Get Better Sleep: How to Choose the Right Mattress Firmness

Last Updated On December 14th, 2023
Get Better Sleep: How to Choose the Right Mattress Firmness

Key Takeaways

  • The Significance of Mattress Firmness: The firmness of a mattress plays a crucial role in determining comfort and, consequently, the quality of sleep. A comfortable mattress is a key factor for a good night’s sleep.
  • Matching Firmness to Sleep Style: Proper support is essential for quality sleep, and it is not solely equated with firmness. Different sleep styles, such as side, back, stomach, or a combination of these, require specific firmness levels to ensure proper spinal alignment and support.
  • Considerations for Specialized Needs: Individuals with specific medical conditions or needs should carefully consider mattress firmness. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, general guidelines suggest that those with back pain may benefit from a medium-firm mattress, individuals with joint issues might prefer a slightly softer mattress, and those needing more support may find a firmer mattress beneficial.

The firmness of a new mattress is a huge factor in how comfortable it is and can make or break a great night’s sleep.

When buying a new mattress, it is important to find one that fits your exact needs. When surveyed, 92% of people said that a comfortable mattress was important to getting a good night’s sleep. Comfort is directly associated with how firm or plush a mattress is. Of course, there are other factors in how comfortable a mattress is, but this article is going to walk you through how a mattress’s firmness plays into comfort.

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Before, when we discussed how to choose the right mattress for your needs, we touched on the importance of getting the proper support while sleeping. Now we want to share in depth how to get the perfect firmness for every way you sleep.

The Importance of Proper Support

While most people equate a firm mattress with being more supportive, this is not exactly true. There is a difference between firmness and support. Support comes from having your spine in the proper alignment.

For example, if you are a side sleeper, you’ll need to allow your mattress to conform to your body. Having your hip and shoulder sink into the bed slightly while your core is elevated will allow your spine to be in perfect alignment. The most comfortable mattresses will help you fall asleep faster and sleep through the night easier.

Having the softest bed possible may seem like the ultimate goal, but don’t be fooled. Proper support can help rid your aches and pains. If your body is properly supported throughout the night, you’ll wake easier because your body didn’t have to strain itself to be comfortable the entire night.

Brands that advertise mattresses as “orthopedic” aren’t anything special. The Sleep Council explains that orthopedic mattresses are just extra firm beds. They claim that they support joints better, but any mattress that suits your sleep style is going to do that compared to just an extra firm mattress.

How to Determine Your Sleep Style

Cap nap
Photo by Basil Gloo, Flickr

Most people fall into one of three main categories for sleeping styles. These are side, stomach or back. If you find yourself sleeping in multiple positions, then you’re a combination sleeper.

Note what position you find comfortable to fall asleep in and how you wake up to better understand what sleeping style you fall in to. Knowing this before looking at mattresses will be helpful. Once you know how you’re sleeping, you can find a bed that caters to your sleep style.

Here are some general rules that can help you in your search for the perfect mattress.

  • Side sleepers: Look for a mattress that supports your side, but also lets your shoulder and hip sink in a bit. Your spine should be in line with the ground. Bending too much up or down vertically will engage your pressure points and make sleeping not as easy. Side sleepers tend to prefer a softer mattress.
  • Back sleepers: Keeping your back as natural as possible is key. When you’re lying down on your back, your spine should mimic how you typically stand. Usually, back sleepers prefer a firmer mattress. Plus, the best beds for back pain are usually a medium-firm.
  • Stomach sleepers: Like back sleepers, people who sleep on their stomach want their back to be in a natural position. Your upper body needs to supported so it doesn’t sink down and cause neck or back pain. As with sleeping on your back, a firmer mattress tends to keep your spine better aligned.
  • Combo sleepers: If you find yourself getting comfortable in multiple positions, find a mattress for combination sleeping that can suit all of your needs well. A medium-firm mattress will probably be the right balance of contour and support.

Mattress Firmness for Specialized Needs

When it comes to choosing a mattress firmness for medical needs, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer as everyone’s medical conditions and preferences can vary. However, there are some general guidelines to consider.

For individuals with back pain, a medium-firm mattress is often recommended. This level of firmness provides a balance between support and comfort, helping to maintain proper spinal alignment. It can help alleviate pressure points while still offering enough support to prevent the back from sinking too much.

People with joint issues, such as arthritis, may benefit from a slightly softer mattress. A medium or medium-soft mattress can offer more cushioning and contouring to relieve pressure on the joints. It can help distribute body weight more evenly and reduce discomfort during sleep.

On the other hand, individuals who require more support, such as those with certain spinal conditions, might find a firmer mattress beneficial. A firm mattress can provide better spinal alignment and prevent excessive sinking, which can strain the back or aggravate certain conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know what firmness of mattress I need?

Finding the right mattress firmness is important for a good night’s sleep. The best way to determine the firmness you need is to consider your own preferences and body type. Generally, if you prefer a more supportive and firmer feel, a medium-firm to firm mattress may be suitable.

And if you prefer a softer and more cushioning feel, a medium to medium-soft mattress might be better. It’s also important to consider your weight and any specific health conditions you may have. Ultimately, the goal is to find a mattress that provides proper support for your body while allowing you to feel comfortable and relaxed.

Do side sleepers need a softer mattress?

Yes, side sleepers often find a softer mattress to be more comfortable. When you sleep on your side, your body’s weight is primarily concentrated on your shoulders and hips. A softer mattress can help alleviate pressure points in these areas and provide better contouring support. It allows your body to sink slightly into the mattress, promoting proper spinal alignment.

However, it’s worth noting that the ideal firmness level for side sleepers can vary depending on personal preferences and body type. Some side sleepers may prefer a medium-soft mattress, while others may find a medium-firm mattress to be more supportive. It’s important to find a balance that offers both comfort and support for a restful sleep.

Is it healthier to sleep on a firm or soft mattress?

The choice between a firm or soft mattress in terms of health benefits depends on individual needs. A firm mattress can offer more support and help maintain proper spinal alignment, which can be beneficial for people with back pain or those who prefer a firmer feel. It can also help prevent the body from sinking too deeply, which may be helpful for people with heavier body weight.

On the other hand, a soft mattress can provide better pressure relief, especially for individuals with joint or muscle pain. It allows the body to contour and sink into the mattress, reducing pressure points and promoting blood circulation. Ultimately, the healthiest mattress firmness is one that supports your body and promotes a comfortable sleep, so it’s important to consider your specific needs and preferences when making a choice.

What is the best mattress firmness for couples?

When it comes to couples, finding the best mattress firmness can be a little tricky. It’s important to consider both partners’ preferences and sleeping positions. But as a rule of thumb, a medium mattress is often a good choice for couples because it strikes a balance between comfort and support. It can accommodate different sleeping styles, provide adequate support for the spine, and still offer a bit of cushioning for comfort.

This firmness level also helps minimize motion transfer, so you’re less likely to be disturbed by your partner’s movements during the night. However, it’s always a good idea for couples to try out different mattresses together to find the one that suits both of their needs and ensures a cozy and undisturbed slumber.

What is the best mattress firmness for children?

Choosing the right mattress firmness for children is essential for their growing bodies and quality sleep. Generally, a medium to medium-firm mattress is recommended for children. This firmness level offers the necessary support for their developing spines and helps maintain proper alignment. A medium-firm mattress also provides a comfortable sleeping surface without being too soft, which can lead to poor posture.

It’s important to consider factors such as age, weight, and personal comfort preferences when selecting a mattress for a child. By providing a supportive and comfortable sleeping surface, the right mattress for kids can contribute to their overall well-being and ensure a good night’s sleep.

Go With What’s Comfortable

The final deciding factor for your mattress firmness is how it feels to you. Test out as many beds as possible before making your decision on firmness. When testing a mattress, these beds aren’t necessarily going to be one of the ones your going to buy, but they’ll give you a better understanding of what firmness you should be looking for.

Every mattress brand has a different scale for firmnesses, so what you might like about one company’s firmness might not translate to another. Make sure that you have a solid understanding of what firmness you like from multiple companies so that you’re making the most informed decision. If you’re considering an online mattress, you may also want to skim customer reviews to see what they say about the bed’s feel.

Testing a mattress in a mattress store, or buying one online, isn’t going to give you a full picture of how you’ll sleep. Before you buy, see what the company’s return policy is. You don’t want to be stuck with a bed that causes you to have more pain than before.

A sleep trial is imperative when you’re in the market for a new bed, especially if you’re buying an online mattress.

Mattress Firmness

It can, however take up to four weeks to adjust to a different style of mattress. Say you found the best memory foam mattress for you (it has the best reviews, highest-quality foam, and a fantastic warranty) it can still take a few weeks for your body to adjust to the new bed. If you’re switching to memory foam from an innerspring mattress, your body might need to adjust to the new style of support it offers. If you’re sleeping poorly, it may be increasing any pain you’re having.

Finding the right firmness for your mattress is a process. Don’t stress if it takes a while to dial in exactly what you find comfortable and uncomfortable. Take time and relax, choosing the right firmness will only help you get better sleep.

Have any questions about proper mattress support? What type of mattress do you prefer based on your sleep style?

About the author

Stacy Liman is a journalism graduate student and a freelance writer with a focus on mindfulness and content marketing. Her passion for understanding and writing about the science of sleep enables her to provide valuable insights into achieving healthier and deeper rest. Stacy's commitment to helping people improve their sleep drives her exploration of new mattresses and sleep-promoting gadgets.

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