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Guide to Mattress Firmness: What Should You Know

by Olly Mason

We’d like to take a moment to set something straight: You should not be afraid of mattress firmness. Many shoppers avoid the term, mistaking it for, well, a firm mattress when what they’re searching for is that quintessential soft bed to end nights in. But, when you disregard mattress firmness, you run the risk of buying a bed that doesn’t provide the adequate comfort you need.

By now, you might be asking, "What firmness do I need?” which is why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide. Follow along as we evaluate what you need to know, from firmness level to the right mattress for your sleep position. And, of course, we’ve included a list of our favorite picks.

At a Glance:

Understanding Mattress Firmness

Mattress Support vs. Mattress Firmness

Our Mattress Picks for Each Sleep Position

Additional Factors to Consider

Why Trust Us

Mattress Firmness 

If you don’t know which type of mattress is ideal for your sleep position, the following are must-reads:

Firm Mattress

If the thought of sinking into a mattress is unappealing to you, consider exploring firm mattresses. These beds are designed to remain even across the surface when slept on, helping to keep the spine in healthy alignment and evenly supporting the body from head to toe. Not only is a firm mattress good for back pain, but the firmness is also ideal mattress firmness for stomach sleepers and back sleepers alike. 

Firm mattresses are also best for sleepers of bigger statures since they don’t bow under weight as easily. Additionally, more structural support and less sinking means hot air is less prone to trapping, which can be a major plus for hot sleepers.  

Best for: Back sleepers, stomach sleepers

Not recommended for: Side sleepers

Medium Mattress

Mattresses that are too firm, however, aren’t ideal for smaller frames. That’s because, without enough weight, a mattress’ surface begins to push on the points where the body comes into contact with the surface, potentially creating aches and pains.

That’s why sleepers who weigh 130 pounds or less or have petite bodies—but still sleep on their backs or stomach—should consider sleeping on a medium firm mattress.

This category offers many of the same benefits as a firm mattress, but with a touch more give. This provides enough contouring so that the mattress cradles the body without completely enveloping it or becoming too firm and creating pressure points.

And since medium mattresses are neither too hard nor too soft, they strike a good balance of comfort, which can be a lifesaver if you sleep with a partner who has different preferences in sleep comfort.

Best for: Back sleepers, side sleepers, and sometimes stomach sleepers

Not recommended for: Recommended overall

Plush Mattress

Sleepers who enjoy the thought of slipping into a bed that wraps around the body are encouraged to explore plush mattresses. This type of mattress offers much more give than medium or firm mattresses, so if you sleep on your back or stomach, avoid this pick since the sinking pushes the spine out of its neutral position. If you sleep in the fetal position, however, the surface dip helps to keep the natural curve of the body aligned, relieving pressure along hips and shoulders, making this the ideal mattress firmness for side sleepers.

Sleepers under 130 pounds who want a smidge more softness while they rest will also enjoy the relaxation a plush mattress provides.

Best for: Sleepers with smaller frames, side sleepers

Not recommended for: Back sleepers, stomach sleepers, sleepers with larger frames

Ultra Plush Mattress

Although ultra plush mattresses aren’t very common, some manufacturers still create models for those who want the softest sleep experience possible. The smallest body types benefit the most from this category, although, if you sleep with a partner, the pillow-y foundation of a plush mattress might lead to sinking at the center. For that reason, we suggest this as a single-person bed choice.

Best for: Side sleepers, sleepers with small frames

Not recommended for: Stomach sleepers, back sleepers, sleepers with larger frames

Mattress Firmness vs. Mattress Support

Mattress support and mattress firmness are commonly mistaken as the same thing, but the reality is, both affect different areas of comfort.

Support is how a mattress responds to the weight of a body. When you recline, does the mattress sink, or is there resistance? On mattresses with lower support levels, sleepers sink more into the surface, while mattresses with higher support ratings remain an even surface, for the most part.

Firmness measures mattress comfort level. In other words, this is how a bed feels when you lie on it. Is it soft, a good balance of firm and plush, or firm through and through? Regardless of the support level, how the mattress feels will be the same.

How We Gauge Mattress Firmness

Generally, mattress suppliers use a 1–10 number scale to indicate how much support a mattress offers. This should not to be confused with the firmness level, however. Additionally, at Mattress Land, we use a special spectrum to measure support level, from 0.5–4.5, ranging from least to most support, respectively. Additionally, our mattress firmness scale ranges from ultra-plush up to firm.

For example, this Sealy innerspring queen mattress registers a 2.5 support level (about the midpoint between least and most support), but its comfort level is plush. As a result, users will enjoy a soft mattress with less sinking.

The Right Mattress for Your Sleep Position

A restful sleep awaits you on these three mattress picks, each chosen to help a unique kind of sleeper. Along with each pick, you’ll find a blog that provides even more information for each specific sleep position, their benefits, and which kinds of mattresses each type of sleeper should buy.

Best Mattress for Back Sleepers: Tempur-Pedic® TEMPUR-Adapt® Medium Queen Mattress-10734150

Wide shot of Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Adapt medium queen-size mattress

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Enjoy a balance of soft support layer upon layer with this Tempur-Pedic medium comfort mattress featuring exclusive memory foam technology. On the surface, plush cells are fitted with cool-to-touch material for fresh relaxation the moment you lie down. Get snug—once you’re there, this memory foam mattress cradles you in equal contouring that is great for stabilizing the spine and lumbar, making this a fantastic mattress for back sleepers

Best Mattress for Stomach Sleepers: Stearns & Foster® Estate® Hurston ES2 Luxury Cushion Firm Tight Top Queen Mattress-52491051

Side view of Stearns & Foster 52491051 firm queen-size mattress

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Your body isn’t shaped like a horseshoe, but if you’re sleeping on your stomach, a bed with insufficient firmness can leave you bent and out of shape. Luckily, this Stearns & Foster firm mattress provides double the comfort with sturdy support and an exclusive IntelliCoil system for optimum stabilization of the hips and spine. Sleeping breezy is no sweat, thanks to PrimaCool performance fabric made of heat-wicking Tencel material, plus specially placed air vents for ultimate breathability.  

Best Mattress for Side Sleepers: Spa Retreat for SleepFit™ Fitness 3.0 Graphene Hybrid Ultra Plush Queen Mattress-SFF3PL-1150

Overhead view of SleepFit Spa Retreat SFF3PL-1150 ultra-plush queen mattress

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This ultra plush hybrid mattress from SleepFit’s Spa Retreat line brings new meaning to “sleeping like a baby” for side sleepers. The combination of CertiPur memory foam, cool-to-the-touch fabrics, and 7 Series wrapped coils means less motion transfer yet a soft feel that alleviates pressure on the hips, legs, and shoulders. Slip into the fetal position and fall into deep slumber you’ve always wanted and deserve.

Additional Factors to Consider

No two sleepers are equal, which is why every mattress purchase is a personal journey full of considerations each shopper should tailor to his or her needs. Here are a few more points to keep in mind while exploring:

Your Weight

Every body type deserves nourishing comfort at the end of the night, which is why it’s important your final mattress decision works with your frame.

Sleepers 230 pounds and up should begin to test mattresses with medium firmness and are generally recommended to go for a firm mattress for sturdy support across the entire body.

On the other hand, those with smaller body types and weigh 130 pounds and under need something softer. We recommend starting with a plush mattress and moving down to an ultra plush mattress if you need even more soft comfort, especially if you have particularly sensitive areas along the hips and shoulders.

Best Mattress Firmness for Pain

Sleep pain is a leading reason for bad sleep but sleeping on the right mattress firmness can provide a simple solution for the discomfort. Follow the mattress firmness chart below for a quick look into which mattresses can help your specific needs.

recommended | not recommended | possible recommendation

Pain Type

Ultra Plush

Plush

Medium

Firm

Back Pain

Muscle Pain

Joint Pain

Shoulder Pain

 

Does a Box Spring Affect Mattress Firmness?

A box spring or mattress foundation won’t change a bed’s firmness, but it does have an effect on its support, which can influence how comfortable a mattress is overall. Old box springs, damaged bed foundations, or low-quality bed bases can sag, leading to irregularities in the surface. So, while you might choose a firm mattress to enjoy a flat surface to enhance your preference to sleeping on your stomach or back, dips can cause the body to fall out of alignment.

We repeat: A mattress base will not change how soft or hard a bed feels, but it will have a direct impact on its support.

For that reason, it’s important to explore quality mattress foundations and understand which bed base is best for your sleep needs.

Can Mattress Firmness be Adjusted?

Start by figuring out if your current mattress base has any damage or irregularities. Often, this can lead to less-than-ideal firmness since the surface isn’t completely flat, causing areas to lack support (and, to the same effect, the firmness).

Other solutions for how to make a mattress firmer include flipping the mattress (if applicable), as well as purchasing a firm mattress topper. Additionally, if your mattress sits on a roll of slats, check to see if any are loose or misplaced; this will help achieve a perfectly flush surface for optimum comfort.

You Can Trust Us!

At Mattress Land, sleep is all we do! While other suppliers might include mattresses in their catalog of furniture and appliances, we keep our passion to the science of sleep. In fact, we trust in our process so much, we offer our buyers a 6-month comfort guarantee when they find the right mattress using our exclusive BedFIT program. Each profile goes through a personalized test with over 11,000 calculations and 18 statistical measurements. The result?  A completely tailored sleep solution without doing the guesswork.

It’s the reason over 13 million comfort profiles have been made to-date and why so many of our shoppers recommend Mattress Land to friends and loved ones.

Find Better Sleep at Mattress Land

Better dreams are waiting for you, and with the help our sleep experts, you can make better rest one of those dreams come true. We offer a wide selection of brand-name mattress in a variety of comfort levels, mattress sizes, and mattress types for every kind of sleeper.

Explore more by shopping online, by phone at (877)-477-5337, or by visiting one of our 19 mattress showrooms across California, Nevada, Idaho, and Washington!