The Mattress Firmness Scale
When evaluating firmness, Bedding Affairs’s product analysts rely on a 1-10 scale. The scale breaks down as follows:
|Firmness Scale Rating
||The sleep surface will sink very deeply and conform closely
||The sleep surface sinks and conforms to a significant extent
||The surface sinks somewhat and conforms fairly closely
||The surface does not sink much and will conform to a noticeable extent
||The surface sinks very little and conforms to a moderate extent
||The surface remains even with little to no sinking; conforming is minimal
||No sinkage and little to no conforming
The firmness scale is explained below:
1 out of 10, absurdly soft: Absurdly soft with absurd sinkage, these types of mattresses are incapable of providing support.
2 out of 10, ultra soft: Slightly less absurdly soft than the 1, but only slightly. Just like with the 1 out of 10, these also are largely incapable of providing support.
3 out of 10, very soft: Very soft with a high degree of sinkage (usually in the 1.5-to-3-inch range). These mattresses primarily come in two forms: deep cushion hug with a cloud-like comfort or traditional deep contour memory foam. Great for side sleepers, but usually not a great choice for stomach or back sleepers.
4 out of 10, soft: Soft, but with a more balanced feel. There are very few mattresses that fall into this category, as it’s a bit of a gap between medium and soft. Some would lump many 4 out of 10s in with the 3 out of 10s, as they share many of the same attributes.
5 out of 10, medium soft: Slightly soft, but with a balanced feel. Usually has more sinkage and hug than the 6 out of 10 (which is by far the most common firmness). Like the 4 out of 10, the 5 is also a bit of a gap between soft and medium mattresses.
6 out of 10, medium: Medium, all-around balanced feel. This is by far the most common firmness, and it is preferred by the vast majority of sleepers. These mattresses have a balanced feel with a moderate amount of sinkage, hug, contour, and great support. Examples include the MattX Hybrid Pocketed Spring Mattress.
7 out of 10, slightly firm: Most of the time, it will have less hug and sinkage than the 6, but there are exceptions. However, most of these mattresses are designed to offer a slightly firm feel and float sleepers on top of the surface.
8 out of 10, firm: These mattresses are firm. They have very little hug/contour and lots of pushback. Generally, these are only appropriate for back or stomach sleepers.
9 out of 10, very firm: Even less hug and sinkage than the 8. Extreme pushback.
10 out of 10, ultra firm: Absurdly firm. Very few mattresses fall into this category.
How to Choose Mattress Firmness
The bottom line question is, what firmness level is best for you? There are a few factors to consider when making your choice. You’ll want to consider your sleep position, support needs, weight, and body type before making your choice.
What position do you sleep in? This is perhaps the most important factor that will determine you ideal firmness. Side sleepers usually need a firmness in the 3-6 range, stomach in the 5-7 range, and back in the 4-8 range. If you sleep in multiple positions, try to find a balanced level of firmness that hits both needs.
How heavy are you, and what’s your body type? Your body type and weight is also a major factor. If you’re very large, you will generally need a thicker mattress that provides better deep compression support. Additionally, very heavy sleepers may find that softer mattresses create too much sinkage due to the increased weight and pressure. Lighter sleepers typically engage more with the top layers and less with the core and base layers. Look for mattresses that have top layers that meet your firmness desires.
Firmness isn’t support: Don’t forget that support and firmness are not the same. You can find a mattress with great support that’s still soft and meets your feel and pressure relief needs.
Majority rules: If you’re not sure what firmness to try, I recommend going for something in the 6 out of 10 range. This is by far the most common mattress firmness available, and for good reason: 80% of sleepers prefer a mattress in the 5-7 out of 10 range. If you’re not sure where to start, try a medium feel.
Be careful with soft mattresses: Many times, our customer see the word “soft” and gravitate toward that. I would caution against this. Soft mattresses can be perfect if your preference and needs draw you to that. However, these are also the most returned mattress across the industry by far. Many sleepers buy a soft based on the name alone, only to find out that soft is actually way too soft. Mattresses in the 3-3.5 range are best for side sleepers, and those with most other sleeping styles will find them uncomfortable. Additionally, if you’re over 100kg, you may find that these mattresses create too much hug.
What Firmness Do You Need?
Every sleeper has a firmness level that works best for them, whether it’s a universal comfort mattress or one that fits the needs of a stomach, back, or side sleeper. Heavy, light, or in between, there is a mattress that will feel just right for you.
Side vs. Stomach vs. Back Sleeper
All three positions are key players when deciding on the right firmness level. On your side, you create a multitude of pressure points. Side sleepers typically need a soft or medium mattress that is able to contour to the curves on the side of your body (yes, men, even you have some curves). Sleeping on your stomach can create lower back issues, so as a result, stomach sleepers usually need a medium or slightly firm mattress. This helps to keep the spine in alignment when lying on your stomach. And back sleepers tend to struggle with back pain or neck pain that can result from a bad mattress. Back sleepers can choose slightly soft, medium, or moderately firm. The most important attribute is selecting a mattress that relieves pressure and offers ample support.
Light vs. Heavy
These profiles are very important with regard to firmness. As a lighter sleeper, you will tend to feel more of the top layers and less of the core or base foam/materials due to the decreased level of pressure you place on the mattress. That does not necessarily mean you need a soft mattress: The specific construction of the mattress combined with your needs, desires, and weight will help determine your ideal mattress.
If you’re extremely light (60kg or less), you might consider looking for mattresses that are rated slightly softer than what you think you actually need. Heavier sleepers create the opposite effect by putting increased pressure on the mattress. You may experience more sinkage as a heavier sleeper, which can be OK if that’s your preference, but what’s important is that hug needs to transition into support and pushback at some point. Deep compression support is critical for heavier sleepers (more than 100kg). You need a mattress that’s able to consistently support your weight while still remaining comfortable.