Mattress Firmness: A Helpful Guide

Mattress Firmness: A Helpful Guide

A comfortable mattress is essential to getting a good night's sleep. Since each person has their own individual needs and preferences, it is important to try out a few mattresses. The right firmness level will contour to support your unique body shape, body size, and sleeping position. While the term "firm" is a relative term and is subjective, this helpful guide will teach you how to choose a mattress firmness that meets your needs.

What is Mattress Firmness?

Mattress firmness describes the level of firmness and the way a mattress feels when you lay on it. A softer firmness may allow your body to sink into it or contour to the curves of your body. On the other hand, a harder firmness will provide pushback, and your body will rest on top of the mattress. Firmness preferences are a personal choice, and it is up to you to find the type of mattress that provides just the right amount of "give". Luckily, mattress manufacturers have designed many different types of mattresses, so you can find your Goldilocks mattress that feels "just right."

The Firmness Scale

According to the Sleep Foundation, manufacturers have different methods of describing firmness. To create a universal scale, most mattress companies use the Mattress Firmness Scale. This mattress firmness scale is a 1-10 scale that makes it easier to compare the firmness of different models, so you can pick the right one for your personal sleep preferences and positions. On this 10-point scale, 1 is the softest while 10 is the firmest.


Soft mattresses allow your body to sink into them, and they conform to the contours of your body. The surface is also exceptionally soft and cozy, thanks to cushioning materials like memory foam and quilted pillow tops, making them an excellent choice for lighter people seeking comfortable sleep. These top layers are typically called "comfort" layers.

Soft mattresses are the best mattress firmness for side sleepers since they typically need more contouring support around their hips, shoulders, and lower backs. They are also ideal for people who like a soft, pillowy sleep, where the mattress contours closely to their body shape. The soft mattress firmness is rated between a 4 and 5, according to the firmness rating scale.


Medium firmness allows your body to sink into it a little, providing excellent pressure relief, and it contours and supports your body at a moderate level. There is a level of pushback against your body that you will not find in softer mattresses, thanks to top layers made from foam and high-density middle layers of poly foam and pocketed coils, making it an ideal medium-firm mattress. This combination of comfort and support is perfect for a wide range of sleepers, especially for back sleepers and people who change sleeping positions throughout the night. Medium firmness is usually a scale rating between 6 and 7.


A firm mattress is dense, with just a thin layer of soft foam on top. Inside, these mattresses are composed of high-density poly foam or springs, providing the ultimate level of support, which makes them suitable for heavier persons seeking firmer options. Firm mattresses are an excellent choice for people who sleep on their stomachs and those who have a higher body weight. That is because the firmness level will ensure that every part of your body is supported, without allowing it to sink into the mattress in uncomfortable positions. Firm mattresses have a scale rating between a 7 and 9 (9 being an extra firm).

Why Does Mattress Firmness Matter?

So, why does mattress firmness matter? According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, we spend one-quarter to one-third of our lives sleeping — ideally, in a comfortable bed. While sleeping, our bodies rest, recharge, and remain healthy. Because of this, it is important to choose a mattress that contours and supports at the right firmness level for you. Otherwise, you will suffer from poor sleep quality and achy joints in the morning.

How to Determine The Right Mattress Firmness for You

Many factors combine to determine the right mattress firmness for your unique body and sleep style. Let us look at each factor individually.


It is important to find a mattress that provides the contouring comfort level for a good night's sleep. You want to have the right amount of support for your hips, back, and shoulders, so they are not achy and sore when you wake up. Oftentimes, a sore back or aching joints point to a mattress that is too soft. The right firmness will offer the right support and "give," so that you wake up feeling rested and recharged. Since each person's comfort preferences are unique, it is important to try out different mattresses until you find the right one for you.


Your body weight may help to determine which mattress firmness will be the most comfortable for you. A heavier body requires more support, and firmer mattresses will not conform to your body as easily, which better supports the spine. Lighter bodies, on the other hand, may sleep better on softer mattresses. Overall, most people prefer mattresses with a medium firmness level.

Sleeping Position

Your sleep position plays a significant role in mattress comfort. Different firmness levels offer varying levels of support, and some sleep positions require more support than others.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers typically prefer a medium to firm mattress level which supports their backs and midsections. That way, the spine remains in a neutral position and the lumbar region is fully supported throughout the night. A softer mattress may lead to an aching lower back.

Side Sleepers

Side sleepers, especially strict side sleepers, need a lot of contouring support for their shoulders and hips. A mattress that is either too firm or too soft will not provide the proper alignment, pushing the spine out of its natural position, which can lead to body pain and poor posture. Instead, it is crucial to find a mattress firmness that is "just right" for your sleep position, ensuring that your shoulders and hips receive the right amount of support and comfort throughout the night.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers need lots of support, and a firm mattress can ensure that their hips and shoulders are level, which leads to a neutral spinal alignment. Finding the right mattress for stomach sleepers is essential to provide the necessary support. Softer mattresses do not offer enough support and can lead to lower back pain.

How to Choose Your Mattress Firmness Level

There is no universal mattress firmness, and it is important to shop around to find the perfect match for you. Consider your body shape, body size, and the sleeping positions that you prefer. The best way to discover your ideal mattress is to visit a mattress store and try out different options for yourself. Lay on a mattress in your preferred sleeping position, and assess if your body feels contoured, supported, and comfortable. Check if your back feels adequately supported and if the firmness level is within the balanced range you desire – not too soft or too firm. By testing out a few mattresses, you will quickly determine which firmness options provide the quality sleep and support you need for a restful night's rest.

Other Factors to Consider

There are some additional factors to consider when selecting the right mattress firmness. This includes:

  • Whether you sleep too hot
  • How motion transfers
  • Whether there's enough edge support

For more information on mattress firmness and how to determine the right one for you, contact us at Mattress Mill.

FAQs on Mattress Firmness

What is universal comfort? Does it exist?

Just like there is no universal body type, there is no universal comfort level. A person's body size, body type, sleep position, and support preference all go into determining the ideal firmness level for them. With a wide variety of firm options available, each individual can find their perfect firmness match.

Does the firmness level affect durability?

The key factor in determining firmness is the mattress's quality. That said, a firm mattress will typically last longer than a soft mattress since it is built to resist sagging and sinkage.

How can I test out a mattress to see if it is the right firmness level for me?

Most mattress companies encourage customers to come and test out mattresses. Wear comfortable clothing and lay down on a mattress in your preferred sleeping position for at least 15 minutes. By trying out different firmness options, you will quickly know which one feels best for your body.

What if my partner and I have different firmness preferences?

There are several ways to accommodate couples with different preferences. Some opt to place a mattress topper on one side of the bed, making it softer for the person who prefers a different firmness level. You can also purchase an adjustable mattress or a split mattress, which offers two firmness levels for optimal support and comfort.

Does firmness affect cost?

On average, softer mattresses are typically more expensive than firm mattresses. This is due to the pillowy layers of cushioning materials on top, which offer the ultimate comfort level. However, with a variety of firmness ranges available, you can still find a mattress that fits your budget.

What if I am not sure what firmness level I want for my mattress?

Most people do not know which firmness level they want until they try out a few mattresses. It is best to visit a mattress store and lay down on a few mattresses to determine which firmness level feels best for you.

I bought a mattress that is too firm. What can I do?

Some mattress companies offer a grace period and allow customers to exchange their mattresses within a said number of days. Otherwise, you can opt for a mattress topper that is soft.

I bought a mattress that is too soft. What can I do?

If you find your mattress is too soft for your liking, contact the mattress store to inquire about their exchange or return policy. Many reputable stores allow customers to make such adjustments. If exchanging the mattress is not possible, you can purchase a mattress topper designed to add firmness and support.

How do I know if my mattress is too firm or too soft?

If you wake up with an achy back, sore joints, or a stiff neck, your mattress may not be the right fit for you. Pay attention to your discomfort and consider trying a mattress with a different firmness level that better supports your body and preferred sleeping style.

Which firmness is best for side sleepers?

Side sleepers need contouring support for their shoulders and hips, but they also require enough softness to feel comfortable. Therefore, most side sleepers find a mattress with a soft to medium firmness level to be the most suitable for their sleeping style.

Can a firm mattress hurt your back?

Yes, if a mattress is too firm for your body type and sleep style, it can potentially lead to back pain. It is crucial to find a mattress that offers the right balance of support and comfort to maintain proper spinal alignment.

What firmness is best for stomach sleepers?

Stomach sleepers typically prefer mattresses that are medium or very firm. A mattress with such firmness levels ensures that their entire body is fully supported while they sleep, promoting better alignment and a perfect balance.