Mattress Firmness Guide
Jake Comfort | Updated: Sept. 5, 2020
Firmness is one of the most talked about aspects of any mattress. However, the term firmness can mean different things to different people, which results in a great deal of confusion for mattress buyers. This is a problem because mattress firmness is one of the most important aspects of any mattress, and getting the right firmness can mean the difference between a peaceful night’s rest or an extremely uncomfortable and sleepless night.
In order to lend some clarity to the situation, we’ve put together this handy guide to help you determine what mattress firmness is best for you. We’ll cover what firmness actually means, discuss the latest approach to firmness that the most popular mattress companies are taking, go over soft, medium, and hard firmness, offer some advice on deciding what firmness is best for you, and cover the difference between firmness and support.
Understanding Mattress Firmness
Mattress firmness refers to the initial feel you get when you lay down on a mattress. It’s important to note the word “initial” in the previous sentence, as the feeling you get as you continue to lay on the mattress is referred to as the support. We’ll talk more about support later.
When you first get on a mattress, you’ll experience some level of pushback. The pushback you get is the firmness level of the mattress. A firm mattress will give more push than a soft mattress.
Something else that’s important to keep in mind is that firmness is a subjective, rather than objective measurement. What feels like a very firm mattress to some people may only feel like a medium-firm mattress to others. That’s why we use a scale when talking about mattress firmness in our reviews, as this lets you compare one mattress to another in a relative way so you can get a feeling for what is more firm and what is less firm than the competition. Moreover, we’ve got more mattress experience than most people, and we incorporate lots of other reviews into our evaluation to try and most accurately present the firmness levels of the mattresses we review.
The Concept of Universal Comfort
Universal Comfort has become an increasingly important concept when it comes to understanding mattress firmness, so it deserves some of you time and attention. Universal Comfort is a concept that refers to developing a mattress that will be comfortable for most sleepers. These mattresses usually fall along the 5-7 range of our 1-10 firmness scale, where 10 is the firmest mattress.
Universal comfort is more than just the firmness of the mattress. It also refers to the ability of a mattress to react to your body in a way that allows it to be comfortable no matter how you’re sleeping. Universal Comfort mattresses usually use layers of foam to provide the qualities need for a mattress to be comfortable for side, back, and stomach sleepers.
Most of the more popular mattress brands today design their product with an eye toward these universal comfort standards. The Leesa mattress is a fine example of a popular modern mattress company that uses Universal Comfort as a framework for developing its mattress. The Leesa has a firmness of 6 out of 10, and its top layer is made from Leesa’s proprietary Avena foam. This material does an excellent job of providing support for sleepers in any position, as it reacts to your body and provides a close hug and contour. As a result, heavier sleepers won’t sink in too deeply, and lighter sleepers won’t feel like they’re floating on top of the mattress.
Soft, Medium, and Hard Firmness
Now that you understand what firmness is and have a solid foundation in the concept of Universal Comfort, it’s time to discuss the different firmness options that you can find in modern mattresses. Generally, mattresses are categorized as soft, medium, or firm. Some companies use a scale similar to the one we use. The very best mattresses often come in multiple different firmness levels, so you can get the best firmness for you while still enjoying all of the restful qualities of the perfect mattress.
A soft mattress usually falls between a 3-5 on the firmness scale. There aren’t very many mattresses that have a softness lower than three, and once you hit a 5 on the sale you’re into medium territory. Soft mattress have the greatest amount of hug and sinkage, usually as much as 1.5-3”.
A Medium mattress would fall between a 5-7 on our firmness scale. These are the most common types of mattresses and the ones that fit within the Universal Comfort guidelines we explained earlier. The sinkage and hug you get from a medium mattress falls within the 1-2” range.
Firm mattresses can be understood as anything that goes from a 7-9 on our firmness scale. They offer the greatest amount of initial pushback and can make sleepers feel as if they are floating on the mattress. Firm mattresses have the least amount of hug and sinkage, measuring 1” or less.
Whenever you are considering a mattress, you should be sure to check if it comes in multiple levels of firmness. Having this as an option can make your mattress choice easier, as it can be frustrating to find a mattress you like and then find out that the firmness it comes in doesn’t work for you.
It’s also important to note that there are several different types of mattress toppers and accessories that can be used to make a mattress softer. These include foam pads that go under sheets, padded or pillowtop protectors, and other, similar accessories. These products all work by adding another soft layer of material between the sleeper and the mattress itself.
What Mattress Firmness is Best for You?
There are a few different factors that must be considered when determining what firmness level is right for you. These factors include weight, sleeping style, and health issues.
How heavy you are influences the firmness you’re looking for because everyone experiences mattress firmness differently. A heavier person will need more pushback to create a firm feeling than a lighter person. Therefore, heavier sleepers will generally prefer a firmer mattress. A mattress that is too soft results in heavier sleepers hitting the base or foundation layers of the mattress harder than is comfortable. That risks creating pressure points which can cause aches and pains.
Lighter sleepers will want a softer mattress rather than a firmer one. As a lighter sleeper, a firm mattress can cause you to feel like you’re floating over the bed while you sleep. This can be an unsettling sensation for many sleepers. A softer mattress will feel firmer to a lighter sleeper, so that is usually a better area to look.
Your sleeping style also affects what kind of mattress firmness you need. Back sleepers will benefit most from a firmer mattress, as that will do the best job of keeping their spine and body properly aligned. Side sleepers will prefer a softer mattress, as softer mattresses are usually better at alleviating the pressure points these sleepers can experience. Stomach sleepers are a difficult case, as sleeping on your stomach on any kind of mattress is generally bad for your body. The best options for stomach sleepers are mattresses in the 5-7 range, as these are the most likely options to keep your back properly aligned.
Finally, you should consider any health issues or doctor’s orders when you get a mattress. Sometimes certain complications can result in a medical need for a certain type of mattress, regardless of your preferences.
Firmness vs Support
In order to appropriately evaluate the huge variety of mattress options that are on the market today, you need to understand the difference between firmness and support. While the elements of a mattress that produce these different qualities are related, the two concepts are still distinct.
As we said earlier, firmness refers to the initial pushback that you get when you first get on a mattress. Support is how well the mattress keeps your spine and body in the proper alignment. That’s why it’s so important to keep firmness and support separate in your head when you are shopping for a mattress. Soft, medium, and firm mattresses can all have good or bad support, so maintaining a distinction between the two is essential to ensure that you’re happy long-term with your purchase.
Support is essential to being happy long-term with your mattress because bad support is a major factor in waking up with aches and pains. Consistently getting bad support means that you are at risk of developing chronic problems and pains. Moreover, the worse the support of your mattress, the more you are likely to toss and turn at night. Tossing and turning become an issue because the more you move while you sleep, the less you rest. Furthermore, the more tossing and turning you do, the more you are likely to contort yourself into a position that creates pressure points and inhibits your comfort and rest.