When buying a mattress, there are literally thousands of choices. Having options is great, but when deciding on just one bed that will be comfortable and suit your needs, an endless selection can make it more difficult to narrow down your choices.
One of the most important considerations when deciding on a mattress is comfort. A lot of what we identify as “comfort” relates to how soft or firm a mattress feels, and beds can range from very soft to very firm. Think of soft and firm as two ends on a spectrum and every degree on this spectrum is referred to as the “firmness level” of a bed.
Brands use different forms of categorization to label their mattresses. Some of these labels are complicated and usually involve numbered ratings. This large range makes it difficult to decide where your firmness fit may be. The single firmness approach can be appealing to shoppers in a world of overwhelming choice, but the problem is that since people come in all shapes and sizes, it is impossible to make a single mattress that is actually comfortable for everyone. Realistically, the different firmness levels can be summarized in three, straightforward descriptions: soft, medium, and firm.
It’s important to note that the firmness and support level of a bed are different. Firmness relates to the uppermost layers of a bed, while support is provided in the middle and lower layers. All well-made mattresses offer an underlying support system, regardless of what the top layers feel like. Even beds that feel very soft on top may still have an excellent support system below. A firm bed does not necessarily mean more support, as some doctors and chiropractors used to suggest. The softness or firmness of a mattress refers only to the initial feel of a bed.
So how do you know which firmness is best for you? Some sources explain that finding your personal preference is as simple as asking yourself, “Do I prefer a soft or firm bed?” While it might seem like a simple question to answer, there are actually a variety of reasons behind our mattress firmness preferences. If you aren’t sure what firmness level you need, exploring these reasons will help you with your selection.
Your sleeping position is a crucial consideration when deciding on a fitting firmness level. The amount of pressure exerted on specific points in your body depends on which points are supporting most of your weight. For example, someone who sleep on their stomach will exert more downward force on their hips than someone who sleeps on their back. While sleep positions and firmness preferences come down to personal taste, there are recommendations for those who are undecided about what firmness to choose:
Side sleepers generally prefer a softer mattress. A soft surface allows the mattress to conform to pressure points in the shoulders and hips, as well as the arm that gets tucked beneath side sleepers, preventing numbness and tingling.
Stomach sleepers get more comfort out of a firmer mattress. Pressure in the hips and pelvis is much greater for stomach sleepers, because these are the points supporting most of their weight. A medium or firm mattress will prevent your hips and pelvis from sinking lower than your shoulders and creating an unnatural curve in the spine.
Back sleepers have the most range in firmness, as pressure is more evenly spread across their pressure points while they sleep. Because of this, back sleepers can find comfort on soft, medium, and firm mattresses. If you’re still undecided, a medium firmness mattress is a pretty safe choice.
Depending on your body weight and sleeping positions, you and your partner may need different firmness levels, but it can be difficult to sacrifice your comfort. A medium firmness mattress can be a good compromise to satisfy both partners.
Weight is another key factor in choosing a firmness level, particularly for people who are over or under the recommended body mass index (BMI) range. The more you weigh per square inch of your body, the more force is exerted on your pressure points when you lay down. A heavier person may sink very low into a soft mattress, and a light person may feel as if they are pushed on top of a firm mattress. An additional consideration for heavier people (or those with mobility issues) is accessibility; sinking into a soft mattress makes it difficult to get in and out of the bed.