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Mattress Firmness

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In the pursuit of restful sleep, mattress firmness is an elusive and tricky element that holds the key. The right firmness level will enhance proper spinal alignment while at the same time cushioning different sensitive parts of the body. Firmness is subjective and changes depending on major factors such as sleeping position, body weight, type, and size.

In this article, I'll look into precisely what mattress firmness is, an in-depth look at the mattress firmness scale, how to choose the appropriate mattress firmness level for your needs, how mattress type affects firmness and so much more.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding your personal body needs and sleep preferences is essential when it comes to mattress firmness. Whether you're into plush, medium-firm, or firm surfaces, your firmness level should align with your distinct sleeping style for the ultimate restorative rest and comfort.
  • Optimal mattress firmness is necessary to maintain the proper alignment of different body parts. A medium-firm mattress often provides a balanced choice in terms of support for the spine and enough contouring to the sensitive parts of the body, which goes miles to relieve pressure points and contribute to your improved overall health.

What Is Mattress Firmness – Everything You Need To Know

Mattress firmness is simply the initial feeling you experience once you lay on a mattress. For instance, when I lay on my bed, do I float on top or sink into it? Does the mattress contour excellently to my body's curves? Do I experience some pushback? All these are pertinent questions I ask myself when considering firmness.

For a better understanding of firmness, there's a scale within the industry ranging from 1 to 10, where 1 is the softest, 6.5 medium firm, and 10 is the firmest.

Soft

In general, soft mattresses are within the spectrum's 3.5 out of 10 range. These mattresses use cushioning materials such as thick memory foam cushions or quilted pillow tops within their top layers, also called "comfort" layers.

Feelings of pressure relief, body contouring, and deep sinkage characterize soft mattresses. I usually do not experience excess pushback when sleeping on a soft bed. It's more of feeling 'in" rather than "on top" of the mattress.

Soft mattresses make an excellent choice if you're a strict side sleeper or need extra comfort on your lower back, hips, and shoulders. For sleepers that want a mattress that's firmer than a soft mattress but isn't into a medium firm mattress, learning how to make a mattress firmer is necessary.

Medium Firm

Medium firm mattresses are in the 6 – 7 range of the spectrum. They combine sturdier foundations of high-density pocket coils or pocket foam with soft foam top layers to strike a balance between support and pressure relief. The combination of these attributes appeals to a huge array of sleepers.

Although I have experienced some level of sinkage while laying on a medium-firm mattress, I feel lifted up/out of my mattress most of the time. If you're a back or combination sleeper, you'll love that attribute about medium firm mattresses as they provide some little extra mobility.

From my experience, some of the mattresses I would recommend are the Koala Mattress and Emma Mattress. I observed that both boast the same firmness feel on their medium-firm side. I rate them at 6.5 on the firmness scale.

A medium-firm mattress
A medium-firm mattress

The former feels more supportive than an average all-foam mattress because of its Kloudcell™ foam. Kloudcell™ foam tends to be denser than conventional memory foam. Its medium firm side is spongier, and the flip side is firmer.

On the other hand, the latter not only cradles the body but also has a fair amount of sinkage. I'd give it a plus in terms of spinal alignment and proper support. It's the right mattress if you're looking to relieve the tension in your muscles.

Firm

Firm mattresses are in the 8 – 10 range of the spectrum. Instead of some beds employing plush or soft materials in their comfort layers, they insert some thin layer of soft foam on top of high-density springs or poly foam, making firm mattresses highly supportive.

When sampling a firm mattress, I noticed that every body part was lifted squarely on top with excess pushback.

Pro Tip: If you are heavy or consider yourself a strict stomach sleeper, you'll appreciate the extra heft you might get from these structures. I observed that the structures offer additional firmness and support for proper spinal alignment and restrict excess sinkage to ensure a more comfortable and stable sleeping surface.

Mattress Firmness Scale

After briefly introducing the three primary firmness levels, I need us to revisit the scale (1-10). By the end of this section, you'll have a better idea of each firmness rating to help you make a better decision when in the market for a mattress.

1 out of 10 (Extremely soft)

From my experience, finding a mattress rated 1 out of 10 on the firmness scale is special. For a bed to be a 1, I'd consider it "unsleepable" because its sinkage would be excess to disrupt any potential support and be unimpressively uncomfortable throughout the night.

2 out of 10 (Ultra-soft)

Like a 1, I wouldn't be comfortable sleeping on a mattress rated 2 out of 10 on the scale. Equally, it would be less supportive even for an average sleeper.

3 out of 10 (Very soft)

The sinkage on a 3 out of 10 mattress is between 1.5 and 3 inches. I find this manageable for just some minor support. Mattresses in this range are mostly memory foam which I consider a gentle material to offer pressure relief. A side sleeper like myself wouldn't mind such a mattress.

4 out of 10 (Soft)

When a mattress is 4 out of 10 on the firmness scale, it simply means that while it is soft, it boasts a balanced feel. Its comfort layers have started getting somewhat thinner. Sleeping on such a mattress makes me feel less like I'm stuck on the bed, which is common with many softer mattresses. Strict side sleepers would also love this mattress.

5 out of 10 (Medium soft)

Many mattresses in a box tend to fall in the 5 out of 10 range of the firmness spectrum. They bring plush comfort layers balanced by a strong base of high-density springs, coils, or poly foam. 

6 out of 10 (Medium firm)

Many mattresses in the market today are in this firmness range. They perform well when it comes to combining support and pressure relief. These mattresses are versatile enough for different body types and sleeping positions.

Medium firm mattresses can feature a combination of coils and foam or are wholly out of form.

7 out of 10 (Slightly firm)

7 out of 10 mattresses on the scale are in the firmer territory. I felt lifted up and out of the mattress structure when I tried a bed in this range.

Whether you're a combination sleeper, stomach sleeper, or back sleeper, you'll benefit immensely from the firm structure of this mattress.

8 out of 10 (Firm)

8 out of 10 firmness level means that a mattress is very firm. From my test, this mattress doesn't hug or contour; instead, I felt plenty of pushback. They make an excellent choice of a stomach and back sleeper or sleepers with a more conventional feel.

9 out of 10 (Very firm)

Almost similar to 8 out of 10, these mattresses have even less sinkage and hug. With its extreme pushback, I felt this mattress to be excessively firm for my body.

Nonetheless, some overly heavier sleepers wouldn't mind sleeping on such a mattress.

10 out of 10 (Ultra firm)

Like 1 out of 10 mattresses, finding a 10 out of 10 bed on the firmness range might be a tall order. In my mattress testing experience, I'm yet to encounter one. If you happen to come across such a mattress, you can bet that it doesn't have even the slightest pressure relief.

How To Choose The Appropriate Mattress Firmness Level For Your Needs

I recommend considering the following factors when choosing the appropriate mattress firmness level for your needs:

Sleeping Position

For this section, I'll focus on three prominent sleeping positions – side, stomach, and back.

Side Sleepers

As a side sleeper, I can attest that we are less universally pleased than our back-sleeping counterparts. I prefer a soft mattress that offers sinkage and cuddly pressure relief on my lower back, hips, and shoulders. I'm also into a bed with zoned support.

By zoned support, I mean a design feature where different areas or zones of the mattress have varying levels of support. These zones are strategically positioned to target specific body regions and offer tailored support to other parts of my body.

If you're a side sleeper like I am, I highly suggest you get a mattress in the 4 – 6 range of the firmness scale. This will provide sound support and thick, soft foam layers to cushion your joints as you press into the structure to avoid uncomfortable tension or jamming on your pressure points throughout the night.

I recommend memory foam mattresses for side sleepers.

Side sleeping on a mattress
Side sleeping on a mattress

Stomach Sleepers

In my opinion, stomach sleepers are the complete opposite of us – side sleepers. If you're a stomach sleeper, your mattress needs to be such that it aligns your hips to be on the same level as your shoulders for a neutral spinal alignment.

Mattresses on the 8 – 10 range of the scale are the best for stomach sleepers. The key is choosing a bed with highly supportive interior layers and comfortable top layers for some initial pressure relief.

I recommend hybrid or innerspring mattresses for stomach sleepers.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers share both the needs of stomach and side sleepers. An overly firm mattress will cause unnecessary pinching and tension in the lower back. Conversely, a too-soft mattress will dip the hips out of alignment with the shoulders.

If you're a back sleeper, you need a mattress that lifts your spine into neutral alignment, thus establishing comfort and sound support across the back to reduce pain and pressure. Medium firm mattresses (6.5) are the best for back sleepers (1).

I recommend settling for a hybrid mattress if you're a back sleeper.

Body Weight

Since different people apply a lot of pressure to a sleeping surface based on weight, a mattress that feels softer to a heavy person might be firmer than a light sleeper. Heavier individuals generally want to settle for a thicker mattress with adequate foam layers to be pressed into for the utmost deep compression support and vice versa.

Body TypeIdeal Mattress Firmness RangeDescription
Lightweight3-5Softer firmness for better contouring and comfort. Suitable for side and back sleepers.
Average4-7Medium to medium-firm for a balance of support and comfort. Suitable for all sleep positions.
Heavyweight8+Firmer firmness for strong support and preventing sinkage. Suitable for stomach and back sleepers.

Body Type

When it comes to the body, you need to ask yourself, do you have a heavy midsection? If yes, I recommend a firm mattress with a zoned support core to ensure your spinal alignment is neutral. For light sleepers, choose a softer mattress with plenty of comfort because you will interact mainly with the mattress's top layers.

How Mattress Type Affects Its Firmness

Did you know that the type of mattress can influence the overall firmness of a bed? Yes, that is my observation, and I'll share my reasons in this section.

Four major types of mattresses are available, mainly based on their materials. Once you understand each option's general attributes, you can glimpse or anticipate how that particular type of mattress will feel and perform.

While that is the case, I have to note that variations between models of the same constructions based on their materials and unique designs exist.

Hybrid Mattresses

Hybrid mattresses are my favorite of all types. They combine the thicker comfort layers of a latex or foam model with the coil support core of an innerspring. Typically, these beds offer a long-lasting and responsive surface while at the same time contouring for the utmost pressure relief.

They come in an array of firmness options to grant shoppers the liberty to settle for a model in their preferred range.

A hybrid mattress on a bed frame
A hybrid mattress on a bed frame

Foam Mattresses

Foam mattresses comprise primarily memory foam or polyfoam. They conform excellently to your body and offer adequate pressure relief.

Often, all foam mattress models are softer than other types, although I've also come across exceptionally different firm options.

Innerspring Mattresses

At some point, innerspring mattresses were the most common in the industry. They feature a coil support core that's usually made of steel.

Although factors like gauge and coil pattern could impact how a model performs and feels, innerspring is famous for being supportive, breathable, and bouncy.

Since most of them lack thick comfort layers, they often have a firmer feel.

In my opinion, innerspring are the best mattresses for those who prefer a conventional feel, cool sleepers, and strong edge support.

Latex mattresses

A striking attribute of latex is its ability to spread out your body's force over a vast surface, relieving pressure while restricting sinkage. Mattresses made of this responsive material are standard for their durability.

While firmness differs between models, Talalay latex tends to be softer than Dunlop latex.

A latex mattress on a bed frame
A latex mattress on a bed frame

Mattresses With Different In-Built Firmness Options

Although many of the mattresses in the market today bring with them a single, fixed firmness rating, some feature several in-built firmness options.

They include:

Flippable Mattresses

These mattresses utilize two comfort layers over one shared support core, meaning you can use either side as your sleeping surface. Most feature two separate firmness levels, thus allowing you to flip your mattress to a different feel.

Adjustable Mattresses

Typically, these models are airbeds with chambers that you can fill or empty via an app, remote or manual controls.

Because adjustments are seamless, you can adjust the firmness as necessary through the night. They make an excellent option for sleepers with changing firmness preferences. Their downside is that they tend to be pricey compared to the rest.

Pro tip: If you're looking for a mattress that provides a particular range of firmness levels, you should consider an adjustable bed.

Dual-Firm Mattresses

Finally, dual-firm mattresses are excellent for couples with diverse preferences and needs. Their surface is divided so that every sleeper can have their firmness levels.

Of great importance to note is that most dual-firm mattresses only come in queen-size and larger sizes.

Common Misconceptions About Mattress Firmness

Here are some of the misconceptions about mattress firmness that I have come across:

Firmness Is Consistent Across All Mattress Brands

This isn't true. Mattress firmness isn't standardized. I've observed that various manufacturers have different scales to define their firmness levels.

What a brand describes as "medium-firm" might be the equivalent of "plush" or "firm" with another brand. Testing the mattress is necessary to understand the actual firmness of the bed.

Firmness And Support Mean The Same Thing

Regarding mattress firmness, many mattress shoppers often think that support and firmness are the same. They are not!

Firmness, as I have explained earlier in this article, is the comfort level or initial feel of a mattress whenever you lay on it. We have also established that firmness is from soft to firm. As a subjective measure, mattress firmness differs from one person to another based on factors such as body type, weight, and sleeping position. What might feel supportive to you is uncomfortable to another person.

On the other hand, support is a mattress's ability to maintain proper spinal alignment and evenly distribute your body weight, the firmness level notwithstanding. A supportive mattress enhances a neutral position of the spine that's vital to relieve pressure on your back for restful sleep.

One Firmness Fits All

As already aforementioned, firmness is subjective. Different people have different needs and preferences. What might work for me might affect your pressure points. Consider the other factors I have listed above when considering your ideal firmness level.

Firmness Cannot Change

Although the core of a mattress might not change drastically, its comfort layers, particularly in pillow-top or memory foam mattresses, can suffer from degradation or softening over time. Such a happening can result in a perceived change in firmness and informs why you need to replace your mattress after its beneficial lifespan – roughly 8 years (2).

My Experience With Mattress Firmness

I have always valued a good night's sleep, and I'm always on the lookout for the perfect mattress for an ideal balance of comfort and support. Over the years, I've tried mattresses with a range of firmness levels, each offering a unique sleep experience.

One of the most memorable instances was when I transitioned from a plush, soft mattress to a medium-firm one. At first, the change felt unfamiliar, and I was concerned that the firmer surface might lead to discomfort.

However, as I adapted to the new firmness level, I noticed a significant improvement in my sleep quality. The medium-firm mattress provided the proper support for my back and spine, alleviating the occasional stiffness I used to experience.

It felt like my body was cradled in a supportive embrace, ensuring a restful slumber.

Conversely, I also experimented with a firmer mattress during a vacation. While it offered excellent support, I missed the slight sink-in feeling that a medium-firm bed provided.

It was a reminder that personal preference plays a crucial role in determining the ideal firmness level. This experience underscored the importance of understanding one's sleeping style and bodily needs when selecting a mattress.

Through these experiences, I've come to appreciate how mattress firmness can significantly impact the quality of sleep and overall well-being. I've discovered that there's no one-size-fits-all solution for mattresses. Establishing a balance between firmness and comfort is a personal journey that can significantly enhance your sleeping experience.

FAQ

What's The Best Mattress Firmness Level?

There's no best mattress firmness level, as different individuals have different needs. You should consider your sleeping position, body type, and weight to settle for a firmness level that addresses your needs.

Which Is The Most Popular Mattress Firmness?

The most popular mattress firmness level is medium firm. It is rated 6.5 on the mattress firmness scale.

What Firmness Level Do Hotels Prefer For Their Mattresses?

Most mattresses in hotels are medium to medium firm. What makes medium firm mattresses popular with hotels is the fact that they strike a balance between support and comfort making them popular among many hotel guests. These mattresses provide proper support for spinal alignment and enough cushioning to relieve pressure points. This is a combination that guests seem to enjoy.

Hotels take the comfort of their guests seriously and part of taking care of that has to do with where the guests sleep. For this reason, they assess their mattress firmness regularly to make sure they meet the expectations and needs of guests. Assessment is done through mattress testing, consultations or even guest feedback.

How Firm Is Your Average Mattress?

Your average mattress ranges between medium soft to medium firm (4 – 6.5) levels on the scale.

Conclusion 

From the plushness that cradles our bodies for the ultimate comfort to unwavering support that aligns our spines properly, every firmness level boasts its unique benefits. When choosing the right mattress firmness level, I reiterate that you should consider your sleeping position and body weight, size, and shape. The amount of hug or sinkage you desire and the kind of support you want can also play a vital role in firmness.

I hope you found this guide helpful in choosing your mattress's firmness level. If you have any questions or insights, feel free to share them in the comments section.

References

  1.  Effect of different mattress designs on promoting sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment in adults with or without back pain; systematic review of controlled trials (December 4, 2015) Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2352721815001400#:~:text=Conclusion&text=Medium%2Dfirm%20mattresses%20are%20beneficial,with%20chronic%20low%20back%20pain.
  2. How Often Should You Replace Your Mattress? (June 12, 2020) Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/when-to-change-mattress#What-are-the-general-guidelines

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