the mattressunderground, and uncover a trove of what feels like real information, and science/fact-based recommendations. I have not been here long, but since I have been here, have been digging deep, and trying to educate myself as best as possible.

Thanks so much for your kind words on the forum site and glad to hear that you find the resources here useful for your research. Congrats too on your new mattress shopping journey! Keep “digging deep” as there is lots to discover, not only about your preferences but also about the mattress shopping process itself. The more you learn through research, the more informed you will be and confident you will feel while making choices

For brevity, I have quoted highlights from your detailed post (BTW, good job laying all of this information out, your thorough situation analysis helps with better understanding your preferences). From the personal stats you cited, you both are in normal BMI range (you at 21.3; partner at 24.4, here is a BMI calculator, in case you’re curious), and have close to the same sleep styles which will be helpful in finding support and comfort agreeable to you both. What size mattress are you considering? Other than an air mattress, what other mattress constructions have you tried before that you liked as well or better? Perhaps while travelling or visiting others?

With an air mattress, the feeling of comfort is derived in the upper quilting of the cover and the support happens within the multi-chambered bladders based on the settings used. You wouldn’t be able to approximate the mattress’s “comfort” firmness in terms of “softer” or “firmer” by using a lower setting for one as opposed to a higher setting for the other as the lower setting merely removes air from the bladders, changing the support layer firmness while using a higher setting adds air, increasing the support layer firmness. As this particular support delivery system is known for its lack of progressive resistance, allowing the heavier parts of the body to sink downward more quickly until they “bottom out” it offers little in correct spinal support/ alignment for the user. You can read more on air mattresses in Phoenix’s article, “Mattress Support Cores- Airbeds”.

You have given a good deal of thoughtful observations and questions for your first post and we will refer back to those following your answers to the several questions above I have for you. One final one for you: for your two large dogs, what breeds/ weights are they, just trying to get a feel for the overall weight your new mattress would need to support from a durability standpoint.

Looking forward to your replies and thanks :wink: .


Dear Sensai,

Thank you for taking time to respond. Please see my comments below!

Thank you for calculating our BMI’s for us, and for the link! Very useful.

We are looking for a king size mattress. My partner says that anything other than what we are currently sleeping on he has found more comfortable. I gravitate toward the Tempurpedic style, where I can feel close to the foam (I’m not sure I like a lot of quilting, it gives me a false sense of support somehow) and a slight enveloping feeling that is supportive but not ‘falling in". Please note that my mom’s Tempurpedic bed which i mentioned before as finding very comfortable is actually a Firm version…. Or that’s at least what she says she thinks it is…

In terms of sleep style I have realized over the last few nights that I may be a “hybrid” side sleeperWhen I sleep on my side I actually am sleeping halfway on my stomach, such that if I’m laying on the mattress on my right-hand side, my left leg is usually stretched over my body and onto the mattress along with my left arm stretched over and underneath the pillow. Not sure if this matters in terms of different needed levels of softness/firmness…

Thank you for the link to the air mattress section. We do experience a lot of “bottoming out”. Since pulling off the degraded foam topper (after visiting another mattress center this weekend and seeing how latex actually felt, I can confirm now that our old foam topper was not latex, and if it was memory foam, was very poor), we have realized that the only setting that is semi-comfortable on our air mattress without a topper, is below 30%. We also have noticed with the topper gone, that at this low end of the settings, when the dogs get up on the bed, the air shifts and causes discomfort again, so this probably explains a lot of the issue we’ve been having.

I would like to add some additional information to my original post after having conducted another round of visits to look at mattresses. While I had originally been wanting to pursue a pocket coil layer as the base layer, my partner did not find that comfortable in store, and said he could still feel the springs. I didn’t mind it though and actually found it supportive and nice to have that lift into the curved areas. I was wondering if, when building your own mattress and arranging layers, is it possible to have a TwinXL pocket coil base layer on one side of a King (that’s not split on the outside, but has split layers on the inside) and a latex foam base layer on the other?

I also realized while in store, that I do need a soft upper layer(s), especially if not using a pocket coil base, to give that “push-up” feeling into the curved areas (especially the lumbar when sleeping on back). Laying on a full Dunlop mattress with a F/M/S in the store, still wasn’t comfortable for me, but when adding a Dunlop XS (ILD 14 I believe) to the top, it felt better, and a comparable feeling to the pocket coil/dunlop combination bed that my partner found less comfortable. The visit spurred a lot of questions and reframing for me, which I know is the point! Could someone tell me if, based on my weight/BMI, what the firmest layer should be for me on the bottom of the bed, if not doing pocket coils? M, F, or XF?. Please note i’m open to getting a 4 layer mattress with a topper if necessary…

Thank you again!

Hey ouchneednewbed,

Thanks for your reply :slight_smile: .

“Split layering” of a mattress’s upper comfort layers is a popular approach, allowing consumers to individualize comfort on either side of the bed, as well as rearrange layers for comfort preferences. You can read some of Phoenix’s thoughts regarding the “feel” of this type arrangement in post #2, "Side By Side Layering Versas Solid Latex Layer. While this type approach to the support base might be possible, it would be a custom built mattress and I’m not sure if this type set up is feasible from a construction standpoint. As you are starting fresh with a new mattress, have you considered a split set up using 2 twin XLs? That way, you each win: you could have the hybrid/ pocket coil configuration more suited to your comfort preferences, and he could have an all foam/ latex side that is more suited to his.

Based on your weight/ BMI (previously determined to be 21.3/ “normal” range), the layering you tried in the store of full Dunlop mattress F/ M/ S, should suit your needs. Remember: the “firmness” of the support base layer serves the separate function of support within the mattress base, while the “firmness” of the upper comfort layers is where you will “feel” whether those layers are too firm or too soft for your personal preferences. Kudos on the detailed results, ouchneednewbed and thanks for sharing your research. Looking forward to hearing more updates :wink: .