Resting on a broken down mattress can force you to sleep in awkward positions that cause your muscles to remain tense. One night of unsupported rest could leave you with aches and pains that last throughout the following day. Plus, an old bed can cause frequent nighttime disruptions and lost hours of sleep. If you are in search of a good night’s sleep, a mattress suited to your needs is essential.
With such a wide range of mattress types and firmness levels available, it can be difficult to determine which is right for you. Below, we break down the advantages and disadvantages of a firm and a medium mattress. We will show you how to use your body type and sleep position to determine the best mattress for you.
What Makes a Comfortable Mattress?
We each have personal preferences when it comes to mattress comfort. But, as it turns out, the comfort level you prefer is based on more than just a preference.
When you lay down in bed, several things need to happen for you to feel supported. The spine needs to rest in a neutral position, pressure points need to be cushioned, and body weight needs to be evenly distributed. When these three needs are met, the body can fully relax, and the mind can drift off to sleep.
Your body type and sleep positions can determine the mattress firmness that will deliver the correct support. For example, if you are a side sleeper, you will need a soft mattress that cushions the curves of the body to prevent pain near the pressure points. But, if the bed is too soft, it can cause excessive sinking, which could force the spine out of alignment. Therefore, a medium mattress that provides a balance of compression and firmness is the best option for side sleepers.
Throughout this article, we will outline which mattress firmness is right for you—firm or medium.
What’s the Difference Between a Firm and Medium Mattress?
Mattress firmness is ranked on a scale of 1 to 10—with 1 being the softest comfort level and 10 being the firmest.
A medium mattress is a 5 on the firmness scale. These beds are soft to the touch, respond quickly to pressure, and are less likely to have excessive sinking than a soft bed.
A firm mattress typically rates between 8 and 10 on the firmness scale. These beds have less give and offer a more stable, even sleeping surface with very little sinking.
Of course, the type of mattress you have can also impact the firmness. Memory foam mattresses are available in a wide range of comfort levels. So, these beds can accommodate several different support needs. Latex beds have a firmer feel, so these mattresses tend to have a medium-firm comfort level—between medium and firm on the firmness scale.
Hybrid mattresses can feature either memory foam or latex foam in their top layer. So, it is helpful to understand the firmness of the foam being used. Plus, the overall feel of a hybrid will depend on the type of spring coils used in the base.
Innerspring mattresses are often classified as medium-firm to firm. These beds have a thin comfort layer and a thicker spring coil base, so they offer very little contouring and pressure relief.
Advantages of a Firm Mattress
Firm beds can promote a neutral spinal alignment, improve posture, and help reduce back pain. Since body weight is evenly distributed on a firm mattress, muscles and ligaments are more likely to relax so that healing can take place. A firm mattress comes with the following advantages.
Suitable for Back or Stomach Sleepers
For back sleepers, body weight needs to be evenly distributed to keep the spine in alignment with the shoulders. When back sleeping, a firm mattress can do this more efficiently. When weight is equally supportive, no one area of the body will bear the brunt of the pressure. A firm mattress will also keep the lower back lifted and supported to reduce back pain.
When stomach sleeping, the curve of the spine is naturally exaggerated—this can put pressure on the back and neck. Those who prefer stomach sleeping need a firm mattress to keep the hips lifted and the spine in alignment. When the spine is neutral, tension can release, and the muscles can relax.
Suitable for Heavy Sleepers
Heavy sleepers (250 pounds or more) will likely experience excessive sinking on a mattress that is too soft. This sinking can cause them to feel “stuck”—reducing mobility and restricting circulation. A firmer mattress for heavy sleepers will inhibit sinking, keep the torso lifted and in alignment with the shoulders, and allow the lungs to expand more fully.
The softer the mattress, the more it will contour to the body. In some cases, this contouring leads to overheating. If you tend to sleep hot, a firmer bed may provide some relief. Firm mattresses have less give, so you will naturally sink less and feel less insulation. These beds allow more airflow, so you always sleep cool and comfortable.
Soft mattresses tend to cradle the body, which can restrict movement. With less mobility, circulation and blood flow can slow, resulting in aches and pains. A firm bed makes it easy to move on the surface of the mattress without sinking, so blood can flow freely.
Drawbacks of a Firm Mattress
If you sleep on your side, a firm mattress could cause pressure to build-up near the heaviest parts of the body—the hips and shoulders. When side sleeping, a firm mattress will also offer very little sinking, which could force the spine to curve.
Those who have arthritis need a mattress that will promote a neutral spine to relieve muscle tension. However, if the bed doesn’t cradle the pressure points, it could result in pressure build-up and exacerbate pain.
Advantages of a Medium Mattress
Medium mattresses offer the perfect balance between soft and firm. These beds provide enough compression to cradle the curves of the body. Plus, a medium mattress has a slight firmness that prevents sinking to keep the spine neutral. A medium bed comes with the following advantages.
Suitable for Side and Combination Sleepers
When resting on your side, the heaviest parts of the body, the hips and shoulders, bear the brunt of the body weight. If the bed is too firm, pressure can build up in near these areas causing tension and pain. Also, if the bed doesn’t offer enough give, the spine may be forced to curve, which causes the back muscles to tense. However, a mattress that is too soft can also cause excessive sinking, which forces the spine out of alignment. A medium is the best mattress for side sleeping because it provides the right amount of firmness to keep the hips and shoulders lifted and cushioned.
Combination sleepers tend to change positions throughout the night, so they need a firmness that will keep the spine neutral and pressure points cushioned when resting on their side or back. The comfort and stability of a medium bed makes them ideal for those who frequently change sleep positions.
Suitable for Most Body Types
The balance of firmness and softness makes medium mattresses suitable for most body types. A medium bed provides lighter sleepers (those less than 130 pounds) enough compression for contouring. A medium also has enough response to prevent average sleepers (those 130-230 pounds) from sinking and putting pressure on the spine.
Ideal for Couples
Since most sleep positions and body types find comfort on a medium bed, they tend to work well for couples. If one person is a side sleeper and the other is a back sleeper, a medium bed will prevent sinking and promote a neutral spine for either position. A medium bed also tends to have less motion transfer, so couples will be less likely to wake each other when getting in and out of bed.
Medium beds provide more cushioning than a firm mattress, so the body is protected from pain and pressure build-up. The compression of a medium mattress affords just the right amount of contouring to hug the body without added pressure. When the joints are cushioned, and the spine is neutral, you can achieve a genuinely weightless sleep.
Drawbacks of a Medium Mattress
For heavier sleepers, a medium mattress may cause excessive sinking, which could force the spine into an awkward position. Also, if you have back pain, the lower back may collapse on a medium bed–resulting in more discomfort. If you suffer from chronic back pain, it is best to opt for a medium-firm mattress. This firmness will give you a bit more support around the lower back.
Firm vs. Medium Mattress Overview
A firm mattress is best for….
- Heavier sleepers (those over 230 pounds)
- Back sleepers
- Stomach sleepers
- Hot sleepers
A medium mattress is best for….
- Lightweight sleepers (those less than 130 pounds)
- Average sleepers (those between 130-230 pounds)
- Combination sleepers
- Side sleepers
Frequently Asked Questions
Which mattress is better—foam or spring?
The materials used in a mattress can affect the firmness. The best mattress type for you will depend on your body type and sleep habits.
Memory foam beds come in several different firmness levels. At Amerisleep, we offer five different memory foam mattresses that range in comfort from soft to firm. Using the standard firmness scale, it’s easy to determine the best mattress for you.
Hybrid mattresses have a sturdy coil support base and a foam top layer. The type of foam used in the comfort layer will determine the overall feel of the bed. Our three Amerisleep Hybrid Mattresses are available in medium-firm, medium, and soft.
Innerspring beds have a thin comfort layer and a thicker spring coil base, so these beds tend to have a very firm feel. Plus, spring coils tend to break and bend quickly. When this happens, they may stick up into sensitive areas and cause pain.
How can you make your bed less firm?
If your current mattress feels too firm, you can add a pillow topper to increase the softness. Memory foam toppers are often available in either soft or medium. If your bed is too soft, a medium-firm to firm mattress topper will add more stability and support to the bed.
Our Amerisleep Lift Memory Foam Topper is available in two different firmness options—Comfort and Support. Comfort offers more compression to cradle the body. Support has a firmer feel that can be used to add firmness to your current mattress.
What’s the best mattress of 2021?
The best mattress for you will depend on your support needs. However, memory foam beds tend to rate the highest in terms of customer satisfaction. Memory foam beds contour to the curves of the body and provide instant pressure relief. Plus, this material is responsive enough to reform to the shape of your body as you change positions throughout the night. This combination makes memory foam the ideal choice for those with back pain and arthritis.
Is memory foam suitable for side sleepers?
The medium memory foam mattress is typically the best option for side sleepers. These beds are soft enough to mold to the curves of the body for pressure-free support. The responsiveness of the material also prevents excessive sinking, so the spine remains in a safe, neutral position.
How much should I spend on a mattress?
Mattress prices can vary considerably. Added features such as sleep tracking sensors, organic materials, and cooling features can increase the cost of the bed. However, you can purchase a high-quality, supportive mattress for between $1000-$2500.
Selecting the right mattress for your needs can feel overwhelming at times. By keeping your body type and sleep habits in mind, it will be easier to narrow your choices. Once you decide on the right firmness, you can shop for beds within this range.
Also, be sure to test out the bed for an extended period of time. Most mattress companies will offer a free sleep trial period that allows you to try out the bed in the comfort of your own home. This trial provides you plenty of time to be sure the firmness level is supporting you correctly.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.