How Are Mattresses Rated For Firmness

Home   /   How Are Mattresses Rated For Firmness

12 Best Mattresses You Can Buy in 2020

Say goodbye to back pain and hello to deep sleep.

Not to add more pressure, but buying a new mattress is one of the most important purchases you’ll make for your home. It needs to be comfortable and supportive to give you the best possible sleep, and durable so you won’t have to replace it within a few years. And because mattresses can get pricey, you want to make sure you’re investing in one that’sactuallyworth the cost.

The Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab reviews mattresses of all kinds, from traditional innerspring mattress that you buy in stores to foam mattress-in-a-box styles that you buy online. On top of researching the brands, materials, and features, we have product experts and consumer testers try them out, and we survey our tester panel to get in-depth reviews from thousands of real users.Here are the best mattresses to buy in 2020:

Best Online Mattress:Saatva Mattress
Best Value Mattress: Allswell Luxe Hybrid Mattress
Best Firm Mattress: Stearns & Foster Cassatt Luxury Firm Mattress
Best Mattress-in-a-Box:Casper Mattress
Best In-Store Mattress-in-a-Box:tulo Mattress
Best Adjustable Mattress: Sleep Number 360 p6 Smart Bed
Best Organic Mattress: Avocado Green Mattress
Best Cooling Mattress:Tempur-Pedic Tempur Luxe Breeze Mattress
Best Reversible Mattress:Layla Mattress
Best Mattress on Amazon:T&N Original Mattress
Most Innovative Mattress Material:Purple Mattress
Most Versatile Mattress:Bedgear M3 Mattress

Below, you’ll find more on the top mattresses that offer something for every price point, feel preference, and personal sleep needs, but first, here’s what to consider as you shop foryourbest mattress:

Which mattress material is best?

Memory foam and innerspring mattresses are the two most common types of mattresses on the market, but it’s really a matter of personal preference. You can find mattresses at every firmness level and price for either material.

  • Memory foam mattressesadapt to your body shape so it feels like your pressure points are being cradled.
  • Innerspring mattressesare usually firmer and have more bounce.
  • Hybrid mattressesuse a combination of foam and innersprings so you don’t have to pick just one.

How do I pick the best mattress?

Consider your sleep position:stomach sleepersneed a firm mattress,side sleepersshould opt for a softer surface, andback sleepersfall somewhere in between. The goal is to keep your spine in neutral alignment, so there should be less stress on the pressure points like your shoulders, hips, and knees.

Read on for more details about the best mattresses (with prices listed for queen-size), plus feedback from consumer testers and the experts in our Textiles Lab. And while you’re shopping for a new mattress, check out our top-tested bedding picks for sheets, pillows, and comforters, along with mattress protectors to help extend the life of your new bed.

How are mattresses rated for firmness

If you dread a trip to Mattress Firm or Macy’s, realize that you have more options than ever before—department and specialty stores are no longer the default destination for mattress shopping. Great mattresses at fair prices can be found at warehouse clubs and through online retailers—and the competition is only getting more intense.

We test queen-size mattresses (60 inches wide by 80 inches long) because they’re the most common size purchased. (For your reference, the other standard dimensions are king, 76×80 inches; California king, 72×84; full, or double, 53×75; and twin, 38×75.)

We subject each mattress to a battery of tests, including running a nearly 310-pound roller over each one 30,000 times to simulate eight to 10 years of use. Still, there’s much to know even before you start shopping. Here’s your path to a good night’s sleep.

Find the Best Mattress for Any Sleeper

Compare the Types

If you’re shopping for a new mattress, you could be overwhelmed by the variety of choices and prices, ranging from too-low-to-believe to astronomical. But there’s good news: Our years of testing have shown that, whichever type you choose, you only need to spend around $1,000 for a comfortable, supportive mattress. Here are the major types you’ll see:

Foam Mattresses

Though many manufacturers use polyurethane to create their foam layers, some might use latex as well and we note which mattresses have latex in our features tab. Some mattresses include both. Memory foam softens when you lie on it and soon molds to your body. Once you get up, it springs back to its original shape. Some foam mattresses require some effort to change position.

Innerspring Mattresses

Adjustable Air Mattresses

Interactive Video Guide

For more, watch our interactive video. You can skip to chapters on the different types of mattresses, tips for test-driving a mattress, and more.

Mattress Myths

Common claims that haven’t held up in our tests:

The More Coils, the Better
The better innerspring models we test have 600 to 1,000 coils. But even if one mattress has more coils than another, the coils could be made of thinner-gauge metal. You’ll also hear about coil variations such as Bonnell (hourglass type), continuous wire, and individually pocketed springs. None of those is inherently superior.

Gel Provides a Cooler Sleep
More than half our innerspring mattresses (noted in our mattress ratings) have a layer of gel-infused foam that’s claimed to provide a cooling effect, though it’s worth noting that 10 percent of the mattresses with a gel-infused layer still retain warmth. Overall, our tests have shown that innerspring mattresses containing gel did tend to sleep slightly cooler, but the reverse was true with gel-infused foam beds.

Forget About Comparison Shopping

If you like a mattress at one store and ask elsewhere for something similar, you’re likely to be steered toward a same-brand mattress claimed to have the same construction, components, and firmness. Mattress makers offer some lines nationally, but when those brands are sold through major chains such as Macy’s or Mattress Firm, they’re typically exclusive to those chains. And manufacturers don’t publish a directory of comparable mattresses. So use our ratings as a guide, and insist on the precise make and model that scored well in our tests. Also check our ratings of mattress brands and stores, based on subscriber surveys.

Shopping Tips

Lie Down
If possible, lie on any mattress that you’re considering. Wear loose clothes, and shoes you can slip off. Make yourself comfortable, and shoo away the salesperson if you’re feeling pressured. Salespeople should expect you to take your time. Spend at least 5 or 10 minutes on each side and on your back (your stomach, too, if that’s a preferred sleeping position). Panelists who took beds home for a month-long trial rarely changed the opinion they formed after the first night. Shopping online or at a warehouse club? Tryouts aren’t usually an option, so checking return policies before you buy is extra-important.

Check Return Policies
Make sure the store offers a full refund or credit toward another mattress. Return periods, often called “comfort guarantees,” range from a couple of weeks to 120 days. Some retailers, including Macy’s and Sears, charge a 15 percent restocking fee. Some sellers provide free pickup if you want a refund or an exchange, but otherwise, you’ll have to pay for it—or cart the mattress to the store. Macy’s, for example, charges an $85 pickup fee. And you’ll be responsible for any damage.

Try to Haggle
Once you’ve settled on a model, try to bring the price down. Many businesses, such as warehouse clubs, have fixed prices and won’t budge. But for retailers that do negotiate—particularly specialty chains—huge markups allow them to lower prices by 50 percent or more during their frequent sales. Our recommendation: Any time of year, insist on a sale price you’ve seen for the mattress you know you want, and don’t be afraid to walk out if you feel you’re getting a raw deal. While it’s a little tougher to negotiate online, there are still ways to save.

Don’t Be Bullied Into Buying a Box Spring
You might not need it. If your box spring isn’t broken and is still structurally sound, consider keeping it and saving money (roughly $150 to $300 for a queen-size). One caveat: Some brands require you to buy their box spring to receive full warranty coverage. Many foam manufacturers recommend a platform base or strong slatted wood foundations.

Understand the Warranty
It can range from 10 to 25 years and covers only manufacturing defects such as sagging and loose or broken coil wires. Coverage is frequently prorated, meaning that it decreases over time.

On Delivery Day
Never accept delivery without inspecting the mattress (and the box spring, if you buy one) for stains and other damage. Also be sure that the mattress has a label that states “all-new material” before you send the driver on his way. If it’s not there, refuse delivery. And keep it on afterward in case you have to file a warranty claim in the future. If you bought a bed-in-a-box, inspect the mattress as soon as you unroll it. Call customer service immediately if something appears to be wrong with the mattress or if it’s dirty. Take a few photos with your smartphone in case the customer service representative asks for proof of the damage.

Need a new set of sheets for your new mattress? Check our sheets buying guide and ratings to find out how we rate and review cotton sheets.

Best Mattresses Feb. 2020

See our 2020 mattress comparison below.Advertising Disclosure:We receive advertising fees, which impact the ranking, from the brands reviewed below. Full Disclosure.

$75 OFF FIRST PURCHASE

  • Euro pillow top & cotton cover
  • Free white glove delivery and mattress removal
  • Handcrafted in the USA

$75 OFF FIRST PURCHASE

$100 Off + 2 Free Pillows

  • Quilted gel memory foam
  • Tencel cooling cover
  • Lifetime warranty and 365-night trial

$100 Off + 2 Free Pillows

$300 Off + Free Pillow

  • Cooling cloud temperature regulation
  • Stain resistant luxury cover
  • 100% made in the USA

$300 Off + Free Pillow

$200 Off mattresses

  • Cashmere blend euro top
  • Premium high-density memory foam
  • Free shipping & 365-night trial

$200 Off mattresses

Free White Glove Delivery and Mattress Removal

  • Spinal zone gel-infused layer
  • Eco-friendly 5-lbs premium foam
  • Quilted cotton cover

Free White Glove Delivery and Mattress Removal

Other recommended mattresses

$200 Off Your Purchase

  • Sourced naturally from sustainable suppliers
  • GOLS-Certified latex
  • Lifetime warranty and a 365-night trial

$200 Off Your Purchase

$1200 Off Latex Mattresses

  • Certified Materials
  • Customizable Firmness
  • Natural ARPICO Latex

$1200 Off Latex Mattresses

$200 Off mattresses

  • Waterproof Inner Cover
  • Three Different Setups
  • 15-Year Warranty

$200 Off mattresses

$150 Off + 2 Free Pillows

  • Flippable Firmness
  • ThermoGel Cover
  • Lifetime Warranty

$150 Off + 2 Free Pillows

2 Free Cloud Pillows

  • Cooling graphite-gel memory foam
  • Breathable Celliant® cover
  • 10-Year warranty

2 Free Cloud Pillows

How to Choose the Best Mattress 2020

Based on sleeping 8 hours per day, the average person will sleep over 200,000 hours in their lifetime. This is approximately one third of your life. If you are going to be spending so many hours on your mattress, it’s worth investing in a quality product so that you can have the most rejuvenating sleep possible.

When you have a high quality mattress that offers you restful sleep, it can have huge benefits for your health. Understandably, this leads many people to search for the highest rated mattress in the market. But with so many quality mattress brands out there – how can you choose the best mattress for you? The first step is to learn a little bit about the types of mattresses available and the differences between them. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing your mattress.

Which Mattress Type Is Right for You?

There are many different styles of mattresses out there – so the first step is to familiarize yourself with the many options. Here are a few examples of 2020’s best mattress types:

Open Spring Mattress:This type of mattress has one long piece of wire that is coiled into numerous springs. Also, there is a border rod or wire that will maintain the shape and offer the mattress structure. This type of mattress is light and easy to move, but it is not very luxurious and is less supportive.

Pocket Spring Mattress:A mattress made in this style will be more supportive, because it is made from individual springs that are housed within their own fabric pockets. Also, the separate springs are ideal for couples, because they will adjust to your separate shapes and will prevent you from rolling together in the middle of the night.

Memory Foam Mattress:These types of modern mattresses are made with a moldable material that responds to temperature and weight. So, when you lie on a memory foam mattress it will adjust to your unique shape- which is ideal if you have a bad back or sore joints. However, not everyone enjoys the sinking sensation of the mattress molding around you and some people find that it can get quite warm. Memory foam mattresses are very popular and in fact,Nectarwhich is our best mattress of 2020, is a memory foam mattress.

Latex Mattress Mattress:This type of mattress is filled with high quality latex foam, which is very breathable and will keep you cool. It is a great option for anyone who has asthma or allergies.

Hybrid Mattress:This is a luxurious style of modern mattress that contains both coils and memory foam. It offers the best of both worlds and can be a good balance between the responsiveness of a memory foam mattress and the bounciness of coils.

Mattress Firmness

The firmness of your mattress makes a big difference in how well you sleep. So, take some time to consider which firmness level is right for you.

Soft:This option is best if you sleep on your side or if you change positions often during the night. The way you sleep already takes some of the pressure off your spine, so you just need to let your mattress mold to your body’s natural position.

Medium:This is a good option if you sleep on your back, as it will provide you with the lower back support you need.

Firm:This style of mattress will be best for you if you sleep on your front, if you are quite large or if you struggle with back pain. It will keep your spine in a stable and comfortable position while sleeping, rather than letting you sink into the mattress.

The most popular option and often the highest rated mattress firmness is the medium-firm firmness level. On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being the softest and 10 the firmest), medium-firm should be around 6-7.5 in firmness. In fact, theNectar mattress, our best mattress in 2020, lies in that same firmness level.

How We Choose Our Highest Rated Mattress

The featured mattresses above are our highest rated mattresses overall. But what makes them rank so high?

These top rated mattresses scored better than others in several fields, after review by our mattress experts who have followed the industry for years. Our mattress ratings are affected by criteria such as best mattress reviews, customer reviews, value for money, features and more.

We strongly believe in the power of numbers and social proof, which is why we also take popularity into consideration for our mattress recommendations. The best mattresses usually end up as the best selling mattresses. This means we update our lists over time, so what you see at the top right now is best mattress 2020 has to offer.

Thanks to the online-age, if a product does not deliver on its promise, people know about it. Online mattress reviews and customer reviews are everywhere today, and no one buys without reading at least a few reviews. The mattresses featured in our mattress comparisons are proven.

We also acknowledge that not all people are alike, and while our highest rated mattress might be the best mattress for many people, it can’t suit everyone and that’s fine. If for some reason you’re unhappy with a top rated mattress, you have between 100-365 days to return it and get a full refund. 100% risk-free.

Why People Are Buying Mattresses Online in 2020

Lying down on a mattress for 30 seconds with your shoes on, in the environment of a department store, isn’t enough time to judge whether or not it is a good fit for you. You will need to actually sleep on the mattress, to see if it works well for you throughout the entire night. For example, a mattress that feels fine in the store might become too hot after you sleep on it for a few hours, or may cause your back to ache in the morning. Also, a mattress might feel fine for the first few days, but then the materials can shift and adjust and change the support it offers.

Fortunately, a lot of the top mattress brands offer you the option to try the mattress in your own home before you buy. Usually the trial periods go from around 100-days up to an amazing 365-days (offered byNectarandDreamcloudfor example). You can order the mattress, sleep on it and if you don’t like it – you can return it for a full refund. This gives you plenty of time to determine whether the mattress you have chosen is the best mattress for you.

Also, make sure that the mattress has an extended warranty or protection plan before you buy it, just in case any issues come up. The best mattress companies will offer a long-term warranty. Some even go a step further and offer a lifetime warranty. The mattresses listed in the chart at the top of the page are the best mattresses that can be bought online and shipped to your home in 2020. These "online mattresses" tend to provide a better value for money option vs. mattresses in retail stores. The new mattress in a box trend allows you to buy directly from the mattress brand, resulting in great mattress deals.Top 5 Mattress in a Box

*Our team of writers edited this article for informational purposes only. The content provided herein should not be considered or relied upon as a professional or expert advice.

How to choose a mattress firmness

Some considerations for choosing a firmness when shopping for a new mattress.

What is mattress firmness?

When buying a mattress, there are literally thousands of choices. Having options is great, but when deciding on just one bed that will be comfortable and suit your needs, an endless selection can make it more difficult to narrow down your choices.

One of the most important considerations when deciding on a mattress is comfort. A lot of what we identify as “comfort” relates to how soft or firm a mattress feels, and beds can range from very soft to very firm. Think of soft and firm as two ends on a spectrum and every degree on this spectrum is referred to as the “firmness level” of a bed.

Measuring firmness

Brands use different forms of categorization to label their mattresses. Some of these labels are complicated and usually involve numbered ratings. For example, Saatva offers a scale for their firmness levels ranging from 1-10. This large range makes it difficult to decide where your firmness fit may be. Some brands such as Casper and Leesa sell a one-size-fits-all mattress which features a firmness that they claim is universally comfortable. The single firmness approach can be appealing to shoppers in a world of overwhelming choice, but the problem is that since people come in all shapes and sizes, it is impossible to make a single mattress that is actually comfortable for everyone. Mattress names, such as Loom & Leaf’s “Relaxed Firm” mattress, are nearly as confusing. Realistically, the different firmness levels can be summarized in three, straightforward descriptions: soft, medium, and firm.

It’s important to note that the firmness and support level of a bed are different. Firmness relates to the uppermost layers of a bed, while support is provided in the middle and lower layers. All well-made mattresses offer an underlying support system, regardless of what the top layers feel like. Even beds that feel very soft on top may still have an excellent support system below. A firm bed does not necessarily mean more support, as some doctors and chiropractors used to suggest. The softness or firmness of a mattress refers only to the initial feel of a bed.

Which firmness is right for you?

So how do you know which firmness is best for you? Some sources explain that finding your personal preference is as simple as asking yourself, “Do I prefer a soft or firm bed?” While it might seem like a simple question to answer, there are actually a variety of reasons behind our mattress firmness preferences. If you aren’t sure what firmness level you need, exploring these reasons will help you with your selection.

Spinal Alignment

Sleeping comfortably often depends on whether your spine is properly aligned. When standing or sitting, your spine is supported because you are subconsciously controlling your posture. When you lay down but are awake, your muscles are still engaged, so your alignment is maintained. However, when you fall asleep, your muscles relax, and your body relies on the sleeping surface to maintain alignment. If you’re sleeping on a surface that doesn’t naturally support your back, you may wake up with aches and pains as a result.

It’s a common misconception that when we lay on our backs our spines are straight. Our spines actually have a slight, natural curve. So while you sleep, it’s crucial that your mattress supports this natural curvature, which also helps to relieve pressure points. The most important pressure points to consider when selecting a firmness level are those which have the most contact with your bed, such as your shoulders, hips, and legs. Choose a mattress firmness that offers adequate support without creating points of pressure, provides good body weight distribution, and is compatible with your sleeping position. For example, when sleeping on your side, your hips and shoulders should sink into the mattress enough to relieve pressure points and keep your spine in line.

Again, remember that “soft” does not necessarily mean “lacking support”. Choosing a firmness level simply means choosing the surface that will allow your spine to align properly on the mattress. Spinal alignment on the sleeping surface depends on various aspects including your body weight and typical sleeping position.

Sleeping Position

Your sleeping position is a crucial consideration when deciding on a fitting firmness level. The amount of pressure exerted on specific points in your body depends on which points are supporting most of your weight. For example, someone who sleep on their stomach will exert more downward force on their hips than someone who sleeps on their back.

While sleep positions and firmness preferences come down to personal taste, there are recommendations for those who are undecided about what firmness to choose:

Side sleepersgenerally prefer a softer mattress. A soft surface allows the mattress to conform to pressure points in the shoulders and hips, as well as the arm that gets tucked beneath side sleepers, preventing numbness and tingling.

Stomach sleepersget more comfort out of a firmer mattress. Pressure in the hips and pelvis is much greater for stomach sleepers, because these are the points supporting most of their weight. A medium or firm mattress will prevent your hips and pelvis from sinking lower than your shoulders and creating an unnatural curve in the spine.

Back sleepershave the most range in firmness, as pressure is more evenly spread across their pressure points while they sleep. Because of this, back sleepers can find comfort on soft, medium, and firm mattresses. If you’re still undecided, a medium firmness mattress is a pretty safe choice.

Sleeping Partner

Depending on your body weight and sleeping positions, you and your partner may need different firmness levels, but it can be difficult to sacrifice your comfort. A medium firmness mattress can be a good compromise to satisfy both partners.

Body Weight

Weight is another key factor in choosing a firmness level, particularly for people who are over or under the recommended body mass index (BMI) range. The more you weigh per square inch of your body, the more force is exerted on your pressure points when you lay down. A heavier person may sink very low into a soft mattress, and a light person may feel as if they are pushed on top of a firm mattress. An additional consideration for heavier people (or those with mobility issues) is accessibility; sinking into a soft mattress makes it difficult to get in and out of the bed.

A general rule of thumb: the higher you are on the BMI scale, the firmer you will want your mattress. Conversely, the lower your BMI, the softer your mattress should be. The following guide can help you find your recommended firmness level:

  • Below average BMI:Soft or medium
  • Average BMI:Medium
  • Above average BMI:Firm

Firmness levels in different types of mattresses

Now that you have a better idea of what kind of firmness levels there are, you can begin to look at which types of mattresses offer you options in that range. The firmness levels in different mattresses depend on the type, quality, and quantity of the materials used in the comfort layers, as well as the design or composition of the materials.

Traditional innerspring

Innerspring mattresses are the most varied in terms of firmness levels. The firmness of these beds depends on the shape, gauge, and number of coils, as well as the type and amount of material packed in and around the coils. It’s important not to confuse the coil count of a mattress with its firmness level. Even a bed with a very high coil count can feel soft if the thickness (or gauge) of the coil is low. The shape of the coil also matters; hourglass-shaped coils are often firmer than continuous coils.

A popular form of the innerspring mattress is the pillow-top, which includes a separately sewn and upholstered comfort layer placed over the mattress. Pillow-tops provide a cushiony feel on top, even if the mattress surface below is firm.

Ideal For: Average weight, back sleepers, side sleepers

Latex

Latex mattresses are made with foam rubber material, which gives it a distinct “bounce back” feel. Although these mattresses are offered in a range of firmness levels, they usually skew to the firmer side of the scale. This makes them ideal for stomach sleepers and those with a higher BMI.

One of the newest options in latex mattresses is the “zoned” latex mattress. Zoned mattresses are built in rows of varying firmness to provide targeted firmness on pressure points. This means that the mattress is able to provide soft cushioning where you need it and firmer support everywhere else.

Ideal For: Heavyweight, back sleepers, stomach sleepers

Memory Foam

Memory foam is a polyurethane foam that has a unique visco-elastic response that reacts and softens with heat to mold itself to the form of any applied pressure. When the pressure is removed and the foam is allowed to cool, the foam returns to its original shape.

Memory foam firmness isn’t directly related to density. Instead, its firmness is affected by the foam’s ILD rating and how the different layers are constructed. This variety of ILD ratings and versatility in layer composition means a wide range of firmness possibilities. A softer memory foam mattress will allow for more sink-in and contouring. A firmer memory foam mattress will still mold to body shapes, but will also provide more support. The foam allows your body to descend on different levels, resulting in even spine support. This uniform positioning also lessens the impact on pressure points, preventing aches, pains, and numbness.

Ideal for: Light – heavyweight, side sleepers, back sleepers, co-sleepers

Air Beds

Air beds are comprised of open compartments that are filled with air to increase or decrease firmness. These beds aren’t the inflatable air mattresses typically used for camping or other short term use. Air beds offer more support than inflatable mattresses, are made with other materials, and are intended for long term use. These mattresses often come with options for making adjustments on either side of the bed, which is a great option for couples with differing firmness preferences. Because you can regularly change the firmness level on these mattresses to reduce the downward force on specific pressure points, these beds are also often used for people with back injuries.

This type of mattress has many mechanical dependencies and may not be the most dependable choice as a result. Like many other air filled products, air leakage can be a problem, resulting in an inconsistent level of comfort as air slowly leaks from the bed over time.

Ideal for: Co-sleepers, those with back injuries or chronic back pain

What if you choose the wrong firmness?

Discomfort while sleeping on a new bed can signal one of two things: either the firmness level of the bed isn’t right for you, or you have not gone through a full “break-in” period with your bed.

If you have slept on the bed for longer than the breaking in period and you are still experiencing discomfort, there may be options to adjust the bed’s firmness level to better suit your needs. To assess whether your bed is too soft or too firm, you can observe cues from your body. Certain sensations and pains can tell you what the problem is, and what you need to do to improve your comfort.

How to tell if your mattress is too soft or too firm?

Too firm:

  • Pressure points such as shoulders, hips, or knees are pushed up above the rest of the body
  • Numb or tingling shoulders or hips
  • Sensation of sleeping on top of the mattress, or away from it

Too soft:

  • Pressure points such as the shoulders, hips, or knees are sinking below the rest of the body
  • Difficulty getting in and out of the bed
  • Sensation of “bottoming out” on the upper layer(s) of the mattress

Adjustable firmness options

Depending on the brand you choose, there might be options to alter the firmness level of your mattress after the initial break-in period. Innovations like Novosbed’s Comfort+ adjust firmness by adding a layer of polyfoam to the mattress to make the bed firmer or softer as needed. This option can help remove some of the doubts about choosing the wrong firmness at the time of purchase, knowing you can resolve comfort issues instead of going through the hassle of a return.

If your chosen mattress does not offer an adjustable firmness like Comfort+ and you are faced with a decision between a firmer and a softer mattress, opt for the firmer bed. This way if you are unhappy with how firm it is after you bring it home, you can adjust it to be softer by buying a pillow-top or a foam topper.

Making the final decision

Finding a comfortable mattress should be much easier once you’ve chosen a firmness level that suits your needs. When shopping in retail locations, keep in mind that a showroom shopping experience might not necessarily be a good indicator for which firmness level you require, because floor model mattresses are often already broken in and will feel softer than a brand new mattress. New mattresses, particularly ones made with high density foam, can take up to 30 days to break-in. On the other hand, shopping for a mattress with a good online retailer will provide you with a sleep trial, a break-in period, and any additional information you’ll need to find a mattress that you’ll love for years.

How to Understand Mattress Firmness

Overview

One of the first and most important criteria that people use when shopping for a mattress is firmness. Even though it’s a term you’ll find used constantly by customers, retailers, manufacturers, and reviewers, it’s rare to find a nuanced discussion of what mattress firmness is and why it really matters.

This guide seeks to change that. We’ll provide a detailed description of firmness and how it relates to numerous other important issues like comfort and support. We’ll address how firmness affects sleeping hot, sex, and motion transfer while providing tips to help you find your optimal firmness level depending on your comfort preferences, weight, and/or sleeping position. Keep reading to get the full low-down on everything you need to know to be a mattress firmness expert!

What is Firmness?

Firmness is a way of describing the feel of a mattress specifically in terms of comfort. Sleeping on concrete would be one extreme level of firmness, while an opposite extreme would be like floating on a cloud. Firmness is often said to be very subjective because what may feel comfortable to one person can be uncomfortable to someone else. For this reason, it is common to see mattresses offered in a number of different firmness levels to allow customers to find a model that will suit their preferences.

Is Firmness the Same as Support?

Firmness isnotthe same as support. This is an important point to emphasize. Support refers to how well a mattress promotes spinal alignment. Firmness refers to the comfort feel of the mattress and how hard or soft it is. While there can be a relationship between the two, it is helpful to think about them separately. A mattress that offers pressure point relief and keeps the spine in proper positioning is supportive regardless of how hard or soft that mattress is. While firmness can be highly subjective, support is not.

The Firmness Scale

Terms like “extra firm,” “medium-firm,” “plush,” and others are used constantly in describing different mattress models, but sometimes it can be hard to know what to make of these terms or to know how they apply when comparing mattresses produced by different companies. As a result, we often refer to thefirmness scale, which is a way of rating mattress firmness from 1-10. Below you can find an overview of this scale:

  • 1 (extremely soft):maximum softness with lots of sink; this type of extra plush mattress is rare
  • 2-3 (soft):quite soft and plush with definite sink.
  • 4-6 (medium):common firmness level that offers a middle-ground with some plushness but more limited sink.
  • 7-9 (firm):much harder mattress with only limited softness and sink.
  • 10 (extremely firm):no softness, plushness or sink; this type of extra firm mattress is rare.

The Firmness Scale In-Depth

In this section, we’ll offer more detailed information about these general firmness levels including about how they can influence support and the types of sleeping positions best suited for them.

Softest (1-3)

A 1 on the firmness scale is extremely rare, but many mattresses are offered in the 2-3 range.

Support:because their softness allows them to conform closely to the body, very soft mattresses can help to relieve pressure points and keep the spine aligned. However, the flip side of this is that for many people, there is simply too much sink and contouring, and the result can be to induce an excessive curvature in the spine.

Sleeping positions:of the main sleeping positions, a very soft mattress is usually best for side sleepers. Side sleepers tend to have more pronounced pressure points at the hips and shoulders and can benefit from more cushioning at those points. For the majority of both back and stomach sleepers, the amount of sink in a very soft mattress can draw the spine out of alignment.

Medium (4-6)

Support:these medium-firm mattresses usually offer the best overall support because they have enough contouring to reduce pressure points while not permitting excessive sinking into the mattress. Spinal alignment for most people is best maintained on a mattress of this firmness.

Sleeping positions:Sleepers in all positions tend to do well with medium-firm mattresses, and these mattresses also tend to work best for combination sleepers (who sleep in multiple positions) and couples who may not sleep in the same position.

Firm (7-10)

Support:many mattresses at this firmness level can still offer sufficient support. While they don’t have the deep contouring properties of softer mattresses, there is often enough cushioning to prevent problems at pressure points.

Sleeping positions:Some side sleepers may have a hard time on these mattresses, although often there usually is sufficient pressure point relief. Some back and stomach sleepers may find that this higher firmness helps prevent their abdomen from sinking too deeply into the mattress. The mattresses at the highest range of this group, though, are rarely comfortable for sleepers in any position.

Why Does Firmness Matter?

Some people may just take it as a given that firmness is a key consideration when shopping for a mattress. But we know that our readers often want to go deeper and understandwhy, so let’s delve into the big reason for why firmness matters:comfort.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of comfort. An inviting, cozy mattress plays a huge role in getting a good night’s sleep. If the first thing you’re thinking about when you get into bed is how uncomfortable you are, it’s unlikely that you’re going to sleep well. Additionally, having a welcoming mattress plays a role in your broader sleep hygiene. Experts recommend developing a routine around sleep that includes a sleep environment that induces relaxation and peace of mind. Having a comfortable mattress is a big part of forming that sleep environment.

Comfort also matters because it can play a role in whether or not you wake up with aches and pains. If you spend hours every night in an uncomfortable position or trying to contort your body to get comfortable, it’s typically only a matter of time before you start feeling the effects. An uncomfortable mattress is also probably not providing you with the support you need, increasing the risk for back issues and consistent soreness in the mornings.

Finding Your Optimal Firmness Level

With that background about mattress firmness in mind, we can start to address how to determine what type of firmness level is the best fit for you. There are several different criteria or ways to approach making this determination.

Comfort

The first way of selecting the firmness level for your mattress is based on your own perceptions of comfort. As we mentioned, firmness is subjective, and no one knows better than you do what kind of mattress feels good.

As a point of reference, start by thinking about your current mattress. If you know where it falls on the firmness scale, think about whether it’s right for you or whether something softer or firmer would be better. Think also about any experiences that you’ve had on other mattresses such as at hotels or when staying with friends as a guest. You don’t need to know the exact firmness of those mattresses to be able to get a sense of whether your preference runs toward soft, medium, or firm. This is especially true if you have a more extreme preference like a very plush or very hard bed.

While we provide a great deal of general guidance about the type of firmness levels that are normally best for sleepers in certain positions or weights, remember not to discount your own experience. If you know that you’ll only be comfortable on a mattress with a particular feel, go with what you know.

Weight

Mattresses respond to the weight and pressure of the body, and as a result, the weight of a sleeper can influence how a bed feels and what firmness level usually provides the most restful night’s sleep.

Sleepers who weigh less than 130 poundsshould err toward a mattress near the softer end of the firmness scale. The reason for this is that a very firm mattress is unlikely to offer much give or contouring at all for a person at this weight. In order to get the benefits of pressure point relief, most lighter sleepers need a more plush mattress in the 2-5 range on the firmness scale.

Sleepers who weigh between 130 and 230 poundsnormally do best with a medium-firm mattress that falls in the 4-6 range on the typical firmness scale. At this firmness level, there is enough cushioning to create a comfortable and supportive sleep surface without the risks that come from a much softer or firmer design.

Sleepers who weigh over 230 poundsshould typically opt for a firmer mattress design, ranging from 6-8 on the firmness scale. Because heavier people put more pressure on the bed, the level of sink can become exaggerated on very soft mattresses. A firmer model can still give cushioning without a risk of the mattress comfort layer bottoming out and failing to offer sufficient support.

Sleeping Position

Another way that you can home in on an appropriate firmness level for your mattress is by considering your sleeping position.

Side sleepershave more exaggerated pressure points at the shoulders and hips and usually need a slightly softer mattress in order to cushion those areas and keep the spine in proper position. For most side sleepers, a soft to medium-firm mattress works best, ranging from a 3-7, with most people getting the best results in the middle of that range. More guidance for side sleepers can be found in our guide to the Best Mattresses for Side Sleepers.

Back sleepersstart out in a position that tends to be good for the spine, but they do need support around the low back in order to make sure that the natural curve of the low back does not get exaggerated in any direction. For this reason, we usually advise that back sleepers select a mattress in the 4-7 range on the firmness scale. Further guidance for back sleepers can be found in our guide to the Best Mattresses for Back Sleepers.

Stomach sleepersnormally should avoid mattresses with excessive sink. Because the abdomen and pelvis will usually sink more than other parts of the body, this can put the body in an unhealthy “U” shape. Most back sleepers get the most comfort and support from mattresses in the 4-7 level with a general preference toward the higher end of that range. Additional guidance for stomach sleepers can be found in our guide to the Best Mattresses for Stomach Sleepers.

Combination sleepers, or people who regularly sleep in 2 or more positions, frequently have the best results when using a medium-firm mattress in the 4-6 range. The reason for this is that a medium-firm mattress has the most flexibility and ability to provide comfort across a range of positions. More guidance for combination sleepers can be found in our guide to the Best Mattresses for Combination Sleepers.

Other Important Considerations

In addition to affecting your comfort, firmness also influences other important elements relating to the performance of your mattress, including the following:

  • Sex:mattresses that are extremely plush or extremely firm may pose barriers to frequent sexual activity. If a mattress is too soft, partners may sink into it too much, preventing movement on the bed. If it is too firm, it may be very hard to comfortably assume many sexual positions. In most cases, a medium-firm mattress is best for facilitating sex. Read more about this and find specific recommendations in our guide to the Best Mattresses for Sex.
  • Sleeping hot: too much sink or contouring can limit airflow around the body. This can cause heat to buildup in the mattress and on the skin, which is also known as “sleeping hot.” This is primarily an issue with plush mattresses and those that are made with certain materials (such as memory foam) that more closely contour to the body.
  • Motion transfer:this refers to how much movement on one side of the bed is felt on other parts of the bed. A bed that permits a lot of motion transfer may cause people who share a mattress to be awoken or disturbed by the movement of a partner. Mattress that offer more contouring to the body usually have less motion transfer as plushness and contouring can isolate motion. In addition, a very firm mattress that does not respond much to the body’s movements at all also usually will not have much motion transfer. The level of motion isolation is also directly affected by the type of material used to build the mattress.
  • Edge support:for people who regularly sit on the edge of the bed or sleep near the edge, edge support is an important consideration. Remember that most mattresses are weakest at the edge, so if a mattress is already quite plush, it is likely to offer even less support around the rim of the bed. People who prioritize edge support usually should err toward a firmer mattress overall.

Firmness FAQ

As you think about mattress firmness, you may have a whole host of questions. We’ve tried to address the most common of these in this section, but if you have a question we haven’t covered, please contact us!

What is universal comfort? Does it exist?

Universal comfort is the “one size fits all” of the mattress world. It is the idea that a mattress can be designed to be comfortable for everyone. In truth, given the subjectivity of mattress firmness and comfort preferences,there is no such thing as universal comfort. It is possible to design a mattress that will work well for a majority of people (for example, most medium-firm mattresses), but the idea of truly “universal” comfort is hyperbole at best.

Does the firmness level affect durability?

Generally not. Durability is influenced predominantly by the quality of the design, materials, and workmanship that goes into a mattress. The only way that firmness can affect durability is that some mattresses, especially firmer mattresses, may have more margin for error to lose firmness as they suffer from wear-and-tear over the years. A mattress that is already quite plush could become wholly unsupportive if its components start to wear out. But a firm or medium-firm mattress may still retain sufficient firmness for a period of time even as it loses its full original firmness.

How can I test out a mattress to see if it is the right firmness level for me?

If you are shopping for a mattress in stores, you can lie down on a mattress to see how it feels. If you do this, we recommend that you stay on the mattress for at least 10-15 minutes to truly gauge how comfortable it is for you. Also, make sure that when you test the mattress that you lie down in the sleeping position that you normally use so that you can get an accurate representation of its comfort in your specific case.

If you are shopping online, you generally are not able to see how the mattress feels before you buy it. Instead, most online retailers offer an in-home sleep trial. This means that you get to sleep on the mattress for a period of time (often 100 nights or more) with an opportunity to return the mattress for a full refund if it isn’t to your liking. For more about sleep trials, check out our guide, How to Buy A Mattress Online.

What if my partner and I have different firmness preferences?

As with most relationship issues, start with communication. You and your partner should discuss both what your ideal firmness is and what you perceive to be your acceptable range. If there is overlap, you can look for a mattress that works for you both. If your firmness needs are wholly incompatible, you can look for mattresses that are offered with split firmness levels so that each side of the mattress has a different feel.

Does firmness affect cost?

Firmness usually does not affect cost; however, there are exceptions. In order to make a mattress more firm, some mattress makers include additional layers of foam or latex, and this can increase the overall cost of the mattress. Check with any specific mattress company or retailer to find out about pricing for individual models.

Are certain mattress types more firm?

As a matter of reputation, memory foam is known for being more plush while latex and innerspring mattresses are considered to be firmer. However, this is highly dependent on the specific design of the mattress and the formulation and construction of the mattress materials. As a result, we encourage you to look at the details of any specific mattress rather than assuming that a mattress will have a particular feel because it is made of a certain material.

What if I’m not sure what firmness level I want for my mattress?

If, as you reflect on past mattresses that you’ve slept on, you really feel lost about the firmness level that you want, we suggest two key things that you can do. First, only purchase a mattress that comes with a sleep trial and a no-hassle return policy. This can give you some peace of mind that even if you buy a mattress that isn’t the right feel, you will be able to return it without penalty. Second, buy a medium-firm mattress. Since this firmness level has the widest acceptance, it is a good place to start. Feel free to contact us if you would like further guidance!

I bought a mattress that is too firm. What can I do?

If your mattress is too firm and you’re still within the timeframe of your sleep trial, return the mattress! If you don’t have that option, you might look into a mattress pad or mattress topper that would go under your sheets. Many plush mattress toppers are available that can significantly change the feel of your bed.

I bought a mattress that is too soft. What can I do?

If it’s not too late to return the mattress for a refund or exchange, do that immediately! But if you can’t return it, your best bet is to look into a mattress topper. These products go above your current mattress and under the sheet. They are made with a wide range of different materials and in many firmness levels, including some that can add firmness to your sleeping surface.

Add a Comment: