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Do I Need a Firm or Soft Mattress?

By: Christina Davies
Updated on: April 05, 2024

Choosing the right mattress is crucial for a good night’s sleep and overall well-being. One of the fundamental decisions you’ll face when shopping for a mattress is whether to opt for a firm or soft one. Your choice can significantly impact your comfort and support while sleeping, and it’s essential to consider your specific needs and preferences.

This article will explore the factors you should weigh when deciding between a firm and soft mattress. We’ll delve into the benefits and drawbacks of each option, discussing how they can affect your sleep quality, spinal alignment, and overall comfort. Whether you’re dealing with back pain, seeking pressure relief, or simply unsure which mattress type suits you best, this guide will provide valuable insights to help you make an informed decision. So, let’s dive in and discover whether a firm or soft mattress is the right choice for you.

Understanding Mattress Firmness

Mattress firmness refers to the level of hardness or softness of a mattress. It is a key factor that affects how comfortable and supportive a mattress feels to an individual. Mattress manufacturers often use a scale to describe the firmness of their products, ranging from very firm to very soft to very firm.

The mattress firmness level can impact various aspects of sleep, including spinal alignment, pressure point relief, and overall comfort. People have different preferences regarding mattress firmness based on their body type, sleeping position, and personal comfort preferences.

Common terms used to describe mattress firmness include:

  • Extra Soft: This type of mattress offers minimal resistance and allows for significant sinking. It’s often preferred by side sleepers or people who like to feel enveloped by the mattress.
  • Soft: A soft mattress provides some sinkage but still offers a bit more support than an extra soft one. It’s suitable for side sleepers and those who like a plush feel.
  • Medium: Also known as a medium-firm mattress, this level of firmness strikes a balance between support and comfort. It’s suitable for a wide range of sleeping positions and body types.
  • Firm: A firm mattress provides less sinkage and more support. It’s typically favored by back sleepers and stomach sleepers, as it aids in keeping the spine aligned.
  • Extra Firm: This level of firmness offers minimal sinkage and is often chosen by people who need significant support, such as those with back pain or heavier individuals.

It’s important to note that mattress firmness is a subjective experience and can depend on factors like the materials used in the mattress (such as memory foam, latex, and innerspring coils), individual body weight, and personal comfort preferences. It’s recommended to try out different options and consider factors like your sleeping position, any existing health conditions, and how well the mattress supports your entire body part’s alignment and comfort to find the right mattress firmness.

How is Firmness Measured?

Measuring the firmness of a mattress is usually rated on a scale of 1 to 10.

  • 1/10 – extremely soft, causing deep sinking; mattresses rarely reach this level of softness.
  • 2-3/10 – soft, leading to significant sinking; best for side sleepers weighing under 130 pounds.
  • 4/10 – medium soft, providing a comfortably plush surface with moderate sinking.
  • 5/10 – medium, striking a balance between comfort and firmness with minimal sinking.
  • 6/10 – medium firm, slightly firmer, with less contouring to the body.
  • 7-8/10 – firm, minimal sinking and conforming; favored by sleepers over 230 pounds.
  • 9-10/10 – extra firm, extremely hard, and non-conforming surface; very few mattresses fall into this category.

The majority of mattresses typically rate between 4 and 7 on the firmness scale, known as the comfort range. While some specialized manufacturers offer very soft beds or very firm options, these are not as common.

Firmness vs Support

Firmness and support are key factors when choosing a new mattress, but it’s important to understand that they have distinct meanings.

Firmness refers to how the mattress surface feels when you lie down. Is it soft, hard, or somewhere in between? Do you sink into it or stay on top?

Support, on the other hand, is about how well the mattress keeps your body properly aligned. Does it sag or provide the necessary support to avoid discomfort in common pressure points?

Although closely related, firmness and support aren’t the same. If a mattress is too firm or too soft, it might not offer the right support. For instance, a mattress that’s too firm or a plush mattress too soft might let your body sink too much, lacking proper support. Similarly, a firm mattress might not provide enough comfort and pressure relief for lighter sleepers. It’s not accurate to think that firm mattresses are always more supportive than soft ones. The level of support depends on individual needs and preferences.

Do I Need a Firm or Soft Mattress?

When it comes to mattresses, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. The perfect mattress for you depends on several factors, including your sleep position, body weight, and personal preferences. Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of both firm and soft mattresses so you can decide what suits you best.

Advantages of a Firm Mattress

A firm mattress provides several benefits, particularly for those with specific sleep needs. Here are some advantages of choosing a firm mattress:

Spinal Alignment and Back Support

A firm mattress offers excellent spinal alignment, making it a soft bed ideal for individuals with back issues. It helps maintain proper posture by keeping the spine in a neutral position. A mattress can alleviate back and hip pain and promote a healthier sleep posture by providing firm support.

Stomach and Back Sleepers

Firmer mattress surfaces are beneficial for stomach and back sleepers because they prevent excessive sinking of the lower back. By keeping the hips elevated, a firm mattress ensures proper spinal alignment and reduces the risk of discomfort or pain.

Enhanced Circulation

Firm mattresses reduce the amount of pressure exerted on the body, allowing for improved blood circulation. Improved blood circulation can result in less tossing and turning during sleep, leading to a more peaceful night’s rest.

Durability and Longevity

Firm mattresses tend to be more durable compared to softer options. The firm support system helps maintain the mattress’s shape and prevents the mattress materials from sagging, ensuring it remains supportive and comfortable for an extended period.

Cons of a Firm Mattress

  • Less Conforming: May not contour well to your body’s curves.
  • Initial Discomfort: It might take time to adjust, especially if you’re used to softer surfaces.
  • Limited Pressure Relief: This might not be ideal for side sleepers, potentially leading to pressure points.

Advantages of a Soft Mattress

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While firm mattresses offer numerous benefits, a soft mattress also has its advantages. Here are some reasons why you might prefer a medium-firm mattress vs. a soft mattress:

Pressure Relief

A soft mattress provides excellent pressure relief, particularly for side sleepers. The plush surface contours the body, relieving pressure points and reducing the risk of waking up with sore joints or muscles.

Spinal Alignment for Side Sleepers

Side sleepers often require a mattress that accommodates the body’s natural curvature. A soft mattress allows the hips and shoulders to sink slightly, promoting proper spinal alignment and reducing the risk of discomfort or pain.

Body Conformity

Soft mattresses conform closely to the body, providing a gentle cradling sensation. This can be especially beneficial for individuals with joint or muscle pain, as the mattress’s softness can help alleviate discomfort and joint pain and promote a more restful sleep.

Motion Isolation

Soft mattresses tend to excel in motion isolation, making them an excellent choice for couples. The plush layers of soft foam both absorb and minimize motion transfer, ensuring that one partner’s movements do not disturb the other’s sleep.

Cons of a Soft Mattress

  • Spinal Alignment: Might not provide adequate support for back or stomach sleepers.
  • Durability Concerns: Soft mattresses may wear out faster due to their plush materials.
  • Heat Retention: Some soft mattresses can trap body heat, potentially causing discomfort.

Considerations for Choosing the Right Firmness

When selecting a mattress firmness, there are several factors to consider. Here are some key considerations to help guide your decision:

Comfort Preferences

Your personal comfort preferences play an important role in determining the ideal mattress firmness. Consider your past experiences with different mattresses, such as those in hotels or at friends’ houses, and determine whether you prefer a softer, firmer, or medium feel.

Body Weight

Body weight influences how a mattress feels. Heavier individuals tend to sink less into softer mattresses, making firmer options more suitable. Conversely, lighter sleepers may find firm mattresses uncomfortable, and hot sleepers prefer the plushness of softer options.

Sleep Position

Your preferred sleep position affects the ideal mattress firmness. Back and stomach sleepers generally benefit from firmer mattresses that provide ample support and prevent excessive sinkage. Side sleepers often find softer mattresses more comfortable due to the pressure relief they offer.

Partner Preferences

If you share your bed with a partner, it’s also essential to consider their preferences for mattress firmness. Finding a compromise between firmness levels is crucial for couples with different sleep needs. Some manufacturers even offer customizable options that allow each side of the bed to have a different firmness level.

Finding Your Perfect Mattress

While considering these factors can guide your mattress shopping decision, there’s no substitute for trying out a mattress firsthand. Many manufacturers offer at-home sleep trials, allowing you to test the best mattress out for an extended period and determine if it meets your needs. Additionally, reading customer reviews and consulting with sleep experts can provide valuable insights into specific mattress models.


Can a firm mattress cause discomfort for side sleepers?

Yes, a firm mattress might create pressure points for side sleepers, leading to discomfort in the hips and shoulders.

Is there a way to test which mattress is best for me?

Absolutely! Spend some time at mattress stores, try out mattress companies and different options, and take note of what feels most comfortable.

Are there mattresses that combine firmness and softness?

Yes, many brands offer hybrid mattresses that blend the benefits of firm and soft surfaces to cater to different sleep preferences.

How often should I replace my mattress?

On average, mattresses last around 7-10 years. If you notice sagging, discomfort, or visible wear, it might be time for a replacement.

Can a mattress topper alter the feel of my mattress?

Definitely! Mattress toppers add an extra layer of softness or support, allowing you to adjust the feel without changing the entire mattress.

Conclusion: Your Path to Dreamy Sleep

In the journey to discovering whether you need a firm or soft mattress, remember that your individual needs and preferences are paramount. Consider your sleeping position, body weight, and any health conditions you might have. There’s no one “right” answer—opt for the mattress that aligns with your comfort and helps you achieve the restful sleep you deserve.

So, if you’ve been pondering, “Do I Need a Firm or Soft Mattress?”—the answer lies in understanding what suits your unique sleep style. Sweet dreams await!


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