Firmness is one of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a mattress. It is often made out to be more complicated than it actually is, mostly due to the personal preference of each individual. It should be said, however, that there is an objective mattress firmness scale, and it is a good idea to consult it before making a purchase.
As mentioned above, the complexity of mattress firmness has been artificially inflated in the past, but we’re here to clear things up as much as possible so you can have a straightforward and clear idea about what you want when you go shopping. We’re going to show you a useful tool in the form of a mattress firmness scale, which you can use to make your shopping experience simpler.
What is Mattress Firmness?
This term applies to the feel of the mattress to an individual sleeper. It is directly related to the comfort layer of the bed, meaning its topmost layer, which is often made of materials like latex, memory foam, or polyfoam. This layer of a mattress is designed to provide a cushioned buffer between the sleeper and the denser, firmer materials underneath, in the mattresses support core.
One of the most important factors of determining the firmness level of the mattress is how readily it conforms to the body of whoever happens to be sleeping on it. Whenever you’re lying down on a bed, your spine should be as close as possible to its natural position, without the hips or shoulders sinking in too much or not enough. This means that your mattress should be in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone, meaning not too soft and not too firm.
There’s no right firmness for everyone since this depends on your physique and individual needs, and if you get it wrong, you might end up with long-lasting consequences in terms of back discomfort, tension, or even spine damage. It is imperative to make sure that your body has the proper support when sleeping, and if you notice that your mattress might be causing you issues, you should consider replacing it.
Is Firmness the Same as Mattress Support?
People often confuse these two terms, but they do not have the same meaning. It is important to emphasize this point. While firmness refers to how hard or soft the mattress is, and its immediate comfort feel, support is related to the mattress’s ability to provide spinal alignment.
So, there are plenty of soft mattresses that offer a lot of support, as well as hard mattresses that feel supportive while putting your spine out of alignment and creating a bunch of pressure points leading to uncomfortable and ultimately not very restful sleep.
Even though there certainly is a strong link between the two concepts, it is vital to keep them separated. When you go shopping for a new mattress, remember to separate support and firmness in your mind, because if you don’t, you could make a mistake that could lead to years of problematic nights.
If a mattress keeps the proper position of the spine during sleep and offers relief to the critical pressure points in your body, it can be considered supportive, regardless of how soft or hard, it feels. In short, support is far less subjective than firmness.
Our Mattress Firmness Chart
Soft (1 – 2)
The mattresses on the lowest end of the firmness scale provide the smallest amount of initial pushback when you lie down on them, so you will immediately feel yourself sinking into a mattress like this. These mattresses offer a lot of contouring around your body, meaning that they will accommodate to the shape of your body and give you a comfortable sleeping experience if you usually have issues sleeping on your side, or experience hip or shoulder pain from firmer mattresses.
Because these are usually made of high-end materials like memory foam, they tend to be quite pricey, although this is not always the case, and it is possible to find a soft mattress for a reasonable price.
Medium (3 – 4)
Both medium and medium-firm mattresses that we will talk about later, provide a decent balance for people who want a bed that is somewhere in between firm and soft. If you like a softer-than-average comfort layer for that all-important pressure-point relief, but you also like stronger core support than you might get in a soft mattress, this is the firmness zone for you.
However, keep in mind that if you need a high level of spinal support, one of these mattresses would still not be ideal. A medium mattress will still conform to your body like a soft mattress, only to a lower degree.
Medium Firm (5 – 7)
Another slice of the mattress firmness scale that could be considered middle-of-the-road, medium-firm provides plenty of support while still offering a decent level of contouring comfort. These mattresses are as close as you can get to universal comfort. If you run a bed and breakfast, and you want most of your guests to have a comfortable sleeping experience, go for a medium-firm mattress as it will please most people.
With a nice amount of push-back as well as a bit of contouring, as well as a decent amount of bounce, these mattresses can offer a comfortable night to a wide range of people.
Firm (8 – 10)
If you’ve ever had the experience of sitting down on a mattress and not sinking at all, that was a mattress that falls on the top end of the firmness scale. These mattresses are made never to let you sink into them, with the support core, as well as the comfort layer, always retaining their form.
Some people describe this feeling as disturbing, and compare it to sleeping on the floor, while others enjoy the firmness. If you’re a side sleeper, a very firm mattress like this is not recommended, because your shoulder and hip bones will be compressed into an unnatural position.
Our Mattress Firmness Guide
The first and most obvious way of finding the best mattress for you is to try them out and select the one that feels the most comfortable. As mentioned earlier, firmness is somewhat subjective, and there’s nobody in the world who knows better than you, which mattress feels most suitable for you.
Looking at the mattress firmness scale we’ve outlined above, consider your current mattress. Once you’ve ascertained where it falls on the scale, think about whether you need something firmer or softer.
Also, think of other mattresses you’ve slept on, in hotels, or when visiting friends or family. If there’s a mattress that you can remember as being particularly comfortable, try to place it on the scale and go for a mattress in that range.
Along with personal preferences in terms of comfort, the sleeping position you tend to utilize should also play a significant role in your decision-making process when it comes to selecting a new mattress. If you’ve never thought much about your sleeping position, it’s time to start paying attention to it and consider it before going out to make your purchase. Support core and comfort layer materials make a difference, and a person who sleeps on their side will need a different combination of those materials from somebody who spends most of the night on their back or stomach.
If you were to sleep on your side on a hard surface like a wooden floor, or even on a very hard mattress, your hips and shoulders would have to carry the majority of your weight throughout the night. So, a good mattress for side sleepers is one on the softer end of the scale. With these, the comfort layers allow the shoulders and hips to sink, keeping your spine aligned and contouring around your body to give you that cozy, snug feeling.
If you find yourself sweating during the night, or ‘sleeping hot,’ you should consider cooling gel-infused comfort layers, or ones made of breathable material.
Your hips and pelvis take a hit when you sleep on your stomach, and a softer mattress can cause issues like an inward curvature of the spine, which could come back to haunt you as you get older. Sleeping with an unaligned spine is never a good idea, so the mattress for stomach sleepers should be on the firmer side.
Keeping your spine, hips, and pelvis in the proper shape while sleeping is the key to avoiding back pain and discomfort. A bonus tip is to use a smaller pillow because a larger one could push your neck too far back or even cause issues with breathing.
Sleeping on your back spreads your weight around a lot more evenly, so there are no heavy pressure points you need to focus on. This means that back sleepers can use a broader range of firmness levels in their mattresses, and remain comfortable and adequately aligned throughout the night.
Choosing the right firmness is going to depend more on your personal preferences as well as any individual issues you may have with shoulder, hip, or back pain. Your body weight is going to play a role, as well. That being said, medium or medium-firm mattresses usually give the best results for back sleepers.
A combination sleeper’s mattress needs to provide support for all scenarios, including stomach and back-sleeping, as well as creating enough contouring and relief for those pressure points like hips and shoulders when you happen to be sleeping on your side.
If you have some notion of which position you spend most of the night in, that’s what you should base your mattress firmness selection on. Consult the previous explanations for specific positions if this is the case. Conversely, if you have no idea what is the dominant position, go with a medium, jack-of-all-trades mattress so that you can have the right balance of support and pressure-point relief.
Lighter Sleepers (130 lbs or less)
If you’re a lighter person, you will not exert that much pressure on your mattress, meaning that you are going to have a tendency of staying on top of the comfort layer rather than sinking in towards the support core. For many light sleepers (in terms of weight rather than sleep quality), a softer mattress is a good option.
So, if you’re quite light, look at your preferred sleeping position and go one level softer than what is described as the optimal firmness for that position. However, consider your usual sleep temperature as well, since softer mattresses tend to run a bit hot.
Average-Sized Sleepers (130-230 lbs)
If you’re average-sized, your body weight shouldn’t play as much of a role in your decision-making process when selecting a new mattress. Other factors, like sleep position or body temperature, will be much more significant factors.
Medium or medium-firm mattresses will perform well for most average-sized people, which is why you often see that “universal comfort” label on beds in these categories, especially medium-firm. If you spend most of the night sleeping on the stomach, though, you should probably consider a firm mattress to have the necessary support for those pressure points.
Heavy Sleepers (230+ lbs)
Those on the heavier side have a higher chance of sinking through the comfort layer of a mattress and reaching the support core. This often leads to an unpleasant sagging sensation and even a feeling of being trapped within the bed. At the very least, if you pick a mattress that’s too soft, you’re going to feel like your body is not being adequately supported.
We recommend a firm or medium-firm mattress for people weight over 230 pounds because these mattresses often feature more dense and supportive comfort layers in addition to having a stronger support core.
Unfortunately, chronic back pain is a common issue for adults worldwide, and many experience difficulties and disruptions in their sleep schedule due to the nagging discomfort. A supportive and comfortable mattress with the right level of firmness can help reduce these problems significantly, allowing you to wake up alert and well-rested.
You should select your mattress firmness depending on the sleep position you use and the type of pain you are experiencing. If you sleep mostly on your stomach and feel a lot of pain in your lower back, for example, you probably need a firmer mattress than the one you are currently using.
Another common problem people run into due to the wrong choice of mattress is hip pain and discomfort around the lower back and pelvis. This can occur due to other factors like old injuries and chronic medical conditions as well, but mattress choice should always be taken into consideration regardless.
Softer mattresses that more closely conform to the body of the sleeper, and align the spine, pelvis, and shoulders are more likely to alleviate pain in those critical pressure points. If you sleep on the side and notice some discomfort around the hip region, your mattress may be too firm.
This problem is a bit trickier to resolve due to the sheer number of factors that may be causing neck pain in the first place. Most people nowadays spend too much time slouching at their desks, which puts us all at a disadvantage from the get-go when it comes to neck pain.
Generally speaking, most of the rules that apply when looking for a mattress for hip pain apply here as well, so you should look for a softer mattress that accommodates those pressure points. However, with neck pain, your pillow is probably the primary suspect and looking for a specific mattress for neck pain might not help. If you feel like your head is pushed too far upwards, or not supported enough by your pillow, consider replacing it first.
Other Important Considerations
If you and your significant other have similar sleeping styles and body types, shopping for a new mattress will be a breeze. Problems arise when one is much heavier than the other, or one prefers sleeping on the side, while the other is a devoted back sleeper. Most often, medium-firm mattresses will be your best bet, due to their universal appeal, but be sure to discuss the situation with your partner before making any decisions.
Bounciness or, as it is sometimes referred to in the mattress world, responsiveness, is probably an essential factor to take into account when it comes to sex. If your mattress is less responsive, it will sink too much, creating an uncomfortable situation, so the rule of thumb should be ‘more bounce – more fun.’
This refers to how much energy or movement is transferred from one side of the bed to the other. A mattress with a lot of motion transfer may be an issue for couples if one person tends to shift around a lot during the night, as that may result in waking up their partner. More plush mattresses that offer lots of contouring usually have less motion transfer.
If soft and contouring mattresses are good for motion transfer, sleeping hot is where they fall short in general. Most soft beds cause a buildup of heat on the skin because they tend to envelop the sleeper preventing airflow. If you dislike getting too warm during the night, consider mattresses infused with cooling gel.
Most mattresses offer the lowest amount of support near the edge, so if you like to sleep or even sit on the side of your bed, you make edge support one of your most important factors for consideration. If the mattress is already soft and plush, it is going to offer even less support around the sides, so go for a firmer mattress if this is your preferred sleeping position.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the Mattress Firmness Level Affect Its Durability?
It depends. A well-made, soft mattress may outlast a poorly-made firm one, but generally speaking, mattresses with more delicate comfort layers have more chance of deteriorating early because of issues with sagging and indentations, which might compromise support as a result. That being said, your mattress choice should never be solely focused on its lifespan.
How to Add Firmness to Mattress?
If you can’t afford to replace your mattress with a firmer one at this time, you should probably look for a mattress topper. There are both firm and soft mattress toppers that you can choose depending on the direction you wish to go. Adding one of these can immediately improve your sleeping experience by a large margin.
There are many factors to consider when selecting your next mattress, and firmness is among the most important ones. Which firmness you choose to go with depends on your underlying health issues, weight, sleeping position, and even things like motion transfer and edge support.
Even though a lot of manufacturers claim that their mattress offers ‘universal comfort,’ those claims are questionable at best. If you want to have the best sleeping experience over the next few years, don’t be afraid to do a little research and select the mattress that fits your sleeping preferences. If you’re unsure where to begin, take a look at some of our mattress reviews and consider our top-rated mattresses.