Finding the perfect mattress firmness can be a challenging task, as it is a highly subjective matter. Each individual’s perception of firmness varies based on factors like body weight, size, and shape. However, some standards and benchmarks can help guide you in selecting the right level of firmness for your specific sleeping needs. In this comprehensive guide on mattress firmness, we will delve into the definition of firmness, how the mattress industry measures it, and provide insights on choosing the ideal firmness for you. Moreover, we will address the distinction between firmness and support, as these terms are often confused. So, let’s embark on this journey to discover the world of mattress firmness and ensure a restful night’s sleep tailored to your preferences.
What is Mattress Firmness?
Mattress firmness is a subjective characteristic that indicates the softness or firmness of a bed when you lie on it. Although manufacturers assign specific firmness ratings to their mattresses, individual experiences can vary. For example, a lightweight person may perceive a bed as firmer, while a heavier individual may find it softer.
It is important to distinguish between firmness and support, as they are not the same thing, although they can affect each other. Support refers to how effectively a mattress maintains the natural alignment of your spine. While a firmer mattress often provides better support, this is not always true. It is worth noting that the mattress size does not significantly affect its overall firmness feel. The most significant factors influencing firmness are typically the sleeper’s body weight and preferred sleep position.
Why Does it Matter?
The firmness level of a mattress holds great significance as it directly impacts the overall comfort and support it offers. Moreover, it plays a vital role in how effectively the mattress can relieve pressure points. If a mattress is excessively firm, it might not conform to the body’s sensitive areas, resulting in discomfort while sleeping and potential joint stiffness upon awakening.
Define One Firmness Fits All?
The concept of a “one-size-fits-all” approach is commonly used to describe a firmness level that caters to most sleepers. However, most individuals prefer a medium or medium-firm feel, which typically falls within the 5 to 7 range on the firmness scale.
Considering this, it is reasonable to assume that a 6 out of 10 firmness rating would suit most people. However, it’s important to acknowledge that certain individuals may prefer a softer or firmer mattress, depending on their body type and preferred sleeping position.
Nevertheless, it is highly recommended to thoroughly evaluate a mattress before purchasing it to ensure its quality and reliability. While firmness is an important factor to consider, there are other crucial aspects.
The market offers various mattress types, and their effectiveness can vary. Some mattresses may appear firm but lack support due to lower-quality materials. Fortunately, many reputable online mattress brands provide generous trial periods indicating a high-quality product. These trial periods allow you ample time to test the mattress in the comfort of your own home and ensure that it offers the desired level of comfort and support you need.
Firmness vs. Support
Firmness and support are distinct factors to consider when choosing a mattress. While firmness relates to the initial sensation when lying down, support is about maintaining proper spinal alignment.
Although firmer mattresses often provide better support, this is not always true. Softer beds can also offer ample support, depending on the individual sleeper. Recognizing the subjective nature of firmness is crucial during the mattress selection process.
When deciding on a new mattress, it’s essential to consider firmness and support. Additionally, firmness can impact pressure relief, so if that is a priority, ensure that the mattress is comfortable enough to alleviate pressure points. For example, a firm mattress may lack adequate contouring, making it unsuitable for side sleepers.
Mattress Firmness Scale
|Sink significantly and closely conform to your body for a plush, enveloping feel.
|Offer considerable sinkage and conforming, cradling you in a comforting embrace.
|Provide some sinkage and relatively close conformity, striking a balance between support and contour.
|Offer moderate sinkage and noticeable conforming, ensuring a supportive yet contouring surface.
|Have minimal sinkage and moderate conformity, providing support without excessive give.
|Virtually no sinkage or conforming, ensuring a stable and supportive sleep surface.
|No perceptible sinkage or conforming, providing a firm and unyielding sleeping experience.
While there is no standardized measurement for mattress firmness, many manufacturers utilize a 10-point scale to indicate firmness. This scale can provide a better understanding of how a mattress may feel and how it compares to other models regarding firmness. There are models available to accommodate nearly any firmness preference, although most tend to fall around the 5 or 6 rating. To provide better insight into the distinctions between these options, let’s delve deeper into the performance of each firmness rating.
Extra Soft to Soft (1-3)
Mattresses within the 1 to 3 range offer a notable level of softness and are often called plush. These beds are particularly comfortable for side sleepers weighing less than 130 pounds. However, individuals who are heavier or prefer different sleeping positions may experience excessive sinking, which can affect their spinal alignment.
The key characteristic of soft mattresses is their ability to conform closely to the body. This feature provides pressure relief and a comforting sensation akin to being hugged. Sleepers with sensitive pressure points tend to appreciate this aspect, although others may find it confining or claustrophobic.
One drawback of softer mattresses is their tendency to trap heat. The close contouring nature of these beds can restrict airflow and result in a warmer sleeping experience.
Durability is another factor to consider with a soft mattress. They are typically made using plush materials that may degrade more quickly over time. Consequently, models in this range may have a shorter lifespan than those constructed with firmer materials.
Regarding pricing, soft and extra-soft mattresses often include thick comfort layers of materials like memory foam or latex. These materials provide excellent body cradling but can contribute to a higher price point. While extra soft mattresses are not as commonly sought, soft options are more readily available. However, it may require some effort to find mattresses that offer an extra soft level of comfort.
Medium Soft to Medium Firm (4-6)
Mattresses with a firmness rating between 4 and 6 on the firmness scale fall within the average range that appeals to most people. They are widely preferred across different weight groups and can be especially suitable for couples with different sleeping positions or body types.
Medium soft to medium-firm mattresses provide moderate support with less sinking than softer options. Sleepers between 130 and 230 pounds usually find a good balance of contouring and support with these mattresses.
Mattresses in this firmness range typically have substantial comfort systems that effectively cradle the body and relieve pressure points. Due to their moderate firmness, medium soft to medium firm mattresses generally do not hug the body as closely as softer models, resulting in less heat retention.
These mattresses typically use durable materials that resist sagging and premature wear, leading to a longer lifespan than softer models. Mattresses in this category often feature a less elaborate comfort system, which can lower their cost. The high demand for medium soft mattresses also contributes to competitive pricing. Medium soft to medium-firm mattresses are popular, as most manufacturers offer models within this range.
Firm to Extra Firm (7-10)
Mattresses rated between 7 and 10 offer a firm and sturdy feel, providing a relatively even surface for sleep. Regarding support, these firmer beds excel in providing exceptional support, especially for individuals weighing over 230 pounds. Stomach sleepers, in particular, may find a firmer option beneficial as it helps prevent excessive sinking in the midsection and promotes proper spinal alignment.
Regarding conforming, mattresses in this range typically feature thinner comfort layers that do not contour closely to the body. This may result in some side sleepers, especially those weighing under 230 pounds, experiencing pressure build-up around their hips and shoulders.
One advantage of firmer mattresses is their ability to maintain temperature neutrality. Since they don’t allow for much sinkage, air can circulate more freely around the body, aiding in heat dissipation and reducing the likelihood of trapping heat.
Durability is often a strength of mattresses in the firmness range. These beds often utilize highly durable materials, contributing to their longevity and making them more resilient than softer options.
In terms of pricing, firm and extra-firm mattresses typically forgo extra padding materials, making them more affordable than softer alternatives that incorporate thicker comfort systems. Firm mattresses enjoy a decent level of popularity and are readily available through various retailers. However, extra firm models may be harder to find due to their specialized nature.
How to Choose the Right Firmness Level
Choosing the right firmness level for your mattress can be a daunting task. It’s not easy to determine the perfect level of firmness since various factors, such as your body type and preferred sleep position, influence how well a bed performs. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all firmness level that suits everyone. While most sleepers prefer firmness levels between 4 and 7 on a scale, the ideal firmness for you depends on individual factors. We will explore the key factors contributing to your comfort to help you find your optimal range.
Body Weight and Firmness Levels
|Typical Firmness Preference
|Recommended Firmness Levels
|Less than 130 lbs.
|Favor softer, close-conforming
|Soft (2-3), Medium Soft (4), Medium (5)
|130 to 230 lbs.
|Prefer gently conforming surface
|Medium Soft (4), Medium (5), Medium Firm (6)
|More than 230 lbs.
|Tend to prefer firmer surfaces
|Medium Firm (6), Firm (7, 8), Extra Firm (9, 10)
The comfort level of a mattress can vary depending on your body type. Each individual applies different amounts of pressure to the sleep surface based on their weight, which means that the same mattress may feel softer to a heavier person and firmer to a lighter person. While personal preferences differ, understanding the impact of weight on the sleeping experience can help you make the best choice for yourself.
Sleepers across different weight groups tend to prefer a mattress that balances contouring and support. This combination helps alleviate pressure points and promotes proper posture during sleep. Individuals who weigh less typically find softer mattresses more comfortable, while those who weigh more often require firmer support.
Additionally, weight distribution can also influence firmness preferences. For example, the weight of a taller person is spread out over a larger surface area compared to that of a shorter person of the same weight. Consequently, the same mattress may feel firmer to a tall sleeper than a shorter sleeper with the same weight.
Sleeping Position and Firmness Levels
The position in which you sleep determines how different body parts come into contact with the mattress and their degree of contact. It is crucial to find a mattress firmness level that offers the right balance of support and contouring to accommodate your preferred sleeping position, preventing any discomfort.
When you sleep on your side, your hips and shoulders experience significant pressure. If the mattress is too firm, it can push your spine out of alignment and create pressure points in these areas. On the other hand, if the sleep surface is too soft, it can cause poor posture due to excessive sinking. Side sleepers typically benefit from mattresses with a plush feel that cushion and support the body. The optimal firmness level for side sleepers varies depending on their weight, with many finding satisfaction in the soft (2) to firm (7) range.
Back sleepers usually require a slightly firmer mattress to prevent sagging in the midsection. A mattress with gentle contouring can maintain a more neutral spine position and support the lower back. If the mattress is too soft or too firm, it can cause lower back discomfort. Back sleepers tend to find the best comfort in mattresses with firmness levels ranging from soft (3) to firm (8).
Stomach sleeping is generally not recommended due to the potential strain it can cause. Without adequate support, the midsection can sink, leading to an unnatural arch in the lower back and potential pain. A firmer mattress is usually preferable for stomach sleepers compared to side or back sleepers. The ideal firmness rating for stomach sleepers can range from soft (3) to firm (8), depending on the sleeper’s weight.
Combination sleepers frequently change positions throughout the night, challenging to find the perfect firmness level. Their needs vary with each sleep position. Therefore, moderate firmness levels are often the best choice for combination sleepers. Most combination sleepers find comfort in mattresses with firmness ratings ranging from soft (3) to firm (8).
Pillow Loft and Firmness Levels
Selecting the right pillow that complements your mattress firmness is crucial for proper neck and spine support. It helps prevent discomfort and ensures complete support throughout your body.
One of the key factors affecting pillow-mattress compatibility is the loft, which refers to the pillow’s thickness. High-loft pillows are thicker, while low-loft pillows are thinner. Additionally, the material composition plays a role in the loft, as certain materials sink more than others. For example, down, down alternative, and polyester pillows tend to compress more compared to sturdier options like latex or memory foam.
If you have a firmer mattress, high-loft pillows are generally recommended. They provide ample cushioning and support for the neck since sleepers don’t sink as deeply into firmer beds. On the other hand, for softer mattresses where you tend to sink more, lower-loft pillows work better. These pillows require less loft to maintain proper neck alignment in a neutral position.
Sex and Firmness Levels
|Rating for Sex
|1-3 out of 10
|Conform closely and sink deeply, possibly hindering movement.
|Poor to Fair
|4-6 out of 10
|Medium soft to medium firm, supportive for sexual activity with comfortable contouring.
|Good to Very Good
|7-10 out of 10
|Very firm, may not be as comfortable, but enhances movement by preventing sinkage.
|Fair to Good
When it comes to the performance of a bed during sex, two main factors come into play: responsiveness and sinkage. A responsive and bouncy bed makes movement easier, while one that absorbs motion can make it more challenging. Deep sinkage can hinder movement, although contouring can enhance traction. Softer mattresses often provide extra traction but can be more difficult to move on.
Other important factors to consider are edge support and noise potential. Mattresses with strong edges allow couples to use the entire surface, and quiet models provide greater discretion. Firmer mattresses usually have sturdier edges, while soft models may have reinforced perimeters to make the surface more usable. Noise levels depend on the materials and construction of the mattress, but the ample comfort system of some soft mattresses can help muffle sounds.
For optimal performance during sex, mattresses ranging from medium soft to medium firm are generally recommended. They strike a balance between support and contouring. Firmer surfaces may be less comfortable, while softer models may limit movement.
Other Factors to Consider
In addition to firmness, numerous other factors to consider when choosing a mattress will affect its feel and performance.
- Partner’s Preferences: When choosing a mattress for a shared bed, it’s important to consider both partners’ needs and preferences. Finding a middle ground in terms of firmness is a common compromise. Still, if you and your partner have significantly different body types or sleep positions, you might want to consider a split mattress.
- Temperature Neutrality: Overheating during sleep can be disruptive, so it’s worth considering the temperature-regulating properties of a mattress. Softer mattresses, especially those with memory foam, tend to conform closely to the body and can trap heat. Firmer mattresses with less sinkage allow for better airflow, promoting cooler sleep.
- Durability: Softer mattresses with plush materials may not last as long as firmer options. The thicker and softer comfort layers are prone to sagging and developing indentations, which can reduce support and comfort over time.
- Price: Firmer mattresses often cost less because they require fewer materials. However, factors like specialized components or unique designs can also affect the price.
- Mattress weight: Heavier mattresses can be more challenging to set up or move. Softer models, especially those with latex or coil layers, tend to be thicker and heavier.
- Odor Potential: New mattresses, particularly those made with synthetic materials, often have a temporary chemical odor known as off-gassing. This is caused by releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during manufacturing. Softer mattresses, which commonly include foam layers, may have a stronger odor initially.
What Determines the Firmness of a Mattress?
The type of mattress can affect the firmness of a sleep surface. There are four main types of mattresses categorized by their materials. By understanding the general traits of these options, you can know how they will feel and perform. However, remember that different models within the same category may vary due to their specific designs and materials.
- Innerspring mattresses were once very popular and were made with a steel coil support core. They are known for their bouncy, breathable, and supportive nature. They generally tend to have firmer feelings due to thinner comfort layers.
- Hybrid mattresses combine the coil support core of the innerspring with thicker comfort layers made of foam or latex. These mattresses offer a balance of durability, responsiveness, and pressure relief. They come in various firmness options to suit different preferences.
- Foam mattresses are made of polyfoam, memory foam, and/or latex. They contour closely to the body and provide excellent pressure relief. Foam models are typically softer, although firmer options are also available.
- Latex mattresses use a responsive material that distributes body weight evenly, relieving pressure and minimizing sinkage. They are known for their durability. The firmness of latex mattresses can vary, with Talalay latex generally being softer than Dunlop latex.
Choosing the right mattress firmness is crucial for a comfortable and restful sleep experience. You can find the perfect firmness level that suits your needs by considering your personal preferences, sleep positions, body weight, and health considerations. Remember to try out mattresses, read customer reviews, and seek professional advice. Invest in a high-quality mattress that supports your body and provides the comfort you deserve for a good night’s sleep.
Frequently Asked Questions
While firmer mattresses can offer better support for back pain, it ultimately depends on individual preferences and needs. It’s important to find a balance between support and comfort.
Yes, the right mattress firmness can significantly impact sleep quality by promoting proper spinal alignment and reducing pressure points.
On average, mattresses should be replaced every 7-10 years. However, it’s important to monitor the condition of your mattress and replace it when signs of wear and tear become apparent.
Yes, mattress toppers can be used to adjust the firmness of a mattress. Adding a topper can make a firm mattress feel softer or provide additional support to a softer mattress.