Plush vs. Medium Mattress: What is the Difference?

By Geoff McKinnen Certified Sleep Coach

One of the most important factors that can make or break a good night’s sleep is the firmness of your new mattress. The right firmness can cradle your body perfectly…

Last Updated On December 1st, 2021
Plush vs. Medium Mattress: What is the Difference?

One of the most important factors that can make or break a good night’s sleep is the firmness of your new mattress. The right firmness can cradle your body perfectly to cushion pressure points and offer you spinal support.

In contrast, the wrong firmness can put pressure on your joints or allow your spine to fall out of whack. This mismatch can cause joint pain and back pain. It can also put a serious damper on your sleep quality and quantity.

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The good news is with a little research, you can be sure you’re picking the right firmness for your comfort level. Below, we’ll talk about two of the most popular firmnesses on the market: plush and medium. We’ll discuss who should be sleeping on these firmness levels and whether or not they’re right for you.

The Firmness Scale

The firmness scale is a way to measure how much balance exists between cushion and support. Firmness runs from 1 to 10, with 10 being the firmest. Most of the time, you’re not going to find a mattress softer than a 3 or firmer than an 8. That’s because there’s no demand on the market for mattresses that have absolutely no support or absolutely no give.

Plush or soft mattresses are just about the most cushioning mattresses. While you can find ultra-soft mattresses, they don’t have enough support for most people. Meanwhile, medium mattresses offer an equal balance between cradling and support. On the other end of the spectrum, firm beds have very little cushioning and a whole lot of lift.

Plush Mattresses

If you want a mattress that compresses under your body and cradles your joints, plush mattresses are for you. These mattresses offer just enough support to keep your spine aligned, but they provide tons of soft cushioning.

Soft mattresses are typically created by adding extra plush materials between the sleepers’ bodies and the support core underneath the foam layers. This can be accomplished in several different ways, such as:

  • Using a single layer of thick plush foam
  • Using multiple layers of soft foam
  • Putting other plush materials like wool/cotton/fiberfill into the comfort layer
  • Adding a pillow top over the comfort layer

Pressure Relief

Soft mattresses offer the ultimate pressure relief. They allow tired joints to sink into the bed and cradle them and prevent pain in your pressure points. This is perfect for side sleepers and people who suffer from joint pain.

Support

While soft mattresses still have support, this support may not be enough for some sleepers. The extra cushioning of a plush mattress can allow you to sink too far into the bed. This can pull heavier sleepers’ and stomach sleepers’ spines out of alignment.

Who Should Sleep On a Soft Mattress

Soft mattresses are best for side sleepers and petite sleepers (under 130 pounds). Soft mattresses provide enough cushioning to protect side sleepers’ hips and shoulders from pain. These mattresses also offer enough compression to contour to smaller sleepers’ shapes.

They’re typically also the best mattresses for kids since children’s smaller frames require more compression and cradling.

Medium Mattresses

As their name suggests, medium mattresses strike a balance between cushioning and support. Medium mattresses can still cradle your joints, but they don’t compress as much. This means there’s more lift to keep you on top of the sleeping surface. That works especially well for people who don’t want to give up too much softness but feel like they get stuck in a soft bed.

Medium mattresses are made by balancing cushioning materials with supportive materials. While firm mattresses have more support and soft mattresses have more cushion, medium mattresses meet right in the middle. The support core in a medium mattress should be no less than 50 percent of the mattress. In a medium-feel bed, it may be closer to 60 percent.

Pressure Relief

Medium mattresses don’t offer as much pressure relief as softer ones. That means if you’re a petite side sleeper or have joint pain, this feel may be too firm for you. However, medium mattresses maintain enough cushioning that those who need some extra support can get it without feeling too much pressure.

Support

Medium mattresses offer middle-of-the-road support. That means they can provide sufficient lift for most sleepers without sacrificing cradling comfort. If you like a soft feel but need an extra boost to keep you lifted, this feel may be for you.

Who Should Sleep On a Medium Mattress

Medium is the most versatile firmness level. It’s the perfect firmness for most combination sleepers because it can accommodate the largest number of sleep positions. This firmness level is also a fantastic choice for couples because it’s an ideal compromise between softness and firmness.

Other Firmness Levels

Besides plush and medium, there are several other common firmness levels you might consider, depending on your sleep style and personal preferences:

Medium-Plush

Medium-plush, also known as medium-soft, is a 4 on the firmness scale. These mattresses up the support over what a truly soft mattress would offer without significantly altering their cushioning ability. Heavier side sleepers and lighter-weight combo sleepers might want to check out this firmness level.

Medium-Firm

Medium-firm mattresses up the support offered by the medium feel, measuring around 6 to 7. This firmness level still offers some cushioning, but it has much more lift than cradling. Medium-firm is actually the best firmness level for back pain sufferers because it aligns the spine so well.

Firm

Firm mattresses have a little bit of cushioning and a lot of support. These mattresses are between 7 to 8 and are best for stomach sleepers and plus-size sleepers (over 230 pounds) because they fight sinkage and keep the body on top of the sleeping surface.

We also have comparison guides for firm mattresses vs. soft and medium mattresses:

Extra-Firm

An extra-firm mattress measures about 8 or more on the firmness scale will feel like sleeping on a wooden slab to most people. This firmness level is really best for heavier stomach sleepers who need the absolute most lift they can get.

Amerisleep Soft and Medium Mattresses

Quick Guide: A 30-Second Summary

Best Soft Mattress Amerisleep AS5
Best Medium-Soft Mattress Amerisleep AS4
Best Medium Mattress Overall Amerisleep AS3
Best Latex Medium Mattress Amerisleep Organica
Best Medium-Firm Mattress Amerisleep AS2

Our softest model is the AS5, designed to hug a side sleeper’s curves for maximum pressure relief. The soft cushioning top is offset by supportive firm layers without diminishing its plush feel.

Mattress Highlights
  • Soft feel cradles joints and relieves pressure
  • Reactive Active Flex foam minimizes sinkage
  • Mattress core foam provides a sag-free structure
Recommended For
  • Side sleepers
  • Petite sleepers
  • Those with joint pain

Those who need a soft feel should take a look at the AS5. This plush mattress offers amazing contouring and cushioning to side sleepers and petite sleepers alike.

Best of all, the AS5 offers tons of cooling despite being a soft mattress. Softer feels tend to retain more heat because they hug your body. But the AS5 offers lots of cooling technology to counter this problem.

On top, the breathable, cooling cover works with the ultra-breathable foam to wick away heat. The memory foam comfort layer is so breathable because it’s made of Bio-Pur® foam rather than traditional memory foam.

While traditional memory foam uses petroleum products, Bio-Pur® foam swaps those in favor of plant oils wherever possible. This process makes for an extremely breathable foam that allows air to flow through and move body heat away from you.

Underneath the Bio-Pur® foam is the Active Flex layer. This layer adds extra softness and cradling. It also works with the Affinity foam transition layer to protect your body from pressure caused by the durable Bio-Core® support layer. This transition layer relies on HIVE®technology to provide five distinct support zones.

Despite its soft feel, the AS5 is one tough mattress. Its Bio-Core® support layer provides high-density support to the mattress. This prevents you from sinking into this soft bed and can also fight sagging and soft spot development for a full 20 years.

Do you prefer soft mattresses with responsive coils? We also offer the AS5 Hybrid, which contains a base of pocketed coils instead of an Affinity foam transition layer and the Bio-Core® base.

Quick Summary

  • Thick, responsive plant-based memory foam cushion for pressure relief
  • Highly contouring foam is breathable and wicks away body heat
  • The durable support core will allow this mattress to last two decades.
Save $300 on the Amerisleep AS5 with our discount code
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Our in-between option for those torn between a soft and medium feel mattress is the AS4. This model possesses the thickest comfort layer of all of our models, a feature offset by the transition layer with targeted support.

Mattress Highlights
  • Sleepers sink into cushioning surface for relief
  • Extra pressure relief in the shoulders and hips areas
  • Durable base foam for added mattress longevity
Recommended For
  • Heavier side sleepers
  • Petite combo sleepers
  • Active sleepers who need a softer mattress

If you need to up the support without sacrificing cushioning, you should consider the AS4. This mattress sports a medium-soft feel that offers a bit more support than the AS5 provides, though you won’t notice much difference in cradling.

The AS4 boasts the same Bio-Pur® foam that comes in the AS5. This is a highly responsive foam as well as a breathable foam. That means the AS4 is a great choice for active sleepers who want a soft feel. The enhanced support and springy foam mean this mattress will bounce right back into place as soon as you move.

The HIVE® transition layer is another fantastic feature of this mattress. The transition layer offers five distinct zones to offer different levels of pressure relief and support to different areas of your body, from your head and neck to your knees and feet.

Just like with the AS5, the AS4 comes with the Bio-Core® support system. That means it will fight sagging and offer support for a full two decades. That’s why all the mattresses in the Amerisleep line come with a 20-year warranty.

Quick Summary

  • The medium-soft mattress offers a little bit more support to those who need it
  • The HIVE® transition layer offers targeted support and targeted support
  • The responsiveness of the Bio-Pur® foam is perfect for active sleepers
Save $300 on the Amerisleep AS4 with our discount code
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The AS3 is our most popular model because its medium feel suits most sleeping styles. It’s well-regarded by single sleepers and couples who do not have perfectly compatible sleeping styles.

Mattress Highlights
  • Eco-friendly plant-based memory foam top layer
  • HIVE® transition layer protects pressure points
  • Durable base foam structures the mattress
Recommended For
  • Side and combo sleepers
  • Petite back sleepers
  • Couples

Moving on up to the medium feel, the AS3 provides the perfect balance between contoured plushness and supportive firmness. Like the other mattresses in the AS line, the AS3 boasts Amerisleep’s proprietary Bio-Pur® plant-based foam. Unlike the other mattresses listed above, the AS3 offers more firmness for those who need it.

The AS3 follows the same layout as the AS4, with the Bio-Pur® foam making up the comfort layer, the HIVE® transition layer coming in just underneath, and the Bio-Core® support layer bringing up the bottom.

However, in the AS3, the comfort and transition layers are thinner than those of the AS4. This creates a firmer feel than the AS4 or AS5 have, perfect for those who want some extra spine-aligning support.

Don’t let the increased firmness fool you. The AS3 is a medium mattress, so it still has plenty of cushioning for your pressure points and muscles. The mix of cradling and support is what makes this versatile mattress the perfect fit for combo sleepers and couples alike.

Shoppers may also enjoy the AS3 Hybrid if they seek a medium mattress with some bouncy springs. Alternatively, they might prefer our next recommendation if they seek a responsive mattress with natural materials.

Best Features:

  • The medium feel is highly versatile for multiple sleep positions
  • Targeted support for head, shoulders, back, hips, and feet
  • The 100-night sleep trial and free shipping make this a risk-free purchase
Save $300 on the Amerisleep AS3 with our discount code
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While we strive for sustainability with all of our mattresses, our Organica model easily has the highest concentration of eco-friendly materials. The design pairs natural latex and organic cotton and wool with bouncy coils.

Mattress Highlights
  • Highly contouring Talalay latex foam for comfort
  • Breathable cotton cover fabric promotes coolness
  • Plush, natural wool acts as a fire barrier for safety
Recommended For
  • Those looking for pure, eco-friendly comfort
  • Active sleepers
  • Hot sleepers
  • Side, back, and combiation sleepers

Those looking for an amazing medium-feel hybrid need to look no further than the Organica. This mattress boasts a support core of pocketed coils and a comfort layer of springy and contouring Talalay latex.

On top of all that breathable comfort sits an organic cotton cover certified under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Underneath the cover, you’ll find a layer of squishy New Zealand Joma Wool®. Not only does this wool offer stellar cradling for tired joints. It also eliminates the need for chemical flame retardants.

The natural Talalay latex comfort layer is ultra-breathable and ultra-responsive. That makes for a perfect comfort layer for hot sleepers and sleepers who love to toss and turn at night. It’s also a wonderful option for allergy sufferers because latex creates a hostile environment for microbes like dust mites, mold, and bacteria.

Adding to the bounce and breathability, the individually wrapped coils in the support core work with the comfort layer to create a mattress with all the responsiveness of an innerspring and none of the motion transfer.

Quick Summary

  • Bouncy and breathable Talalay latex takes cooling to the next level
  • Pocketed coils add even more responsiveness to an already bouncy bed
  • Joma wool and organic cotton for pure, all-natural comfort
Save $300 on the Amerisleep Organica with our discount code
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The AS2 is the best mattress on this list for back pain sufferers and heavier individuals. While you’d think those with back pain need more cushioning, the reality is that extra spinal support can help prevent pain by keeping the spine in a straight horizontal line.

Mattress Highlights
  • Medium-firm feel is perfect for relieving back pain
  • Bio-Pur® is hypoallergenic and moisture-wicking
  • HIVE® transition layer helps maintain cushioning even with the firmer feel
Recommended For
  • Back sleepers
  • Back pain sufferers
  • Heavier sleepers
  • Hot sleepers

The AS2 is the firmest mattress on this list, and it offers lots of support without sacrificing the contoured cradling of Amerisleep’s Bio-Pur® plant-based foam. The AS2 will support your spine while still offering cushioning that can protect your body from pressure.

The AS2 is a fantastic option for your back because it doesn’t just provide superior spinal support. It also contours to your curves to help fill in the gap in your lumbar reason and compress under the buttocks, making it the perfect choice for back sleepers, even if they don’t have back pain.

Another excellent feature of Bio-Pur® foam is that it’s hypoallergenic. Just like the latex in the Organica, this plant-based memory foam resists moisture buildup. This makes it a tough environment for mold, mildew, and bacteria to grow. Pollen also has a tough time lodging in this breathable foam. Allergy sufferers will appreciate that!

We also offer the AS2 Hybrid for sleepers who enjoy a bouncy mattress.

Quick Summary

  • Plant-based memory foam not too thick but still pressure-relieving
  • Targeted support for the back area minimizes sinkage and misalignment
  • Structural base foam prevents premature mattress sagging for maximum support
Save $300 on the Amerisleep AS2 with our discount code
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How to Choose a Mattress Firmness

There are two main factors that determine the mattress firmness level you need: your sleep style and body type. While sleep style is the primary determinant of your firmness needs, your body weight cannot be discounted.

Your preferences are also important, of course. But they should always be considered alongside your other sleep needs. For instance, if you have a strong preference for softer mattresses but you sleep on your stomach, you still probably should not go below a medium-firm feel. If you do, you could be dealing with back pain caused by too much sinkage in the pelvic area.

Sleep Style

Your sleep style or sleep position is the position you take when you sleep. Some people hop from position to position without ever developing a strong preference for one. These are called combo sleepers.

Everyone else prefers one position over all others. Some people cannot fall asleep if they’re in any position other than their preferred one.

Side Sleepers

Side sleepers need the softest mattresses because their hip and shoulder joints contact the bed and support their body weight. Firmer mattresses can exert pressure on these joints, causing pain and stiffness.  Mattresses for side sleeping should offer a soft to medium feel.

Combo Sleepers

Combo sleepers need medium mattresses because they alter their sleep position from night to night or even several times during the night. Medium mattresses provide the most versatile balance between cradling and support, which can accommodate the largest combination of sleeping positions.

Shoppers seeking a mattress for combination sleepers may also prefer one with coils, to make movements across the surface easier.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers need medium-firm mattresses because they need lots of lift to support the spine while still maintaining enough contouring to prevent the lumbar region from collapsing. Back sleepers can suffer lower back pain if their lumbar slouches down to contact the bed. That means mattresses for back sleeping need to be contouring enough to fill in the curve in the lower back.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers need the firmest mattresses to keep the pelvis lifted. When you sleep on your stomach, your hips sink down into the bed. This overarches your back and can cause low back pain.

That’s why you need as much lift as you can get to keep your spine aligned if you sleep in this position. A mattress for stomach sleeping buoys the spine for increased comfort.

Body Type

Your body type is based on how much you weigh. Petite sleepers are under 130 pounds. Plus-size sleepers weigh more than 230 pounds. Average sleepers fall in the middle. All of these frames require a different mattress firmness to accommodate them comfortably.

See our best mattresses by body type guide for an in-depth examination, along with other options such as mattresses for taller sleepers and pregnant individuals.

Petite

If you’re on the smaller side and shopping for a mattress for petite sleepers, you might need to go down a firmness level from the one that corresponds to your sleep position. For example, petite back sleepers may need a medium mattress instead of the average medium-firm one.

This is because petite sleepers have a hard time getting sufficient compression from their mattresses to cradle their joints. A softer feel relative to your sleep style can help counter this issue and prevent pain caused by a too-firm mattress.

Average

Average sleepers generally don’t have to worry about their body weight impacting their firmness needs. Instead, they can just select the firmness level that works for their sleep position.

Plus-Size

Heavier sleepers tend to have the opposite problem as petite sleepers. Where petite sleepers can’t get enough compression, heavier sleepers wind up with too much. This can allow heavier sleepers to sink too far into the mattress, pushing their spines out of alignment.

If you’re a plus-size sleeper, you can counter this issue by going up a firmness level from the one that corresponds to your sleep position. A firmer mattress can offer you lots of lift to counter that “stuck” feeling and keep your spine in neutral alignment. That’s not to say a mattress for heavy people can’t have a softer feel, but plus-size sleepers need to be careful to choose a mattress with adequate support.

FAQs

Does material impact mattress firmness?

Material can impact the feel but not firmness. This is because all types of mattresses come in a range of firmness levels. Firmness isn’t determined by material but by construction. That means whether you have a memory foam mattress, a hybrid, or an innerspring mattress, you can get the firmness you want.

For example, to create a soft mattress, manufacturers will add more layers of foam or other cushioning materials for more plushness. To create a firmer mattress, manufacturers simply take away the plush materials and either substitute firmer materials or leave less cushioning between your body and the support core.

Which firmness level is best for side sleepers?

Side sleepers need softer mattresses because their joints need the most cradling in order to prevent pain from pressure buildup. Petite and average-sized side sleepers will likely do best on a plush mattress (3 of 10 on the firmness scale).

Heavier side sleepers and average-weight side sleepers who like a firmer feel should consider medium-plush mattresses (4 of 10). A medium-soft will offer enough support to keep most people lifted onto the bed whilst still maintaining tons of cushioning comfort.

The heaviest side sleepers or side sleepers who also roll over onto their backs from time to time might think about going up to a medium mattress.

Can I use a mattress topper to change firmness levels?

You can, but it’s a lot easier to go softer than go firmer. Plush mattress toppers can easily add cradling and contouring to an overly firm mattress. All you have to do is lie the topper over the comfort layer and put the sheet top of both of them.

Firming up your mattress can be a little more complicated because support comes from the mattress’s core and not its top layer. Firm toppers can help add a firmer feel to the top of your mattress.

But if you want to shore up support, you may need to combine a firm topper with sturdier support under your mattress. Try a bunkie board or swap your box springs for a mattress foundation or platform bed.

Will my mattress get softer over time?

Yes. When you first buy your mattress, it will soften up a bit during its “breaking-in” period. This is why manufacturers offer a sleep trial. It takes between 90 and 120 nights to fully break in your mattress. For this reason, you’ll need no less than a 100-night sleep trial to make sure you understand how your bed will feel over the course of its lifetime.

In addition to the breaking-in period, mattresses will soften as they age. This usually results in sagging and soft spot development. Eventually, this process will spell the end of your mattress’s lifespan. How long that process takes depends on your mattress’s material and construction.

What is the most durable firmness level?

As a general rule, firmer mattresses are more durable than softer ones. They will resist sagging and fight off soft spots a little longer than their plusher counterparts. However, if durability is your concern, the material has a much higher impact on mattress longevity than firmness.

Latex is the most durable mattress material, followed by pure memory foam. Mattresses with coils tend to age faster because the springs lose tension and break down. But the pocketed coil support systems of hybrid mattresses will outlast the open coil systems of innerspring ones by a long shot.

All this means that if durability is a high priority for you as you shop for a mattress, you should stick with the firmness level that fits you best and focus on finding a durable material like natural latex foam.

The Bottom Line

Your mattress’s firmness is just as important as its material when it comes to enhancing your sleep quality. An overly firm mattress can exert too much pressure on your joints and lead to pressure points. An overly soft mattress can allow your spine to fall out of alignment and cause back pain. However, a mattress in the Goldilocks Zone will provide comfort that’s just right.


About the author

Geoff McKinnen is a writer focusing mainly on the healthcare industry and has written articles on everything from foods to help you lose weight to the connection between Alzheimer’s and sleep. Geoff’s passionate about helping readers improve their well-being to lead happier lives. Outside of work, Geoff enjoys cycling and hiking and believes that by leading a healthy lifestyle, he can help others do the same.

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