Mattress Firmness Scale: Choosing the Best Comfort Level

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When it comes to mattresses, one size doesn’t fit all.

People are built differently. People sleep differently.

That’s why finding the right mattress is important. While purchasing a mattress, the most important criteria that are kept into consideration is the mattress firmness. 

Even though it is a common term used by manufacturers, distributors, vendors, retailers, customers, and reviewers, it is infrequent to find a distinct discussion or conversation of what mattress firmness is and what significance it carries

In this guide, we put together a detailed and comprehensive description of mattress firmness and how it is associated with several other important issues like support, weight, comfort, materials used, price, sleeping positions, lifespan, etc. To learn much more about what to consider when choosing a mattress, check out our in-depth & comprehensive How to choose a mattress guide.

We also will discuss the link between mattress firmness and how it influences and affects health conditions, motion transfer, comfort preferences, sleeping hot, and motion transfer.

Continue reading on everything you need to know and understand about your mattress and its firmness!

Related: Top 12 Best Mattresses of 2020

What Is Mattress Firmness

Mattress firmness means the comfort level the mattress offers. To be more precise and concise, it means how firm or soft, a bed mattress is. 

The mattress firmness setting or scale conveys how closely the mattress will conform to the sleeper’s body. It is a very subjective thing since what is comfortable to one individual can be discomforting to someone else. 

Having a comfortable mattress not only ensures a comfortable and quality sleep, but also induces calmness, relaxes our senses and induces peace of mind.

That is why bed mattresses are available in different models. Having different firmness scales and settings, corresponding feel, and ILD (Indentation Load Deflection), allows you to find a mattress that aligns with their preferences. An inviting and cozy mattress plays an important role in broader sleep hygiene. 

Mattress Firmness Scale – Choosing a Soft, Medium, or Firm Mattress

Firmness Scale Rating Corresponding Feel Characteristics
1 ‘Extra Soft’ The mattress surface conform closely and easy to sink
2- 3 ‘Soft’ This type of mattress sinks and conforms to a significant extent
4 ‘Medium Soft’ Provide adequate and stable, support without sacrificing surface comfort
5 ‘Medium’ The sleep surface conforms to a medium extent and does not sink much
6 ‘Medium Firm’ The sinkage abily is quite low and conforms to a moderate extent
7 – 8 ‘Firm’ The conform level is significant low while the mattress surface sinkage is minimal
9 – 10 ‘Extra Firm’ Very little conform and no sinkage

1. Extra Soft & Soft

  • Firmness Level 1 – 3 in the mattress firmness scale
  • Support & Conform: Softer mattresses & conforms easily. This level of firmness is especially suitable for side sleepers for the betterment of their spinal alignment
  • Life Span: Soft mattress gets ruined and deteriorated more quickly. So, it has a shorter life span.
  • Suitability: Provide good support for people weighing less than 130 pounds. Soft beds are not recommended for heavy people as they do not offer support and sag excessively.
  • Price: Price-point up by a considerable margin because of the materials used.

2. Medium Soft, Medium, & Medium Firm

  • Firmness Level 4 – 6 in the mattress firmness scale
  • Support & Conform: Provide adequate and stable, support without sacrificing surface comfort·
  • Life Span: These ones outlast softer models· Less durable in comparison to ‘Firm’ or ‘Extra Firm’ beds.
  • Suitability: Suitable for people who weigh 130 to 230 pounds and sleep in multiple (any) positions·
  • Price: Possess fewer cushioning layers in comparison to their counterparts which are pricey and softer. Price-points for these beds are on par with industry averages.

3. Firm and Extra Firm

  • Firmness Level 7 – 10 in the mattress firmness scale
  • Support & Conform: The conform level is significantly low while the mattress surface sinkage is minimal.
  • Life Span: Longest lifespans since the materials are resistant to wear and tear, sagging, indentations and are denser.
  • Suitability: Suitable for people who weigh more than 230 pounds. Preferred and suitable for stomach and back sleepers who require an even, flat surface for good spinal alignment.
  • Price: Quite affordable in comparison to their counterparts because of the absence of padding stuff that usually increases price-points.

What Is Universal Comfort?

Many brands use the term ‘Universal Comfort’ as a USP(Unique Selling Point) for their mattresses, claiming the same degree of comfort and support for all. 

These claims are often arguable, as comfort is a perceived term that depends on individual preferences of sleeping posture and body type. Based on particular research, it was identified that mattresses with a certain degree of firmness are preferred more over other mattresses. Some mattresses do offer different firmness options such as mattresses from Nest Bedding.

Mattresses with ‘Firm’ – 7, ‘Medium Firm’ – 6, and ‘Medium’ – 5 get more likes and positive reviews. However, customer satisfaction not necessarily associated directly with firmness, and these reviews often account for other factors into consideration. The underlying message: the term ‘Universal Comfort’ is not necessarily a universal truth. 

How to choose the right mattress firmness?

Different sleep positions

Based on Sleeping Positions

Side Sleepers

74% of people sleep on their sides. These sleepers possess more stressed pressure points at the hips and shoulders. They typically need a soft or medium mattress, that is able to contour to the curves on the side of the body, provide even support, important for spinal alignment, and cushion those areas. 

Side sleepers experience serious pressure relief on a soft to medium-firm mattress having mattress firmness scale ranging from a 3-7. Such surfaces of a soft or medium mattress will provide a kind of support that is necessary for spinal alignment. 

The surfaces of such mattresses will offer support, which is required for spinal alignment and also conform to the sleeper’s body in order to alleviate any discomfort and pain at the pressure points.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers are particularly versatile and thus need a lot less regarding mattress firmness. These sleepers are able to sleep well on a Medium or Firm mattress option depending on their body weight. 

A mattress with a mattress firmness scale ranging between 4 and 8 works best for back sleepers. Mattresses of this range offer top-notch contouring that can help them get the extra cushioning right where they need it to promote proper spinal alignment.

Stomach Sleepers

A mattress with a mattress firmness scale ranging between 5 and 7 works best for Stomach sleepers. Firm and Extra Firm mattresses are highly recommended for stomach sleepers who weigh more than 230 pounds and require an even and flat surface for good spinal alignment. 

Such mattresses offer proper contouring, helps keep their hips, pelvis, and spine in a healthy alignment and a tiny bit of sinkage to contain the fact that their belly is beneath the main weight.

Combination Sleepers

Combination sleepers are more flexible and need their mattress to be able to offer support regardless of their position. Their sleeping involves a combination of back, side, and/or belly sleeping, mostly each night. 

Combination sleepers need a mattress firmness or quality that is a jack-of-all-trades. Since the preference of combination sleepers vary by position, they find it really daunting to select a mattress of right firmness. Hence, moderate firmness settings are highly recommended for combination sleepers. The most suitable is the mattress firmness scale between ‘Medium Soft’ (4) to ‘Medium Firm’ (6).

Based on Body Types

The numerical mattress firmness scale offers a fair pathway to clearly explaining in detail what each mattress firmness level feels like. It is equally important to understand what mattress is suitable for different sleepers. 

When buying a mattress, some long-term factors that are to be considered include body weight, you have back pain, and whether you sleep with a partner. 

Light sleeper (130 lbs or less)

People who are 130 lbs or less in weight do not put a lot of pressure on a mattress. However, because of the reduced level of pressure, light sleepers place on the mattress does not necessarily mean that they need a soft mattress. 

People possessing such weight tend to prefer mattresses that conform very closely. Basically, when they lie down on the mattress, they don’t sink down deeper into the layers of the support core and tend to stay on the upper comfort layers. They do well with Soft’ (2-3), ‘Medium Soft (4) and ‘Medium’ (5) firmness settings.

Additional Resources: Top 6 Best Soft & Plush Mattresses

 Average sleepers (130-200 lbs)

For average sleepers weighing 130-200 lbs, medium-soft or medium-firm mattress is often recommended. Such mattresses are usually labelled as “universal”. 

These sleepers do not select mattress firmness level keeping into consideration the body weight, but other factors like position of sleep, requirement of mattress that is beneficial to alleviate back pain or mattress that does not overheat (preferably latex that promotes better air circulation).  

A firm mattress is really helpful for people having severe back pain and for ones who spend most of the hours of night sleeping on their stomach. A firm mattress offers support and comfort to average sleepers.

Heavy sleeper (200+ lbs)

Heavy sleepers weigh 200 lbs or more and they are the ones who sink deep and come into larger contact with the support core of the mattress, when they lie down on the mattress. 

This can result into a sagging sensation, or feeling totally unsupported while being in slumber or, a feeling of sinking too deeply into the mattress. This is the reason, medium-firm to firm mattress are recommended for heavy sleepers as they are going to provide both comfort and support which is something quite critical. 

In addition to a strong and sturdy support core in the mattress, the thickness of the mattress is also critical here. It is important that the mattress has a thickness of at least 10 inches. Such a mattress possesses denser comfort layers that ensures heavy sleepers rest on the upper layers of the mattress rather than sinking deep into it.

Couples (firmness and sex)

Finding a mattress that is suitable for a couple who are poles apart in their preferences for a mattress can seem complicated. 

The reason is if both halves of a couple do not have same body types or sleeping positions, when one is lightweight and the other is heavier or, one is a devoted back sleeper and the other one moves all around in the night (combination sleeper). Buying a new mattress is not a snap. 

This is the reason “universal” mattresses are recommended, marketed and sold to couples. Couples can look for a mattress that has customizable layers of foam and the right combination of materials and cooling gel in the comfort layers for the comfort of both the partners.

Other factors that need consideration while buying a mattress

Apart from comfort and durability, some other attributes to look for in a mattress include:

Sex 

Mattress is not only for sleeping. Some of the mattresses offer tremendous support, especially to couples for carrying sexual activities. However, some mattresses that are too firm or too plush may pose hindrances to frequent sexual activity. 

The most suitable and best mattresses for sexual activity are bouncy, most responsive, and respond to motion. If a mattress is extremely soft, any of the partners in a couple may sink into it too much, disrupting movement on the bed. 

A mattress being extremely firm and less responsive, creates an extreme difficulty for a couple to enjoy sexual positions. A medium-firm mattress is highly recommended and is considered the best for facilitating sex.

Sleeping hot

Never choose a mattress that has foam paddings and these contours more closely to the body. Too much contouring or too much sinking restricts airflow around the body. This results in excessive build-up of heat in the mattress and eventually on the body. 

This is what is termed as “sleeping hot”. Plush mattresses and the ones that are created using memory foam, contour more closely to the body and thus produce lot of heat. A mattress with a heat-dissipating foam layer and an uppermost moisture-wicking cool cover is recommended for people who sleep hot.

Motion transfer

Motion transfer refers to the amount of movement and disturbance that is felt by one sleeper due to the motion of the other partner in the other part of the bed. 

When a couple sleeps on the bed, he or she will definitely get disturbed and woken up if any of the partner shows a lot of motion in different parts of the bed. For such people, a mattress that is very firm, provides more contouring to the body, provides the no motion transfer feature, motion isolation features are recommended for such sleepers. 

Such a mattress is effective at limiting motion transfer ensuring minimum interference and disturbance in their partner’s rest. It is specifically made to offer motion isolation, is practically silent, offers comfort and needed support, and is able to both absorb and localize the sleeper’s movements.

Edge support

Edge support in a mattress is the amount of resistance it offers around the edges. For sleepers who are used to sitting and sleeping on the bed edge or sleep near the edge, the support offered by the edge of the mattress is an important and critical consideration. A mattress that offers edge support possesses coils with side support system. 

Even foam mattresses possess extra foam structure on the edges to offer edge support. Additional high-density foam wrapped around the core mattress is added by some manufacturers to offer extra support. It is important to keep in mind that most mattresses are not very strong at the edge. Such a mattress does not offer edge support, is likely to provide less comfort, even less support around the rim of the bed if it is already quite plush.

Weight: 

Spinal alignment and pressure relief are derived from the pressure and weight applied to the mattress. Hence, bodyweight is one of the critical things to consider while buying a mattress. This is the only way to prevent highly unpleasant and unwanted neck, shoulder and hip pain. It is important that the mattress you select feels well and ensures that it is able to accommodate your body weight so your entire body is perfectly aligned.

Your Health Condition:

  • Back Pain

A mattress having a firmness range between 5 (Medium) and 8 (Firm) depending on the weight of the sleeper, is usually recommended for people suffering from back pain. Such mattresses can accommodate both stomach and side sleepers. 5 – 8 firmness scale of a mattress ensures that the lower back receives necessary comfort and contouring.

  • Hip Pain

Hip pain and the associated discomfort are a common problem seen in adult sleepers. Medium-firm or soft (firmness scale) mattress is recommended for sleepers suffering from hip pain. Another important component is to look for a mattress whose material composition and construction offer consistent support and a sleeping surface to the people with hip pain so that they are able to relieve pressure and keep the body well-aligned.

  • Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain can be a horrible persistent problem. One of the causes could be a mattress that is too firm. Shoulder ache due to the firm mattress is mostly seen in sleep on their sides more than any other sleeping position. Hence, a firmness scale between 3 to 5 is mostly recommended for people with this problem.

  • Sleep Apnea

Look for a mattress that offers good spine alignment. Also, the best mattress for people who suffer from zoned pressure relief, sleep apnea, hypoallergenic materials, latex mattress is highly recommended. Latex (Sap from the Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is allergen free, environmentally responsible and naturally resistant to bacterial growth, moulds, and dust mites, which can trigger snoring. People with this disorder should also consider buying a mattress that provides a good ventilation process to ensure pain relief, the right pressure relief, and natural spine alignment. Adjusting the head position using a special pillow is suggested to ger rid of this type of sleep disorder.

Price: 

On average, a person (sleeper) would spend nearly $1000 or less for a mattress. You should consider support and comfort as the selection criteria. However, consumers are encouraged and urged to compare different models of mattresses available in the market before making a final purchase. 

Different models and products should be compared based on factors like price (lowest available price), material composition, firmness scale, durability, as well as company/industry policies regarding trials, delivery, hassle-free shipping, and warranty coverage.

Summary

Mattress firmness is one of the most important and critical factors that need to be considered by mattress buyers. If the mattress firmness is not appropriate, it can cause serious health problems and chronic pain in different parts of the body. The right and suitable mattress firmness scale and setting offer good support, proper spine alignment, alleviation in body aches, a comfortable sleep experience and drastically reduces pressure points in the shoulders, back, hips, and other sensitive areas of the sleeper’s body.

Additional Resources

How To Choose A Mattress: Mattress-Buying Checklist

Best Mattress For Sciatica

Best Bamboo Mattress

Best Pillow For Sleep Apnea

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