Sleeping on a soft or firm bed can make a significant difference depending on the type of support you need. What's comfortable to one person might be unbearable to another, and sleeping positions often indicate which kind of bed you'll appreciate.
If you struggle with aches and pains and sleep on your side, stay tuned, we'll discuss the reasons you might enjoy a soft, plush bed. Additionally, if you have back issues, we'll help you understand why a firmer bed might be best. This is just the tip of this topic's proverbial iceberg, so, below, we'll explain further how to decide between a soft or firm mattress.
How Mattress Firmness is Measured
Firmness levels are typically rated on a scale of 1-10, and the vast majority of beds offer a firmness level between a 4 and a 7, as this is what tends to be comfortable for most individuals. You can find products softer or firmer than these ratings; however, they often require a special order.
When you're reading reviews, keep in mind that firmness is subjective, and the plush nature of a bed can feel unique to various individuals. However, at Sleep Advisor, we try our best to keep our ratings consistent to help our readers can dream in comfort.
Interested in learning more? Check out our mattress firmness guide here.
What is a Firm Mattress?
Based on our firmness scale, we consider a firm mattress to be anything rated a 7 and above. However, some people may experience a 7 rating as more medium-firm depending on their body weight. Typically, heavier sleepers will feel a bed as softer than a lighter sleeper will, and vice-versa. Medium-firm is another popular choice and is also the most common range manufacturers use since it’s the most versatile. Beds in the medium-firm range between a 5 and 7 rating. These models typically have sturdy support while keeping vital pressure relief.
Firm Mattress Benefits
Firm beds are excellent for keeping your spine aligned, especially if you struggle with back problems. If you've ever gone to the chiropractor, find your lower back aching, or experience dull pain down your sciatic nerve, a firmer product could be an excellent match for you.
When we think of a bed, most of us dream of hopping into a cloud-like cushion. However, many stomach and back sleepers prefer a firmer surface because it keeps their backs in better alignment. More robust surfaces can still boast soft top layers, offering a plush yet supportive structure.
View Our Guide: Top Rated Firm Mattresses
Who Should Choose a Hard Mattress?
Stomach sleepers often choose harder beds because they need more substantial support. If you're sleeping on a soft surface, your back can dip, and this could hyperextend your spine, putting uncomfortable stress on your lower back.
Back sleepers typically need superior support and therefore benefit from a firmer design. The robust support keeps the hips elevated, making firmer beds great for these sleepers. Most back sleepers match well with medium-firm options, but those who want a harder bed can choose firm if needed.
Firmer beds usually allow the sleeper to feel more ‘on top’ of the bed as opposed to ‘in’ the layers. This is a benefit for hot sleepers because when you’re lying more on top of the mattress it should give you more airflow.
Firm Mattress Drawbacks
Many individuals struggle with achy joints, hip and shoulder pain, and other sensitivities, and a plush surface could provide tremendous relief for these ailments. Side sleepers often enjoy a softer texture due to the spinal alignment and curvature of their bodies. If they rest on a firm surface, they can experience sharp hip pain due to their body pressure focused on a narrow surface area, like their side.
What is a Plush Mattress?
We consider a plush mattress to be anything rated below a 5 on our firmness scale. We usually don’t rate mattresses below a 4 since these have minimal to no support for healthy sleep, so most plush mattresses we feature are within the 4-5 range. Plush beds often have superior pressure relief through softer layers that provide more cradling. However, depending on the sleeper, they made not provide as much support.
Soft Mattress Benefits
Softer designs can offer considerable benefits to side sleepers and those who need plush pressure relief. People who rest on the side typically endure more stress in their shoulder and hip regions, as they're often the widest parts of our bodies.
Having a softer mattress can help mitigate these aches and pains, offering soothing relief and gentle support. Further, a plush bed should suit your body's curves, filling the spaces where you need help and gently accommodating the hips and shoulders. A bonus about side snoozers is that this is often the position most recommended by chiropractors for ideal spinal alignment.
Check Out Our Guide: Highest Rated Soft Mattresses
Who Should Choose a Plush Mattress?
Most side sleepers appreciate a plush model. Softer beds allow side sleepers to rest the majority of their weight on a slimmer surface area and still receive good pressure relief.
Want to know more? Read our full mattress guide for side sleepers.
Many memory foam beds can offer a more plush feel. Memory foam is also a great material for eliminating motion transfer. This is important for couples because preventing motion transfer means both partners shouldn’t be disturbed if the other person moves during the night. However, we would still advise couples to stick closer to a medium feel around a 5 or 5.5 since these still feel plush but have a more middle-ground feel that should accommodate both partners.
People Who Have Pain Issues
If you struggle with aches and pains, a fluffy mattress might be a key ingredient to soothing relief. Many individuals suffer from minor and significant stress in joints, nerves, and other trouble areas, and having a plush product can help address these tender areas.
Soft Mattress Drawbacks
Those who sleep on their stomachs and most who rest on their backs may not enjoy a soft mattress. To maintain proper posture through the night, the hips must be elevated to a healthy degree to not draw the spine out of alignment. When resting on a plush product, stomach sleepers risk hyperextending their spines, and back sleepers risk further curvature. For these individuals, firmer mattresses are typically a better option.
Comfort Layers vs. Support Layers
Beds are full of many complex layers to provide their sleepers with the right amount of support and pressure relief. These layers work together to offer different experiences based on the sensation the manufacturer is trying to achieve.
Generally, softer layers provide more of a relieving sensation, offering soothing pressure relief to accommodate aches and pains. Support layers are typically more firm and provide a stable and secure surface to align your spine. These support layers are critical so that you don't wake up feeling creaky, stiff, or in pain.
What’s the Difference Between a Soft Mattress and a Firm Mattress?
The difference between a soft mattress and a firm mattress is in how they feel. A soft mattress will compress more easily under pressure, usually providing a deeper hug and advanced pressure relief. On the other hand, a firm mattress will feel more rigid and not compress as much, focusing more on robust support and leaving the sleeper ‘on top’ of the bed. Firmness is subjective, but usually, soft beds are in the 4-5 range, while firm beds are at a 7 and above. Medium-firm is a popular middle-ground choice that’s rated between 5 and 7.
How to Determine If You Need a Firm or Plush Mattress
Many individuals struggle with discomfort, particularly athletes, seniors, and those with hip and shoulder pain. If you relate to this, you may need a softer mattress with excellent pressure relief. Sleeping on top of a plush surface can be incredibly helpful for hip and shoulder pain due to a plush product’s pressure-relieving abilities.
On the other hand, if you find yourself often waking with a sore lower back, you may need a firmer product to keep your spine aligned. If you're resting on a surface that's too soft, your spinal alignment could become crooked or hyperextended, which could lead to back problems and even breathing issues.
What to Consider When Choosing Between Firm vs Soft Mattress
Not all mattresses are created equal, and they're not all made to suit the entire population. We all have unique needs and preferences. Here are a few features to keep in mind to help you decide which bed is best for you.
Keep in mind how you like to feel when you go to bed. If you find yourself often falling asleep on your plush couch rather than your firm bed, you might want a softer mattress. However, if you don't like the feeling of sinking into a bed, you'll likely enjoy a firmer model.
Those who weigh less than 130 pounds often need a softer product, as their low weight can't always activate the various layers in a firmer model. On the other hand, a heavier individual will likely need a more robust model, as a plush bed may not provide adequate support.
Get More Info: Top 8 Mattresses for Heavy People
Side sleepers typically need a softer surface to accommodate their curves and any aches and pains. Back sleepers could enjoy these types as well as long as their backs are in good health. Stomach sleepers and some back snoozers often appreciate a firmer design to keep the hips elevated.
Sharing the bed with a partner could be tricky; however, some models can help. If you struggle for space, having a bed with optimal edge support is vital, so you can spread out as much as possible without feeling like you'll fall off. Additionally, a mattress with quality motion isolation is paramount to decrease disturbance.
Looking to learn more? Visit our full mattress guide for couples.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will a firm mattress get softer over time?
Yes, a firm mattress will soften over time. A bed likely won't soften significantly; however, it should ease up after some use. If you're looking to soften your mattress quicker, you could walk on it daily to work it in.
Further, make sure you're using the appropriate base for your bed. Many innerspring mattresses require box springs for support, and memory foam typically needs to rest on a flat base.
Memory foam softens with temperature. A cooler environment will tighten up and firm the bed, and warmer rooms will allow it to relax, softening the product.
Get More Info: How To Make Your Bed Softer
Is a soft or firm mattress better for back pain?
People with back pain often benefit most from mattresses that offer a medium-firm feel since they give both strong support and soothing pressure relief. While a soft bed can cushion achy joints and muscles well, the lack of support can impact spinal alignment, worsening back pain. Conversely, a firm mattress may excel at support but not have enough contouring to help with pressure points, which can still feel uncomfortable.
What mattress is best, firm or soft?
The answer to whether a soft or firm mattress is best is entirely dependent on the individual sleeper or couple. The majority of mattresses available have a medium or medium-firm feel because it’s the most versatile for support and pressure relief. That being said, extremely lightweight people and side sleepers may enjoy soft beds more, and heavier sleepers and those who lie on their stomachs may feel that firm beds are the superior choice.
How do you know if your mattress is too firm?
Your mattress is probably too firm if you’re waking up with achy joints in areas such as the knees, shoulders, and hips. You may also discomfort as you try to fall asleep at night. If this is the case, you can invest in a soft mattress topper to help provide more pressure relief. Most online mattress companies also give customers lengthy trial periods, so if you test out the best at home and notice achiness in the morning, you can return it and look for something softer.
Selecting a new mattress is a significant decision. The surface we sleep on greatly impacts our quality of rest and spinal health. Rest is an integral part of our lives; we can't properly function, work, love, or live without an adequate nightly recharge.
Keep in mind what we discussed above and consider which sleep position you prefer. Not all mattresses are made equally, but there will surely be one out there to suit your needs and preferences. You merely need to consider the critical factors, and you should be dreaming with ease in no time.
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Rachael is a content writer for Sleep Advisor who loves combining her enthusiasm for writing and wellness. She’s had a passion for writing since she was a kid when she wrote awful poetry. She’s honed her craft quite a bit since then and considers herself a lucky duck to get paid to do what she loves.
Embracing the remote work life, she occasionally takes her work on the road and lives out her travel writer pipe dream.
In her free time, she attempts to meditate regularly, rides her bike to Trader Joe’s, and enjoys trying every type of food that she can get her hands on.