Marlon Brando famously said that the secret to his success in bed was “elbow time”. Apparently, after making love he would prop himself up on one elbow, lying on his side to face his lover. This way, he said, he was able to make himself appear attentive to her as she talked, however uninterested he actually was.

Generations of both men and women following Brando’s sage advice have found that ‘elbow time’ gets quite uncomfortable after a few minutes. It’s actually the shoulder that first starts to hurt: the glenohumeral ligaments just don’t like taking static load for that long. Most of us begin to feel that we’ve acquitted ourselves pretty well after a scant few minutes of profound insight into the musings of our beloved.

Millions of side-sleepers will know: ‘shoulder time’ isn’t really much better.

As you lie on your side, what your spine wants is to be straight, when viewed form the back. It’s ok with curving forwards into a foetal position, but it doesn’t like to curve sideways, or to twist.  With a straight spine, though, your shoulder sticks out sideways quite a way beyond your rib-cage. On a reasonably firm mattress, there is no-where for the shoulder to go. The only way we can accommodate it is by bending the spine sideways, to lift the shoulder, or by twisting the spine, to rotate the shoulder out of the way. Just like ‘elbow time’, this may be comfortable for a few minutes, but not all night.

Of course, you can accommodate the shoulder by making the mattress very soft, so that the shoulder will just sink into it. However, by the time the mattress is that soft, it’s probably too soft for the rest of your body. You will get sag, causing your spine to bend sideways anyhow. You will get entrapment, making it more difficult for you to shift position occasionally (essential for all-night comfort). You will get excessive pelvic roll in a back-lying position, leading to lumbar pain. And you will get roll-together, bundling you together with your partner, whether they like it or not.

It seems obvious, looking at it now.

But just like magnifying glasses had to exist for hundreds of years before it occurred to anyone to put two of them together to make a telescope or a microscope, it took until very recently until the bedding industry had the thought:

You don’t have to have all parts of the mattress the same softness.

Now that cat is out of the bag, a substantial amount of research and development has gone into profiling technologies and materials to achieve controlled variations in indentation behaviour across the surface of the mattress.

The Snuz mattress by SleepChoices is very much at the vanguard of this. The Snuz divides the mattress into 7 zones, each tuned for a different part of the body. The practicalities of rotating the mattress are catered for by making the zoning symmetrical. The hips are given the same treatment as the shoulders, which is exactly what they need.

Variations in people’s heights are handled well. Although people vary substantially in height, the variations in distance between hip and shoulder are much smaller, since that space only accounts for a small proportion of your overall height. So, if the user lies on the bed with the shoulder properly accommodated by the shoulder zone, the hips will be in a relatively predictable place. Appropriate sizing of these bands allows for the small amount of variance.

Meanwhile, the mid-section of the torso is given enough graduated support to prevent sag, entrapment, and roll.

It’s very good news for side sleepers, and goes a long way to solving the problem of ‘shoulder time’.  As for elbow time: I’m afraid Brando remains undefeated.



Author: Dr. Duncan Bain