Before we start, we’ll clarify one thing: there’s no such thing as a universally perfect mattress thickness. The perfect mattress thickness depends on who’s sleeping on the mattress, how often they’re sleeping on it, and how they want it to feel. It also depends on a few other factors like how often you move and the look you’re going for.
For instance, if you want an extra-tall bed, you might want a thicker mattress, but if you move a lot, a thinner (and thus lighter and easier to relocate) mattress is probably going to be for you. There are tons of factors you have to think about—let’s talk about a few of them.
There’s no legal standard for how thick mattresses have to be, so there’s quite a range of possibilities. Mattresses fall into different thickness categories based on how many inches of depth they have:
- 2 to 5 inches: Low-profile mattresses
- 5 to 8 inches: Slim mattresses
- 8 to 12 inches: Standard mattresses
- 12 to 16 inches: Thick, deep, or tall mattresses
- Over 16 inches: Extra-thick, extra-deep, or extra-tall mattresses
Low-profile mattresses aren’t great for nightly use for adults, but they do have their place. A lot of camping beds and air mattresses fall into this category to make them easily portable. Hide-a-beds also often feature mattresses less than 5 inches thick to make them stowable.
These mattresses also are a good choice for guest rooms that don’t see a lot of use. If you just have the occasional visitor, a low-profile mattress will be adequate. However, guest rooms that host overnight visitors on a regular basis likely need a thicker mattress.
Finally, cribs and toddler beds often feature low-profile mattresses because babies and small children don’t weigh a lot, so they need less support.
Slim mattresses are more comfortable and durable than low-profile mattresses, while still retaining a lot of their advantages. You can still use them in baby beds. They can make good stowable hide-a-bed mattresses. And they’re still great for guest rooms, even guest rooms that see more heavy use.
This is the first mattress type that’s sufficiently thick for adults to use every night. These mattresses normally have multiple layers. Standard mattresses are also where you’re going to start seeing more weight and support.
Standard mattresses are the most versatile, sitting in the sweet spot between too thin to be comfortable and too thick to be practical. They’re still comparatively portable and budget-friendly, but you can sleep comfortably on a quality standard mattress every night.
If you want a bit of extra support, thick mattresses might work for you. Deep mattresses either have more layers than a standard mattress, or their layers are thicker. This will offer additional support to heavier sleepers, couples, and sleepers who just like the feel of more mattress beneath them.
Extra-thick mattresses might be the right choice for you if you’re looking for luxury. While you might not get a lot more support than you would from thick mattresses, extra-deep mattresses offer a luxe style and additional height. High beds can be great for tall sleepers who find the standard bed height of around 24 inches too low.
Just remember, the thicker the mattress, the heavier it will be. Thicker mattresses also tend to be a lot more expensive than their thinner counterparts, meaning extra-thick mattresses will probably cost you a bundle.
Layers of a Typical Mattress
Most quality mattresses come with multiple layers. The number and thickness of the layers impact the overall thickness of the mattress.
The base layer (or foundation layer) of mattresses sits at the bottom and helps protect the support layer and offers stability. In an innerspring bed or hybrid mattress, this layer protects the coils. In a latex bed or memory foam mattress, this layer is the hardest foam and helps the mattress maintain its shape.
The support layer is the layer that gives lift to the sleeper and helps promote spinal alignment. In hybrid and innerspring mattresses, it’s made of coils, while in memory foam and latex mattresses, it’s made of durable foam.
Not all mattresses have a transition layer, you’re more likely to see them in foam and hybrid mattresses. This layer helps lift and protect the sleeper from pressure from the firm support and base layers.
The comfort layer is the top layer of the mattress—the layer your body comes into contact with. It’s meant to cradle you to relieve your pressure points. In hybrid and foam mattresses, this layer is always foam, but in innerspring beds, it might be cotton, wool, down, or fiberfill. Innersprings may also feature a pillow top over their comfort layer.
Factors that Impact Your Thickness Needs
Your sleep position impacts the firmness and thickness of the mattress you need:
- Side sleepers need 12 to 14 inches of thickness for extra cradling.
- Back sleepers need 10 to 12 inches to support the spine.
- Stomach sleepers need around 10 inches to help keep their pelvises lifted.
- Combo sleepers need around 12 inches to accommodate their changing positions.
Sleepers’ body weight can determine whether they need different thicknesses:
- Petite sleepers (under 130 pounds) need a mattress of 12 or more inches with a thicker comfort layer to offer a softer feel.
- Average sleepers should consider a mattress between 10 and 12 inches, depending on their sleep position.
- Heavier sleepers (over 230 pounds) may like a mattress between 12 and 14 inches with a thinner comfort layer and thicker support layer for better support and increased firmness.
Number of Sleepers
Mattresses for couples should be thicker than for individual sleepers. Mattresses with lots of layers and a thicker base layer are typically more supportive than thinner mattresses with fewer layers. Thicker mattresses will be more likely to stand up to the added pressure of multiple sleepers, increasing both partners’ comfort levels.
Age of Sleepers
As we said above, babies and children don’t need thicker mattresses. Normally, kids don’t start needing a standard or thicker mattress until they hit their teen years.
The height of your bed frame and bed base may determine the depth of your mattress. If your bed frame and box spring/mattress foundation have a high profile and you want to lower it, a thinner mattress can help keep your bed under the max height you’re looking for (the total height of the bed should not exceed 25 inches for sleepers under 6 feet tall).
On the flip side, if you want to raise the height of your bed (such as if you have a low-profile platform bed), a thicker mattress can help you accomplish this goal.
Are there any drawbacks to a thick mattress?
Yes, there are. Thicker mattresses are typically more expensive than thinner ones. They’re also heavier (sometimes by a lot), making them more cumbersome to relocate. Thicker mattresses might also be too tall for some people, making it tough to crawl in and out of bed.
How thick should my mattress topper be?
That depends on what you’re looking to get out of your mattress topper. If all you want is to alter the firmness level of your bed a bit, then a 2-inch mattress topper is probably sufficient. However, if you’re wanting to shore up the support of your mattress, you should consider a thicker topper. Topper thicknesses range anywhere from 2 to 4 inches.
Are thickness and firmness the same thing?
Not really. Mattress firmness is how hard or soft a mattress feels when you’re lying on it, while thickness is how many inches tall a mattress is. However, the thickness of the different layers of your mattress does help to determine its firmness level.
For instance, a thicker comfort layer gives your mattress a softer feel because there’s more plush foam (or other material) in between you and the lower layers of the bed. On the other hand, a thinner comfort layer/thicker support layer helps to give the mattress a firmer feel because there’s less cushion between you and the other layers.
What happens if I sleep on a too-thin mattress?
Mattresses that are too thin don’t provide enough support to keep you comfortable. If the comfort layer is inadequate, you may suffer pain in pressure points like your hips and shoulders. If the support layer is inadequate, you might not be able to achieve optimum spinal alignment.
If your spine cannot maintain a neutral position, it could cause everything from neck pain to muscle tension to lower back pain.
Are thicker mattresses more durable?
The thickness of a mattress’s base and support layers have more to do with durability than the thickness of its comfort layer or the bed’s overall height. Mattresses with durable base foams and tall support layers can last a decade or more. Mattresses with thinner support layers and little to no base layer may last as little as 6 years.
When shopping for a new mattress, make sure its support layer is at least 50 percent of the mattress’s total height. A base layer of at least an inch is also ideal.
The ideal thickness of mattresses is determined by a lot of important factors ranging from your price range to your body type to your personal preferences and even your fashion sense. If you’ve sifted through all the options and find yourself still unsure of your needs, a mattress of standard thickness is a good option for almost everyone.
Chris was a psychiatrist and neurologist with board certification in sleep medicine Clinical Associate Professor at the University of California. For over 10 years, he served and helped patients at Stanford Health Care-Stanford Hospital with their sleeping disorders.
After suffered from sleep disorders for years, Chris has been passionate about sleep health ever since. He wants to help others sleep better and wanted to make the world of sleep easy to understand for everyday people.