Mattress Firmness Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Choose the Right One

This research is supported by you, our readers, through our independently chosen links, which earn us a commission with no extra cost to you. Learn More

Written by: Alex Savy
Read 10 minLast updated February 18, 2021

Shopping for a new mattress can often feel overwhelming. After all, the market has a lot to offer, especially when it comes to comfort options.

How do you choose among all those Plush, Luxury Firm, Medium, and a dozen other mattress types?

That’s what we are going to look at in today’s mattress firmness guide. Let’s learn about the main differences between mattress firmness levels and find out which one would work for you the best.

Understanding Mattress Firmness Levels

So, how do you rate the mattress firmness?

Typically, manufacturers use a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the softest and 10 – the stiffest. However, some of them may seem confusing (especially the “dual” options like medium-firm or plush firm), so let’s take a closer look at that scale:

  • Ultra-soft to very soft, or 1-3 on the firmness scale. To tell the truth, it might be hard to find a mattress as plush as that. But they do exist. Such soft models typically offer a lot of sinkage and an extremely generous hug. Don’t expect too much support though, especially if you aren’t a petite sleeper. Such mattresses typically have extra-thick comfort layers that may not feel sturdy enough to provide substantial support.
  • Soft, or 4 on the firmness scale. This firmness level can offer more support combined with a noticeable amount of sinkage and cradling. The comfort layers are slightly thinner in such mattresses, so users can benefit from the support that the core layer provides without feeling overly hugged or stuck in the mattress.
  • Medium, which is often rated 5. This firmness level is quite popular as it offers a rather balanced feel. The comfort layers are relatively thick but they are usually balanced out by the dense, sturdy support layer. Such mattresses feel plush but don’t allow for excessive sinkage.
  • Medium-firm, or 6 on the firmness scale. Being among the most widespread options on the modern market, medium-firm mattresses usually reach that golden middle between cushioning and support. They work to deliver a decent level of pressure relief without sacrificing proper weight distribution (unlike many softer mattresses). This firmness level is suited for a wide variety of sleepers and remains one of the most favorite options on the market. 
  • Firm, typically rated 7-8. Such mattresses usually make sleepers feel like they are lying on top of their bed (instead of feeling cradled by the mattress). Firm models deliver resilient support and often give sleepers a light push back instead of providing that sinking feel. This firmness level is great for those users who aren’t looking for much of a hug.
  • Very firm, or 9 on the firmness scale. This firmness level offers even less of a hug (practically none). It usually works the best for those sleepers who don’t want any sinkage at all or heavier individuals who require more support.
  • Extra-firm, or rated 10. To tell the truth, it’s hard to find a mattress that would truly feel like a 10, as most best-rated extra-firm mattresses are usually rated around 9. Nonetheless, a mattress with a 10/10 firmness rating should feel extremely sturdy and isn’t likely to offer any pressure relief at all. In my opinion, it should feel like sleeping on the floor with just a blanket used for padding.

What Is Luxury Firm?

Understanding mattress firmness options can be difficult when new terms come into play. And Luxury Firm is one of them.

But how does a Luxury Firm mattress actually feel, you may ask?

Well, to tell the truth, it depends on the manufacturer. Companies can label their mattresses Luxury Firm but may use different materials and constructions to achieve a certain feel. That’s why two Luxury Firm models from two different mattress companies aren’t likely to feel the same.

However, when manufacturers call their mattresses Luxury Firm, they are all trying to offer a specific comfort level. Typically, Luxury Firm mattresses are supposed to deliver a moderate amount of contouring while maintaining firm support. Basically, a Luxury Firm mattress is usually a firm model with some padding on top (often designed as a pillow-top).

Luxury Firm vs Plush Firm

Let me warn you right away: when you look at the Luxury Firm vs Plush Firm mattresses, you will hardly find any differences. These are just two slightly different names that manufacturers use to describe a specific type of mattresses – not too firm, not too soft. As I’ve said before, these mattresses typically have a sturdy support layer (hence the Firm in the name) and some extra padding on top for added plushness (that “Luxury” component).

Cushion Firm vs Luxury Firm

When shopping for a new mattress, you may also stumble across models labeled Cushion Firm. 

Naturally, you would think: what makes it stand out from the rest of the Firm models?

The answer is quite simple: if you check the comparison Cushion Firm vs Luxury Firm, you will be likely to discover the same comfort levels. Cushion Firm is just another name manufacturers use to describe firmer mattresses that feature some extra padding. It’s safe to say that all these names are just a technicality, as they are used to label pretty much the same mattress firmness level.

How to Choose a Proper Firmness Level: Your Sleeping Position

The most important part of our mattress firmness guide is linked to your preferred sleeping position. You see, to pick an appropriate firmness (and to enjoy the highest comfort levels), you need to account for the way you sleep. Each sleeping position has specific firmness requirements, so let’s take a closer look at them:

  • Sleeping on your back. Sleeping on one’s back is considered the healthiest position as it allows for the best conditions for proper spinal alignment (1). If you combine this sleeping position with a good chiropractor-recommended mattress, chances are your spine will remain healthy for a long time. But don’t forget that you also need to pick a suitable firmness level. Back sleepers usually require medium or medium-firm mattresses (5-6 on the firmness scale). Such a firmness level allows the spine to remain in a neutral alignment, which also results in proper weight distribution and support. Back sleepers need just a bit of sinkage for their hips and buttocks, that’s why soft and firm mattresses don’t usually work for them. 
  • Sleeping on your side. Side sleepers need a generous hug and cradling pressure relief. They can develop painful pressure points, which is why their protruding body parts require enough sinkage and lots of cushioning. Therefore, soft and soft-to-medium mattresses are usually the most appropriate for this group of sleepers. Anything rated 4-5 should do. Side sleepers also benefit greatly from mattresses that offer zoned support (variable firmness in different sections for different body parts).
  • Sleeping on your stomach. A suitable mattress for stomach sleepers has to offer reliable support. This position does not typically require any sinkage (in order to avoid that uncomfortable bowing of the lower back). Therefore, stomach sleepers usually benefit from sleeping on firmer mattresses (rated 7 and up on the firmness scale).
  • Combo sleepers. If you tend to switch positions when sleeping, you need a mattress that won’t restrict your movements (that’s the most important part). You can check resilient latex beds or nicely balanced hybrid mattresses that deliver bouncy pressure relief. And as far as the firmness goes, combination sleepers typically enjoy using medium or medium-firm mattresses. Models rated 5 or 6 usually have a balanced feel and aren’t very enveloping, which means they won’t be likely to make you feel stuck when you decide to switch sleeping positions.

How to Choose Firmness According to Your Weight

Another important aspect many shoppers forget about is the weight of the sleeper. Because your weight determines how much pressure you are going to put on the mattress, it might also affect the way your mattress would feel. And while one firmness level can work perfectly fine for some users, it might seem extremely uncomfortable to others (those who belong to a different weight category).

So, here are the general recommendations for all weight groups:

  • Petite individuals (130 pounds and less). Lightweight users don’t put that much pressure on the mattress. Their weight is sometimes not enough to sink deep enough into the comfort layers. Additionally, lightweight users can easily develop painful pressure points even when lying on mattresses that are supposed to work for their favorite sleeping position. That’s why petite sleepers are usually advised to choose softer mattresses for each sleeping position. Softer mattresses have plushier comfort layers, so the risk of experiencing too much pressure on the protruding body parts is minimal in this case.
  • Average sleepers (130 – 230 pounds). For average individuals, the choice of the mattress firmness level should be based on their sleeping position, not body weight. Therefore, all the previously described recommendations concerning different sleeping positions would work for average-weight individuals.
  • Heavier folks (230 pounds and more). Larger users often sink in too deep (and might even come into contact with the sturdy support core). This can totally ruin the feel of the mattress. Heavier folks require more support and a stiffer sleeping surface for any of the sleeping positions. That’s why it is recommended to go with stiffer mattresses (just choose a higher firmness rating when considering the recommendations mentioned above). For example, while average side sleepers are recommended to choose mattresses rated 4-5, heavier individuals may want to go with models rated 5-6 (maybe even 7, if you don’t have tender joints).

F.A.Q.

What is a Luxury Firm mattress?

A Luxury Firm mattress is typically the one that offers sturdy, reliable support but uses some padding on top to provide some cradling.

What mattress firmness do hotels use?

In most cases, hotels use medium-firm mattresses that are meant to work for a wide range of sleepers.

Is it better to sleep on a hard or a soft mattress?

It depends on your body weight and preferred sleeping position. An overly soft mattress can cause back pain, while an extra firm bed can lead to painful pressure points and stiffness in your body. That’s why it’s crucial to pick a mattress according to your weight and the way you sleep.

Do side sleepers need firm or soft mattresses?

Side sleepers are recommended to pick soft to medium-soft mattresses (average-weight individuals). Petite side sleepers usually feel the most comfortable when lying on softer mattresses. Heavier side sleepers can use medium or even medium-firm beds.

How do I know if my mattress is too firm?

When your mattress is overly firm, the main sign is waking up with back, shoulder, or neck pain. If you wake up in the middle of the night and feel discomfort, it might also mean that your mattress is too stiff for you.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, the comfort level of each mattress is quite subjective.

But now you know how to choose something that would work for you perfectly. All you have to do is think about your favorite sleeping position and the desired feel of your new mattress.

Now, how do you usually sleep? And what mattress are you currently using? Does its firmness suit your requirements? Let us know in the comments!

References:

  1. Stephen Gill (January 02, 2020). How should you sleep if you have lower back pain? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320870 

Leave a comment