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Mattress Firmness Guide: What’s Your Best Comfort Level?

For healthy sleeping, your mattress must do three things – offer ample support, be comfortable and mold to your body contours. When shopping for a mattress, firmness is among the most important things to consider. To choose a mattress with an appropriate firmness level, you need to factor in aspects such as your age, sleeping position, and weight. It is also to prudent to consider ailments or whether you have pets or a partner.

Is there a way you can tell that you have chosen a mattress with an inappropriate firmness level? Discomfort is one of the tell-tale signs. This is especially true if you are past the ”break-in” period. You might need to consider replacing your mattress if this is the case as continuing sleeping on it will only make matters worse. Your body is the primary indicator of assessing whether the mattress is too firm or soft. Particular pains and sensations should help you identify what the issue is and exactly what you need to do to enhance your comfort.

Major indications of a too firm mattress include:

  • Tingling or numb hips or shoulders
  • Pressure points on the knees, hips, and shoulders being pushed above the body
  • Sensation while sleeping

Major indications of a too-soft mattress include:

  • Challenges embarking and disembarking from your bed
  • Pressure points like the knees, hips, and shoulders sinking beneath the body
  • Sensation while sleeping particularly on the upper part of the body

One important thing that you need to bear in mind is that some mattresses take longer (up to one month) to ”break-in.”

Guide to Mattress Firmness

To understand mattress firmness, comprehending the measurement scale is important. The firmness gauge runs from one to ten. 1 is the softest while 10 is hard as a rock. Many manufacturers avoid either extreme of the scale. In the same way, you should avoid both extremes (1,2 and 9, 10). Many mattresses fall in the mid-range of the gauge, 4 – 8.

The following are the different mattress firmness levels and where they fall on the firmness scale:

  • Very soft – (1-2)
  • Soft – (3-4)
  • Medium – (4-5)
  • Medium-firm – (6-7)
  • Firm – (7-8)
  • Extra/Ultra firm – (9-10)

1. Very Soft

(1 – 2)

Very soft is 1 – 2 on the firmness scale. They lack adequate support. Of great importance to note is that less support does not translate to zero support. A great highlight of them is the fact that they provide incredible body contouring. They not only conform to your body but also hug it. Because of their tremendous sinkage, they can injure your spine.

If you weigh 130 pounds and below, mattresses within this firmness level are the best choice. This is particularly true if you desire to enhance your spinal alignment. If you weigh above 130 pounds, you will feel that these beds either sag excessively or have inadequate support.

In terms of durability, they have a shorter lifespan compared to the rest. What about their pricing? Since their construction features soft or extra soft comfort layers, their cost is higher than their firmer counterparts.

  • Main feature – Deep sinkage
  • Ideal sleeping positionSide sleepers
  • Ideal weight – Very light sleepers

Best very soft mattressCrave Mattress

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2. Soft

(3 – 4)

Soft is on the 3 – 4 range on the firmness scale. Mattresses with this firmness level feature a soft support and comfort layer. The memory foam material is often the most commonly used in making these mattresses. Their major drawback is related to hot sleeping. They are good at controlling temperature. In addition to that, their soft foam layer is prone to some off-gassing when you unpack your package.

You can get them either in the conventional deep contour foam or the contemporary deep cushion hug. If you are into side sleeping, soft mattresses can be a good option. Stomach and back sleepers need to avoid these.

  • Main feature – Plenty of sinkage and contour characterize this firmness level.
  • Ideal sleeping position – Side sleepers
  • Ideal weight – Light sleepers

Best soft mattressAmerisleep AS5 Mattress

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3. Medium

(4 – 5)

Medium is on the 4 – 5 range on the firmness scale. These mattresses are medium on average on its different layers. Of all the firmness levels, medium mattresses are the most preferred. They are in the middle of the pack when it comes to hug and sinkage. You can consider mattresses on this spectrum ”universal comfort.” What does universal comfort mean?

Universal comfort is a term that describes an all-around mattress in terms of firmness needs. A mattress with universal comfort meets the needs of different types of sleepers when it comes to conformability, support, and firmness. Medium and medium-firm mattress qualify to be ‘universal comfort’ mattresses.

They can have any of these features:

  • Medium firmness featuring medium-firm support
  • Soft comfortable layer featuring firm support
  • Firm comfortable layer featuring soft support

Other important attributes:

  • Main feature – Balanced comfort, contour, support, and firmness characterize this firmness level.
  • Ideal sleeping position – Universal sleepers (most sleeping positions would have no issue with this firmness level)
  • Ideal weight – Average-weight sleepers

Best Medium MattressBotanical Bliss

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4. Medium to Firm

(6 – 7)

Medium to firm mattresses are on the 6 – 7 range on the firmness scale. Medium to firm just like medium mattresses are very popular among mattress shoppers. They feature adequate softness at the top to relieve pressure on your body parts. These mattresses also have ample support for your feet, spine, and head. They make excellent choices for side sleepers.

They can have any of these features:

  • A firm comfortable layer featuring medium support
  • A medium comfortable layer featuring firm support
  • A medium firmness comfortable layer featuring medium-firm support

Here’s more information on medium to firm mattresses:

  • Main feature – They also provide balanced support, firmness, and contour.
  • Ideal sleeping position – Back and side sleeping
  • Ideal weight – Average-weight sleepers

Best medium to firm mattressDreamcloud Mattress[Affordable luxury], Nectar Mattress [Budget frendly]

Read More: Best Medium Firm Mattress

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5. Firm

(7 – 8)

This mattress firmness level often features a sturdy coil system coupled with several layers of compressed and firm upholstery. Such mattresses deliver minimal sinkage. They are the best choice for those that desire to float on the surface.

So, what is the differentiating factor of a firm from an extra firm mattress? Unlike the extra firm bed, a firm one features a thin upholstery layer with soft padding for just a minimal sinkage.

  • Main feature – Firm mattresses are characterized by substantial conformability and comfort while at the same time being firm. Extra firm mattresses, on the other hand, feature a stiff feel devoid of conformability and padding. They also lack sinkage and contouring.
  • Ideal sleeping position – Back sleepers
  • Ideal weight – Moderate heavy (heavier) sleepers

Best Cheap firm mattressIKEA Haugesund Mattress

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If you are a side sleeper, it is prudent to avoid buying an extra firm mattress. Side sleeping on this mattress might not only reduce circulation but also cause your limb to be numb thus coming in the way of a good night’s sleep. Side sleepers also ought to avoid firm mattresses and settle for a slightly softer option.

Read More: 6 Most Popular Ikea Mattress Reviews (And 3 Alternatives)

  • Firm innerspring mattresses – Modern innerspring mattresses weren’t as firm as those in the past. Sadly, they are also not as long-lasting. This is because today’s springs are made with lighter wire that not only reduces their firmness but also causes faster wearing out.
  • Firm memory foam mattresses – These are great at providing pressure relief as the memory foam is not only denser but also sensitive to heat. Their main issue is heat retention. On top of that, sleepers can grapple with the issue of changing sleeping positions.

6. Extra Firm

(9 – 10)

Extra firm mattresses have a strong foundation that is tailored to not only absorb weight but also motion. This goes miles in assisting heavier sleepers to enjoy additional support. Additional support also emanates from the fact that these mattresses’ ”firm tight top” design. If you are not into the extremely hard top surface, you can add memory foam or pillow top layer above it.

Another great highlight of these mattresses is the fact that they have remarkable edge support. This section of the mattress, just like the rest, does not sag which means that feeling like you are falling off is the last thing you will ever have to be worried about. Enjoy minimal motion transfer.

Whether you want an extra firm mattress with extra memory foam or the ‘pillowy’ hybrids, you will be glad to know that these mattresses do not sink at all.

Extra firm mattresses are perfect for heavy sleepers as well as those with medical conditions like sciatica.

  • Main feature – Extra firm mattresses, feature a stiff feel devoid of conformability and padding. They also lack sinkage and contouring.
  • Ideal sleeping position – Back sleepers
  • Ideal weight – Moderate heavy (heavier) sleepers

Best extra firm mattress Beautyrest Mattress

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You should opt for an extra firm mattress because of an array of reasons on top of those we have already mentioned. Because we spend one-third of our lives on our mattresses, posture can make a huge difference not only to live overall but also to sleep quality generally. Just imagine your posture being wrong for around 6 – 8 hours per night! It can render you unproductive the following day. As you age, the issue becomes amplified. Buying an extra firm mattress can work wonders for your spine.

Also Read: 5 Best Firm Mattress Idle For Stomach Sleeper And Heavy People

7. Multiple or Dual Firmness Options

In addition to the above mattress firmness options, some companies produce mattresses with the split tension feature. These are handy for couples or partners that prefer dissimilar firmness levels. This mattress is tailored to your favorite tensions.

For instance, a mattress can be medium to firm on the right side and extra firm on the left. Therefore, if your partner prefers an ultra-firm firmness level, he/she can sleep on the left side while you rest on the opposite side. This means that you get a comfortable night based on your preferences. In addition to that, you do not need to disturb each other with your movements. Of great importance to note is that these beds are available only in bigger sizes.

One of the types or designs of a mattress with multiple firmness levels goes by the name flippable mattress. These mattresses feature two comfort layers and a support core that is shared. The comfort layer is on either side. They have dissimilar firmness settings on either side meaning you can flip them to your desired preference. Flippable mattresses are an excellent choice if your desired firmness fluctuates from one night to another.

Some manufacturers sell mattresses with adjustable firmness. Such are mostly ‘smart’ beds and airbeds. A mattress with adjustable firmness has a feature that enables you to adjust its firmness using app-based controls or manual controls. In most instances, these types of mattresses provide users with a firmness range. Their only drawback is the fact that they are pricey. Although they can be costlier than others, you get to enjoy different firmness levels on one mattress.

Best dual firmness mattressIdle Mattress

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Best multiple firmness mattressHelix Mattress

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Why Mattress Firmness Is Essential?

Choosing the wrong mattress firmness is problematic. It causes issues such as unnecessary heat, discomfort and back pain. Just like we have mentioned earlier, the ideal mattress firmness is the one that provides adequate support while at the same time remaining soft to relieve pressure and conform to your body.

The construction of the comfort layer determines the firmness or softness of your mattress. A mattresses’ overall thickness also plays a huge role in its firmness or softness. The comfort layer constitutes the top part of a bed. Its composition ascertains how your mattress closely conforms to your body.

Some of the common comfort layers comprise steel microcoils, latex, memory foam, and polyfoam. While some mattresses feature a one-layer comfort system, others can have up to 4 – 5 individual layers making up their comfort system.

An array of other factors can be handy to assess firmness in various mattress types. For instance, in innerspring mattresses, the steel coil’s or other metal components’ thickness affects general firmness. When it comes to latex or foam mattresses, firmness is associated with ILD.

ILD and Firmness

ILD stands for indentation load deflection. ILD is interchangeable with IFD that stands for indentation load deflection. Simply put, it entails measuring firmness levels. A higher ILD translates to a firmer mattress and vice versa. Higher ILD suggests increased hardness while lower ILD infers increased softness.

Firmness on Different Types of Mattress

Having looked at the different firmness levels in a mattress, it is also important to know how the specific firmness levels of various mattress types. In this regard, it depends on the quantity, quality, and type of materials featured within the comfort layers. The materials’ composition and design can also inform the firmness.

Air Beds

Open compartments full of air to regulate firmness characterize air beds. They have a feature that makes it effortless to adjust the firmness on both sides of the bed. For this reason, they are excellent choices for couples with dissimilar preferences in terms of firmness.

The fact that you can adjust firmness levels to mitigate downward force on certain pressure points, the beds are handy for back injury sufferers. Because of its mechanical dependencies, these mattresses might not be a dependable choice for many folks. Another common drawback with them has to do with air leakages which can cause inconsistent comfort levels.

In addition to back pain sufferers, co-sleepers can also find these mattresses comfortable.

Memory Foam

Polyurethane foam featuring distinct visco-elastic response characterize memory foam mattresses. The material softens and reacts with heat to handle any pressure applied. Once you remove the pressure and allow the material to cool, it regains its original shape.

Density does not affect the firmness of a memory foam mattress. Rather, the construction of layers and foam’s ILD rating determine its firmness. The layer composition’s versatility and different ILD ratings mean different firmness possibilities. Softer foams facilitate more contouring and sinking. Of great importance to note is that memory foam mattresses that are firmer are still able to mold to handle your body shape and offer more support.

The foam also enables the body to fall away at various levels thus guaranteeing well spread out spine support. Uniform positioning means minimal impact on pressure points thus preventing numbness, pains, and aches.

Memory foam mattresses, regardless of which firmness level, are great choices for co-sleepers, back sleepers, side sleepers, and heavyweight.


Foam rubber material characterizes latex mattresses. The material provides a unique ‘bounce back” feel. Although latex mattresses are available in various firmness levels, they tend to lean more towards the firmness scale’s firmer range. Because of this, they are a good choice for stomach sleepers as well as those with higher BMI.

Today’s latex mattresses have a new option by the name ”zoned” mattresses. These are built-in rows with different firmness to specific firmness on pain/pressure points. What does this mean? It simply means that you are assured of soft cushioning at the exact points in the body you need them. Your other body parts enjoy firmer support.

Stomach, back, and heavyweight sleepers can lay on this mattress for comfortable sleep.


When it comes to firmness levels, innerspring mattresses tend to be the most varied. Their firmness is informed by factors such as several coils, gauge, and shape. The amount and type of material within and surrounding the coils also play a role in determining the firmness of an innerspring mattress.

A common thing that confuses many people is the firmness level of a mattress with its coil count. Beds boasting a high coil count might have a soft feeling especially if the coil gauge or thickness is low. Coil shape is also a determinant. For instance, hourglass-shaped coils tend to be firmer compared to continuous coils.

Pillow-top is a common form of innerspring mattresses. They feature a separately upholstered and sewn comfort layer that is put on the mattress. Although their top might have a cushiony feel, the surface underneath is usually firm.

They are excellent choices for side and back sleepers. If you are average weight, you should also consider these mattresses.

How Mattress Firmness Affects Its Features and Performance?

Does the firmness of a mattress affect how it performs over time? Is there any relationship between the features of a mattress with its features?

Let us look at just some features and how firmness can affect them:

Ease of movement

In addition to having to regularly rotate low firm mattresses, their ease of movement is also poor compared to those featuring higher firmness levels.


Firm and medium-firm beds are great retainers of heat. What does this mean? Effective temperature regulation translates to cool sleep. Softer mattresses are poor regulators of body heat meaning you will sleep warmer.

Note: When it comes to temperature, firmness plays a lesser role than mattress type. For example, hybrids and innerspring hold body heat less compared to latex or foam mattresses.


When shopping for a mattress, one of the issues that will grapple with is off-gassing. Mattress falling on the 1 – 3 range of the firmness scale tends to produce longer-lasting and stronger odor due to their thicker foam layers. On the other hand, those on the higher range of the spectrum produce less smell as their foam is thinner.

Read Also: How To Get Rid Of Memory Foam Smell: 7 Tips That Work

Pressure relief

Regarding pressure or pain relief, you want to buy a middle-level firmness mattress. They are the best at handling pressure points and body pain. The design of these mattresses is such that they provide a balance of support and comfort.

Mattress lifespan

Just like with many other purchases, you want your mattress to last long. Your purchase should serve you for several years, right? A mattress on the lower firmness level, especially the innerspring type, is not long-lasting. Indentations and premature sagging inform this. Because firmer ones are less prone to such degradation, they last longer by comparison.

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