Understanding the Mattress Firmness Scale

Ideally, you should only have to buy a new mattress for yourself once every eight to 10 years. But when you have to make a mattress purchase, the shopping process can feel overwhelming. With so many options, it can be difficult to figure out what you really need and want.

Mattresses come in different sizes—and they also range from soft to firm. The “softness” or “firmness” is determined by the mattress firmness scale, ranging from one to 10. A firmness of one indicates a very soft mattress, whereas a 10 indicates one that is very firm.

Generally speaking, most people find themselves opting for a mattress firmness between five and seven, though some prefer to go softer or firmer. It comes down to personal preference, but other factors should influence your purchase decision, such as body type, weight, and sleep position.

Finding the right mattress is crucial to getting quality sleep. You might think that choosing a soft mattress vs a firm mattress will be a difficult decision, but if you understand how the firmness scale works, it will simplify the mattress shopping process.

Firmness and Support

While these two terms might appear to mean the same thing—they don’t. Firmness refers to the sensation you get when you first lie on a mattress. For example, if you’re lying on a soft surface, you may find it feels plush and cozy. On the other hand, support refers to a mattress’s ability to keep your spine aligned.

You need to dissociate these two terms when looking for a mattress. Firmness is a matter of personal taste, but a mattress that doesn’t provide the proper support can negatively impact your sleep.

Firmness Levels

The firmness levels on the scale can be broken down into four categories:

  • Soft, or one to two on the firmness scale: Soft mattresses tend to be great for contouring your body. However, they often provide little support. They also don’t last as long as firm mattresses due to sagging from sinking.
  • Medium-soft, or three to four on the firmness scale: Mattresses of this firmness can provide some pressure relief, but they’re not suitable for those who need a lot of spinal support. Many medium-soft mattresses come with comfort layers made with memory foam for extra cushioning.
  • Medium-firm, or five to seven on the firmness scale: These mattresses can accommodate various sleeping positions because they strike a balance between firmness and support. They’re great for body contouring, and they can adapt to pressure points.
  • Firm, or eight to 10 on the firmness scale: Though not the most popular, these mattresses provide the most support for spine alignment. Contrary to soft mattresses, firm options remain an even surface rather than sink. They also tend to be less expensive.

Ideal Mattress Firmness or Each Type of Sleeper

To determine which mattress works best for you, you also have to think about your preferred sleep position. Keep in mind that mattress firmness and sleeping position should go hand-in-hand:

  • Side Sleepers– Medium-soft mattresses are generally ideal for side sleepers. Side sleepers tend to put pressure on peak areas, particularly the hips and shoulders, so they need to find a way to relieve those points. The comfort layers within medium-soft mattresses provide enough body contouring without compromising support.
  • Back Sleepers– Unlike side sleepers, the back sleepers’ position allows them to spread their body weight evenly, which cancels out pressure points. As a result, they have more mattress options than side sleepers. That said, they still need proper support from their mattress. A medium-range firmness should be able to do the job, though you might have to consider going for something firmer—especially if you have chronic back pain.
  • Stomach sleepers– Just like side sleeping, sleeping on your stomach creates pressure points, particularly in the hips and pelvis. If you’re a stomach sleeper, you should avoid sleeping on soft mattresses because these can make your spine unaligned by curving it towards your stomach. In this case, firmer mattresses are the way to go because they keep the hips, pelvis, and spine aligned.

Use the Firmness Scale to Your Advantage

The firmness scale is a tool—a useful one—that can help you find the perfect mattress for ultimate comfort. Before making a mattress purchase, take the time to assess every point, and apply the scale to your benefit. You’ll be glad you did when you fall asleep for the first time on your perfect mattress.