How to choose mattress firmness?

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

When purchasing a mattress, one of the first steps is choosing a firmness level that suits your needs. However, it is possible to be confused by mattress firmness. For some, a bed can feel luxuriously soft, while to others, it might feel uncomfortably firm. Comfort grade is somewhat subjective and dependent on your personal preference, sleeping position and body type. 

Said simply, how the mattress feels when you first lie down is referred to as mattress firmness. Does it cushion your body or make you feel stiff? You can use a firmness scale to understand what to expect when you lay on a particular bed. The scale usually ranges between 1 to 10, with one being the softest and ten the firmest option.

In today’s guide, we will discuss how to choose mattress firmness, the different firmness levels and how to make the right decision for your wants and needs. 

How to choose mattress firmness?

What are the mattress firmness levels?

Most people only need to think about firmness levels once every several years when buying a new mattress. Still, without a proper understanding of comfort grades, the shopping experience can be confusing and frustrating. Do you think there is a big difference between medium-firm and firm? Do I need a softer bed? Or is an extra-firm option the best one for me?

We will break down the different categories and explain how each firmness level feels. We will also discuss the pros and cons of each firmness level so that your final decision is easier to make. 

Soft

On the mattress firmness scale, a soft mattress typically lands between 1 and 2 (from 1 to 10 scale). Soft mattresses provide less support than all the levels of mattress firmness, and very few, if any, register as a one on the scale. If you lie down on a soft mattress, you will definitely sink into it. They offer a great deal of body contouring which means they will hug your body and conform when you lie on them. For people with shoulder or hip pain who sleep on their sides, they provide a comfortable sleeping experience.

Softer beds are usually made with luxe materials, putting them on the higher end of the mattress price range. Soft comfort layers are created by materials such as memory foam, which is great if you’re not a hot sleeper because foam tends to sleep hot. Also, when your purchase is unpackaged, the soft foam comfort layers can cause an off-gassing odour.

In general, softer materials are utilized for upper comfort layers, and in some situations, they’re also used for the support core. Nonetheless, a soft support core doesn’t last as long as a more firm one, meaning softer mattresses tend to have shorter lifespans.

Medium

Those who need something between a soft and a firm bed can get a good night’s sleep with the “medium” comfort grade. Medium-soft is ideal for people who need more core support than a soft mattress can provide but also require a softer comfort layer. With that said, they are not suitable for people who require high levels of back support. A medium-soft option falls between 3 and 4 on the firmness scale.

Medium mattresses tend to have foam materials in the comfort layers and are often made from either latex or memory foam. If you lie on a medium-soft mattress, it will still hug your body, but you won’t let you sink into it as deeply.

For a period of time after unpackaging, memory foam or synthetic latex foam can cause odours similar to a softer bed. Thus, there is a possibility of off-gassing odours. Also, people who get hot when they sleep might have a problem with memory foam (unless it’s a gel-infused mattress). This option is slightly more sturdy and durable compared to softer beds, but the overall longevity is still going to be much less than a firmer item.

best firmness level

Medium-firm

A medium-firm level provides an excellent balance of comfort and support for a more middle-of-the-road mattress firmness level. Medium-firm mattresses are an excellent choice for most types of sleep. A medium-firm option falls between 5 and 7 on the firmness scale and provides an ample amount of push-back while giving a nice level of balance. They have a more noticeable amount of bounce compared to softer ones.

The majority of mattresses fall into this level. They work well for a wide range of sleeping positions and body types. From heavier individuals who require a bed with a lot of support to combination sleepers who frequently switch their position throughout the night and need a product that feels comfortable no matter which side they sleep on. 

Generally, this option falls into the medium range of price, being more affordable than a softer bed, yet more expensive than a firm one. They also tend to have a longer lifespan because they are made from denser materials that can stand the test of time.

Firm

Firm mattresses fall between 7 and 10 on the firmness scale, providing the most support out of all available options. You won’t find yourself sinking into the mattress if you lie on a firm one. The idea of this firmness is for you to fall asleep on top of the bed. With that said, some people like sleeping on top, while others don’t like it at all.

Side sleepers who need more cushion may find a firm product uncomfortable, as the sleeping surface can cause their hip and shoulder bones to be compressed. This can cause problems such as numbness, tingling, and even pain. Those who suffer from back pain can benefit from the high level of spine support, as well as heavier individuals. It also keeps people cooler as they sleep and allows for maximum air movement.

The price of a firmer bed is typically less than the price of a softer one. However, affordability doesn’t mean a lack of longevity, as mattresses that rate higher on the firmness scale also rate well for lifespan, as they are made out of solid, sturdy materials.

Firmness levels for different sleeping positions

When researching mattress firmness ratings, you should consider your body weight and the number of people who will sleep on a mattress. Also, when shopping for a new mattress, you should pay close attention to what position you sleep in. Here are the most common sleep positions an individual can rest in and how are they related to comfort grade:

best firmness for side sleepers

Side sleepers

Your shoulders and hips are the main parts of your body that come into hard contact with the mattress when you sleep on your side. This is the reason why a soft to medium-soft mattress works well for side sleeping. The layers of comfort allow the body parts to sink into the mattress with ease.

Side sleepers who also tend to sleep hot should look for an infused option with gel or something else with cooling properties. Firmer mattresses don’t work well for side sleepers as they compact the areas that touch the bed and cause pain.

best firmness for back sleepers

Back sleepers

Back sleepers spread out their weight as they sleep so that they don’t create painful pressure-points the way side sleepers do. Back sleepers can find comfort on a wide variety of mattress firmness levels.

The right fit will depend on several factors, including body weight and potential back pain. It’s essential to keep in mind that extremely soft mattresses don’t provide enough support for people who sleep on their backs. Firmer mattresses are ideal for back sleepers with chronic pain because of their medium-range firmness levels.

best firmness for stomach sleepers

Stomach sleepers

When people sleep on their stomachs, a lot of pressure is put around their hips and pelvis. As a result, the softer the mattress, the sharper the spine’s curve towards their stomach. Major back pain can be caused by sleeping with one’s spine out of alignment.

Stomach sleepers prefer a firm mattress for long-term comfort. In addition, it helps maintain a healthy alignment of the hips, spine and pelvis. When shopping for a mattress, it’s important to make sure that your back is in a natural position all night long.

Combination sleepers

best firmness for combinantion sleepers

A mattress that can be used as a jack-of-all-trades is necessary for combination sleeping. It needs to provide adequate support for back and stomach sleeping while also allowing for relief of shoulders and hips during sleeping. Depending on what position you spend most of the night in will determine the level of firmness.

If you sleep most of the night away on your back, medium-firm firmness is an excellent choice, while medium-soft will provide that extra layer of pressure point relief if you roll over and end up on your side. Overall, 80% of the world’s population sleeps on their side, meaning a medium or medium-firm option is the most desired way to go!

How to choose mattress firmness?

Most people spend between 7 and 9 hours a day in bed, so buying a mattress is crucial to the quality of their sleep. Here is what you need to consider before purchasing a new bed: 

Heavy people & firmness

Weight

When it comes to mattress firmness, the best place to start is bodyweight. For example, lighter people tend to sleep better on medium-soft mattresses. People with average weight can sleep on virtually any firmness, but they should choose one based on their sleep position, pain problems and other factors. However, heavier individuals need greater support, meaning if you weigh over 14 stone, they will most likely need a firmer option to get the rest they need. 

Sleeping position

When it comes to selecting a mattress firmness level, your size is the starting point. Next, you should consider your preferred sleeping position. Back sleepers have a lot of flexibility when it comes to mattress firmness, as long as they feel like they have ample support. Side sleepers need cushion to prevent pain from building up in their hips and shoulders. Stomach sleepers need a lot of support to prevent their spine from curving into their bellies while they are in deep slumber. Finally, the medium range of firmness is the best for combination sleepers who change positions as they sleep.

Firmness & back pain

Back pain issues

If you have back pain, it’s a good idea to stay away from mattresses that are too soft as they can cause more problems because they lack support. Generally, to keep your spine correctly aligned and supported, it is recommended to go with a medium-firm to a firm option. 

Partners

It’s important for people who sleep as a couple to discuss their body types and sleeping positions. In most situations, a medium-firm product should work well for both parties. This whole article has made it clear that firmness is a subjective thing. In today’s market, you can even find a bed that is customizable on both sides, so neither one of you has to compromise. A great example of that is the Tweak mattress

Temperature

When shopping for a new bed, be aware that memory foam and other softer materials can trap heat. If you need a softer mattress but can’t keep it cool as you sleep, look for one that is designed for optimum temperature control and comes with good cooling properties.

Age

Getting in and out of bed has more to do with age. It may be challenging to get out of bed if you sink too much. A medium-firm mattress is a good choice for older sleepers who don’t want to sacrifice comfort. As the height of your bed frame affects how hard it is to get out of bed, be careful in choosing bed bases.

difference between firmness and support

What’s the difference between firmness and support?

As we’ve already mentioned, firmness refers to the feel of a mattress, meaning how soft or hard it is when you lie down on it. On the other hand, support refers to how well a mattress will keep your spine in alignment.

For example, if you think of an object whose job is to act as support, such as piles under a house construction, what are they doing? They hold something up and give an equal and opposite reaction to the weight that’s on them.

We have the same principle when it comes to mattress support. The right bed will give you a level of push-back against your weight and hold your body in a neutral position. Your purchase needs to be able to hold your body’s weight, especially at points where weight is most concentrated, like the hips and shoulders.

Put simply, firmness is how a bed will feel when you lay on it. Would it be soft or firm? Whereas support has to do with the adequate keep of your body’s neutral position in order to prevent body aches and other related issues.

Bottom line

Well folks, that about does it for our guide on how to choose mattress firmness. Remember to think about your sleeping position, how much you weigh, how much sinkage or hug you want, and what kind of support you need. That way, you will be able to find the right level of firmness for you and your partner (if you have one).

The quality of sleep and your health are both affected by the degree of a bed’s firmness. Therefore, it’s crucial to find a bed that will support you and keep your spine in an optimal position so you can wake up feeling refreshed every morning.

Now it’s our turn to hear from you if any questions regarding the subject were left unanswered. If you want to share some information, we would gladly hear about it in the comments below.

Isabelle Harris
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