Firmness can be a tricky topic to discuss. Why? Well, everyone experiences the firmness of a mattress slightly differently. As with any feel factor, it’s subjective, and your personal preference can change a lot depending on your size, shape, and body weight. But, thankfully, there are a few benchmarks and standards you can use to better understand how to find the right mattress firmness for you.
To help you learn a little bit more about firmness and figure out what firmness you need, I’ve put together this mattress firmness guide. In it, we’ll go over what firmness is, how it’s measured by the mattress industry, and how to choose the firmness level that’s right for your unique sleeping needs. We’ll also discuss the difference between firmness and support, two terms that are often mistaken for one another.
With all that in mind, let’s kick things off by talking about what exactly firmness is!
What is Mattress Firmness?
The firmness of a mattress refers to the initial feel you experience when lying on it. Are you sinking into the mattress, or resting right on top of it? Are you experiencing a lot of push back, or do you notice that the materials are contouring to the curves of your body? These are just a few of the questions you can ask to determine whether or not a mattress is soft, medium firm, or firm.
To help consumers understand firmness, the mattress industry will often score its beds on a “firmness scale” with a range from 1-10. A mattress that scores a 1/10 would be the softest mattress in the world, and one that scores a 10/10 would be the firmest. For reference, a score of 6.5/10 is widely regarded as the industry standard for medium firmness. I’ll describe the firmness scale in more detail below.
But for now, let’s go over what soft, medium firm, and firm mattresses actually feel like.
Soft mattresses generally fall within the 3-5/10 range on the firmness scale. They typically utilize cushioning materials like quilted pillow tops or thick sections of memory foam in their top layers, also referred to as “comfort” layers. They’re characterized by feelings of deep sinkage, body-contouring, and pressure relief.
You won’t experience too much push back on a soft mattress, which means you’re likely to feel more “in” it than “on top” of it. Softer mattresses are generally preferred by strict side sleepers or those in need of a little extra comfort at the shoulders, hips, and lower back. Some popular examples of soft mattresses include the Layla, Helix Sunset, and Nectar mattresses.
For more soft options, check out my guide to the best soft mattresses.
Medium firm mattresses generally fall within the 6-7/10 range on the firmness scale. These beds usually combine soft foam top layers with sturdier foundations of either high-density poly foam or pocketed coils. This establishes a balance between pressure relief and support, which is appealing to a wide range of sleepers.
While you may experience some sinkage on a medium firm mattress, you’re more likely to feel lifted up and out of the bed. For that reason, medium firm mattresses can be great for combination sleepers or back sleepers, as these groups can benefit a lot from a little extra mobility. Some of my favorite medium firm mattresses include the DreamCloud, Saatva, and Leesa Hybrid mattresses.
And finally, firm mattresses, which usually fall within the 8-10/10 range on the firmness scale. These beds rarely employ soft or plush materials in their comfort layers; instead, they insert a thin layer of soft foam atop high-density poly foam or springs. Therefore, firm mattresses can be highly supportive.
On a firm mattress, every part of your body should be lifted squarely on top of the bed with plenty of push back. Strict stomach sleepers and heavy people may appreciate the extra heft that they get from these structures. A few fantastic firm mattresses on the market are the Helix Dawn, Brooklyn Plank, and WinkBed mattresses. You can also check out our best mattress for heavy people roundup for more options.
For more firm options, check out my guide to the best firm mattresses.
Understanding the Firmness Scale
So, now that we know what the three major firmness groups are, let’s revisit the entire firmness scale. This will give you a better idea of what a 3/10 or a 7.5/10 actually feels like when you’re doing your mattress research.
As I mentioned up top, these interpretations are subjective, but I think they offer some good insight into how these numbers translate into a real-life, on-the-bed situation.
- 1 out of 10, or extremely soft: It’s rare that you’ll find a mattress that’s a true 1/10 on the firmness scale, because it would be, well… unsleepable. This kind of bed would offer way too much sinkage, disrupting any potential for support. Sleepopolis has never reviewed a mattress that would be considered a 1/10.
- 2 out of 10, or ultra-soft: Slightly more realistic than a 1/10 mattress, a bed that scored a 2 on the firmness scale still probably wouldn’t be supportive enough for the average sleeper. Again, this kind of structure would provide too much sinkage for most individuals. Sleepopolis has never reviewed a mattress that came in at a 2 on the firmness scale either.
- 3 out of 10, or very soft: 3/10 on the firmness scale is a little more manageable. While there’s still a lot of sinkage here (usually between 1.5-3 inches to be precise), mattresses at this level start to provide a little more support. If a mattress scores a 3/10, it’s usually built of memory foam, a gentle material known for deep pressure relief. This softness level is best for side sleepers.
- 4 out of 10, or soft: If I give a mattress a 4/10, I usually mean that it’s soft, but has a more balanced feel. Here, the comfort layers start to get a little thinner and most sleepers will feel a little less of that “stuck-in-the-bed” sensation that comes with softer mattresses. This firmness level is also best for strict side sleepers.
- 5 out of 10, or medium soft: This is a more common score for a majority of bed-in-a-box mattresses that describe themselves as “soft.” You’ll still find plush comfort layers on a mattress like this, but they’ll be balanced out by a sturdy base of either high-density poly foam, coils, or springs.
- 6 out of 10, medium firm: Most mattresses on the market today land in the 6-7/10 firmness range. This marks them as medium firm, meaning they strike a balance between pressure relief and support. Great for a wide range of sleepers, these beds can either be made entirely out of foam or out of a combination of foam and coils.
- 7 out of 10, slightly firm: A score of 7 brings us into firmer territory. These beds are notable for how they lift the sleeper up and out of the structure. Combo sleepers, back sleepers, and stomach sleepers typically benefit from the extra lift of these mattresses.
- 8 out of 10, firm: If I give a mattress an 8/10 on the firmness scale, I’m saying that it’s very firm. You won’t feel a lot of body contouring or “hug” on these firmer mattresses, instead you’ll get a lot of push back. These beds are great for back and stomach sleepers, and could also work for folks who prefer a more traditional feel.
- 9 out of 10, very firm: A 9/10 will feel similar to an 8/10, but with even less hug and sinkage. There’s extreme push back here, so most sleepers will likely find this kind of mattress a bit too firm for their needs. But heavier sleepers may prefer the extra firm feel of an 8/10 mattress.
- 10 out of 10, ultra-firm: And finally, a 10/10. You’re not likely to ever encounter one of these puppies in the wild, but if you do, you should note that they won’t provide any pressure relief at all. Sleepopolis has never reviewed a true 10/10 mattress.
What is the Best Firmness for a Mattress?
With this understanding of firmness in place, it’s time to riddle that age old question: What is the best firmness for a mattress? As you probably gathered, there is no one answer for this all-important Q. Why? Well, because firmness is such a personal thing. An ultra-firm mattress might be excellent for a stomach sleeper, but absolutely horrible for a side sleeper.
To help you better contextualize this question in terms of your own sleeping needs, let’s break down firmness by position.
Back sleepers are an interesting group, because they fall right between side sleepers and stomach sleepers in terms of their needs. If their mattress is too firm, back sleepers may experience unnecessary tension and pinching at the lower back. If it’s too soft, their hips may dip out of alignment with their shoulders. For that reason, I usually recommend that back sleepers stick with a medium firm mattress.
Why is this firmness level so good for back sleepers? Well, it helps to lift their spines into a neutral alignment, thereby establishing sound support and comfort across the back. This helps to alleviate pressure and pain, especially for those who struggle with things like fibromyalgia and arthritis.
As we touched on above, the industry standard for medium firmness is 6.5/10, so a score around that number should work for these dreamers.
Back sleepers can find medium firm comfort on a variety of different mattress types, but I’d suggest that they start their search with hybrid mattresses. To be classified as a hybrid, a bed must utilize both foam and coil layers, which create a nice interplay between bounce and sink.
For more, check out my best mattress for back sleepers guide.
Side sleepers are a little less universally pleased than back sleepers. This group needs a soft mattress that provides plenty of room to sink in for deep and cuddly pressure relief at the shoulders, hips, and lower back. A mattress that offers zoned supportmight be a good fit for these sleepers. Mattresses offering zoned support are softer at the shoulders to allow some pressure relief, but firmer at the hips to offer extra lower back support.
When I think about the softness level that’s most appropriate for side sleepers, I tend to focus on the 4-6/10 range.
Though side sleepers of course still need sound support, they also need to be greeted by thick layers of soft foam as soon as they hop into bed. This will help to cushion their joints as they press into the structure, ensuring that there won’t be any uncomfortable jamming or tension on their pressure points throughout the night. I recommend that side sleepers stick with memory foam mattresses, which are known for deep body-contouring, sinkage, and pressure relief.
Get into my favorite side sleeper beds on my best mattress for side sleepers page.
I consider stomach sleepers the opposite of side sleepers because they need extra firm beds with plenty of lift and support. To avoid uncomfortable bowing at the lower back, these sleepers need to ensure that their hips are level with their shoulders, establishing a neutral spinal alignment. This is especially important for avoiding back pain. For that reason, I tend to steer stomach sleepers toward beds in the 8-10 firmness range.
But just like side sleepers still need support, stomach sleepers still need comfort. The key is finding a mattress that brings together super supportive interior layers with cozy top sections for a bit of initial pressure relief. Stomach sleepers will likely do best on an innerspring or hybrid mattress built with a thin pillow top layer.
Need some stomach sleeping inspiration? I suggest my guide to the best mattress for stomach sleepers.
Is Firmness the Same as Support?
When thinking about firmness and support, many folks incorrectly assume that the terms are synonymous with one another. In fact, they refer to two totally different things. Firmness is all about the immediate feel you experience when first lying down on a mattress. Support, on the other hand, refers to how well the mattress keeps your spine in alignment. Therefore, you can find a soft mattress with a ton of support and a firm mattress with virtually no support at all.
It can be tricky to navigate this line between firmness and support, but it’s important to separate them in your mind when shopping for a new mattress. Remember: Firmness is simply how the mattress feels. Does it relieve pressure? Does it feel comfortable to you? Is there a lot of cushioning, a lot of pushback, or something in between? Learn more about what the most comfortable mattresses are for several sleeping styles
Support is about whether or not the mattress sets your spine in a neutral alignment. When you’re lying in your preferred sleeping position, do you feel like the mattress is doing a good or bad job of lifting your spine in a straight line all the way from your shoulders to your hips?
By focusing on each of these factors individually, you’ll be able to find a mattress that provides the support you need in your sleep position and is the right firmness level for you. Make sure to take a peek at my How to Choose a Mattress guide for more tips.
How to Choose Your Mattress Firmness
Now that you’re equipped with all the know-how you could ever want on different firmness levels, let’s apply it to a real world buying experience. Below, I’m going to run through some of the tips and tricks I use to pair folks with their ideal firmness level.
- What position do you sleep in? Above all else, this is probably the most important question to answer when considering firmness. Strict side sleepers will typically want something within the 3-6/10 range while back sleepers will want to go with something in the 5-7/10 range. And, of course, anything above a 7/10 will provide adequate support to stomach sleepers!
- How much do you weigh? Weight can also be a major factor. Heavier individuals will generally want a thicker mattress that provides plenty of foam layers to press into for deep compression support. Innerspring mattresses may also provide more durability to these sleepers. Heavier folks may experience mattresses as softer than those of more average weight, so if a reviewer (like me!) gives a mattress a firmness rating of 7/10, these folks might experience it as a 5.5 or 6/10.
- What’s your body type? Thinking about your specific body type will also help determine the firmness level you need. If you have a heavier midsection, you’ll want a firm mattress with a zoned support core to keep your spinal alignment neutral. If you’re a lighter sleeper, you’ll interact mostly with the top layers of your mattress, so may prefer a softer mattress that provides plenty of comfort.
- Remember: Firmness isn’t Support. Don’t forget that support and firmness are not the same. You can find a mattress with great support that’s still soft and meets all of your pressure relief needs!
- Still stumped? Go with the majority. If you still have no idea what firmness you should go with after reading through this guide, I recommend choosing a medium firm mattress. A bed that hovers around the industry standard medium firmness rating of 6.5/10 can often provide universal comfort for most sleepers.
- Be careful with soft mattresses. Oftentimes, sleepers see the word “soft” and naturally gravitate towards it. This makes sense — softness seems to indicate coziness or luxurious plushness. However, soft mattresses can often become quite uncomfortable because they don’t provide adequate support for many sleeping positions. In fact, “soft mattresses” are among some of the most returned mattress types in the industry. So, if you want to go soft, please make sure that your bed has a solid core of either high-density poly foam or pocketed coils. This will also increase the lifespan of your mattress!
Well folks, that about does it for my mattress firmness guide. When thinking about how firm you want your mattress to be, remember to focus on your sleeping position, how much you weigh, how much sinkage or hug you want, and what kind of support you need. That way, you’ll be set to find the firmness level of your dreams!
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Logan is the former content director of Sleepopolis. As content director, he reviewed new mattresses every week and curated the comparisons, best of pages, and video guides on the site. Logan perfected his method by personally testing over 200 different mattresses, so he’s not only able to discern the overall vibe of a specific bed, but to contextualize its feel within the bed-in-a-box market as a whole.
If you are experiencing pain on your side as a side sleeper, it is likely your mattress is too firm, or does not have enough padding. If you are experiencing lower back pain, chances are your mattress is either too soft, or is broken down in the middle.What type of firmness is best for side and back sleepers? ›
A medium-firm mattress is an excellent choice for combo sleepers because they typically strike a pleasant balance between pressure relief and support. They're soft enough to provide pressure relief to the shoulders while sleeping on the side and firm enough to support the hips whilst dozing on the back.What mattress firmness do most people prefer? ›
The vast majority of mattresses are somewhere between 4 and 7 out of 10 on the firmness scale. This is the range that most people find comfortable. Specialty manufacturers offer very soft and very firm beds, but these are far less common.How do you tell if you need a firm or medium mattress? ›
Firm Mattress: If you're a heavier-weight sleeper, choose a firmer mattress for the best overall support. Also consider a firmer mattress if you're primarily a stomach sleeper. Medium Mattress: If you're an average-weight sleeper and sleep on your side or back, a medium mattress is an excellent choice.Should side sleepers have a firm mattress? ›
As a general note, soft, medium or medium-firm beds are preferred by side sleepers, as firm mattresses can cause pressure points where the surface doesn't give. So if you're a side sleeper and you regularly wake up with shoulder, hip or neck pain, your bed could be to blame.Is a firmer bed better for your back? ›
If you carry weight, sleep on your back, or sleep on your stomach, a firm mattress may help alleviate lower back pain by distributing your body weight more evenly across the mattress. This way, your back isn't curving as much while you sleep.What mattress firmness do hotels use? ›
What firmness of mattresses do hotels use? In most cases, you'll find a medium to a medium-firm mattress in your hotel room. And for a good reason. Medium-firm mattresses are generally good for any type of sleeper or any body type.Can a bed be too firm? ›
If your mattress is too firm, you might experience a few different symptoms. An overly-firm mattress can put excess strain on your pressure points (shoulders, hips, and torso) or cause spinal misalignment. You might also find that your body stays tense as you sleep, resulting in muscle, neck, or back pain.Is firm or medium firm better for side sleepers? ›
A medium-soft mattress works best for side sleepers, although some can comfortably go into a med-firm if they are heavier. Latex and memory foam mattresses are both good choices that offer support for those deep curves.Can a bed that is too soft hurt your back? ›
2) Don't Sleep on a Mattress That's Too Soft or Too Hard
A mattress that's too soft will cause your back or hips to sag and your spine to fall out of alignment, which can lead to significant pain. A mattress that's too firm will put too much pressure on your joints, especially if you sleep on your side or your back.
Should You Get a Firm Mattress? Seniors often need a mattress with excellent pressure relief to help reduce pressure points in key areas like the shoulders, hips and back. Generally, a medium to medium firm mattress will provide this optimal level of support and help alleviate back and joint pain.Who should sleep on a medium firm mattress? ›
Medium firm mattresses rank around a 6 on the 10-point firmness scale. These mattresses are popular among side, back, and stomach sleepers in all weight ranges, particularly those between 130 and 230 pounds. A mattress that's too soft can cause the spine to shift out of alignment.Do medium firm mattresses get softer? ›
Do firm mattresses get softer? All mattresses get a little softer within the first 50 to 60 nights of regular use. This is called the natural break-in period. However, this natural break-in doesn't make it an uncomfortable mattress, rather it tempers down the extra firmness of a new mattress.Are medium firm mattresses good for side sleepers? ›
If you're a side sleeper, a medium-firm mattress can provide the pressure relief you need for your shoulders and hips while still keeping you supported. With that in mind, we would definitely recommend the DreamCloud Premier, a hybrid mattress that features supportive coils and multiple layers of plush foam.What firmness is best for heavy side sleepers? ›
Firmness. Generally speaking, a medium-firm or firm mattress is the best choice for sleepers who weigh over 250 pounds. Firmer mattresses will offer ample support, encouraging proper spine alignment and resisting sagging over time.Is a soft or firm mattress better for hip pain? ›
In general, a medium-soft to medium mattress is better for hip pain, while a firmer mattress is better for back pain. A softer mattress can help to relieve pressure on the hips and allow them to rest more comfortably.Can a firm mattress cause hip pain? ›
If a bed's firmness level isn't well-suited to a sleeper's body type or sleep position, it may create painful pressure points around the hips.What type of mattress is best for your spine? ›
Memory foam and latex mattresses are often considered the best options for back pain, as they conform to your body, cradling pressure points while supporting your spine and keeping it aligned.Why does memory foam hurt my back? ›
A memory foam mattress can cause back pain if you don't find the firmness level best suited for you. The ideally firm mattress for your sleep position keeps your spine in neutral alignment while relieving your pressure points. Side sleepers will be most comfortable on a medium, medium-soft, or soft mattress.Why does my mattress not feel like it did in the store? ›
Most mattresses will take about 1-2 weeks to adjust to your body and soften up to the “showroom feel.” Tip #3. If you can't wait or want to speed up this process, try walking back and forth on the mattress.
Upscale hotels usually use luxury mattresses that are either hybrid , traditional innerspring , or memory foam mattresses. Hybrid mattresses are becoming particularly commonplace, as they strike the balance between supportive innerspring coals and body-cradling memory foam.Why do hotel mattresses feel so good? ›
Hotels beds are incredibly comfortable thanks to their use of mattress toppers. These can significantly adjust mattress firmness and the quality of your rest. A mattress topper is simply an added layer of cushioning that rests on top of your old mattress and provides support and extra levels of comfort.Why are hotel mattresses so hard? ›
Reasons that a hotel bed may be too firm include that hotels buy firm mattresses so that they last longer, some hotels use firmer futons which are influenced by Asian culture, and the breathability of the mattress.Why does a firm mattress hurt my back? ›
A too-hard mattress forces your spine into an unnatural position and creates pressure points. Your mattress should have some give to keep your spine neutral.What happens if mattress is too soft? ›
A mattress that is too soft will cause you to sink and hurt your back and spine while you sleep. Persistent morning back pain is an indication that your mattress is too soft to firmly support your body.What is a medium firm mattress good for? ›
Medium-firm mattresses will contour to your body more than a firm mattress, which means that you'll get some pressure relief at night. A medium-firm mattress is the perfect blend of soft and firm. It can also help reduce back and neck pain.Why does my back crack so much when I wake up? ›
The sound of your back cracking or popping may be due to air bubbles in the synovial fluid surrounding and lubricating your joints. Putting pressure on this fluid when you stretch or twist your spine causes these gases to be released.What position should I sleep in with lower back pain? ›
The best sleeping position for lower back pain is on your side with a partial bend in the knees7. Keeping the knees bent helps balance the body and reduces pressure on the lumbar spine. Many people find it helpful to put a small pillow between their knees to make this position more comfortable.How often should I replace mattress? ›
But when should you replace your mattress? Under normal conditions, mattresses should be replaced every 6 to 8 years. Of course, this is a general guideline and not a one-size-fits-all solution.Is it better to sleep on a softer or harder mattress? ›
For those not experiencing troublesome back pain, a firm mattress is will generally be more comfortable. When sleeping on a firmer surface, the bones absorb most of the pressure, meaning there is less stress on muscles, veins and arteries. Muscles are less strained, and circulation is improved.
High-quality hospital bed mattresses use progressive laminated foams or memory foam to adapt to the occupant's body shape and position. They are engineered to distribute forces intelligently, mitigating the shear and pressure that causes bedsores. Consumer-grade mattresses are not designed for home hospital beds.Which mattress is best for old age? ›
A memory foam mattress is a good choice for elderly adults as it provides the necessary support to the entire body, relieving the pain to a great extent. The material used in these mattresses helps the muscle and the joints to relax, giving you uninterrupted sleep.Do side sleepers need firm or soft pillow? ›
Side sleepers – Side sleepers need a firmer pillow with medium loft to support their cervical spine at rest. Pillows that are too thick or too thin will disrupt the natural curvature of their neck, and can lead to cramps and pain over time.Can a firm mattress cause side pain? ›
If your mattress is too firm, excess pressure on areas like your shoulders, hips, knees, side, and back can lead to aches and pains, Dr. Aouad says.What is the number one side sleeper mattress? ›
After recent tests, we've updated our list to include the Bear Hybrid as our best pressure relief pick. The Helix Midnight remains our best overall mattress for side sleepers.Should a side sleeper have a firm pillow? ›
Generally, we advise that side sleepers should stick to one medium-firm to firm pillow with adequate support for their head, neck and shoulders. If you prefer to use two pillows, it's best to ensure they're on the softer side to avoid any arching of your neck.Should sleeping mattress be hard or soft? ›
Hard mattress is will generally be more comfortable than softer mattress. Muscles are less strained, and circulation is improved while sleeping on hard mattress. A hard mattress also keeps your lower back from collapsing, which could allow for more oxygen intake while sleeping.Do you need a softer bed as you get older? ›
Should You Get a Firm Mattress? Seniors often need a mattress with excellent pressure relief to help reduce pressure points in key areas like the shoulders, hips and back. Generally, a medium to medium firm mattress will provide this optimal level of support and help alleviate back and joint pain.Which type of mattress is best for back pain? ›
Memory foam and latex mattresses are often considered the best options for back pain, as they conform to your body, cradling pressure points while supporting your spine and keeping it aligned.Why do Chinese like hard beds? ›
Firm Beds. Most people in China prefer to sleep on a firm mattress, claiming it is better for their backs. They believe the back remains properly aligned, with no sinkage throughout the night, if it is well supported.
Your Mattress is Either Too Soft or Too Hard
A mattress that is too soft for you can start hurting your spine sooner than you realize. A mattress that is too hard causes joint pressure. Most sleep experts recommend going for a medium-firm orthopedic mattress to combat this issue.