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Standard Mattress Thickness Guide

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Written by: Alex Savy
Read 14 minLast updated on January 27, 2023

When you’re choosing a mattress, you need to think through a lot of factors, and a quite important but commonly overlooked one is thickness.Other Things to Consider When Choosing the Right Mattress Thickness. 

Thickness determines not only how the mattress will look in your bedroom but also how comfortable you’ll feel on it.

So, how thick should your mattress be?

Well, the short answer is: it depends. You need to consider the type of your mattress, your body composition, preferred sleeping style... And don’t forget about your health!

Thankfully, this mattress thickness guide will cover all these factors!

Key takeaways 

  • Mattress thickness can be determined by the different number of layers on it, including the mattress support layer, transition layer, comfort layer, and the mattress foundation layer. Most of the mattresses I test have the support and the comfort layer in them by default.
  • Mattress thickness starts from thin (2-5”), low-profile (5-8”), standard (8-12”), medium-to-thick (12-18”), and thick (20”+). I usually prefer the standard thickness, but I’ve tested many other mattresses in the range of 5-20 inches.

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What Makes Up the Thickness?

Before we dive deep into our mattress thickness guide, let’s take a look at what thickness is actually made up of.

So, if we take off the mattress cover, we’ll see a few layers made of foam, coils, latex, or other materials. 

Mattress with four main groups of layers
Mattress with four main groups of layers

These layers are divided into four main groups:

  • Comfort layers. Also commonly referred to as upper layers, these are the closest to your body. They are typically made of softer memory foam, latex, or polyfoam. The main goal of a comfort layer is to provide cradling and prevent pressure points.
  • Support layers. Support layers go right under the comfort layers and are a bit firmer and more responsive. They are responsible for supporting your natural spine alignment and allow you to shift between positions more easily throughout the night.
  • Transition layer. Located above the base layer, the transition layer prevents you from feeling the base through the support and comfort layers. It may have higher density (if made of foam) or lower coil gauge (for coil layers). 
  • Foundation layer. This is usually the thickest and firmest layer of the mattress. It can be made of coils, high-density foam, or firm latex, and its main goal is to enhance the properties of all the layers above. The foundation — also referred to as the base — often determines the basic features of the mattress, such as motion response or edge support.

And here comes a huge misconception about mattresses:

Some people believe that thin mattresses are always firmer and thicker ones always feel soft and cradling.

The reality is a bit different.

See, the mattress design follows the idea of a smooth transition between a firm base and a soft top. Most of the time, more layers above the base will give you a more gradual shift in firmness, which might explain why this misconception appeared. 

Mattress with different firmness levels without changing the height
Mattress with different firmness levels without changing the height

However, the order of layers and the choice of materials also matter. There are many mattress companies who by altering the construction of one particular model can design it in different firmness levels without changing the height.

Also Read: 10 Mattresses Made in the USA

Standard Mattress Thickness Chart

standard mattress thickness chart

So, mattress thickness varies depending on the height of the base layer and the number of the layers above it. Here are the main ranges of thickness:

  • Thin: 2-5 inches. Japanese futons, crib mattresses, and floor mattresses fit into this category. Usually, they are made of just one or two layers of foam or fiber padding. 
  • Low-profile: 5-8 inches. Having 1-2 comfort layers above the base, these models make a good fit for occasional use, e.g. as a mattress for a guest bed. But they can also work for minimalists who appreciate the low-profile design. These low-profile mattresses can either be made from latex or memory foam.
  • Standard: 8-12 inches. This is a typical mattress thickness for most brands available on the market today. It will likely pack enough layers to offer a good amount of comfort for an average sleeper or couple. Plus, this thickness range tends to have the best value for money. I actually prefer this thickness myself since I am an average weight (210 pounds) sleeper, and the thin or low-profile ones won’t properly support me. The thicker ones will also make it harder for me to get in and out of bed, so I always go for this range, or usually about 10 inches.

Standard mattresses include different ranges of mattress types and constructions. For example, they can be hybrid mattresses made with springs and memory foam, or hybrid with spring, latex, and memory foam, or latex with a comfort layer of memory foam. This range includes many of the common mattresses we see everyday.

  • Medium-to-thick: 12-18 inches. Now we’re moving to the thicker side of the spectrum. A good example of medium-to-thick mattresses are hybrid beds that have a thick layer of coils and more comfort layers on it, to compensate for the bounciness and rigidity of coils. On top of the layer of coils, we can see transition layers made from latex or memory foam and comfort layers.
  • Thick: 20 inches and more. These models are not very common nowadays because of the rise of more compact beds. Besides, such drawbacks of thick mattresses as bulkiness and transportation difficulties outweigh the advantages. These mattresses can have a foundation layer, a thick spring layer, and several layers for transition and comfort. There is really no limit to what these options can have.

Also Read: 5 RV Mattresses

How Thick Should a Mattress Be?

Okay, now you have an idea of how thickness is formed.

But the question of choosing the right one remains open, as the average mattress thickness may not be perfect for everyone. In fact, your ideal thickness can depend on your weight or health problems.

Fortunately, I can provide you with some recommendations for the most common scenarios.

...If You Suffer from Any Kind of Pain

Pain can affect your sleep:

  • it can make choosing a comfortable position difficult;
  • it can limit your mobility;
  • it tends to make you a more sensitive sleeper.

So, a mattress should be able to solve these problems.

Mattress Thickness If You Suffer Pain

For chronic and non-specific pain, choose mattresses with more cradling to relax your muscles and relieve unpleasant symptoms. The standard mattress thickness (8-12 inches) with softer comfort layers or a pillow-top will work.

Those with mobility concerns should choose the thickness that won’t make their bed too high to climb onto. But in this case, the height of the bed frame should be taken into account too. If your bed frame is minimalist and low-profile, you should be able to pair it with a thicker mattress without ending up with an awkwardly high bed.

...If You’re a Large Sleeper 

Mattress Thickness Considering Your Body Weight
Your weight matters a lot when choosing the mattress thickness (1). If you’re a lightweight person (less than 160 pounds), you can consider any thickness that helps support you, naturally between 5 to 12 inches.

If you are an average weight (160-220 pounds) sleeper, you choose a mattress thickness between 8 to 18 inches. And if you’re a heavy sleeper (more than 220 pounds), you should go for anything between 12 to 20 inches. The idea is that it should provide you with enough support and prevent you from sinking, so thinner mattresses not only might fail to support you but also wear out and sag faster. 

I am an average weight (210 lbs) sleeper, so I aim for a mattress with a thickness of about 8-12 inches.

...If You Sleep with a Partner

The key mattress characteristic of a couple-friendly mattress is low motion transfer.

Now, if you remember the physics lessons at school, you may recall that a more massive object has a greater tendency to resist changes in its state of motion.

Couple sleeping on a mattress
Couple sleeping on a mattress

That’s exactly why thicker mattresses generally have lower motion transfer.

Since I sleep with my partner, I usually go for the thicker mattresses, almost around 10 inches, because we both sleep in different positions and tend to toss and turn throughout the night. If our mattress fails to isolate our motion, we cannot get quality sleep.

Unless they are hybrids.

A coil base layer of a hybrid mattress is typically quite thick, so it remains responsive despite the upper foam layers. So, even a thick hybrid mattress will still have some bounce to it, which can be a turn-down if you’re a sensitive sleeper.

All-foam models, on the other hand, can absorb movements pretty well even if they’re below the standard mattress thickness

...If You’re a Mixed Sleeper

Mattress thickness is an important factor when it comes to choosing a mattress for certain sleeping positions. Thicker mattresses have more layers that allow for added comfort and contour, helping your body relieve pressure from pressure points.

Back sleepers and stomach sleepers require more support for their back and minimum sinkage, so a standard firm mattress would be ideal for them (2). On the other hand, side sleepers need a comfort layer that allows for a bit of sinking on their pressure points like the hips and shoulders, so there’s room for adjusting to the body shape. Therefore, a thicker medium-firm mattress would be ideal for them. 

I am a back sleeper and sometimes a side sleeper, so almost a mix sleeper. I prefer a medium-firm mattress with the standard thickness (8-12 inches). The medium-firm feel helps me relax my hips and shoulders, and the standard thickness with a firm support layer helps keep my back supported and put in the proper body alignment.

“Larger mattresses have lower motion transfer due to a larger surface area. For example, a King-size mattress gives you 16 inches more in width than a Queen bed. This means that you and your partner can lie further away from each other so that your movements will fade out before they reach your partner and vice versa.”

Also Read: 5 Tempurpedic Alternatives

Other Things to Consider When Choosing the Right Mattress Thickness

Things to Consider When Choosing the Right Mattress Thickness

Price

The modern mattress market is pretty diverse, and you can find a lot of mattresses for any budget.

However, mattress thickness impacts the price because thicker mattresses require more resources and energy to be produced

Plus, some brands may just stuff their products with regular foams and raise the cost.

So, if you have a limited budget for a mattress, sometimes it’s better to choose a thinner mattress made from better materials.

Thermoregulation

High temperature and sleep don’t go well together, and most mattress brands address hot sleeping by using natural and synthetic materials with a cooling effect.

However, if your mattress doesn’t feature coils that are better for air circulation, the excessive thickness can interfere with heat removal, and you will still feel hot despite the layer of gel foam. 

So, if you’re prone to hot sleeping, try looking for mattresses with coils, or choose thinner beds made with natural materials, such as latex.

Room Size and Layout

Finally, mattresses that are too thin or too thick can mess with the harmony of your bedroom layout.

This might sound like an exaggeration, but your bedroom should be a perfect place to sleep. It’s hard to call something ‘perfect’ when it’s out of proportion.

Thankfully, there’s a rule that will help you to create a comfortable bed: its final height should be 25 inches from the floor. This height allows most people to sit with their feet flat and makes getting up from the bed easier. If you’re taller than 5’5”, then you can make your bed a little higher — up to 27 inches.

So, check the height of your bed frame, and you will know how thick your mattress would be.

Mobility

Usually, beds that sit lower to the ground are more challenging to get out of, especially for people with back pain or knee issues. At the same time, overly tall beds can be finicky to climb onto every night.

That’s why it is crucial to select the mattress thickness based not only on the previously mentioned aspects but also on the height of one’s bed frame. If it’s a low-profile model, it may not work that well with a thin mattress. Just like that, tall bed frames don’t always pair well with extra-thick mattresses. Not only do they look bulky but also might not work for people with mobility issues.

Accessories

Shoppers should also pick the thickness level carefully if they prefer using fitted sheets. Not all of them have deep enough pockets to accommodate taller mattresses. Just like that, a fitted sheet may sit loosely if the mattress is too thin.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Thick Mattresses

There are several benefits and, of course, drawbacks to using thicker mattresses depending on how thick they can go. Let’s check some of them here.

Benefits

  • They provide more support for the back;
  • They help isolate motion on mattresses used by couples;
  • They prevent the mattress from sagging or getting dents after several years of usage, compared to thin models;
  • They elevate you from the ground, helping you feel free and warmer in cold nights, away from the cold floor;
  • They give you more options for adjusting their construction, including transition or comfort layers;
  • They eliminate the need for thick bed foundations.

Drawbacks

  • They can make it harder to get in and out of bed;
  • They make it harder to transfer, deliver, or move out to another house,
  • Cleaning them won’t be as easy if they are infested with pests or mold.

FAQ

Is an 8-inch mattress too thin?

No, a mattress with a thickness of 8 inches isn’t thin. As a matter of fact, it’s an average and standard height for mattresses.

Why are modern mattresses so thick?

Modern mattresses are thick because they add extra comfort and cushioning on the top to the supportive layers on the bottom. Traditional and older mattresses used only one or two layers of spring or foam, but nowadays, we have more therapeutic layers added.

Conclusion

Mattress thickness can contribute to the amount of comfort you can get. A thin mattress might not be able to support you, and a very thick mattress might make it hard for you to move it around or getting in and out of bed. It’s good to check your preferences, and pay attention to factors like your sleeping position, your weight, whether you sleep with a partner, and whether you suffer from any kind of pain.

References

  1. L M Rondorf-Klym (January 1993). Relationship between body weight, body position, support surface, and tissue interface pressure at the sacrum. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8427641/ 
  2. Roman Bolton et al. (May 2022). Effects of mattress support on sleeping position and low-back pain. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/360482454_Effects_of_mattress_support_on_sleeping_position_and_low-back_pain

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