Firm vs. Soft Mattress – How to Choose the Right One for You?

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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.

Firmness Scale 1-10

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.

How to Determine If You Need a Firm or Plush Mattress

Many individuals struggle with discomfort, particularly athletes, seniors, and those who struggle 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.

sleeper checking the firmness of a mattress

Advantages and Disadvantages

There are various advantages to both soft and firm mattresses— neither is superior to the other. They each offer unique benefits, and you can decide which is best based on your needs.

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

stomach sleeper using pillow for comfortable sleep

Who Should Choose a Hard Mattress?

Stomach sleepers often choose harder beds because they need more substantial support. As your head rests on the pillow, this may place nightly pressure on your spine. 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.

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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.

Illustration of a Person Sleeping on Their Side on a Firm Mattress

Soft Mattress Benefits

Softer designs can offer considerable benefits to side sleepers and those who need plush pressure relief. Those who rest in this position typically endure more stress in their shoulder and hip region, 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 as well, 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?

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 softly.

Often side sleepers appreciate a plush model, as these beds allow individuals to rest the majority of their weight on a slimmer surface area and receive more relief.

Want to know more? Read our full mattress guide for side sleepers.

Illustration of a Person Sinked Into a Soft Mattress

Soft Mattress Drawbacks

Those who sleep on their stomachs and even those 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.

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.

Personal Preferences

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 “in” to a bed, you'll likely enjoy a firmer model.

Your Weight

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

illustration of a couple with different body sizes relaxing on one bed

Sleeping Position

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.

Couple Preferences

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.

couple laying in bed illustration


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


Deciding which mattress you need is a significant decision. The surface we dream on greatly impacts our quality of sleep 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 position in which you enjoy sleeping. 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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Content Writer

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.

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