How Do You Choose Mattress Firmness

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The Definitive Guide to Buying a Mattress

Shopping for a mattress has never been easier if you’re armed with this info.

Replacing your mattress can be exhausting. Navigating the stores and websites, debating between foam and springs, and determining how much to spend can leave you feeling like you need a good nap.

Instead, skip the stress and follow these tips from Lexie Sachs, Senior Textiles Analyst at the Good Housekeeping Institute, that will help you navigate the world of mattresses.

Where to Shop for a Mattress

Laying down in the store isn’t the only way to go anymore. New mattress-in-a-box companies have won over thousands of customers with convenient shipping and free trial periods. Online mattress buying has seen a serious boom, but it’s not right for everyone. Here’s what you need to know.

Shop in the store if.

Go the traditional route ifyouwant a greater variety and to feel them before buying.In a mattress store, you should never pay full price. Always shop the sales, and don’t be afraid to negotiate with the salesperson. Most stores will also offer removal of your existing mattress. The downside is it can feel overwhelming and it’s harder to compare prices to know if you’re getting a good deal. A big mistake is rushing the decision by quickly lying down on many different mattresses to find the one that feels best. If you’re going to invest in a mattress,take the time to recline for a while (at least 10 minutes)and make sure you don’t feel any pressure or pain.

Shop online if.

This newer route offers agreat alternative if you have trouble making decisions, since there are fewer options. Plus, you can shop from home!These mattresses generally arrive in a box at your doorstep within a few days and include free shipping and a money-back guarantee (even if you simply don’t like the mattress!) so there’s minimal risk. Online, the price is usually final, but it doesn’t include markups for being sold at a physical store. The downsides are that you typically have to set it up yourself and deal with getting rid of your old mattress.

Either way, always ask about the return policy.Not happy with your pick? You may get a partial refund if you bought it in a store, but online companies often arrange to pick it up for a local charity and will give back 100% of your money. Make sure you can test out a new mattress for a month risk-free; that way, you can get used to it before making a decision.

The Best Mattresses You Can Buy Online

The name Casper is synonymous with "mattress-in-a-box." Itsfour foam layers range from soft to firmto offer comfort and support, which our testers loved (especially the under-40 crowd). There’s both a less expensive version (with less layers) and a pricier one (with more).

Tuft & Needle was priced lowest among its competitors, but still stands out as atop mattress on Amazon. This simple model has two layers of foam: a firm, support layer on the bottom and a cushy, cooling layer on top. Our panel particularly liked the friendly customer service.

Unsure if you need a soft or firm option? This foam style gives you both: Justflip the mattress to change the support level. It has copper built-in to help keep you cool and avoid the overheating that is typically associated with memory foam.

Fill out a survey about your sleep habits, andHelix builds a "custom" mattress for youwith layers of foam, latex, and microcoils. They can even personalize each side, so you and your sleeping partner don’t have to fight about which mattress to get.

How to Choose Your Perfect Mattress

There are three common types of mattresses:innerspring, foam, and adjustable. There’s no one "right" material to choose, but in general, side sleepers need a softer mattress, stomach sleepers need a firm one, and back sleepers fall somewhere in between. Beyond the types of mattresses and firmness, you’ll need to think about a few other factors. From sleep style to negotiating with a bedfellow, here’s what to look for based on your needs:

If you like a bed with bounce

Traditional innerspring styleshave that familiar bouncy feel and may be firmer. Interconnected coils are extra-durable, but individual "pocketed" coils, each covered with fabric, reduce the ripple effect that happens when someone on one side of the bed moves.

If you prefer a firmer base

Memory foam optionshave less spring and offer more pressure relief. To determine quality, look at the density and thickness of the foam, which will determine how deep you’ll sink. The newer, online mattresses generally use several different layers of foam, with heavier ones on the bottom for support and lighter, cooler kinds on the top for comfort.

If you want a plush top

Innerspring mattressestypically have either a fiberfill or foam outer layer, covered in quilted ticking. But even if you want an uber-plush feel, don’t be swayed by a thick-looking pillowtop as it can compress over time. It’s often best to choose a firmer, well-quilted mattress, and then cover it with a replaceable mattress topper.

If you like to change it up

Consider anair-filled mattress, like Sleep Number, which has a remote that controls how much air is inside. Two side-by-side chambers allow you and your partner to customize the mattress firmness separately. There are also foam mattresses (like the ones from Layla) with soft and firm sides, so you can just flip it over as needed, and modular designs that let you move around the springs on the inside.

If you sleep on your side

You’ll want a surface that will support your body weight, and conform to your shape.Innerspringsmay have more pressure relief than some foam or latex mattresses, but asoft foam mattressor one with built-in pressure relief points around the shoulders and hips can work for side sleepers, too

If you sleep on your stomach

The last thing a stomach-sleeper probably wants is an enveloping memory foam — it would feel smothering! Instead, a firmer bed will provide the best support. Consider afirm foam, dense innerspring, or air-filled mattress.

If you sleep on your back

You’ll wantsomething in the middle— a surface that supports, but has some give so your spine is kept in a healthy alignment. You’ll find happiness with any of the mattress types, but you should do your best princess-and-the-pea impression to see what feels best to you.

If your partner tosses and turns all night

Consider aninnerspring mattress with pocketed coils, or memory foam, latex, or a dual-chamber air-filled mattress. Medium-firm picks will all have good "motion isolation." But remember, these models could actually be less comfortable on the body of a restless sleeper, as there’s little forgiveness against one’s movements.

If you and your partner’s preferences don’t match

Theair-filled mattresses with dual chamberscan help, or check out the online mattress company Helix. Each person can fill out a questionnaire and have a side customized based on the responses.

If you sleep hot

Manufacturers can get carried away with claims about cooling properties, especially when you consider all the layers (protectors, toppers, sheets, and so on) that go on top of the mattress. That said,foam or latexcan hold in body heat, especially if they’re very soft and a lot of your body sinks in. Newer technology helps alleviate this issue and you can always accessorize your bed with toppers and sheets that offer cooling benefits.

If you have allergies

Foam and latexare both inherently antimicrobial and resistant to dust mites and mold. If you opt for innerspring or air topped with fiberfill, be sure to encase it in an allergen-resistant cover to keep irritants at bay.

If you have back pain

Memory foam and/or latexis best for those with back pain since it molds to your body for support.

If you’re concerned about chemicals

Look forfoams certified by CertiPUR-USas well as certifications for other materials like GOLS for latex or Oeko-Tex for other fabrics to feel more confident about your purchase.

If you can’t decide what matters most

Some savvy manufacturers make ahybrid-style mattressthat combines the buoyancy of an innerspring core with the motion isolation of memory foam. It’s a best-of-both-worlds option that can satisfy many partner disputes and sleeping styles.

How to Pick Your Perfect Mattress

Ready for a new mattress? Here’s how to find the one that suits you best.

Getting a good night’s sleep depends on a lot of different factors — comfort, stress level, room temperature – but to get it right, you’ve got to start with the basics and your mattress is the first building block to a restful slumber.

If you’re in the market for a new mattress and have recently taken a stroll down the aisle of a bedding store, you know that there is a dizzying array from which to choose. How do you know which mattress is best for you?

To start, says Arya Nick Shamie, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center, the mattress needs to support your body in a neutral position, one in which your spine has a nice curvature and your buttocks, heels, shoulders, and head are supported in proper alignment

"If the mattress is too firm, it will push on those main pressure points and take you out of alignment," Shamie tells WebMD. "If it’s too soft, those pressure points won’t be properly supported, so your whole body flops back." Both of these scenarios can lead to an achy morning.

Generally speaking, one type or brand of bed isn’t better than another, says Michael Breus, PhD, a WebMD sleep expert and author ofBeauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep.But he does find that a firmer bed seems to be better for people with lower back pain.

In fact, researchers in Spain studied people with long-term back pain and found that on a 10-point hard-to-soft scale people who slept on a medium-to-firm mattress (5.6 on the scale) had less back pain than those who slept on a softer mattress.

Is It Time for a New Mattress?

How do you know if the bed you’re sleeping on is the right one?

"If you wake up in the morning and have some low back pain and can stretch and get rid of it in 15 or 30 minutes, that means you’re on an inappropriate mattress for you," Breus says.

The right mattress, on the other hand, is one on which you feel no pressure, almost like you’re floating in air, Breus says.

If you’re looking for a new mattress, experts suggest testing it in the store and laying down on each mattress in the position in which you normally sleep. Breus suggests spending at least 10 to 15 minutes on the bed. And, bring your own pillow! The more you can replicate the way you’ll be sleeping on the mattress once you get it home, the better your chances of picking the right one.


Innerspring Mattresses

Innerspring mattresses are still by far the most widely used. They support you with coil springs, and in most built today, each coil is individually enclosed. This helps the bed weather years of use and prevents the coils from popping out of the mattress. On top of the coils are a wide variety of materials added for comfort, from pillow to latex to memory foam. It’s all a matter of preference.

Salespeople may try to sell you on the idea that more coils mean more comfort, but that’s not necessarily true, Breus and Shamie say.

"You don’t really need a coil count above 390," Breus says. Beyond that, the difference in feel is so small it would be difficult to notice.

Pros:There are plenty of innerspring mattresses on the market from which to choose. They range in firmness, the fluffiness of the pillow top, and in price to fit nearly every preference and pocket book.

Cons:There’s no direct relationship in most cases between price and comfort, but Shamie suggests steering clear of the cheapest innerspring mattress. If there aren’t enough springs and cushion to offer you proper support, he says, you’ll likely wake up with an aching back.

Conditions:For someone who is very overweight, spring mattresses may offer a firmer support, making them easier to get in and out of, Breus says. Firmer versions are good for people with back pain. But spring-based mattresses can be comfortable for almost anyone.

Memory Foam Mattresses

Memory foam mattresses are growing in popularity. They are made of layers of different densities of foam that respond to weight and temperature, and are known for comfort because they contour to the specific shape of your body. Memory foam toppers are also available.

Pros:By molding to the shape of your body as your weight shifts through the night, memory foam reduces pressure points, and relieves pain. Memory foam also absorbs movement, so if you sleep with a partner, you’re not likely to be disturbed by his tossing and turning.

Cons:One of the biggest complaints with memory foam mattresses is that because these mattresses are temperature sensitive, softening and molding with your body heat, they can make you feel extremely hot during the night. Breus also says memory foam mattresses have been known to emit an unpleasant chemical smell.

Conditions:"If you have a hard time getting comfortable, if you have chronic fatigue, or some type of muscle pain, then a memory foam mattress would work well for you, assuming you don’t have temperature issues," Breus says.


Latex Mattresses

Latex mattresses are made from either natural or synthetic rubber, and are known for providing a very firm, bouncy support that is uniform throughout the bed.

Pros:"Quite frankly, I think one of the best materials is latex," Breus says. He likes it for being very firm and supportive, but also for providing comfort similar to memory foam. Unlike the memory foam mattresses, however, Breus says latex pushes back, ultimately providing more support.

Cons:If you don’t like the feel of a firm mattress, latex is probably not the right choice for you.

Conditions: Either a latex mattress or latex mattress topper is great for relieving back pain because they offer the best combination of comfort and support, Breus says.

Air Mattresses

We’re not talking about the blow-up mattresses you put your holiday guests on for a few days. Higher-end air beds look like a standard innerspring mattress, but use air-filled chambers instead of coils, and are covered by a foam layer on top.

Shamie notes that air beds have long been used for patients with spinal cord injuries who are lying in bed for a long time. They can be adjusted so they don’t continue to press on the same areas of the body, which helps to avoid skin breakdown in patients who can’t move.

Pros:"Couples who have dramatic differences in their individual preference for comfort and firmness levels might do very well with an air mattress," Breus says. The reason is that the firmness of each side of the bed can be altered. If you like it firmer than your partner, these beds can be adjusted for that.

Like latex and memory foam, you can also find air toppers for your mattress.

Cons:Shamie says people sometimes fail to make their air bed firm enough and wake up with back aches. Less sophisticated air mattresses also pop up on one side when you sit on the opposite end. For that reason Breus says, you want multiple chambers so that doesn’t occur.

Conditions:These beds are particularly useful when sleeping partners have different needs. If one of you has a bad back, one side can be made firmer than the other to provide greater support.


Adjustable Beds

These beds are able to bend and elevate at varying angles. As a result, the mattress has to be flexible. Different types of mattresses can be used on an adjustable bed – memory foam, latex, or air, for example. Spring mattresses are more difficult to use, however, because the springs don’t handle the bending well.

Pros:For people who have difficulty getting in and out of bed or who like to watch television in bed, Shamie says, adjustables can make life easier by moving you closer to where you need to be.

Conditions:If you suffer from sleep apnea, sleeping flat can make the condition worse by cutting off airways and causing the tongue to fall into the back of the throat, Shamie says. People who experience acid reflux can also benefit by sleeping in a bed that elevates their upper body.

Shamie also suggests adjustable beds for people with hip or back pain who have a hard time moving from a lying position to sitting up or standing.

Sofa Beds

When you have guests staying for a night or two, sofa beds come in handy. The mattresses in these beds tend to be very thin so they are flexible enough to fold and collapse into the couch. It’s a great convenience to have a sofa bed, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who raves about their comfort.

Pros:Sofa beds are convenient, especially if you have limited space. But from a health perspective, Shamie and Breus don’t see any advantages.

Cons:A night or two on a sofa bed is OK. But "this is probably the worst kind of bed you can sleep on long-term," Shamie says. The mattresses used in most sofa beds are very thin and the springs quite weak. "It really leads to an uncomfortable situation," Shamie says.

If you’re really tight for space and need a bed that folds up, Shamie says that futons, while not the most supportive, are better for your back than the typical sofa bed.

Conditions:There are no conditions for which a sofa bed will be helpful, according to the experts. But if you have a bad back or hips, these beds will be especially uncomfortable.


When to Part With Your Old Mattress

Today’s mattresses are made to last a lifetime. But you probably shouldn’t plan on keeping yours for that long. Our bodies change over time, Breus says, so the mattress that was once a joy to sleep on may no longer feel comfortable a few years down the road.

In addition, mattresses collect dust mites, fungus, and other germs that can exacerbate allergies and impact your sleep patterns. After 10 to 15 years, it’s time to think about buying a new bed.

Ultimately, the experts say that the best bed for you is the one that feels most comfortable. And remember, Shamie says, "There’s no mattress that’s going to save your body when you get only five hours of sleep." In order to feel your best, you need to get enough rest… no matter what type of mattress you’re sleeping on.


Arya Nick Shamie, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery, Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center.

Breus, Michael, PhD, WebMD sleep expert and author ofBeauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep

Kovacs, FM.The Lancet, November 2003; vol 362: pp 1599-1604.

How To Choose a Mattress in 5 Easy Steps – The Definitive Guide

I think you will agree with me when I say that choosing the right mattress is no easy task?

First, you have to dispose of your old one and then go through a tedious process of selecting a new bed that will serve you well for years to come.

And having couple dozen options, manufacturers and handful types and materials doesn’t help, does it?

Luckily for you, you canfind out exactly how to pick a new mattressand most important thing to consider.

Table of contents (use it to jump to a certain section)

If you are in a hurry jump to our conclusion and summary.

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Step 1: Do You Really Need A New Mattress?

Many people change their beds after just a few years, and that’s perfectly fine if you can afford it. The fact is, it’s not a small investment, so take a moment to determine do you really need a new.

Generally, after seven or eight years you will most likely need a new mattress. Of course, it depends on the quality and material (we will cover the types and materials later in this article). And if you feel back or neck pain it might, your bedding is a good place to start.

Here is the average mattress lifespan in years based on material and type:

Step 2: Determine your Budget

A bit of personal backstory here…

Several years back I went to a store and purchased amattress priced at $2500which was not even the most expensive one there. During the first year or so it was perfect, and I felt rejuvenated, and I slept like a baby during that time.

But, something happened.

My new and awesome mattress started sagging and losing support and needless to say my back and neck suffered.

Another two years had passed until I decided to buy a new oneonline at $850and this is the same one I’m using today after three years. Back to reality.

Not anyone will have the budget to walk into a store and buy something for several thousand dollars. Luckily, these days there are manyonline optionsyou can choose from rangingfrom $500 to $1200. There are also Black Friday bed deals (and Cyber Monday) that can result in additional savings as well.

Don’t get confused here. More money does not mean better quality. If you think that some of these online options are somehow worse than in-store ones, you are badly mistaken.Stores tend to inflate the prices as much as 1000%.

Here are some guidelines for you:

  • Don’t always go with the cheapest option you find– This is a rule of thumb for most products you buy online. Spending less than $500 for a queen mattress simply because it means lower durability, more toxins and lower sleep quality in general.
  • Higher Price does not mean Higher Quality– I bet you know this one, but it’s worth mentioning.
  • Go with $1000 range for Queen size– This is usually where you will find the best bang for your buck.
  • King / Cal King will cost slightly more– I would increase the budget for King and California King to $1400-1500 as you will have many more choices in that range.
  • Now that you have your new budget set, I’m guessing you are asking yourself“what type of mattress is best for me?”Let’s dig in.

Step 3: Choose Your Ideal Type and Material

Ok, so this is where most people will go with their personal preference rather than anything else. If someone says “latex is the best,” I would not take this as final until I read other opinions and test it myself. Here are the most common options you will find these days.

Innerspring (Coils)

This is the most traditional form of the mattress, and as of late, it’s received a bad rap. However, it is important to understand the potential benefits you could receive from going the traditional route, as well as the reasons why this option has lost its luster.

An obvious pro to purchasing a bed with springs is that it is one of themost affordable optionson the market, due in part to a decrease in demand and also in part to so many other options that have the potential to be more comfortable andbetter for overall health.

Another consideration is that these mattresses are known to last for decades. Spring beds are exceedingly durable. Being that the springs are typically made from different types of metals, they tend to keep their shape for many years.

Additionally, being that they are the most traditional style, they are also the most familiar. People recognize and understand what they are getting when they purchase a bed with springs. There is no guess work with this option like there may be with memory foam or other newer options.

The last notable advantage to this style of bed is that, because of the amount of space located between the springs, this option allows for the most circulation of air. This flow helps to keep the temperature down, allowing for acooler night’s sleep.

Example of the coil mattresses structure

Ideal for: People who want strong support, durability, cooling and great bounce. It also has an excellent edge support.


These mattresses are known for their fantastic cooling and comfort. Latex has a good bounce, responsiveness too.

Authentic latex foam is made from a tree called Hevea-Brasilenis tree, specifically from the white liquid extracted from it. Latex is harvested, and when the excess water is removed, you end up with raw material fantastic for various products, bedding systems being one of them.

It’s also great because you don’t get off-gassing and odors like with memory foam products.

Example of the latex bed structure

There are two types to choose from:

  • Natural – More healthy option and environment-friendly. But it’s also more expensive so expect to pay around $2000 for a good natural latex mattress
  • Synthetic – Made by mixing synthetic polymers with natural tree sap. Less expensive of course but less healthy in turn.

Latex is best forpeople who want good cooling, responsiveness, and bounce.

Memory Foam

Memory foam was first developed in the 1970’s by NASA as a safety material for seat cushions to protect pilots and passengers during plane crashes. Since then, the material has blossomed into the burgeoning product employed by virtually every mattress maker.

Example of the memory foam bed structure

Why has it become so popular? The answer is that it is said to provide superior comfort and support for the entire body. Anyone who’s pressed their hand into this material immediately understands its appeal.

Memory foam uniquelyconforms to every inch of the bodythat is pressed into it. When you lift your body from the material, it slowly regains its original form, essentially making it perfect for every body type and every sleeper.

Another unique property of memory foam is itsmotion isolationcapabilities. You may have seen those commercials with a lady jumping on a mattress with a glass of wine at the other end. Miraculously, the wine doesn’t spill.

The wine doesn’t spill because the energy from jumping is not transferred to other parts of the mattress. This translates to better sleeping for partners, because the tossing and turning of one does not affect the other, a feature that is not found among any of the other options on the market.

One of the most common issues that people experience is that thematerial retains heat. If you are someone who requires a cool night sleep, the memory foam option may not be the best choice for you. While the manufacturers are coming up with new and better ways to keep the heat down, the jury is still out as to whether or not they’ve succeeded.

Ideal For: People who want body shaping, contour, pressure relief and good support.


The hybrid mattress is an unusual combination of both traditional spring and memory foam. Providing the best of both worlds, this option offers the contouring and lack of motion transfer of foam coupled with the support of springs.

Structure of the hybrid bed- example

The term “hybrid” is very loosely used to describe the combination we just mentioned. However, the amount of foam for these beds varies widely depending on the level of firmness desired. Some options employ less than 1.5 inches of foam, lending to the fact that they more closely resemble that of a traditional spring bed rather than the more modern memory foam option.

To find the most optimal version of a hybrid, it’s best to choose the one that hasclose to 3 inches of foam. Anything above that, and you might as well forego the springs all together.

One negative aspect of these beds is the fact that they are one of the more expensive offerings you’ll find. Purchasing one of these could put you in the multiples of thousands of dollars, a significant investment, but a worthy one if you plan to enjoy it long term.

Good For: People who want best all around product with good support, bounce, cooling and pressure relief.

And now the three less common but still important types:


These beds offer a unique ability tochange the sleeping positionbased on your preference. You can elevate the head or feet giving you more options than traditional products. These beds provide extra comfort for people suffering from chronic lumbar pain or just want to be slightly elevated to prevent snoring. They do look ugly though most of the time.

Perfect for: People with certain medical conditions like snoring, older sleepers and people with lower back pain.


These are usually coil, latex or memory foam beds buthave a layer of soft material sewn into the cover to make it more comfortable. These are also considered more luxurious and usually cost a bit more than standard options.

Good for: People who prefer more padding and softer feel.


A rather weird option, but sometimes very fun especially if you love waterbed sex. Some of the most common reasons for opting in for this type is a backache and arthritis relief. These beds are also great for people with allergies.

Good for: People with back pain, arthritis and allergies and anyone looking for something less conventional.

Step 4. Determine your Ideal Sleeping Position and Firmness

Most of us have a unique way of sleeping every night. No matter if you sleep on your side, stomach or back, or even if you switch throughout the night you will have to consider and choose the ideal type of bed based on your preference. So, take a moment and think, what’s your favorite sleeping position because that determines theideal firmness of your new bed.

The most important factor for back sleepers is firmness and support. If your mattress is too soft, your body will sink and cause back pain. You will need one that’s soft enough to provide pressure relief but still provides enough support. On a scale of 1-10, the perfect range would be 5-7.

According to The Better Sleep Council, only roughly 15% of people are back sleepers. Being that you are unique, it’ll take a special mattress to offer you the night’s rest you are seeking.

It’s the consensus that memory foam mattresses provide the highest level of comfort for people who sleep on their backs. This is because it provides adequate contouring to the spine while maintaining a longevity of proper support and structure.

Many people who often sleep on their sides, endure discomfort and pain in their hip joints and shoulders.It’s usually due to unsuitable bedding.

It’s advised that you go with a bit softer option than for a back sleeper as these they provide for an equal distribution of pressure while you’re sleeping on your side.

Ideally, you want to choose a mattress with firmness level of 3-6 (out of 10) which falls undermedium soft.


This is considered the worst sleeping position. The most important thing for stomach sleepers is to provide equal distribution of weight across your entire body as your torso will apply most pressure. If the mattress is too soft (not enough support) your spine will curve causing back pain.

You will want to look for something in 5-7 range, which falls undermedium to medium-firm. The good thing is that most options are in this range.

Step 5. Consider your Weight as a Factor

On first glance, you might be asking yourself,what does weight have to do with choosing a mattress?

The truth is, support, hug, feel, sinkage and even cooling will depend on your body type and weight. Another harsh truth is that there is no “best” mattress for every one of us.

Let’s take a look at the following guidelines how to choose an ideal firmness level based on your weight:

  • Light (Less than 150 pounds)– You will want a medium firm bed around5-6 firmnessthat doesn’t sink too much. If you are lighter than 150 lbs, you can even go with four since most beds are rated for average sleeper of 180lbs.
    If you want a softer feel or if you are a side sleeper you can opt for 3-4 firmness range. These are soft orplush options.
  • Average (150-200 pounds)– Like with the previous category you can choose industrystandard of 5-7, providing perfect support and comfort.
    Some sleepers will want to opt for more softer beds, and that’s perfectly fine, just go with 3-5 range if you sleep on your side and you are all set.
  • Heavier Person (200+ pounds)– Heavier people can cause more pressure points on their back, and ideally you want to choose a firmer option to adjust for sinkage. If you are having problems with cooling, you ought to consider coil mattresses.
    Ideally, choose a thick (12”) or thicker bed. This will provide good support and soft feel.

How to Select the Right Mattress for You – Summary

Hopefully, you have finished reading the above but even if you haven’t these five steps will ease your task of choosing a mattress for you or your family.

  1. Do you need a new mattress?– If your current bed is over eight years old, I’d consider replacing it no matter what. If you are having trouble sleeping or experiencing back or neck pain I would start searching.
  2. What is your current budget?– Don’t go with the cheapest option you find. Aim for $700-1200 range for a standard queen size bed (see top options). Of course, if you are buying smaller ones for your kid or teenager, the price will be considerably lower. Don’t spend less than $400 though. The quality drop-off is huge.
  3. What are your ideal type and material?– This is hands down the biggest challenge. Memory foam offers good contour and hug but sleeps hot. Traditional coil ones provide good bounce and cooling and are generally more durable. I recommend foam or hybrid to most people except for heavier sleepers who should opt for innerspring.
  4. What’s your preferred sleeping position?– This determines your ideal firmness level. On a scale of 1-10 (one being soft and ten being very firm), back sleepers will want to opt for a medium firm (4-7), side sleepers for more softer option (3-5) and stomach sleepers will need more support to avoid sinking (6-7 range).
  5. What’s your body type and weight?– Lighter sleepers (150lbs or less) will want a 1-2 points softer mattress to get the same feel like an average (180lbs) person. On the other hand, if you are a heavier person you will need more support and thicker mattress to support the weight.

Author: Sleep Advisor

Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.

Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.

Mattress Firmness: Understanding and Choosing a Comfort Level

Firmness is one of the most important considerations for mattress buyers. The right firmness setting can provide a comfortable sleep experience and alleviate pressure points in the back, hips, and other sensitive areas of the sleeper’s body. The wrong firmness setting, on the other hand, can cause nightly discomfort and lead to more aches and pains. This guide will discuss the different mattress firmness settings and how these settings impact sleep quality.

What Is Mattress Firmness?

When discussing mattresses, ‘firmness’ refers to how soft or firm the bed feels to individual sleepers. Firmness is directly tied to the topmost comfort layers of the mattress. These layers – often made from materials like polyfoam, memory foam, and latex – are designed to cushion the sleeper and act provide a buffer for the firmer, denser materials found in the bed’s support core. The firmness setting indicates (among other things) how closely the mattress will conform to the sleeper’s body.

Another important mattress factor, support, is often confused with firmness. Support refers to the bed’s ability to provide a flat, even surface that minimizes pressure points and keeps the spine aligned. While the comfort layers impact firmness, the bed’s bottom layers – known as the support core – play the biggest role in a bed’s supportive qualities.

Additionally, conforming ability is distinct from firmness. Conforming ability refers to how consistently the mattress contours to the sleeper’s body without sagging under the shoulders, midsection, and other heavy areas. Ultimately, a mattress shopper should take firmness, support, and conforming ability into account before deciding which model is best for them.

It’s important to note that firmness preferences are completely subjective. A mattress that offers ideal comfort and support for one sleeper may feel uncomfortable and uneven to another. This is because certain factors – such as the sleeper’s weight, body type, and preferred sleep position – often indicate which firmness setting is best.

Mattress firmness is also loosely tied to other performance variables, such as the bed’s durability, temperature neutrality, and odor potential. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the different firmness settings for mattresses made today.

The Mattress Firmness Scale

When evaluating firmness, Tuck Sleep’s product analysts rely on a 1-10 scale. The scale breaks down as follows:

Firmness Scale RatingCorresponding FeelMattress Characteristics
1‘Extra Soft’The sleep surface will sink very deeply and conform closely
2-3‘Soft’The sleep surface sinks and conforms to a significant extent
4‘Medium Soft’The surface sinks somewhat and conforms fairly closely
5‘Medium’The surface does not sink much and will conform to a noticeable extent
6‘Medium Firm’The surface sinks very little and conforms to a moderate extent
7-8‘Firm’The surface remains even with little to no sinking; conforming is minimal
9-10‘Extra Firm’No sinkage and little to no conforming

Although we have tested mattresses that fit each setting category, the vast majority of beds sold today fall between a 3 and an 8 on the 1-10 scale. Now, let’s take a closer look at each setting’s specific characteristics.

‘Very Soft’ and ‘Soft’ (1-3)

Softer mattresses with ratings from 1-3 usually perform as follows:

  • Support:Softer mattresses offer good support for people who weigh less than 130 pounds – particularly side sleepers who want to improve their spinal alignment. Heavier people often find softer beds provide inadequate support and sag excessively.
  • Conforming ability:Soft mattresses conform very closely to the sleeper’s body – too closely for some. Expect a tight, body-hugging sensation.
  • Lifespan:Softer mattress materials tend to deteriorate more quickly. As a result, mattresses with exceptionally soft comfort layers typically have shorter lifespans than those with firmer layers.
  • Price:Many mattresses are ‘Extra Soft’ or ‘Soft’ because they are constructed with several comfort layers, including memory foam and latex components. These materials can drive up the price-point by a considerable margin. Softer mattresses tend to be more expensive for this reason.

‘Medium Soft’, ‘Medium’, and ‘Medium Firm’ (4-6)

Mattresses with firmness ratings of 4, 5, or 6 usually perform as follows:

  • Support:Mattresses with moderate firmness settings offer stable, adequate support without sacrificing surface comfort. This makes them ideal for people who weigh 130 to 230 pounds and sleep in any position.
  • Conforming ability:‘Medium Soft’ to ‘Medium Firm’ mattresses provide a balance of cushioning and support, resulting in moderate but consistent body contouring.
  • Lifespan:In terms of longevity, these mattresses tend to outlast softer models but are not as durable as ‘Firm’ or ‘Extra Firm’ beds.
  • Price:‘Medium Soft’ to ‘Medium Firm’ mattresses tend to have fewer cushioning layers than their softer, more expensive counterparts. Price-points for these beds are on par with industry averages.

‘Firm’ and ‘Extra Firm’ (7-10)

Firmer mattresses with firmness ratings ranging from 7 to 10 usually perform as follows:

  • Support:‘Firm’ and ‘Extra Firm’ mattresses sink very little, if at all. This makes them suitable for people who weigh more than 230 pounds – particularly back and stomach sleepers who need a flat, even surface for good spinal alignment.
  • Conforming ability:Firmer mattresses usually have thinner comfort layers that conform to a minimal extent. While this is often ideal for heavier people, those weighing less than 230 pounds may find that the bed doesn’t conform closely enough to alleviate discomfort and align their spine.
  • Lifespan:Firmer mattresses have the longest lifespans because the materials are denser and more resistant to indentations, sagging, and other forms of wear and tear.
  • Price:Because they lack the padding materials that often increase price-points, ‘Firm’ and ‘Extra Firm’ mattresses tend to be cheaper than their softer counterparts.

What Is ‘Universal Comfort’?

Some mattress brands advertise ‘universal comfort,’ suggesting that their beds will be equally comfortable and supportive for all sleepers. These assurances are questionable at best, since individual factors like body type and preferred sleep position play a major role in a person’s firmness preferences.

Based on our product research and evaluations, we’ve found that mattresses with certain firmness settings receive more favorable owner reviews than others. Specifically, mattresses that are considered ‘Medium’ (5), ‘Medium Firm’ (6), and ‘Firm’ (7) have generated the most positive ratings. However, owner satisfaction is not exclusively tied to firmness and these reviews may take additional factors into account.

Bottom line: always take claims of ‘universal comfort’ with a grain of salt.

How to Choose the Right Mattress Firmness

In this section, we’ll discuss how customers can choose a mattress firmness setting based on different personal and performance factors.

Choosing Firmness Based on Weight and Body Type

Generally speaking, sleepers fall into one of three categories based on body weight. The table below breaks down the optimal settings for most sleepers in the light weight, average weight, and heavy weight groups.

Weight GroupWeight RangeTypical Firmness PreferencesIdeal Firmness Settings for Most
LightLess than 130 lbs.This weight group tends to prefer softer mattresses that conform very closely
  • ‘Soft’ (2-3)
  • ‘Medium Soft (4)
  • ‘Medium’ (5)
  • Average130 to 230 lbs.This weight group often prefers beds that offer a balance of soft padding and firm support
  • ‘Medium Soft (4)
  • ‘Medium’ (5)
  • ‘Medium Firm (6)
  • HeavyMore than 230 lbs.This weight group usually prefers firmer beds with strong support and minimal conforming
  • ‘Medium Firm (6)
  • ‘Firm’ (7-8)
  • ‘Extra Firm’ (9-10)
  • Mattress thickness is another variable associated with sleeper weight. Lighter people usually feel most comfortable on thinner mattresses because they are easier for getting in and out of bed. Heavier people, on the other hand, often find that thicker mattresses offer better support.

    In addition to weight, body type is an important factor when deciding which firmness setting is best. For example, people with exceptionally broad shoulders and/or hips often prefer mattresses with ‘Medium’ to ‘Medium Firm’ settings. Alternatively, people with larger waists typically prefer ‘Medium Firm’ or firmer settings.

    Choosing Firmness Based on Sleep Position

    At Tuck Sleep, we categorize sleepers by four different positions: side, back, stomach, or a combination of two or more. Each of these positions has different characteristics and comfort needs.

    Side sleepingis the most common sleep position, and is also considered the healthiest. Side sleepers usually need a mattress with a soft surface that conforms to the shoulders and hips. This ensures proper spinal alignment; excessively firm mattresses cause the spine to become uneven, and can lead to added aches and pains. Depending on their weight, most side sleepers find that a firmness setting ranging from ‘Soft’ (2) to ‘Firm’ (7) is best.

    Back sleepingis the second most common sleep position. The spine is naturally aligned, so most back sleepers prefer mattresses that maintain an even, sag-free surface. This prevents heavier areas of their body from sinking further than lighter areas. However, excessive firmness can also be problematic because it causes the body to arch upward. For these reasons, the optimal firmness setting for back sleepers usually falls between ‘Soft’ (3) and ‘Firm’ (8).

    Stomach sleepingis the least common sleep position; many experts advise against it because stomach sleepers often develop pains in their neck and shoulders due to the position of the head. Like back sleeping, stomach sleeping offers natural spinal alignment. However, because many heavier individuals carry significant weight in their midsection, softer mattresses tend to sink deeply beneath their bodies, resulting in uneven support. This is less of an issue for lighter individuals. As a result, the ideal firmness for most stomach sleepers falls between ‘Soft’ (3) and ‘Firm’ (8)

    Combination sleepinginvolves a mix of side, back, and/or stomach sleeping, often each night. Combination sleepers often have a hard time selecting the right firmness because their preferences vary by position. For this reason, we recommend moderate firmness settings for combination sleepers; ‘Medium Soft’ (4) to ‘Medium Firm’ (6) will be suitable for most.

    The following table summarizes our findings about firmness preferences in relation to sleeper weight and position.

    Sleep PositionIdeal Firmness for Light Sleepers (Less than 130 lbs.)Ideal Firmness for Average Sleepers (130 to 230 lbs.)Ideal Firmness for Heavy Sleepers (More than 230 lbs.)
    Side‘Soft’ (2) to ‘Medium Soft’ (4)‘Soft’ (3) to ‘Medium Soft’ (4)‘Medium’ (5) to ‘Firm’ (7)
    Back‘Soft’ (3) to ‘Medium’ (5)‘Medium’ (5) to ‘Firm’ (7)‘Medium Firm’ (6) to ‘Firm’ (8)
    Stomach‘Soft’ (3) to ‘Medium’ (5)‘Medium’ (5) to ‘Firm’ (7)‘Medium Firm’ (6) to ‘Firm’ (8)
    Combination‘Soft’ (3) to ‘Medium Soft’ (4)‘Medium Soft’ (4) to ‘Medium Firm’ (6)‘Medium’ (5) to ‘Firm’ (7)

    Firmness and Sex

    When shopping for a new mattress, couples should take ‘responsiveness’ into account. Responsiveness refers to how much or little the bed ‘responds’ to a sleeper’s body. Highly responsive mattresses are quite bouncy, and considered best for sex; less responsive mattresses tend to sink too much, which can create a sensation some couples liken to fighting with the mattress.

    In addition to firmness, couples should look at other factors when choosing a mattress for sex. For example, material construction is key; beds with thick comfort layers and foam bases do not offer the same responsiveness as mattresses with thinner comfort layers and coil-based support cores. Noise potential is also important, since silent mattresses are better for discreet sex than noisy ones.

    Although firmness does not necessarily indicate how responsive a mattress will be, the following characteristics have been noted about different firmness settings.

    Firmness RangeCharacteristicsGood for Sex Rating
    ‘Extra Soft’ to ‘Soft’ (1-3)Softer mattresses tend to be the least responsive. Couples are likely to sink during sex.Poor to Fair
    ‘Medium Soft’ to ‘Medium Firm’ (4-6)Mattresses with moderate firmness settings offer good responsiveness without compromising comfort or supportGood to Very Good
    ‘Firm’ to ‘Extra Firm’ (7-10)Firmer mattresses are usually very responsive – sometimes too responsive. Firm surfaces may cause discomfort for couples during sex, depending on their positionFair to Good

    Firmness and Pillow Loft

    Optimal mattress firmness is often tied to pillow loft, or thickness. Pillows fall into one of three general categories: low-loft (less than 3?), medium-loft (3? to 5?), and high-loft (more than 5?).

    Generally, high-loft pillows are more suitable for firmer beds because the sleeper does not sink as deeply; the pillow provides comfortable padding without compromising support and spinal alignment. Alternatively, lower-loft pillows are better for softer beds because sleepers sink so deeply; when used with softer beds, high-loft pillows can elevate the sleeper’s neck too much and cause added discomfort.

    One thing to note: a pillow’s material composition may determine how much it sinks beneath the sleeper’s head and neck, which in turn affects the loft. Some pillow materials – such as down/feathers, down alternative, and polyester – sink to a noticeable degree; others – such as memory foam, latex, and buckwheat – do not sink as much.

    The right combination of firmness and loft can provide an even sleep surface and minimize aches and pains in the sleeper’s neck, shoulders, and other areas. The wrong combination can exacerbate discomfort issues. The next table looks at ideal pillow loft settings for different mattress firmness levels.

    Firmness RangeRating for Low-Loft Pillows (Less than 3")Rating for Medium-Loft Pillows (3" to 5")Rating for High-Loft Pillows (More than 5")
    ‘Extra Soft’ to ‘Soft’ (1-3)Good to Very GoodFair to GoodPoor
    ‘Medium Soft’ to ‘Medium Firm’ (4-6)Fair to GoodGood to Very GoodFair to Good
    ‘Firm’ to ‘Extra Firm’ (7-10)PoorFair to GoodGood to Very Good

    Other Firmness Factors

    In addition to body weight, sleep position, and the other variables discussed above, mattress firmness is also linked to the following factors.

    • Durability:Thicker mattresses with softer comfort layers are more susceptible to early deterioration because indentations and sagging are likely to develop, which compromises support and causes aches and pains. Firmer mattresses have longer projected lifespans as a result.
    • Temperature Neutrality:Many softer mattress layers are made of polyfoam, memory foam, latex, and other materials that absorb and trap body heat, causing them to sleep uncomfortably warm for some. Sinking deeply into a mattress can also disrupt airflow along the sleep surface. Mattresses with firmer layers that sink to a minimal extent are considered the best for temperature neutrality.
    • Odor Potential:Most mattresses emit off-gassing odor when new. However, beds with high concentrations of polyfoam and/or memory foam tend to produce the strongest, most persistent smells. Because softer mattresses usually have more foam layers than firmer ones, they tend to have a higher potential for unpleasant odor.
    • Mattress Weight:Because softer mattresses tend to be thicker, most are also heavier than average. This is especially true of hybrids and other beds with latex and/or coil layers.
    • Price:Firmer mattresses tend to have fewer layers and less padding from memory foam, latex, and other ‘luxury’ materials. As a result, they are often priced lower than softer beds.

    The table below summarizes all of the performance factors listed above for different firmness levels.

    Rating Criteria‘Extra Soft’ (1)‘Soft’ (2-3)‘Medium Soft’ (4)‘Medium’ (5)‘Medium Firm’ (6)‘Firm’ (7-8)‘Extra Firm’ (9-10)
    ConformingVery CloseCloseSomewhat CloseModerateModerateMinimalVery Minimal
    Side SleepersFair to GoodGood to Very GoodVery GoodVery GoodGoodFair to GoodFair to Poor
    Back SleepersPoor to FairFair to GoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodGoodFair to Good
    Stomach SleepersPoor to FairFairGoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodFair to Good
    Lightweight Sleepers (Less than 130 lbs.)GoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodGoodFair to GoodFairPoor to Fair
    Average Weight Sleepers (130 to 230 lbs.)FairFair to GoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodGoodFair
    Heavyweight Sleepers (More than 230 lbs.)PoorPoor to FairFairGoodGood to Very GoodVery GoodGood to Very Good
    SexPoorPoor to FairFair to GoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodFairPoor
    Ideal Pillow LoftLow (Less than 3")Low (Less than 3")Medium (3? to 5?)Medium (3? to 5?)Medium (3? to 5?)High (More than 5")High (More than 5")
    DurabilityPoorFairGoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodVery GoodVery Good
    Temperature NeutralityPoorPoor to FairFair to GoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodVery GoodVery Good
    Odor PotentialPoorPoor to FairGoodGood to Very GoodGood to Very GoodVery GoodVery Good
    Ease of Lifting/RotatingPoorPoor to FairFair to GoodGoodGood to Very GoodVery GoodVery Good
    AvailabilityRareSomewhat CommonVery CommonVery CommonVery CommonVery CommonRare
    Average Price-Point$$$$$$$$$

    Multiple Firmness Designs

    So far, we’ve focused on mattresses with one fixed firmness setting. However, today’s shoppers can also choose from beds with multiple firmness options. These include:

    • Flippable beds:A flippable mattress is designed with two comfort layers – one on each side – and a shared support core. Most flippable beds have a different firmness setting on each side; to change how the bed feels, simply rotate it to the other side. Flippable mattresses are ideal for sleepers whose firmness preferences fluctuate from night to night.
    • Dual-firmness settings:A number of mattress manufacturers offer single-sided mattresses with dual-firmness settings for couples. This means each side of the sleep surface has a different firmness level. Dual-firmness is optimal for couples/sleep partners with different firmness preferences. Please note most dual-firmness beds are only available for sizes Queen and larger.
    • Adjustable firmness:A small selection of mattresses – mostly airbeds and ‘smart’ beds – allow owners to adjust the firmness setting using manual, remote, and/or app-based controls. Typically, the mattress will offer a firmness range, such as ‘Soft’ to ‘Medium Firm.’ These mattresses can be very beneficial for sleepers with fluctuating firmness preferences, but most carry steep price-tags.

    Lastly, mattress toppers can be useful for sleepers who are dissatisfied with their bed’s firmness settings. A topper is an individual layer of cushioning – usually 2? to 4? thick – that is placed on top of the mattress to make the surface feel softer or firmer. Toppers are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of buying a new bed. A wide range of materials are used to make toppers, including convoluted polyfoam, memory foam, latex, wool, and feathers.

    Testing out a Mattress

    Though many mattress buyers purchase their bed at brick-and-mortar stores, online ‘bed-in-a-box’ brands have become hugely popular in recent years. Because most online brands do not operate any physical locations, they face lower overhead costs and can sell mattresses at much lower price-points than their brick-and-mortar competitors. However, this means customers probably will not be able to test out the mattress before buying one.

    This is where sleep trials come in handy. Most brands allow customers to essentially test out the mattress for a certain length of time; though trial periods vary by brand, most fall between 90 and 120 nights. If the customer is dissatisfied before the trial expires, then he/she may return the mattress for a full refund. Some trials also allow exchanges, and in most cases the manufacturer will arrange for the bed to be picked up at no extra charge to the customer.

    We urge mattress shoppers to take advantage of sleep trials in order to determine if a bed has the right firmness – but be sure to read the fine print because some brands level steep return fees.

    Brick-and-mortar shoppers have an easier time testing out mattresses for firmness because most stores have a wide selection of floor models. However, prices tend to be higher at these locations due to the substantial overhead expenses. Many customers find that visiting a brick-and-mortar store to test out mattress firmness is beneficial, whether they plan to buy a bed at the store or through an online seller.

    One thing to note: most mattress warranties explicitly state that changes to the owner’s firmness preferences are not considered mattress defects. As a result, the warranty prohibits mattress repairs or replacements based on this issue. Customers who become dissatisfied with their bed’s firmness after the sleep trial has expired usually cannot receive a refund or replacement mattress under their warranty.

    Firmness FAQs

    Lastly, let’s answer some common buyer questions regarding mattress firmness:

    Does firmness affect mattress support?

    Firmness describes how the mattress feels, while support refers to the bed’s ability (or lack thereof) to provide an even sleep surface. Firmness does not necessarily affect firmness, but certain sleepers will experience more or less support based on how firm or soft the mattress feels.

    For example, someone who sleeps on their back and weighs more than 230 pounds may find that a ‘Soft’ (2-3) mattress provides uneven support because it sags excessively beneath their body. A side sleeper weighing less than 130 pounds may find that the same bed offers optimal support levels.

    Who is best suited to a softer mattress?

    Generally speaking, side sleepers who weigh less than 130 pounds are best suited for ‘Extra Soft’ or ‘Soft’ mattresses. People who weigh more than 130 pounds may experience excessive sagging, while soft surfaces also cause alignment issues for many back and stomach sleepers.

    Who is best suited to a medium-firmness mattress?

    Mattresses ranging from ‘Medium Soft’ (4) to ‘Medium Firm’ (6) are often the best option for sleepers weighing between 130 and 230 pounds. Side sleepers in this weight group gravitate toward softer settings, while back and stomach sleepers in the same group often prefer firmer beds.

    Who is best suited to a firmer mattress?

    Typically, people who weigh more than 230 pounds are best suited for firmer beds. Softer mattresses sag too much, which compromises the bed’s structural support and often causes aches and pains to develop. Side sleepers may find that firmer beds do not align their spines enough, but back and stomach sleepers usually prefer firmer surfaces.

    What if my firmness preferences fluctuate from night to night?

    If your ideal firmness varies, then you might be a good candidate for a flippable mattress with different firmness settings on each side. Those with bigger budgets may also opt for an adjustable airbed or smart bed. Lastly, mattress toppers can adjust the firmness of a mattress to a noticeable extent; using one periodically might be a cost-effective way for sleepers to change the firmness of their mattress.

    What is the best option for couples with differing firmness preferences?

    Many couples prefer different firmness settings. A dual-firmness bed can be useful for these sleepers because it features a different setting on each side of the bed.

    How can I test out a mattress before buying one?

    If ordering a mattress from an online brand with no brick-and-mortar locations, see if a sleep trial is available – and also read the fine print to avoid extra fees down the road. Most sleep trials allow customers to test out the bed for at least 90 nights, which is more than enough time for the bed to adapt to the sleeper’s body.

    Testing out mattresses is much easier for brick-and-mortar shoppers: simply visit the nearest store and ask to test out beds with different settings.

    Can I return a mattress that feels too soft or too firm?

    Most brands allow customers to return their mattress for any reason during the sleep trial. However, once the sleep trial ends, most warranties state that changes to the owner’s firmness preferences are not considered defects, and do not qualify for mattress repairs or replacements.

    Do any mattresses actually offer ‘universal comfort’?

    Short answer: no. Firmness preferences are entirely subjective and based on a wide range of factors. A bed with ideal firmness settings for one sleeper may feel uneven and uncomfortable to another. By using the criteria we’ve described above and testing out a wide range of firmness options, shoppers can determine which mattress setting is best for them.

    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 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.

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