How to buy the best mattress
We explain how to find the best mattress without paying thousands of pounds.
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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.
How Firm Should A Baby Crib Mattress Be?
October 13, 2017
One of the most important considerations parents should have about their baby’s mattress is the firmness level. While it’s tempting to want baby to have a cushion-soft surface that seems cozy to us as adults, it can be dangerous if a crib mattress is soft, floppy, or saggy.
Why You Don’t Want a Soft Mattress
For starters, babies’ bones are still developing and their bodies need much more support than ours do as adults. Adults may find comfort and support from a wide range of materials and firmness levels, but for babies it’s important to remember that firmer is always better. If it feels cozy to you, it’s probably too soft for your baby.
Babies, especially newborns and young infants, lack mobility and can’t get around very well. So they have a harder time lifting themselves up and repositioning like an adult would. If they stay on their back during sleep that’s one thing, but once they start rolling onto their tummies this can present a pretty serious risk. A softer mattress that is flexible at the edges can also increase the chance that arms or legs can get stuck between the mattress and the crib.
To reduce the risk of these potential hazards, it’s best to choose a firm crib mattress with firm edges. Safety recommendations also caution parents to place babies to sleep on their backs and to keep all soft materials (bedding, toys, etc.) out of the crib environment.
How Firm Should A Crib Mattress Be?
Consumer Reports recommends that you “Press on the mattress in the center and at the edges. It should snap back readily and should not conform to the shape of your hand.” So when you’re testing crib mattress firmness, feel free to put pressure on the mattress to make sure it resists the impression of your hand. It should feel a bit firmer than you’d think is comfortable. But trust us – babies need the firmer surface and sleep just fine!
The Ideal Firmness for a Crib Mattress
At Lullaby Earth, your baby’s safety is our priority. Our crib mattresses are made with firm, flat support, as recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and also feature reinforced edges for a snug fit in the crib.
Our 2-stage or “dual firmness” crib mattresses have a firm side and a cushion firm side. When baby is around one year old you can switch to the cushion firm side for a little more cushion during the toddler years!
We do recommend you confirm with your pediatrician before flipping the mattress, since some babies may need a bit more time on the firmer infant side.
How to Choose a Mattress – 6 Step Guide
Losing sleep over choosing a new mattress? I created the following mattress guide to help make this decision process easier for you. Themost important factors involved in choosing a new mattress have been highlighted below.
Table of Contents: To read about a certain section, click on your desired number choice below:
1. How old is your mattress?
The age of your mattress plays a big role with regards to choosing a new one. As a general rule of thumb, if your mattress isover 8 years old it’s probably not a bad idea to consider getting a new one. However, this ruledoes not apply to all mattresses. There are definitely some that are able to extend beyond 8 years and still provide the same quality performance. The best way to make a judgement call falls back on your sleeping patterns.
If you’re restless, waking up in pain, not sleeping through the night, or just don’t feel well rested, it may be time to consider replacing your mattress.
2. What type of mattress do I need?
The type of mattress each person needs varies upon personal preference. With so many variations of mattress types, often times this can be the hardest choice to make. Not to worry, below I have broken down the most common mattress types to help make your research and selection a little easier.
Just like it sounds, these mattresses only consist of memory foam. Memory foam mattresses are known for theirgreat support, pressure relief, and body contouring. Historically, memory foam has had a bad reputation as “sleeping hot”. However, many newer more advanced memory foams have been designed with superior cooling properties, creating a much cooler mattress than traditional memory foams.
- Best For:Sleepers who want great hug, body shaping, contour, pressure relief, and support. There is a wide spectrum of foams classified as “memory foam” and not all memory foams are created equal. A good option for sleepers who want a more pronounced hug than many hybrid or latex mattresses offer.
- Example:Layla Mattress
Built exclusively from latex foam, these mattresses are known for their cooling properties and comfort. Latex is known for itsgreat responsiveness, comfort, bounce, and cooling.
- Best For:Sleepers who want great bounce, cooling, and responsiveness. Additionally, good for sleepers who want foam, but want to stay away from the pronounced hug and contour that often comes with memory foam mattresses.
- Example:Brooklyn Bedding mattress
One of the most popular and widely used mattress types. Coil (aka innerspring) mattresses haveone or more layers of spring coils (generally steel) that provide the support and comfort. As technology advances, the number, types, and layers of coils change. A larger number of coils typically means better comfort and support.
- Best For:Sleepers who want a more traditional coil / spring feel, great bounce, cooling, and strong edge support.
Falling into an array of categories (coil, latex, memory, hybrid, etc.), pillow-top mattresses have alayer of soft material either stuffed or sewn into the cover. This works to add extra comfort and cushion for the sleeper.
- Best For:Sleepers who prefer a softer and more cushion comfort. If you enjoy a cloud-like type of support and comfort most pillow tops will offer the best sleeping surface for you.
- Example:Saatva mattress
Constructed from a combination of latex, memory, polyurethane foams, coils, and / or other materials, these mattresses usually aredesigned to maximize certain benefits, while also minimizing certain cons. For example, a latex + memory foam hybrid is able to deliver great bounce, cooling, and responsiveness via the latex, but also provide great pressure relief and support from the memory foam.
- Best for:Sleepers who want the best of all worlds. Great bounce, support, comfort, and cooling. A good all around option that is a very good choice for the majority of sleepers.
- Example:Leesa mattress (Avena + memory foam hybrid)
As the name suggests, these beds offer the ability tochange the sleeping position of the mattress, usually by elevating the feet and inclining the back. Some of these even possess the ability to vibrate, heat, and/or massage the sleeper.
- Best For:Sleepers who have specific needs that would allow them to benefit from an adjustable foundation. These needs typically come from certain medical conditions, older sleepers, snorers, chronic lower back pain, among other scenarios.
- Example:Lineal adjustable base,note that this is just an example of an adjustable foundation, you’ll need to also purchase a mattress that is adjustable. Most foam mattresses are compatible with adjustable foundations.
3. What is your budget?
Budget varies from person-to-person. Just a couple of years ago the only real option was going in-store, which almost always meant overpaying for a mediocre mattress or offering your first born child up for a great mattress. The online mattress industry is helping to change that. With so many companies building exceptional mattresses at fair and reasonable prices,consumers are able to set a modest budget and get a great bed.
In this industry,more money does not always mean a better mattress.Retail store mattress pricing is dramatically inflated, often times with markups that range from 300-1,000%.
In almost all cases I recommend that my readers consider purchasing a mattress online first. Online mattress companies are able to remove much of the markup and offer a high quality product for about 30% of what you’d pay in-store for a similar mattress. The Tempur-pedic Flex Supreme is $2,599 for a Queen.Loom & Leaf is 58% less expensive and Layla is 64% less expensive. All 3 of these mattresses have a similar feel and built quality, the only difference is the price you ultimately pay for it.
Steps for choosing your mattress budget
- Price Doesn’t Equate Quality– Remember that the price of the mattress doesn’t always indicate its quality, especially if you are shopping in-store
- $1,000 Budget is Ideal– I recommend a starting budget of around $1,000. This price point puts you in the luxury end of the online mattress market and gives you an ample number of options
- Slightly Increase Budget for King / Cal King– If you want a King / California King you may consider increasing your budget up to $1,500. This will allow you more choices, especially for the higher end market
- Don’t Go Ultra-Cheap– Don’t spend less than $500 (Queen). Price isn’t a perfect indicator of quality, but if you’re not spending at least $500 you’re probably getting lower quality, lower durability, and higher toxicity in a mattress.
- Pay for Quality– Remember that this mattress can and should last you 8-10 years. A 10 year $1,000 mattress works out to $0.27 / day. Don’t skimp on your mattress! Your health and sleep are worth a whole lot more than a quarter a day.
4. What firmness do you need?
Firmness is how hard or soft a mattress feels. The most common question I receive from my readers is “how firm is this mattress?” This is also one of the most difficult to answer questions. The feel and firmness of a mattress depends on your definition of soft, medium, and firm. It’s highly subjective. Additionally, your body type, weight, size, and other factors play into the feel.
A lot of times consumers confuse support with firmness. A mattress that providesgood support simply means that it keeps your spine in proper alignment without creating pressure points. If a mattress does not offer adequate support, you will more than likely wake up sore or in pain. Firmness relates more to how comfortable a mattress feels initially. Whether hard or soft, the optimal firmness level goes hand-in-hand with comfort.
Several online mattress companies have developed mattresses that have auniversal comfort. Although there is only one firmness level offered with these mattresses, the structure of their foams and layered design works to offer comfort for a variety of sleepers (heavy, light, tall, short, side, back, stomach, etc.).Leesa is a great example of this design. Leesa’s layered foam construction and materials provide a comfort level that adjusts to each sleeper. This is extremely beneficial for partners who prefer different firmness levels.
For a lighter sleeper, the top layer ofAvena foam acts with the memory foam core to provide support and comfort. Since lighter sleepers put less pressure on the mattress much of the comfort and feel comes from the Avena. However, support and pressure relief is still provided by the memory foam core. With a heavier sleeper, the Avena foam works much more with the memory foam and support foam to offer proper deep compression and transitional support.
Side sleeping positions work similarly, causing the mattress to create superior deep compression support for the heavier parts of your body. Back and stomach sleepers would see a more even weight distribution and balanced foam interaction. Thisuniversal comfort design creates a balanced level of comfort and support for the mattress that’s enjoyable for the majority of sleepers. Bear, Layla, Tuft & Needle, and Casper are other examples of universal comfort feel designs.
With this in mind, theaverage preferred firmness level for sleepers falls between the 4-7 out of 10 range. Universal comfort mattresses coincide with these numbers, giving sleepers the chance to really discover the firmness level that’s right for them.
If you’re firmness preferences place you outside the typical firmness range (either in the 1-3 or 8-10 level) oryou just aren’t sure about the idea of universal comfort you may need to consider other options.Brooklyn Bedding, Nest Bedding’s Love & Sleep, and Saatva’s luxury coil mattress are available in soft, medium, and firm. Loom & Leaf offers both medium and firm. And lastly, Helix Sleep offers sleepers the ability to personalize their mattress with a variety of support, firmness, and feel options. Your primary sleeping position, body type, and weight also have a major impact on the firmness level that’s best for you.
5. What position do you sleep in?
Side, back, stomach, or a little bit of each. Everyone sleeps in their own, unique way. The big problem…most people aren’t searching for a mattress that supports their sleeping style. Each sleeping position has its own specific needs and ideal firmness level.
Sleepers who lie on their sides don’t always remain in the same position. A lot of times they rotate from both legs straight, to one straight and one bent, to both bent. With this constant change, side sleepers need a mattress withsoft to medium level firmness, usually something in the 3-6 range out of 10(where 10 is the most firm). A soft mattress with a lot of support will relieve pressure points on your neck and back.
Firmness and feel is incredibly important for side sleepers as they need a mattress that’s soft enough to contour to the curves of their body. A mattress that is too firm won’t contour to the shape of the side sleeper, resulting in a lack of support that usually creates pressure points leading to lower back pain, neck pain, and/or shoulder pain.
Firmness and support are both critical for back sleepers. A mattress that is too soft will create pressure points on the sleeper, not providing the right amount of push back they need. In addition to that, if the bed does not support the sleeper, their spinal alignment will be off, which could lead to prolonged back problems. The ideal mattress firmness is one that provides enough softness to eliminate pressure points, but still has great support.Usually a firmness level in the 4-7 range (where 10 is the most firm) is appropriate.
Stomach sleepers number one priority when searching for a new mattress needs to be support. The torso will apply the most pressure to the mattress for stomach sleepers. For this reason, they need a mattress that provides equal support across their body. If the mid section sinks at the middle of the mattress (mattress is too soft) the sleeper will see a curving of the spine, causing lower back pain and other problems.
Stomach sleepers need to be as flat as possible with respect to the surface of the mattress. Even something as simple as a tall pillow could put the spine out of alignment, causing pain and discomfort.Typically stomach sleepers need a mattress in the 5-7 range(where 10 is the most firm) with some outliers requiring a slightly hard or softer feel (a 4 or 8, respectively).
6. How much do you weigh?
Weight may not seem that important, but it can be crucial when choosing a mattress. Thesinkage, hug, feel, cooling, and support of each mattress is highly affected by how much you weighand your body type.
Depending on your weight and body type you may need a specific type of mattress or firmness to create the ideal feel and support that your body needs. There is no perfect formula or “best” mattress for everyone. I’ve provided the following guidelines to help you align your weight and preferences with the ideal mattress:
You’re a lighter sleeper (150 pounds or less) and want a medium feel (5-7)– lighter sleepers don’t sink as deeply into the mattress, this can make mattresses with denser top layers not as comfortable. Universal comfort mattresses are a great fit for these sleepers. If you’re lighter I usually recommend my readers choose a mattress that’s 0.5-1 firmness points below what they feel they actually need. This is because most medium firmness feels are rated based on an average sleeper (180 pounds).
You’re an average sleeper (150-200 pounds) and want a medium feel (5-7)– you’re in the market sweet spot. Most mattresses are designed for average size sleepers. Anything in the universal comfort range or any mattress characterized as medium, medium firm, luxury firm, or rated 5-7 out of 10 is very likely going to be a great fit.
You’re a heavier sleeper (200 pounds or more) and want a medium feel (5-7)– heavier sleepers put more pressure on the mattress, so we need to adjust for that. Look for mattresses that have a comfort layer of at least 4″. This will ensure consistent support and comfort for your size. If you have extreme cooling needs and / or you need a mattress with exceptional edge support you will likely need to consider luxury innerspring / coil-on-coil mattresses. If these needs aren’t as important for you then you can focus more on the foam side where you’ll get better contouring hug and body shaping.
You’re a lighter sleeper (150 pounds or less) and want a soft feel (3-4)– as a lighter sleeper you have the advantage of not sinking as deeply into foam mattresses. This allows you to get the cloud like comfort you’re looking for, but without being excessively hugged or creating as many heat retention issues. Mattresses characterized as soft, plush, plush soft, or in the 3-4 out of 10 range are good options.
You’re an average sleeper (150-200 pounds) and want a soft feel (3-4)– your needs are similar to lighter sleepers in this area. If you’re closer to 150 then you can follow the same rules as lighter sleepers. As you get nearer to 200 pounds you’ll want to consider the increased hug / sinkage of the mattress. Softer mattresses already have an increased level of hug and sinkage. For side sleepers this can be ideal, however for many back sleepers and almost all stomach sleepers, this will create a negative situation for the support of the mattress for you.
You’re a heavy sleeper (200 pounds or more) and want a soft feel (3-4)– this is one of the most difficult to find mattress combinations. Heavier sleepers already sink deeper within the mattress and soft mattresses amplify this further. A mattress that’s designated as soft will create dramatic sinkage and hug for heavy sleepers. It is incredibly important to find a mattress that still offers great deep compression support. This means a minimum of 4″ of comfort foam, which usually will only be found in mattresses that are 12″ or thicker. If you don’t like the foam mattress options you’re seeing a pillow-top coil mattress can be a great fit for this area. They’ll provide great deep compression support, but can still bring the soft feel you’re looking for.
You’re a lighter (14o pounds or less) or average (150-200 pounds) sleeper and want a firmer mattress (8-9)– firmer mattresses are a little easier to diagnose, mostly because there’s a smaller degree of variation in their feel…i.e. you don’t deal as much with balancing hug, cooling, contour, etc. A firmer mattress floats sleepers on the surface of the mattress, as opposed to hugging the sleepers (like many foam mattresses will). For lighter and average sleepers that want a firm feel you’ll want to look for mattresses characterized as firm or in the 8-9 out of 10 range.
You’re a heavier sleeper (200 pounds or more) and want a firmer feel (8-9)– since you’re a bit heavier you’ll want to adjust your targeted firmness. If you’re looking for something that’s an 8 out of 10 this means you’ll be looking at mattresses that are in the 8.5-9 range. Add 0.5-1 points. That said, I would recommend caution in ever going above a 9 on the firmness scale. Beyond this you are effectively sleeping on the floor.
Choosing a Mattress – 6 Step Summary
Picking out a new mattress can be a daunting task. With this quick summary I’ve noted the most important topics you need to know when choosing a mattress.
- Is it time to replace your mattress?– is your mattress over 8 years old? A general rule of thumb is to replace your mattress every 8 years. However, if you’re not sleeping well then you can throw that 8 year benchmark out the window. Your sleep habits should be the largest factor in determining if you should change your mattress. Sleeping poorly? It’s time for a change.
- What mattress type is best for you?– when selecting a mattress, the biggest choice will come down to either foam or coils. Foam offers great hug, contour, and a unique feel. Coil is a more traditional feel with great bounce. For most sleepers I recommend foam. However, if you’re very large (250+), want a traditional feel, and/or have extreme cooling needs, coils can be the better choice.
- What is your budget?– choose a budget that works for you. Ideally you’ll have $800-$1,000 to spend. This will offer you the most options and put you in the luxury end of the online market. Don’t spend less than $500 unless you want a mattress that’s going to break down much sooner (and one that could potentially be more toxic also).
- What firmness level is right for you?– most sleepers prefer a firmness in the 5-7 out of 10 range. This is appropriate for all sleeping positions and most weight / body types. If you go 4 or below you are most likely a side sleeper. If you go above a 7 you are probably a stomach or back (anything much above a 7 isn’t great for most side sleepers).
- What positions do you sleep in?– Choose a mattress with a firmness that matches your needs. Side sleepers go with 3-6 out of 10. Back go with 4-7 out of 10. Stomach go with 5-7 out of 10. There will of course be outliers in each of these, but uses these as general guidelines to get started.
- How much do you weigh and what is your body type?– support from a mattress is directly related to your body weight. The heavier you are, the more the support foams have to work to provide optimal comfort. Weight effects how much support you will receive from your mattress based on total sinkage and pressure points.
Still not sure what mattress is best for you? Head over theSleepopolis mattress comparison pageorsend me an email via my contact form. I’m always happy to help!
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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.
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.