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Mattress Firmness Guide & Comparison

Based on 22,610 Mattress Owner Experiences

December 28, 2016

Firmness Guide For Average-Sized People (130-230 Lbs)

The chart below shows the mattress firmness that people of average size often prefer based on body type. Your own personal firmness preference may vary. The higher that one’s weight is between 130-230 lbs, the firmer one's preference tends to be within the stated range.

  SIDE SLEEP BACK SLEEP STOMACH SLEEP
Broad waist with less broad shoulders and hips Medium to
Medium-Firm
Medium-Firm medium to
Firm
About equally broad shoulders, waist, hips Medium to
Medium-Firm
Medium-Firm medium to
Firm
Broad shoulders with less broad waist and hips Medium Medium
to Medium-Firm
medium to
Medium-Firm
broad hips with less broad waist and shoulders Medium-Soft
to Medium-Firm
Medium
to Medium-Firm
Medium-Firm
broad shoulders and broad hips with less broad waist Medium-Soft
to Medium-Firm
Medium
to Medium-Firm
medium to
Medium-Firm

Firmness Guide For Large People (230+ Lbs)

The chart below shows the mattress firmness that people of large size tend to prefer based on their body type. Your own personal firmness preference may vary. The higher that one’s weight is above 230 lbs, the firmer one's preference tends to be within stated ranges.

  SIDE SLEEP BACK SLEEP STOMACH SLEEP
broad waist with less broad shoulders and hips Medium-Firm Medium-Firm
to firm
Medium-Firm
to firm
About equally broad shoulders, waist, hips Medium-Firm Medium-Firm
to firm
Medium-Firm
to firm
Broad shoulders with less broad waist and hips medium to
Medium-Firm
medium to
firm
Medium-Firm
broad hips with less broad waist and shoulders medium to
Medium-Firm
medium to
firm
Medium-Firm
broad shoulders and broad hips with less broad waist medium to
Medium-Firm
medium to
firm
Medium-Firm

Firmness Guide For Small People (Under 130 Lbs)

The chart below shows the mattress firmness that people of small size tend to prefer based on their body type. Your own personal firmness preference may vary. The lower that one’s weight is below 130 lbs, the softer one's preference tends to be within stated ranges.

  SIDE SLEEP BACK SLEEP STOMACH SLEEP
broad waist with less broad shoulders and hips Medium Medium-Soft to
Medium-Firm
Medium-Soft
to medium-Firm
About equally broad shoulders, waist, hips Medium Medium-Soft to
Medium-Firm
Medium-Soft
to medium-Firm
Broad shoulders with less broad waist and hips Medium-Soft to
Medium
Medium-Soft to
Medium-Firm
Medium-Soft To Medium
broad hips with less broad waist and shoulders Medium-Soft to
Medium
Medium-Soft to
Medium-Firm
Medium-Soft To Medium
broad shoulders and broad hips with less broad waist Medium-Soft to
Medium
Medium-Soft to
Medium-Firm
Medium-Soft To Medium

Firmness Comparison

Soft Med Firm
Durability / longevity D+ B A-
  Softer mattresses – especially of the innerspring variety – tend to have shorter lifespans due to sagging or compacting of their comfort layer. (See the truth about pillow top beds.)
Soft Med Firm
Price D C b-
  Softer mattresses often have more padding which makes them pricier.
Soft Med Firm
No initial odor / off gassing D+ C+ B
  Softer mattresses often contain significant amounts of foam which can be a source of off gassing odor.
Soft Med Firm
Easy to move on / get up off D+ C+ B+
  Soft mattresses provide some resistance to body movement because they conform more to the body.
Soft Med Firm
No sleeping hot D C+ B
  Due to the fact that a person sinks in more to a softer mattress, air flow around the sleeper is reduced often resulting in greater heat trap potential.
Soft Med Firm
Good for sex b- A- D+
  Medium firmness provides comfort for a variety of positions without restricting ease of body movement as a soft mattress can. (See mattresses and sex for analysis).
Soft Med Firm
Easy to maintain D+ C+ B
  Softer mattresses tend to require more rotation to avoid body impressions and sagging.
Soft Med Firm
Easy to lift, move D+ C B
  Softer mattresses with their additional padding often weigh more.

Mattress Firmness Not Right? Consider a Topper

Mattress toppers are effective at changing mattress firmness and comfort. Many types are available to suit a variety of preferences and budgets. See mattress topper ratings.

Better To Buy Too Firm Than Too Soft

If you aren't sure which firmness is best for you, then consider buying a mattress that might be too firm as opposed to too soft. This is mainly because there are many more and less expensive mattress topper options to soften a mattress than there are to firm one up.

Mattress Firmness Affects Pillow Loft Needs

To help avoid neck, upper spine, head and shoulder discomfort or pain, your mattress firmness and pillow should be compatible.

Firm Mattresses

Your body lies higher on a firm mattress and, consequently, you likely need a pillow with extra thickness / loft (or the ability to be scrunched or folded to provide the added height). Without this extra thickness, you risk inadequate head and neck support which can cause neck / upper spine pain. And side sleepers also risk excessive pressure on the shoulder due to the pillow not being thick enough to adequately support the weight of the neck and head.

Soft Mattresses

Your body sinks in more and lies lower on a soft mattress and, consequently, you likely need a pillow with less thickness / loft. Without less thickness, your head and neck may be on an upward angle, likely causing discomfort or pain.

Medium Mattresses

For a medium firmness mattress, pillow loft will likely need neither too thick nor too thin.

  Firm Mattress Medium Mattress Soft Mattress
High Pillow Loft A C D
Medium Pillow Loft C A C
Low Pillow Loft D C A

More info and help: Pillow loft guide and loft calculators.

Definition of Firmness Terms

SOFT mattresses often consist of a soft comfort layer and soft support.

MEDIUM firmness mattresses often consist of one of the following: a medium firmness comfort layer with medium firmness support; a soft comfort layer with firm support, or; a firm comfort layer with soft support. In other words, a medium firmness mattress is medium when averaging its various layers.

FIRM mattresses often consist of a firm comfort layer and firm support.

MEDIUM-SOFT mattresses often consist of one of the following: a medium-soft comfort layer with medium-soft support; a soft comfort layer with medium support, or; a medium comfort layer with soft support. In other words, a medium-soft mattress is medium-soft when averaging its various layers.

MEDIUM-FIRM mattresses often consist of one of the following: a medium-firm comfort layer with medium-firm support; a medium comfort layer with firm support, or; a firm comfort layer with medium support. In other words, a medium-firm mattress is medium-firm when averaging its various layers.


About Our Mattress Research

Owner experience data was gathered from diverse and credible sources. Learn more about our research methodology and why you can trust our mattress reviews.

Keep in Mind

– Mattress firmness needs often increase with a person's weight. In other words, lighter / smaller people tend to prefer softer mattresses, while heavier / larger people tend to prefer firmer mattress. This is due mainly to the fact that heavier / larger people need more support which a firmer mattress often provides.

– Side sleepers often prefer a medium-ish amount of firmness. In other words, a firmness that provides both adequate support to keep their spine aligned and adequate cushion to keep shoulders and hips from feeling too much pressure.

– If a side sleeper has shoulder pain it likely means they have too firm a mattress and or too low a pillow. (Among side sleepers, body pillows are often popular as they help to equalize weight distribution and thereby reduce pressure points.)

– Stomach (front) sleepers often prefer firmness that is more firm than soft. An overly soft mattress may allow them to bow into the mattress which puts pressure on the spine.

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