Mattress Firmness Scale & Guide – A Must Read Before Buying

There are quite a few different things that you’d like to account for when you decide to shop for a mattress. Given the fact that this is one of the most important purchases for your bedroom, it’s quite important to make sure that everything is handled properly.

Mattress firmness is one of the key characteristics to consider before you make a purchase. Finding the right level is critical for your good night’ sleep. If you select a unit which is too soft or too firm, you are unlikely to sleep well, and you could even start experiencing issues with your back.

Luckily, there are quite a lot of excellent mattress companies which offer different levels of firmness. The challenge is that to determine it; you’d have to be aware of a lot of different things, especially if you do not have the option to try it.

Infographic Mattress Firmness Scale and Guide

What is Mattress Firmness?

Obviously, the first thing you’d like to account for is the essence of the characteristic. Believe it or not, there is a lot of misconception out there amongst potential mattress buyers. They tend to believe that mattress firmness ratings and support are the same things.

While the former directly correlates with the latter and they are mutually dependent, there’s a difference. The firmness of the bed is its hardness, put in a very simple way. Is it soft or is it hard? That’s the type of question that you need to ask yourself. It's subjective and different sleepers will have a different feel.

However, this has become a critical characteristic, and it’s an important metric which is accounted for by every buyer. After all, it determines the overall level of comfort as well as the support that the entire thing is going to offer. Have in mind that mattress size shouldn't impact your overall firmness feel.

Illustration of a Couple Jumping on a Bed

Why Does it Matter?

The firmness of the mattress is a fundamental characteristic which is quite critical for the decision-making process. Not only will it determine the overall level of comfort but it’s also going to have a serious impact on the support of the bed as well.

This is something quite critical. The firmness has an impact over almost every important characteristic that your mattress is defined by. From the comfort and support to the overall performance of the unit, everything could be associated with its firmness.

What Does One Firmness Fits All Mean?

One firmness fits all is a phrase used to describe the type of firmness which is going to suit the wide majority of sleepers. The truth is that about 80% of sleepers would prefer a bed which ranges between 5 and 7 on the firmness scale.

With this in mind, it would be appropriate to assume that 6 out of 10 is the metric that the majority of people would be looking forward to.

Some would argue that there is no such thing and that the one size fits all approach is particularly inappropriate in this regard. This might actually be true, but the wide majority of people truly prefer a medium feel brought by their mattress.

There are a few different examples on the market which would target this particular firmness level only to accommodate the ever so growing market.

However, we strongly suggest that you check the bed first and make sure that it is integral and reliable. The firmness is undoubtedly a critical characteristic, but there are other important considerations that you’d have to account for.

While people tie firmness with support immediately, there are different types of beds. Those who use lower-quality materials, for instance, might be firm and yet fail to deliver the necessary support. That’s definitely something that you ought to consider when you’re making the decision.

Firmness vs. Support

Quite a lot of people regard firmness and support as the same thing. This, as we’ve already mentioned above, is not correct.

The firmness measures the immediate feeling that you get as you first lie down on your mattress.

The support, on the other hand, refers to the way the same keeps your spine in perfect alignment.

You can easily have a rather soft mattress which offers a lot of support or a firm one which is also supportive, but it creates a lot of different pressure points which makes it counterproductive.

Firm vs Soft Mattress Illustration

When you go ahead and pick your mattress, it is quite important to make sure that you separate the firmness as well as the support and have them both in mind. The firmness is just the way your bed feels.

You would also have to make sure that it’s comfortable, that it relieves pressure, that it’s cool and all the other things of the kind. For instance, a firm mattress might fail to deliver the necessary contouring and, hence, it wouldn’t be appropriate for people who prefer to sleep on their sides. These are just a few of the considerations that you’d want to take into account.

In any case, it’s important to keep all those in mind and make sure that the product delivers a proper feel altogether.

Our Firmness Scale & Chart

Extra Soft (1-2)

This is a type of bed which is incredibly soft. These are those mattresses which are absolutely incapable of delivering proper support. The sinkage is tremendous, and that’s undoubtedly something that you should stay away from. It’s just going to harm your spine, and it’s unlikely to be very comfortable as well. We haven't reviewed any beds that have this level of firmness.

Soft (3-4)

These are plush or soft mattresses which usually have a sinkage that ranges from 1.5 to 3 inches. These would usually come in two different forms – deep cushion hug and a traditional deep contour memory foam. These are great for people who prefer to sleep on their sides. They are, however, not ideal for back and stomach sleepers.

Medium (5-6)

Medium-balanced beds are the preferred options on the market. It’s estimated that about 80% of the people would fall into this category and most beds we have reviewed have been around this level. You can either go for the average 6 or use something softer in the face of 5 out of 10 on the mattress firmness rating, depending on your personal preferences. Both types are ideal for different kinds of sleeping positions as well.

Hard (7-8)

These are slightly firmer to firm mattresses, and they provide a little less hug as well as sinkage than the medium ones. There are certain exceptions, however, but the truth is that these accommodate people who prefer a little more firmness underneath them. However, the majority of people would find them a bit harder.

Extra Hard (9-10)

These are mattresses which are extra firm. In fact, very few beds would go within it, and there are some therapeutic ones. This is the main reason for which a very limited amount of people would actually prefer this type of units.

Graph showing Mattress Firmness for Various Brands

Firmness Depending on Weight and Sleeping Position Chart

 WeightSleeping Position
SoftLight, AverageSide
MediumLight, Average, HeavySide, Stomach, Back
FirmHeavyBack, Stomach

What Comfort Level is Right For You?

Sleeping Positions

Stomach Sleeper

Stomach sleepers usually require a firmness between 5 and 7. This is mainly because they would require proper contouring and a tiny bit of sinkage to accommodate the fact that their belly is underneath the main weight. This is important. Soft or very firm mattresses won’t provide you with the necessary support.

Need more info? Check out our guide to best mattress for stomach sleepers.

Side Sleeper

Side sleepers require the softest mattresses. You can sleep on your sides and experience serious pressure relief in the mattress range of 3 to 6. This is due to the awkward sleeping position as the pressure is channeled to the side and it’s concentrated at a smaller surface.

Find Out More: Top Rated Beds for Side Sleepers

Illustration of a Woman Sleeping on Her Side

Back Sleeper

Back sleepers require a lot less regarding firmness, and that’s why they are particularly versatile. You can sleep well on a mattress with a firmness between 4 and 8, and you would experience the necessary support. This is something that you would want to take into account.

View Our Guide: Best Rated Mattresses For Back Sleepers



Men are usually heavier than women. The general rule of thumb is that when you are a bit heavier, you should go ahead and use something firmer in order to prevent spinal misalignment. This is quite important and you ought to account for it perfectly. That’s very critical.


Women have more subtle body structures and they should rely on beds which are very supportive. Therefore, you would be looking at a mattress which is medium firm but which is tailored to your sleeping position. This is something incredibly important.



Heavy people would usually do very well with mattresses ranging between medium and firm. They would place a lot more pressure on the mattress, and that’s why the natural reaction for it is to sink too low. Medium to firm ones are going to offer both support and comfort which is something quite critical. The thickness is also important here. Make sure that you go for one which is at least 10 inches thick.

Want to read more? Read our complete guide to top mattresses for heavy people.

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


Light people are good on soft to medium firm mattresses. This is because they won’t be putting a lot of pressure on it and, as such, the sinkage is not going to be substantial. If it is a firm mattress, you are likely to actually float on top of it which is going to create a lot of pressure points. You generally want your mattress to contour your body – that’s quite important.


Back Pain

Mattresses fit for handling back pain are those who would accommodate both side and stomach sleepers. The firmness should range between 5 and 8 depending on your weight. It is important to ensure that you lower back receive the necessary contouring.

Get More Info: Best Mattress for Back Pain

Illustration of a Couple Waking up with a Back Pain

Hip Pain

Hip pain is caused by a range of different things, and improper spinal alignment is also one of them. With this in mind, it might be a very good idea for you to rely on a medium firm or even soft but particularly supportive bed for your lower back. That’s the main component that you should be looking forward to.

Shoulder Pain

A range of things could cause your shoulders to ache, but it’s usually a mattress that’s too firm. This is especially experienced by people who prefer to sleep on their sides more than any other sleeping position. Therefore, we would strongly suggest going for a softer mattress which would be somewhere around 3 to 5 on the firmness scale.

Check Out Our Guide: Best Beds for Hip and Shoulder Pain

Making Your Final Decision

Sleeping Position

Obviously, there are quite a few things that you would want to account for when you buy a bed, and your sleeping position is definitely one of the main ones. It is critical that you make sure that everything is handled as per the highest standards when it comes to it.

The difference in your spinal alignment in all three sleeping positions is particularly dramatic, and it needs to be accommodated conveniently. This is something quite important.

Consider Your Partner

Of course, if you are sleeping with a partner, he or she is also of tremendous importance. This is usually where you would start considering characteristics such as motion transfer and others of the kind. Ideally, you’d want your mattress to have little to no motion transfer at all. This is what’s going to ensure that you don’t feel every single movement of the person sleeping next to you and vice versa.

That’s very important. Make sure that you keep this in mind and also consider the sleeping patterns of your loved one.

Interested in exploring further? View our full guide to mattress for couples.

Illustration of a Sleeping Couples Feet

Do You Move At Night?

If you move at night, it is quite important that you get a mattress which is responsive. This means that it would be able to quickly react to your change of position and contour you accordingly. Older memory foam mattresses usually didn’t really have this ability, and the result was that you felt as if you were trapped in quicksand.

That’s why you should look for something more contemporary. Keep in mind that the firmer beds are usually a lot more responsive. That’s a general rule of thumb that you’d want to take into account.


Obviously, one of the critical things to consider is your weight. Different people would apply different pressure to the mattress. The most important thing that you want to consider is the pressure relief and the spinal alignment which it derives from. Your mattress needs to feel very well, and it needs to make sure that your entire body is perfectly aligned. This is the only way to prevent unwanted and highly unpleasant pain.

woman sleeping on her back illustration

Play it Safe

The best thing to do if you have no idea of anything and you are just walking into this space is to go for a medium feel firmness. This should score between 5 and 6 out of 10 on the firmness scale. The chances are that you are like the other 80% of people who would prefer this type of firmness.

Dangers of Soft

Soft mattresses might feel quite comfortable and could induce the cloud-like sensation. However, they also have a lot of hidden dangers – you could be sacrificing the support without even knowing it. A lot of chronic issues might stem from this – it’s important to take it into very serious consideration.

Trust Your Gut

Ultimately, it would all come down to this. Make sure that you feel the mattress that you want to purchase. If you are not buying it online, do not hesitate to try it out. This would provide you with all the feedback that you need.

Need help? Check out our complete mattress buying guide.

sleeper checking the firmness of a mattress

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Memory Foam Always Mean Soft?

No. There are different types of memory foams already available on the market. Gel-infused foams, for instance, are known to be very supportive and incredibly responsive. They could be firm, and they could be soft, depending on the construction.

Learn More: 6 Types of Foam

What Does a Plush Mattress Mean?

A plush bed is one which is usually rather bulky in appearance. It usually comes with a quilted cover, and it brings a rather soft sensation upon the first contact. Once you settle on the bed, it would start getting slightly firmer to adjust to your weight and specifications.


As you can see, there is a whole lot to consider when it comes to the firmness of your mattress. The thing is that it’s tied to a range of different characteristics, all of which need to be accounted for. This is something quite important.

Of course, ultimately, it would all come down to the way you feel on the mattress. While statistically, you are likely to prefer a medium-firm mattress, you might also like something else. It would depend on your sleeping patterns, positions, preferences and overall weight.

We hope that the aforementioned provides you with detailed information about everything that you may need to know. Hopefully, you’d be able to make a quick yet very informed decision.

Sources and References:

Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.

Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.

Sleep Advisor