One of the trickiest moments during the mattress buying process is deciding between firmness levels. And if you happen to share the bed with a partner who has a differing definition of comfort, the choice may seem exponentially more difficult. By simply answering a couple of key questions related to individual pain points, sleeping positions, and body type, you can totally find the right mattress comfort level for every person sleeping in your home (little ones included) and take the guesswork out of the process.
Firmness Comparison Scale
Before we delve into the comfort level best suited for each situation, let’s examine the mattress firmness comparison chart to gain a better understanding of how the mattress industry rates firmness on a softness scale of 1 to 10.
Often designed with a plush or ultra-plush feel, either incorporating a pillow top layer composed of foam comfort padding or full foam construction for curve hugging relief, soft mattresses produce a feeling of sinking in with limited push back, much like the sensation that you’d experience from sleeping on a cloud.
1 – Ultra Soft: Hardly ever seen, this type of mattress would provide little to no support with zero comfort as it would be practically unusable due to its extreme softness and sagging.
2 – Very Soft: A little better than ultra-soft mattresses, this type of mattress still wouldn’t supply the level of support that an average sleeper would need due to excessive sinkage.
3 – Soft: This type of mattress offers more pressure relief and support with body contouring properties indicative of many memory foam mattresses sold in the marketplace.
4 – Medium Soft: Presenting a steady feel, this type of mattress cuts back somewhat on comfort layering in favor of a more robust construction without losing the softness quotient.
Made to accommodate the majority who prefer neither a too soft nor a too firm foundation, medium mattresses offer a middle of the road approach to getting the best night’s sleep. Usually comprised of a cushioned top comfort layer such as memory foam, they feature a sturdier support base made using either high-density foam or steel coils that when combined, contour the body with less sinkage.
5 – Medium: Soft yet sturdy, this type of mattress is the hallmark of many bed-in-a-box varieties and often uses supportive innerspring coils or a high-density foam base to supplement its comfort layers.
6 – Medium Firm: Ideal for a wide swath of sleepers, most mattresses manufactured belong in this category. Crafted with memory foam, coils, or a combination of both, this popular type of mattress strikes the perfect balance between support and pressure point relief.
7 – Slightly Firm: A slightly firmer extension of medium firm mattresses, this type of mattress delivers the extra lift or push back needed by some back and stomach sleepers. Most medium firm mattresses fall within the 6-7 range.
Employing minimal use of soft comfort padding, firm mattresses are typically made from high-density foam or coils with thin foam top layers. Known for promoting spine alignment, they afford very little give but may benefit strict back or stomach sleepers.
8 – Firm: Typical of many spring coil mattresses available for purchase, this type of mattress offers limited cushioning but may work well for traditional back or stomach sleepers.
9 – Very Firm: With minimal body contouring capability, this type of extra firm mattress may be too stiff to allow the level of comfort that most people seek but may satisfy heavier sleepers.
10 – Ultra Firm: Hardly ever seen, this type of mattress provides zero pressure relief and would likely deliver the same amount of comfort that you’d get from sleeping on a bare floor.
Best Mattress for Pain
Dealing with a bad back is something many people unfortunately experience throughout the course of their lives. As a chronic pain sufferer, you need a mattress that provides targeted pressure relief and delivers proper support. An important point to consider when purchasing a mattress for pain alleviation is that the firmness level of a mattress does not necessarily equal support, even though the two terms are sometimes interchangeably used. Firmness simply refers to how your mattress feels when you’re lying down on it, while support indicates how well your mattress keeps your spine in neutral alignment. In theory, there is no reason why a “soft” mattress can’t offer just as adequate or even better support than a “hard” mattress. Let’s examine the different types of pain and the mattress firmness level best suited for each.
Lower Back Pain
Whether caused by sitting on an uncomfortable office chair for hours on end, repetitive sports-related injuries, or lifting heavy objects, lower back pain can be excruciating. The standard response from experts used to be the firmer the mattress, the better when it came to addressing lower body aches, strains, and sprains, but conventional thinking has changed. Indeed, a little softness does the back good and the firmest mattress is often not the best. When surveyed in recent studies, an overwhelming majority of respondents experiencing lower back pain reported the most relief and least lumbar discomfort from mattresses with a medium firm feel.
Middle and Upper Back Pain
Poor posture can wreak havoc on your middle and upper back and result in tense and sore muscles. The thoracic area of the spine, covering the abdomen right up to the shoulders, is the longest section of the spinal column and helps keep you upright throughout the day. For correct alignment of the thoracic curvature, it’s necessary to find a mattress that hugs your curves without too much push back or rigidity. In this case, medium firm mattresses will yield far better outcomes than their firm counterparts in providing middle and upper back tension relief.
As the saying goes, your hips don’t lie! Frequently one of the first places on the body where people confront arthritic pain or tendinitis, our hips bear the brunt of carrying our body weight while standing and in motion. Unbeknownst to some, a misaligned spine can be the main source of hip pain resulting in pinched nerves and spasms. To lessen the impact on your hips, your back muscles and ligaments require some well-deserved TLC during the night. For someone with wider hips, a softer sleeping surface with some extra give may aid improved spine alignment. But for someone with narrower hips, a firmer base may deliver just the right level of support. When in doubt, embrace the best of both worlds by choosing a medium firm option.
Best Mattress Firmness for Sleep Position
Whether you prefer to sleep like a starfish or curled up between the sheets in a fetal position, no judgement here as long as you’re getting your daily ZZZs and waking up fully rested and recharged. What does make a difference however is how well your mattress adapts to your sleep posture and firmness plays an integral role.
Since side sleepers require the extra cushioning needed to appropriately relieve the pressure points located in their hips, shoulders, and back for body contouring flexibility, mattresses on the softer end of the spectrum (medium soft, medium) work well to encourage proper alignment. A foam mattress with zoned support that accurately targets different upper, mid, and lower body needs performs exceptionally well at accommodating side sleepers.
One such mattress expertly designed by Signature Sleep for side sleepers is the 13 Inch Hybrid Coil Pillowtop Mattress with Bamboo Fabric. Its plush pillow top foam layer contains 3 different zones to appropriately address the needs of each distinct body level. Incorporating moisture wicking bamboo rayon and a pocketed spring coil base, this medium comfort mattress promotes proper spine positioning without impeding curve hugging support.
To get the lift or push back needed to keep the body correctly aligned and the lower back from caving inwards, mattresses on the firmer side (medium firm, slightly firm, firm) help stomach sleepers hold up the midsection region so that their hips and shoulders stay level. Innerspring and hybrid mattresses that include a thin padded top layer are best suited to accomplish this task without compromising too much on comfort.
Another thing that’s quite irksome for stomach sleepers is how certain mattresses seem to sag mid-point, but Signature Sleep has created a bedroom winner in the form of the Contour Comfort 8 Inch Reversible Tight-Top Mattress. Its heavy-duty independently encased coils come cushioned between layers of supportive foam to provide the light softness that stomach sleepers need with the absolute firmness that their bodies crave. And its dual-sided design allows that dreaded sinking feeling to always be kept at bay by simply rotating the mattress on occasion to prolong mattress life and maximize sleep comfort.
In the middle of the pack, back sleepers have a unique set of needs that set them apart from both side and stomach sleepers. If their mattresses are too soft, their hips and buttocks will sink in causing misalignment and upper back pain. But if their mattresses are too firm, they’ll encounter pinched nerves and tight lower back muscles. Taking these factors into account, medium firm mattresses work best to bridge the gap and keep back pain at bay. Hybrid mattresses with combined memory foam and coil construction are perfectly designed for back sleepers and back pain sufferers because they deliver the ideal balance between spring and cushioning.
Though, body responsive memory foam mattresses in the medium-firm range are also a worthy choice.
Made to evenly distribute body weight like a pro, the Memoir 12 Inch Memory Foam Mattress from Signature Sleep helps back sleepers relieve tension riddled pressure points along the neck, shoulders, hips, and feet while championing good bedtime posture to fend off morning aches and pains.
Best Mattress Firmness for Body Type
Body type is another element that influences whether the firmness level of your mattress will give you the comfort and support needed for restful sleep. As most mattresses aren’t specifically designed with weight class specifications, it’s necessary to take one’s body shape into consideration when deciding between mattress firmness levels.
Because weight adds extra pressure to a mattress, a standard medium mattress may feel like a soft mattress to a person with a larger build (over 230 lbs.). And since this increased pressure causes undue sinkage leading to improper spine alignment, it’s recommended that sleepers with a heavier frame stay clear of soft and medium mattresses in favor of firm or very firm mattresses for adequate support and pain prevention.
If, however, you have a smaller build (under 130 lbs.), your body will be supported more by the top layers of a mattress rather than the base since there’s no additional weight pressure being exerted. As such, for sleepers with a lighter frame, a firm mattress will be too rigid to enable targeted pressure point relief due to its lack of padding. In this instance, medium and medium firm options are advised to deliver body hugging comfort.
Best Mattress Firmness for Babies, Toddlers, and Children
And because age is just as important as the other factors outlined above in influencing your mattress purchasing decisions, it makes sense to think about mattress firmness as it relates to the specific needs of the smaller members of your household to make sure that they get a comfortable night’s sleep in accordance with their overall health and safety concerns.
Babies have a different set of requirements than their parents when it comes to mattress firmness. Safety regulatory agencies recommend that infants under 18 months of age use a very firm or ultra-firm crib mattress to prevent the occurrence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) – a phenomena that occurs due to suffocation caused by sleeping on soft surfaces and/or obstructive sleeping positions that result in blocked air passages.
Because toddlers are newly transitioning from their nursery cribs into their grown-up toddler beds, they may still feel more comfortable on a firmer mattress. Many dual-sided crib and toddler bed mattresses feature an ultra-firm side designed for babies with a reversible firm side intended for children between 18 months and 3 years of age. A firm toddler mattress usually has slightly more cushioning so that stomach or back sleeping children can maintain spine alignment without losing out on comfort.
Children between 4 and 12 years of age experience rapid growth spurts and parents need to recognize that the firmness level of any mattress needs to adapt to these changes as bone development and spine alignment are particularly important considerations to prevent issues such as kyphosis (a curvature of the spine leading to a hunchback appearance). Medium firm mattresses, especially memory foam options, offer the softness that kids want along with the firm support that their growing bodies need to enable quality sleep and spine health.
Remember that your mattress plays a vital part in promoting good sleep hygiene. Whether too soft or too firm, picking a mattress not tailored to your lifestyle may invite a host of problems ranging from restlessness, body aches and pains to poor daytime concentration, so feel free to use the above guide to thoughtfully consider your options. Hey, it even took Goldilocks a little while to figure out the best fit!