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Your Guide to Mattress Firmness

August 2, 2022   By Danielle Herrera
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Mattress shopping is no joke. It’s a constant weighing in of pros and cons until you arrive at a decision. One of the greatest considerations will be the firmness of a mattress. But how do you know which firmness rating is perfect for you?

The level of firmness in a new mattress is a highly subjective and personal matter. What’s firm for you may not be firm for others, and what’s soft for others may not be soft for you.

Simply put, mattress firmness is the degree of softness or firmness that a mattress feels like when you first lie on it. The right firmness level matters for you to have a good night’s sleep. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – you need to look at body weight, body type, preferred sleeping positions, partner/pets/kids, and any ailments to determine the right firmness, as well as the right mattress, for you.

What Should Your Sleeping Surface Feel Like?

In full consideration of sleeping healthy, you need a mattress to do three things. First, it should mould to your unique contours. Second, it needs to provide ample cushioning, so you don’t wake up to or exacerbate hip pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, or any other pains you may already have. Finally, it has to be comfortable!

Firmness Is Not Equal to Support

Before I get into the deeper parts of the iceberg, let me establish that firmness and support ARE not the same. Mattress support refers to how a mattress can keep your spine aligned and relieve your pressure points. Spinal alignment and pressure relief are essential to comfortable and restful sleep. But this may or may not have anything to do with firmness. For example, some medium-firm mattresses fail to relieve pressure points despite being at the ‘safe’ firmness level.

The Mattress Firmness Scale

The table below rates mattresses from 1-10 as a benchmark for their softness or firmness level.

1 (Very Soft)Unsupportive for both light and heavy people due to excessive sagging.

The extra soft sleeping surface will be uncomfortable to lie in.
2-4 (Soft to Medium-Soft)A significant but decent amount of sinkage.

Good for sleepers who like feeling ‘hugged’ or those who prefer a plush mattress.

A well-constructed mattress may offer ample pushback while being soft.
5-7 (Medium to Medium-Firm)A good balance of support, firmness, and comfort.

Also considered as the ‘universal comfort’ for sleepers of any sleeping style.

The best type of mattress for chronic back pain.
8-9 (Firm)Great overall support that’s still comfortable.

A firm bed is recommended for most heavy sleepers.
10 (Very Firm)The firmest may be too firm for comfort.

It might create sore joints instead of relieving them. 

How Do I Choose the Best Firmness Level for Me?

1. Weight

Your weight or Body Mass Index (BMI) should be compatible with your mattress’ firmness. The heavier the sleeper is, the higher the pressure to be exerted on the mattress. Imagine this: you have a soft mattress but weigh more than 90 kilograms; chances are your mattress can swallow you whole.

Lighter sleepers are to soft to medium mattresses as heavier sleepers are to medium-firm to firm mattresses, excluding the softest and extra firm mattresses. If you feel that your pressure points (hips, knees, shoulders) aren’t being cradled by the mattress, it may be too firm. If you feel they’re sinking compared to the rest of the body, it’s too soft.

Recommended body weight to sinkage ratio

2. Sleeping Position

The side of your body most vulnerable to the mattress is an important factor in choosing firmness too. You can end up sore in your pressure points due to improper support and excess or lack of a firm feel.

  • Side-sleepers fair well with soft to medium mattresses because these can contour to the hips and shoulders more than firm mattresses without resulting in any pain.
  • Back-sleepers best sleep on medium-firm to firm mattresses because these can evenly distribute the weight on a mattress and provide great support for the back.
  • Stomach-sleepers are likely to be most comfortable in medium-firm to firm mattresses because these can elevate the hips and keep them afloat. However, they must be careful not to hyperextend their lumbar areawhile sleeping to avoid waking up with lower back pain.
  • Combination-sleepers will find the best mattress for them in soft to medium-firm mattresses to accommodate whatever sleeping style they adopt at night.

3. Back Pain or Any Other Ailments

People with existing or chronic back pain needs should be particular with their firmness level. It can make-or-break the sleep experience totally. Research suggests that chronic back pain sufferers found more relief in medium-firm mattresses than extra firm mattresses. You just need to find one that suits your sleeping position and weight while keeping your spine aligned.

For any other ailments that need to be considered when buying a mattress, pay your GP a visit to ask for their opinion.

4. Age

Age has more to do with the ease of getting up from bed. If you sink too much into your mattress, it might be harder to get out of bed. Older sleepers not in their prime should opt for a medium-firm to firm mattress to stay ‘afloat’ – without sacrificing comfort!

Be careful in choosing bed bases too, as the height of your bed frame has a role in how hard it is to get out of bed.

5. Partners and Pets

As this whole article has been saying, firmness is subjective. Your partner may or may not want the same mattress, so it’s important to factor them in to reach a compromise (happy spouse, happy house!). Some couples would even order two Long Singles and put them together to create a King-sized mattress with different firmness levels.

6. Personal Preference

This is what it all comes down to – what you actually want. Regardless of the factors explained, what you deem comfortable as long as it’s not causing you any pain or discomfort should be okay. It’s possible to want a different mattress that doesn’t make sense for you. You could be a side-sleeper who wants a firmer mattress because you like the feeling of ‘floating.’ Conversely, you could be a stomach-sleeper who wants a softer mattress to emanate sleeping on a cloud.

The factors may not align, but as long as your spine and comfort levels do, you’re good to go.

Q: I Bought a Mattress, but I Don’t Think It’s for Me. What Should I Do?

We all make lapses in judgment! You might think the firmness is good enough at first but find that your body is incompatible with it. You’re in luck – there are remedies for this.

  • Check out the mattress’ return policy

If you bought from a store, contact them to ask for their return policy. This might be a bit tricky because the returns are subject to the retailer’s discretion.

The case is easier with online mattress companies. They often offer a 100-night trial period, so you can return your mattress for whatever reason.

There are soft and firm mattress toppers that you can choose if you either want to soften or harden your mattress. This is a fix that could instantly improve the firmness level of your mattress.

Related Article: How to Make Memory Foam Mattress Softer

  • Adjust the room temperature

Some mattresses are made of materials that are temperature-sensitive – one of which is memory foam. Know that memory foam will soften in the heat and harden in the cold. Adjust your heater/AC according to your needs.

Wrapping It Up

Below is a summary of the factors and the recommended firmness levels for each.

Firmness LevelWeightSleep PositionAilments/Pain
2-4 (Soft)Lighter sleepers (less than 60kg)Back, side, stomach
5-7 (Medium to Medium-Firm)Lightweight and average-weight sleepersBack, side, stomachElderly
8-9 (Firm)Heavier sleepers (heavier than 105kg)Back, stomachBack pain

If some factors really don’t add up, stick to your gut. Identify your number one priority when sleeping – it should tell you what you need. Otherwise, purchase a mattress that you can certainly return.

Happy mattress shopping! May you find your perfect firmness.


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