Do I Need a Soft or Firm Mattress?
Whether you need a ‘soft’ or ‘firm’ mattress will ultimately depend on your body, budget, and personal preferences. The right firmness level for a given sleeper varies by height, weight, and sleep position.
Additionally, mattress firmness is often linked to pricing and performance factors like durability and pressure relief. Due to the wide range of mattresses sold today, multiple firmness options are available for memory foam and latex beds, innersprings, hybrids and other common mattress types.
Read on to learn more about finding a mattress with the right firmness level for you and your sleep partner.
Why Is Firmness Important?
A mattress with the right firmness level will provide adequate support and alleviate pressure points throughout the sleeper’s body. Mattresses that feel too firm or not firm enough can create joint discomfort, back and shoulder pain, and exacerbate pressure points.
How soft or firm a mattress feels will largely depend on how the comfort layer (or comfort system) is constructed, as well as its overall thickness. The comfort layer is defined as the body-cushioning system that forms the topmost part of the mattress, and its composition will determine how closely the mattress conforms to a sleeper’s body. Common comfort layer components include polyfoam, memory foam, latex, and/or steel microcoils, as well as the mattress cover. Some mattresses have a single-layer comfort system, while others may have as many as four or five individual layers in the comfort system.
Other factors can be used to evaluate firmness in different mattress types. In innerspring mattresses, the gauge (or thickness) of steel coil and other metal components can affect overall firmness. In mattresses made entirely of foam and/or latex, firmness may be linked to a measurement known as indentation load deflection (or ILD). ILD refers to how much weight is needed to indent a sleep surface by 25%; mattresses with low ILD ratings are not as firm and require less weight for indentation, while mattresses with high ILD ratings are firmer and require more weight.
Due to the wide range of firmness preferences among individual sleepers, many mattress manufacturers offer models with multiple firmness options. Additionally, some mattresses are available in ‘dual firmness’ or ‘split firmness’ designs that feature different firmness settings on both sides of the top surface; these models are geared toward couples with differing firmness preferences. Other ‘flippable’ models feature different firmness settings on both the top and bottom surfaces, and they can be rotated whenever the owner wants to change the firmness.
Firmness vs. Support
Firmness is tied to bodily support, although it’s important to differentiate between these two terms: firmness refers to how a mattress feels as soon as a sleeper lies down, whereas support refers to how well a mattress maintains an even and sag-free surface, aligns the sleeper’s spine, and relieves pressure throughout the night.
That being said, mattresses that are too soft or too firm may lack proper support for certain sleepers. Excessively soft mattresses often sink excessively, which can compromise support for heavier individuals. These beds may also create discomfort for those who sleep on their back or stomach, since both of these positions require flat surfaces for good spinal alignment.
Alternatively, many lighter individuals find that excessively firm mattresses do not conform closely enough; as a result, they do not experience as much pain and pressure relief as heavier people. Side sleepers also tend to prefer mattresses that are less firm; this position often requires surfaces that conform closely to align the spine and alleviate related aches and pains as they develop.
In addition to firmness, sagging and indentations in the sleep surface can also negatively impact mattress support. Minor indentations of 5 inches or less may not affect how the mattress feels, but deeper sagging can cause pressure points to develop in affected areas of the sleeper’s body. Generally, mattresses built with high-density foam, Dunlop latex, or coil support cores withstand sagging and indentations to the most noticeable extent.
How Is Firmness Measured?
At Tuck.com, we rate mattresses using the following 1-10 firmness scale:
- 1 (Extra Soft):An extremely plush sleep surface that sinks deeply beneath a sleeper’s body.
- 2-3 (Soft):A very plush surface that conforms closely and sinks somewhat deeply.
- 4 (Medium Soft):A plush surface with adequate conforming and minimal sinking.
- 5 (Medium):An even balance of firmness and conforming with little sinking.
- 6 (Medium Firm):A low-conforming surface with very little (if any) sinking.
- 7-8 (Firm):A sufficiently firm surface that conforms to a degree without any sinking.
- 9-10 (Extra Firm):An extremely hard surface with no conforming or sinking.
It’s important to note that mattresses with firmness settings of ‘1’, ‘9’, or ’10’ are quite rare because the vast majority of sleepers prefer surfaces with firmness settings of 2 to 8. As a result, most mattresses sold today fall between ‘Soft‘ and ‘Firm.’
Firmness and Sleeper Type
Body weight and sleep position are arguably the two most important factors for determining the right mattress firmness.
People with below-average weights generally feel more on mattress with lower firmness settings; if the mattress is too firm, then they may not weigh enough to feel any conforming or pressure relief. On the other hand, people who weigh more than 230 pounds may experience uncomfortable sinking on mattresses with low firmness settings.
Sleep position is key because it determines which areas of the body need more cushioning and support.
- Back sleepers require more spinal and lower back support to maintain proper spinal alignment and prevent pain and discomfort from developing.
- Side sleepers have vulnerable pressure points at the shoulders and hips, and also require neck support for proper spinal alignment.
- Stomach sleepers generally need firmer mattresses to adequately support their hips and prevent uncomfortable sinking; most physicians do not recommend stomach sleeping due to the high risk of discomfort and pressure.
As a result, a side sleeping individual who weighs 150 pounds will react quite differently to the feel of a mattress than a back or stomach sleeper who weighs 300 pounds. Additional factors include the sleeper’s shoulder, waist, and hip measurements.
Using customer reports and product analysis data, the table below features the most popular firmness setting for individuals with different weights and sleep positions. Please note that this table reflects general findings; mattress firmness preferences are highly subjective, and we strongly urge all buyers to test out multiple firmness settings before buying a new mattress.
|Weight Group||Sleep Position||Optimal Firmness Range|
|Lighter than average|
(Less than 130 lbs.)
|Side||Medium Soft to Medium|
|Back||Medium Soft to Medium Firm|
|Stomach||Medium Soft to Medium Firm|
(130 to 230 lbs.)
|Side||Medium Soft to Medium|
|Back||Medium to Firm|
|Stomach||Medium to Medium Firm|
|Heavier than average|
(More than 230 lbs.)
|Side||Medium to Medium Firm|
|Back||Medium Firm to Firm|
|Stomach||Medium Firm to Firm|
Firmness and Mattress Price
Although mattress price-points vary from brand to brand, models with low firmness settings (1 to 3) tend to be the most expensive due to extra padding layers that make the comfort system feel exceptionally soft.
Additionally, high-end materials like Talalay latex and gel memory foam tend to produce comfort systems with the softest settings. Alternatively, firmer mattresses feature less padding and are usually cheaper by comparison.
Firmness and Mattress Performance
The firmness setting may be used to determine how a mattress will perform in the long run. Performance factors tied to mattress firmness include the following:
- Durability:Mattresses with low firmness settings – particularly innersprings – tend to be the least durable due to premature sagging and indentations in their relatively soft sleep surfaces. Firmer mattresses are less susceptible to this type of degradation, and their average lifespan is significantly longer.
- Pain/pressure relief:Mattresses with mid-level firmness settings (4 to 6) tend to alleviate the most bodily pain and pressure, since they are designed to offer a balance of comfort and support. Models that are too firm or not firm enough provide less pain and pressure relief by comparison.
- Smell:Off-gassing odor is an issue for most mattresses, but mattresses with low firmness settings (1 to 3) tend to produce stronger, longer-lasting smells because they have thicker foam layers; off-gassing is a major complaint among foam mattress owners. Firmer mattresses, on the other hand, generally contain lower amounts of foam and, as a result, produce less odor.
- Temperature neutrality:Medium Firm and Firm mattresses typically retain less body heat and sleep somewhat cool as a result, while mattresses with lower firmness settings usually sleep warmer. However, temperature neutrality is more closely linked to mattress type; innersprings and hybrids tend to retain less body heat than foam and latex models.
- Sex:Mattresses with mid-level firmness settings tend to be best for sex because they are sufficiently responsive without causing too much sinkage. Firmer mattresses are usually responsive enough for sex, as well. Mattresses with lower firmness settings may also be responsive but sinkage is an issue for some.
- Ease of moving:Mattresses with low firmness settings are usually heavier, and need to be rotated more often, than mattresses with higher firmness settings.
The table below features a summary of pricing and performance expectations for mattresses with different firmness settings:
|Firmness Range||Extra Soft to Soft (1-3)||Medium Soft to Medium Firm (4-6)||Firm to Extra Firm (7-10)|
|Price||Most expensive||Affordable||Most affordable|
|Durability||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
|Pain/pressure relief||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good||Poor to Fair|
|Odor potential||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
|Temperature neutrality||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
|Sex||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good||Good to Very Good|
|Ease of moving||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
Firmness and Pillow Loft
Pillows play an important role in mattress firmness preferences. Pillow loft, or pillow thickness, can greatly affect the feel of a mattress. The thickness of a pillow is measured using the term ‘loft’. Low-loft pillows measure less than 3 inches thick, medium-loft pillows measure 3 to 5 inches thick, and high-loft pillows measure more than 5 inches thick. A good rule-of-thumb when choosing pillows for a mattress: the lower the firmness setting, the lower the pillow loft.
The table below features a detailed breakdown of the optimal pillow loft for different firmness settings:
|Firmness Range||Low-Loft Pillow Rating||Medium-Loft Pillow Rating||High-Loft Pillow Rating|
|Extra Soft to Soft (1-3)||Very Good||Fair to Good||Poor|
|Medium Soft to Medium Firm (4-6)||Fair to Good||Very Good||Fair to Good|
|Firm to Extra Firm (7-10)||Poor||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
Mattress Buying Tips
Many mattress manufacturers list a firmness setting with different models. If this information is not available online for a particular model and you are unable to test out the mattress in person, we strongly recommend reaching out to that company’s customer service division to inquire about its firmness level.
Many online-only mattress brands offer sleep trials for new customers. These trials are typically 30 to 90 nights in length; customers have the option of returning their mattress for a full or partial refund before the trial period ends. In some cases, customers may be able to exchange their mattress for a different model — but it is important to read the fine print, since some brands do not allow customers to exchange their mattress for a model with a different firmness level.
Additionally, most companies will not honor warranty claims for customers who are dissatisfied with the firmness level of their mattress, or whose comfort preferences have changed since they made their original purchase. Unless the mattress shows another type of defect covered under the warranty (such as deep indentations or protruding wires), mattress owners will likely be unable to replace their mattress for a model with a different firmness setting.
Mattress Firmness Checklist
Before purchasing a mattress, here are a few firmness-oriented considerations to make:
- What is your mattress budget?Mattresses with low firmness ratings tend to be more expensive than those with higher firmness ratings.
- What is your weight?People who weigh less than 130 pounds usually feel more comfortable on ‘Soft’ or ‘Medium’ mattresses, while those who weigh more than 230 pounds often prefer higher firmness ratings. People who fall in the middle, fittingly, tend to prefer ‘Medium Soft’ to ‘Medium Firm’ surfaces.
- What is your preferred sleep position?Generally speaking, side-sleepers are more comfortable on mattresses with lower firmness ratings, while back- and stomach-sleepers prefer mattresses with higher firmness ratings.
- Do you have chronic back pain or constant pressure/discomfort?If the answer is yes, then you may feel most comfortable on mattresses with mid-level firmness ratings.
- Is off-gassing a major issue?People who are sensitive to strong smells may prefer firmer mattresses, since they produce less off-gassing odor compared to mattresses with lower firmness ratings.
- Do you sleep hot?Mattresses with ‘Medium’ or ‘Firm’ ratings typically retain less body heat than those with ‘Soft’ ratings, and sleep cooler as a result.
- Do you plan to use the mattress for sex?Mattresses with lower firmness ratings tend to be more responsive – and thus, better for sex – than those with higher firmness ratings.
- Do you plan to move/rotate the mattress on your own?Mattresses with lower firmness ratings tend to be heavier (due to additional padding layers) than firmer mattresses. Additionally, less firm mattresses need to be rotated more often on average.
- What type of pillows do you own?Low-loft pillows are best paired with mattresses that are less firm, while high-loft mattresses go with firmer mattresses. If you do not own pillows with the right loft level, then you may need to purchase new ones in order to feel comfortable.
- Are firmness exchanges allowed?Before committing to a specific brand, be sure to review the terms of their sleep trial and mattress warranties. In some cases, you will not be able to exchange your mattress for a model with a different firmness once the initial purchase has been made.
Lastly, we’ll answer some common additional questions regarding mattress firmness options.
How can I test out firmness before buying?
Those who visit brick-and-mattress stores can arrange to visit one of these locations and lie down on a mattress to test the firmness. However, physical stores typically have a narrower selection of beds and price-points tend to be higher due to overhead costs related to maintaining a brick-and-mortar establishment.
Many online mattress brands do not operate brick-and-mortar locations, but they offer ‘sleep trials’ that allow customers to test out a bed before committing to a full purchase. Most sleep trials begin on the date of purchase and delivery, and extend for at least 90 consecutive nights; in rare cases, the trial may span one year or longer.
If the customer is dissatisfied with their bed before the trial period expires, then they may return it for a full or partial refund (depending on the brand’s trial offer). Some companies will also arrange for the mattress to be picked up from the customer’s residence at no extra charge, while others will apply shipping and transportation fees to the total refund amount.
One thing to note: some mattress sellers impose a mandatory break-in period. This means customers must test out the mattress for a certain amount of time (typically at least 30 nights) before they qualify for a full refund on their return.
What if I have different firmness preferences than my partner?
Differing firmness preferences can be a challenge for couples, but many of today’s beds address this concern by offering multiple firmness settings. These include mattresses with dual-firmness, meaning each side of the bed has a different firmness setting.
Other mattresses are flippable, with a different firmness setting on the top and bottom surfaces. These beds may be more suitable for couples who are willing to compromise on firmness night-to-night.
For couples with different preferences who would rather not purchase a new mattress, toppers can be very useful. A mattress topper is an individual layer of cushioning that rests on top of the mattress, usually beneath the top sheet. Most toppers make the mattress feel softer but some can actually increase the firmness. Common topper materials include memory foam, latex, down/feather blends, and wool.
I bought a mattress and I don’t like the firmness level. What can I do?
First, look into the bed’s return policy. If you are dissatisfied with the firmness but 90 nights have not elapsed since the original purchase or delivery date, then you may be able to return the bed for a full refund or, in some cases, exchange it for a different model from the same brand.
If the trial period has passed, then you will most likely be unable to return the mattress for a refund. Most mattress warranties stipulate that mattress repairs or replacements are not available simply because the owner’s firmness preferences have changed; in other words, firmness preference is not considered an identifiable defect.
Those who want to change the feel of their mattress after the trial period expires can use a topper to increase or reduce their bed’s firmness. If six to seven years have passed since the mattress was purchased, then it may be time for a new bed; the average mattress will perform for about seven years before it needs to be replaced.
Are different materials firmer than others?
When evaluating mattress firmness, material composition is usually a poor indicator. A bed’s comfort layers may contain memory foam or polyfoam, latex, minicoils, wool, and other materials with firmness settings ranging anywhere from ‘Extra Soft’ to ‘Extra Firm.’ How these materials are engineered will determine how firm or soft they feel.
However, as noted above, some materials tend to be more supportive than others. For example, beds with Dunlop latex and/or coils in the support core typically maintain flat sleep surfaces with minimal sagging.
On the other hand, memory foam and polyfoam beds tend to develop sagging and indentations in the sleep surface that compromise support, regardless of how soft or firm these materials actually feel.
As a general rule, use the bed’s listed firmness setting to evaluate how it feels and avoid using the mattress materials as criteria. If the firmness setting is not listed, feel free to contact the brand’s customer service division to inquire.
I’m (X) weight and sleep in (X) position but I don’t like the firmness level your table says I’d like. What’s up with that?
Although our general mattress assessments are mostly accurate, firmness preferences are highly subjective.
Just because a sleeper has a certain weight and/or preferred position does not necessarily mean their optimal firmness setting will correspond to the majority of sleepers in their weight or position group. A lighter individual or side sleeper may prefer an ‘Extra Firm’ bed, while a heavier person or back/stomach sleeper may find a softer bed is most comfortable.
Ultimately, the most important consideration is the firmness levelyouprefer, regardless of body type of sleep position. The best way to decide is to test out as many different firmness settings as possible.
Ways to Firm Up Your Old Mattress
Ways to Firm Up Your Old Mattress
- 1 Make a Mattress Firmer With a Bed Board
- 2 Do Beds With Slats Need a Box Spring?
- 3 The Difference Between Plush and Pillow Top
- 4 Do Mattresses Have Expiration Dates?
Over time, a mattress can become uncomfortable from uneven wear. You can make your mattress more comfy by firming it up to create a more supportive, even sleeping surface. Whether you prefer an extra-hard bed or simply need to tweak a soft mattress, you’re on your way to a more restful night’s sleep when you firm up your mattress.
Add a special pad to make the mattress more comfy. A thicker mattress pad provides increased comfort and greater support over a thinner one. Choose from either a latex or memory foam pad to top your old mattress. Latex foam pads are available in a variety of thicknesses to add the firming support level you need with a soft feel. Likewise, memory foam mattress pads are available in assorted densities but conform to your body’s shape to give you support where you need it.
Place a bed board between the mattress and box springs. A bed board typically consists of a solid piece of plywood or several wooden slats tucked inside a canvas cover. You can purchase a bed board or make one yourself, but either way, the bed board should be as long and as wide as the mattress to provide complete underlying support.
Exchange existing box springs for a new replacement. Because a mattress and box springs work together as a unified shock absorber, if you don’t currently have a set of box springs, adding this foundation gives your mattress immediate firmness. Box springs are designed with strong steel coils to deliver support; the best box springs compress and slightly give when you apply pressure to them. You can add years of comfort and usefulness to a mattress with quality box springs.
Improve the firm feel of an old mattress without spending a dime. It’s important to rotate and flip your mattress at least once every six months to avoid impressions and sags from sleeping in the same spot every night. If you have a pillow-top mattress with the pillow only on one side, you can’t flip the mattress but you can rotate it 180 degrees to more evenly distribute your body weight over the top of the mattress.
How to buy the best mattress
We explain how to find the best mattress without paying thousands of pounds.
Put us to the test
Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You’ll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don’t get stuck with a Don’t Buy.
Do you want a good night’s sleep? Deciding which type of mattress to buy is only part of the story. Whether you prefer a pocket-sprung or a memory-foam mattress, our tests have found big differences between the best and worst of each mattress ‘type’.
Make the wrong choices and you risk being lumbered with a needlessly expensive mattress that’s uncomfortable, unsupportive and unable to stand the test of time without sagging and softening.
Thankfully, we’ve explained everything you need to know below to ensure you get the right mattress.
Video: how to buy the best mattress
Watch our video to help you pick the perfect mattress for your sleeping position, body shape and bedroom.
Types of mattress
Pocket-sprung, latex and memory-foam mattresses have all impressed in our tough tests, so the type of mattress you choose really comes down to personal preference and budget.
If you want a traditional mattress with natural fillings, such as wool, you’ll want a pocket-sprung mattress.
With these, each spring is enclosed in its own fabric ‘pocket’ – each reacts to pressure from your body independently. However, these can be pricey and our tests show they can sag significantly over time.
Memory-foam mattresses can be more durable and mould to your body shape but, in some cases, this can increase your body temperature and restrict your movement.
For more information about mattress types, see our guide to choosing the best type of mattress.
How much does a good mattress cost?
A new mattress can cost anywhere between £100 and several thousand. Factors such as brand, size and the types of material used can all have a significant impact on cost.
But, as the graph below shows, our mattress tests have found you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a mattress that will support your spine and last for years to come. Take a look at our list of the best cheap mattresses.
Number of Best Buy mattresses by price
What are the best mattress brands?
Our April 2018 survey of more than 5,000 mattress owners revealed that three in 10 Which? members bought their current mattress because it’s made by a brand they trust. If you’re not sure what the best mattress brands are, we can help.
Check out our guide to the best and worst mattress brands. This reveals what people think of the brand of mattress they own, including how comfortable their mattress is, and covers major brands such as Casper, Ikea, John Lewis, Sealy and Silentnight.
Soft vs firm mattresses
When it comes to firmness, the most important thing is to buy a mattress that you find comfortable.
Don’t buy a mattress that’s firmer than you’d like on the assumption that it will be more supportive. Time and again, our tests have shown you don’t have to buy a firm mattress to get excellent and long-lasting support.
Equally, don’t assume that a firm mattress in one store will feel the same in other shops. Firmness is subjective and manufacturers describe the firmness of their mattresses in a range of different ways.
That’s why we don’t use terms such as soft and firm in our reviews. Instead, we objectively test mattress firmness on a scale of one to 10, where one is the firmest and 10 the softest, so you can easily compare the firmness of different mattresses.
We also measure how supportive each mattress is for a range of different body sizes and sleeping positions.
Use our mattress reviews to arm yourself with a shortlist of supportive mattresses to try out in store.
Best mattresses: features to look out for
As mattresses serve a single basic function – to help us sleep – they don’t come overloaded with jazzy features. But there are still a few things to look out for.
- One-sidedAs the name suggests, only one side of a one-sided mattress is designed to be slept on. Mattresses can be extremely heavy – the heaviest we’ve seen weighs more than 50kg – so you may be relieved not to feel obliged to flip it. You’ll probably still need to rotate it from head to toe, though, so it’s a good idea to check the ease of use rating in our mattress reviews.
- Natural fillingsMany pocket-sprung mattresses also contain layers of synthetic fillings, such as foam. If you’re keen to avoid these, look out for mattresses specifically claim to be made using only natural materials.
- Memory foamSimilarly, just because a mattress contains memory foam doesn’t make it a memory-foam mattress. We only class a mattress as memory foam if it contains more than just a token layer of the body moulding material. See all our memory foam mattress reviews.
Try before you buy
Buying a mattress online may be cheaper and more convenient but, unless you’re buying a bed-in-a-box mattress (see below), it’s always best to try before you buy.
When we asked Which? members about their experience of buying a mattress, more than a third of them told us they feel intimidated trying out a mattress in the shop. A good mattress shop shouldn’t mind you doing this. See our guide on the best mattress shops.
When trying out a mattress in-store:
- Wear comfortable clothing and remove your outdoor gear.
- Lie on a mattress for at least 10 minutes, in positions that you normally sleep in.
- If the bed is for two, go with your partner.
- Don’t shop for beds when you’re tired, as all the mattresses will feel great.
- Don’t let sales assistants influence you – they can’t decide whether the mattress is comfortable for you.
If you’re buying a memory foam mattress, relax in one position, then move into another. Was it easy or did you struggle to move? If the latter, you might find the memory mattress will restrict your movement too much, especially in cold weather when the memory foam will be harder.
Should you buy a mattress online?
If you’re looking for a bargain mattress, one option is to try a few mattresses out in a shop, before going home to search for the best price online. That’s what 5% of Which? members did when they bought their last mattress, according to our 2018 survey of more than 5,000 mattress owners.
But around 14% bought online without trying their mattress first. That sounds risky – especially when we’ve just recommended you try a mattress before you buy – but it’s not if you buy a bed-in-a-box mattress.
These are mattresses that are bought online, vacuum-packed into a box and delivered direct to your door, and there are three reasons you should consider one:
- By cutting out the retailer and selling direct from manufacturer to consumer, many brands claim you’re getting a higher-quality mattress for less.
- Most online-only mattresses offer a sleep trial of at least 10 weeks. During this time you can try the mattress at home and send it back for a full refund if you don’t like it. In most cases, the manufacturer will collect the unwanted mattress from your house for free before recycling it or donating it to charity.
- We’re yet to test a bad one. More than half of the Best Buy mattresses we’ve uncovered can only be bought in a box.
Make sure your mattress fits your bed base
Manufacturers may encourage you to buy a mattress and bed base together, and this is a good idea if you’ve had your old base for many years.
If you buy the mattress and base separately, or are going to keep your old base, measure carefully to make sure they’re a good fit. Dimensions can vary so don’t rely on a new double mattress being exactly the same size as your old one.
Is your mattress going on to a slatted base? Then make sure that the slats are no more than 6cm wide or more than 4cm apart. This ensures sufficient ventilation, while preventing the mattress sagging through between the slats.
For more information, read our guide: What bed size do you need?
Check the guarantee/warranty on your mattress
Make sure you know what your rights are if there’s a problem with your mattress.
Most guarantees for mattresses will not cover gradual wear and tear, which leads to loss of support. So make sure you use our mattress reviews to pick out a durable mattress that will stand the test of time.
Most online-only mattresses offer a sleep trial of at least 10 weeks.
Before you buy your mattress, check whether there’s anything in particular, such as removing labels or using a base other than a recommended one, that would invalidate the guarantee.
Now you know how to go about buying the best mattress for you, check out ourbest mattressrecommendationsto reveal the mattresses that will support your spine and last for years.
Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain
In this Article
In this Article
In this Article
If you have a bad back, you should buy the firmest mattress you can find — right? Not so fast. While that used to be the common wisdom, there’s no solid research behind it. The latest thinking is that there isn’t one type of mattress that’s best for everyone, including people with chronic back pain. Let personal preference guide you, and choose what feels most comfortable.
But making the right choice can be tricky. So many products are on the market, and just because a mattress feels good when you lie down on it in a showroom doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy sleeping on it for the next several years.
Here are a few tips to guide you:
It Needs to Keep Your Spine Aligned
You may not realize it, but good posture is important when you sleep. The muscles and ligaments (tissue that holds joints together) in your back need to relax and recover while you snooze. If a mattress is too firm — or too squishy — it won’t support your spine at your neck or lower back the way it needs to. What’s firm enough (but not too firm) is different for everyone: If you have wide hips, for instance, a slightly softer surface may be better. You need some more give in order to keep your spine in alignment. Someone with narrower hips might be better off with a firmer surface.
When in Doubt, Go вЂMedium-FirmвЂ™
Research is limited, but in one study, researchers assigned new mattresses to more than 300 people with low back pain. They used either "medium-firm" or "firm" mattresses for 90 days. Those in the medium group reported the least amount of discomfort.
You might consider getting a memory foam mattress (instead of a traditional innerspring one). The foam molds to your body. The downside: Some memory foam mattresses keep in heat; and the material might have more chemicals.
Take a Longer Test-Drive
If you have a great night’s sleep and wake up pain-free after staying at a hotel or in a friend’s guest room, copy down that mattress’s model number. Or choose a mattress that comes with a money-back guarantee: A growing number of companies will let you buy a mattress and use it for anywhere from 30 to 100 days and send it back for a refund if you’re not happy with it.
Just Buy Something
When researchers from Oklahoma State University randomly assigned 62 people to sleep in a variety of new beds for 28 days, they found that almost everyone started to sleep better. That was true regardless of which model they were given, though people who slept in the cheapest beds did report more lower back pain than those in the medium- and higher-priced beds.
The most important thing seemed to be that the beds were new. They noted that the average age of the participants’ old beds was 9.5 years. And they concluded that "sleep quality may be dependent on timely replacement of bedding systems." The takeaway: If you’ve been sleeping on the same mattress for 9 or 10 years (or more), it’s time to get a new one. Almost any new replacement is going to be better than the saggy foundation of an old mattress. But it may pay to spring for at least a mid-priced model.
Pillows and Positions Matter
Even if you have the right mattress, itвЂ™s not the only thing that counts when it comes to managing your back pain as you rest. Sleep position is important, as are the kind of pillows you use and where you place them.
Cleveland Clinic: "Is Your Sleep Position Causing You Back Pain?"
Consumer Reports: "Mattress Buying Guide."
Harvard Healthbeat: "What Type of Mattress is Best for People With Low Back Pain?"
Jacobson, BH. "Grouped Comparisons of Sleep Quality for New and Personal Bedding Systems."Applied Ergonomics, 2008.
Kovacs, FM. вЂњEffect of firmness of mattress on chronic non-specific low-back pain."Lancet, November 2003.
Mayo Clinic: "Slide show: Sleeping positions that reduce back pain."
University of Utah Health Care: вЂњGood Sleeping Posture Helps Your Back."
Top 12 Tips for Buying a New Mattress
With so many mattress options to choose from, buying a new one can be overwhelming. This is especially true if you have back or neck pain—the right or wrong mattress can make the difference between spending the day feeling good or in pain.
It’s important to have a supportive mattress to ease chronic low back pain.
SeeChoosing the Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain
While choosing a mattress is ultimately a matter of personal preference, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Learn about different mattress materials.
Before you buy, familiarize yourself with the most common mattress types and how they are constructed.
- Innerspringmattresses use coils, which often provide a traditional bounce feel and strong support.
- Latex mattressestypically offer more bounce and responsiveness than innerspring mattresses, and they tend to sleep cooler.
- Memory foammattresses are designed to contour to the body, which may lead to pressure relief. Some users of memory foam report that the material sleeps warm.
- Hybridmattresses combine memory foam or latex layers atop an innerspring mattress, often with the goal of providing a mix of softness and support.
- Air mattressesuse an air pump to inflate the mattress to the desired firmness level. Typically, each side of the bed uses a separate chamber of air to accommodate two sleepers with differing preferences.
Mattresses are also rated based on firmness. In general, a mattress that is too old or too soft may not support the spine well enough.
2. See what your health care provider thinks.
If you have a back or neck condition, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about what he or she recommends. You should aim for the neck and low back to be in a neutral position while lying on the mattress. This promotes good spinal alignment. While doctors are not mattress experts, they know your medical history and may have good advice from that point of view.
3. Visit stores to test out mattresses.
Go to a mattress store and give yourself plenty of time to browse. Take off your shoes and lie down on a few different mattresses for at least 10 minutes each. Don’t worry about feeling self-conscious—this is an important purchase, so take your time.
4. Watch out for gimmicks.
While sellers will label mattresses as "orthopedic" or "medically-approved," there is no medical organization that officially certifies mattresses to carry these labels. Mattresses may have orthopedic-friendly features, but no medical group verifies these claims.
5. Be aware that firm mattresses aren’t always best.
Think twice before buying a hard or firm mattress. Some research has shown that the best mattress for low back pain is a medium firm mattress rather than a firm mattress. 1 There is a difference between firm support and firm feel. You want firm support with a comfortable feel. Comfort will be determined by your personal preference.
6. Read reviews from real customers.
Pay little attention to what mattress companies say about themselves, as they have to market their own products in a positive light. Seek out unbiased reviews from people who have purchased the mattress you are interested in. Read a mix of positive, negative, and middle-of-the-road reviews.
7. Ask for recommendations online.
Announce on your social media accounts that you are looking for a new mattress, and ask friends and family members to post their suggestions. Consider including details about your health condition, as some people might have a similar experience and can give more specific recommendations. You could also visit Spine-health’s Sleep Problems Forum and ask people who are in a similar situation as you.
8. Think about adjustable beds.
If you find you are more comfortable sitting in a recliner than lying down, try an adjustable bed. This option allows you to elevate your head and knees slightly, which may relieve lower back pressure.
9. Look for generous trial periods and return policies.
Many mattress companies have a trial period, guaranteeing free returns within a certain time frame if you are unsatisfied with their product. Make sure you read the fine print and understand all the details.
10. Check the warranty.
Before you buy, verify that there is a warranty for the mattress, in case it breaks down or is defective. Often a good mattress will have a minimum of a 10-year full replacement or non-prorated warranty.
11. Protect your investment.
Don’t forget some kind of waterproof mattress protector. Mattress stains will void your warranty, even if they have nothing to do with a future defect.
12. Remember: higher price does not always equal higher quality.
It is tempting to assume that the more you pay, the better the mattress. But a high price tag does not always guarantee high quality—and it certainly does not guarantee you will personally find the mattress comfortable. Research the materials, and let personal preference be your guide.
A mattress is an important investment that can affect the health of your spine and the quality of your sleep, so take the time to find the mattress that is right for you.