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Whether you need a ‘soft’ or ‘firm’ mattress will ultimately depend on your body, budget, and personal preferences. The right firmness level for a given sleeper varies by height, weight, and sleep position. Additionally, mattress firmness is often linked to pricing and performance factors like durability and temperature neutrality. Read on to learn more about finding a mattress with the right firmness level for you and your sleep partner.
A mattress with the right firmness level will provide adequate support and alleviate pressure points throughout the sleeper’s body. Mattresses that feel too firm or not firm enough can create joint discomfort, back and shoulder pain, and exacerbate pressure points.
How soft or firm a mattress feels will largely depend on how the comfort layer (or comfort system) is constructed, as well as its overall thickness. The comfort layer is defined as the body-cushioning system that forms the topmost part of the mattress, and its composition will determine how closely the mattress conforms to a sleeper’s body. Common comfort layer components include polyfoam, memory foam, latex, and/or steel microcoils, as well as the mattress cover. Some mattresses have a single-layer comfort system, while others may have as many as four or five individual layers in the comfort system.
Firmness is also tied to bodily support, although it’s important to differentiate between these two terms: firmness refers to how a mattress feels as soon as a sleeper lies down, whereas support refers to how a mattress aligns the sleeper’s spine and relieves pressure throughout the night. Mattresses that are too firm for a sleeper offer too much head, neck, and shoulder support; this can cause unnecessary pain and pressure. On the other hand, mattresses that are not firm enough may not provide enough support — and, as a result, may lead to comparable levels of physical discomfort.
Other factors can be used to evaluate firmness in different mattress types. In innerspring mattresses, the gauge (or thickness) of steel coil and other metal components can affect overall firmness. In mattresses made entirely of foam or latex, firmness is linked to a measurement known as indentation load deflection (or ILD). ILD refers to how much weight is needed to indent a sleep surface by 25%; mattresses with low ILD ratings are not as firm and require less weight for indentation, while mattresses with high ILD ratings are firmer and require more weight.
Due to the wide range of firmness preferences among individual sleepers, many mattress manufacturers offer models with multiple firmness options. Additionally, some mattresses are available in ‘dual firmness’ or ‘split firmness’ designs that feature different firmness settings on both sides of the top surface; these models are geared toward couples with differing firmness preferences. Other ‘flippable’ models feature different firmness ratings on both the top and bottom surfaces, and can be rotated at will.
At Tuck.com, we rate mattresses using the following 1-10 firmness scale:
It’s important to note that mattresses with firmness ratings of ‘1’, ‘9’, or ’10’ are quite rare because the vast majority of sleepers prefer surfaces with firmness ratings of 2 to 8. According to our feedback, the most popular firmness rating among all sleepers is ‘6 to 6.5’, which is considered ‘Medium Firm’.
Body weight and sleep position are arguably the two most important factors for determining the right mattress firmness.
People with below-average weights generally feel more on mattress with lower firmness ratings; if the mattress is too firm, then they may not weigh enough to feel any conforming or pressure relief. On the other hand, people who weigh more than 230 pounds may experience uncomfortable sinking on mattresses with low firmness ratings.
Sleep position is key because it determines which areas of the body need more cushioning and support.
As a result, a side-sleeping individual who weighs 150 pounds will react quite differently to the feel of a mattress than a back- or stomach-sleeper who weighs 300 pounds. Additional factors include the sleeper’s shoulder, waist, and hip measurements. Using customer satisfaction reports, the table below features the most popular firmness rating for individuals with different weights and sleep positions:
|Weight Group||Sleep Position||Optimal Firmness Range|
|Less than 130 Pounds (Below Average)||Side||Medium Soft to Medium|
|Back||Medium Soft to Medium Firm|
|Stomach||Medium Soft to Medium Firm|
|130 to 230 Pounds (Average)||Side||Medium Soft to Medium|
|Back||Medium to Firm|
|Stomach||Medium to Medium Firm|
|More than 230 Pounds (Above Average)||Side||Medium to Medium Firm|
|Back||Medium Firm to Firm|
|Stomach||Medium Firm to Firm|
Although mattress price-points vary from brand to brand, models with low firmness ratings (1 to 3) tend to be the most expensive due to extra padding layers that make the comfort system feel exceptionally soft. Additionally, high-end materials like Talalay latex and gel memory foam tend to produce comfort systems with the lowest firmness ratings. Alternatively, firmer mattresses feature less padding and are usually cheaper by comparison.
The firmness rating may be used to determine how a mattress will perform in the long run. Performance factors tied to mattress firmness include the following:
The table below features a summary of pricing and performance expectations for mattresses with different firmness ratings.
|Category||1-3 Firmness (Soft)||4-6 Firmness (Medium)||7-10 Firmness (Firm)|
|Price||Most Expensive||Affordable||Most Affordable|
|Durability||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
|Pain/Pressure Relief||Poor to Fair||Good to Very Good||Poor to Fair|
|Smell||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
|Temperature Neutrality||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
|Sex||Good to Very Good||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair|
|Ease of Moving/Maintaining||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
Pillow thickness can greatly affect the feel of a mattress. The thickness of a pillow is measured using the term ‘loft’. Low-loft pillows measure less than three inches thick, medium-loft pillows measure three to five inches thick, and high-loft pillows measure more than five inches thick. A good rule-of-thumb when choosing pillows for a mattress: the lower the firmness rating, the lower the pillow loft. The table below features a detailed breakdown of the optimal pillow loft for different firmness ratings:
|Firmness Rating||Low-Loft Pillow||Medium-Loft Pillow||High-Loft Pillow|
|1 to 3 (Soft)||Very Good||Fair to Good||Poor|
|4 to 6 (Medium)||Fair to Good||Very Good||Fair to Good|
|7 to 10 (Firm)||Poor||Fair to Good||Very Good|
Many mattress manufacturers list a firmness rating with different models. If this information is not available online for a particular model and you are unable to test out the mattress in person, we strongly recommend reaching out to that company’s customer service division to inquire about its firmness level.
Many online-only mattress brands offer sleep trials for new customers. These trials are typically 30 to 90 nights in length; customers have the option of returning their mattress for a full or partial refund before the trial period ends. In some cases, customers may be able to exchange their mattress for a different model — but it is important to read the fine print, since some brands do not allow customers to exchange their mattress for a model with a different firmness level.
Additionally, most companies will not honor warranty claims for customers who are dissatisfied with the firmness level of their mattress, or whose comfort preferences have changed since they made their original purchase. Unless the mattress shows another type of defect covered under the warranty (such as deep indentations or protruding wires), mattress owners will likely be unable to replace their mattress for a model with a different firmness rating.
Before purchasing a mattress, here are a few firmness-oriented considerations to make:
To compare different mattress brands and models based on firmness and other factors related to comfort and support, please visit our Mattress Review Database.