Firm or Soft Mattress: What’s right for you?

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Choosing between firm or soft mattress

With so many mattresses to choose from, it can be hard to find one that’s right for you. There are hundreds of different brands, materials and sizes, but one of the most important choices is whether to opt for a firm or a soft mattress.

There are compelling arguments on each side of this debate, but in the end, it comes down to what will give you the best night’s sleep. 

So, let’s take a closer look at firm and soft mattresses to help you weigh up the pros and cons and make your decision.

Firm Mattresses vs. Soft Mattresses

A firm mattress compresses less as you lie down on it. This is because the top layer or coils are rigid enough to prevent you from sinking into them. 

Soft mattresses are spongier to the touch, and as you move your body onto them, you’ll feel it compress, letting you sink into it.

New mattresses often feel firmer than older ones. This is because the springs and upholstery are likely to loosen for the first month or two of use. This is called the ‘break in’ period, and it’s during this that your bed begins to mould to your shape. After the break-in period, most mattresses will remain at a similar level of firmness.

There is no guarantee that a specific mattress type will be firm or soft. For example, a mattress with internal support from coils could be firm if there are many tightly sprung coils or soft if there are fewer and they are loosely sprung. Also, mattresses with thick layers of cushioning or memory foam on the top can let you sink right into them or even be exceptionally firm.

How Firm Should My Mattress Be?

Mattresses can be anywhere from extremely soft to extra firm. Different brands, materials and styles can affect how firm they are. This is particularly useful because there is no standard rule as to how firm your mattress should be. Instead, the firmness of your mattress should depend on several factors, including your body weight, your sleeping position and if you have any back or mobility issues.

To help you find which levels of firmness are right for you, most mattress companies will score each mattress on a 1 to 10 scale. 1 is extra soft, and 10 is extra firm. 6.5 to 7 is generally considered medium-firm, so anything below 6.5 is soft, and any score above 7 is firm.

What Are the Benefits of Sleeping on a Firm Mattress?

Sleeping on a firm mattress offers a range of benefits:

  • They provide a stable even surface – A firm mattress supports your whole body evenly. Some people find this more comfortable because their upper back, lower back, arms and legs are all kept at the same level.
  • They’re cooler on a hot night – Because a firm mattress doesn’t let you sink into it, your body remains slightly above the bed. This allows the air to circulate around your body and reduces contact points between you and the mattress.
  • You can get on or off easier – As you get on or off a firm mattress, the surface remains stable. This makes it easier to control your body position as you push upwards.
  • They support back and front sleepers – If you lie on your back or front, a firm mattress is most likely to hold your spine in the correct neutral alignment. This keeps you comfortable and reduces the likelihood of back pain in the morning.
  • They’re easier to adjust – If you have a firm mattress and want to soften it, you can add a topper or extra cushioning. It’s easier to make a firm mattress softer than make a soft mattress firmer. 

Are There Any Drawbacks to Sleeping on a Firm Mattress?

Firm mattresses aren’t suitable for everyone and come with a few drawbacks that are worth considering:

  • They’re not ideal for side sleepers – If you’re a side sleeper, a firm mattress is unlikely to hold your spine in the correct neutral alignment.
  • They may not feel as comfortable – While some people prefer how a firm mattress feels for others, it’s just not comfortable and can interfere with the quality of their sleep.
  • It will take time for them to adjust to your body shape – Firm mattresses will adjust to your body shape eventually, but it takes a long time before they will give enough to make you feel relaxed in your chosen position.

What Are the Benefits of Sleeping on a Soft Mattress?

Soft mattresses also have their share of helpful benefits:

  • They’re easier to move – Soft mattresses tend to be easier to bend and manipulate because they have fewer coils or even no coils at all. This means that when you want to move the mattress, it’s easier to fold or compress to take up less space.
  • Good match for side sleepers – A softer mattress is better suited to anyone who sleeps on their side. The soft surface allows your hips and shoulders to sink into it, which aligns your spine in the safest and most comfortable position.
  • Comfortable for couples – A soft mattress absorbs a lot of movement, so it’s less likely to disturb your partner if you move around or are a fidgety sleeper.

Are There Any Drawbacks to Sleeping on a Soft Mattress?

Soft mattresses are likely to feel more comfortable as you get onto them, but in the long term, they have some drawbacks:

  • They’re less durable – Because this type of mattress is already soft, it will likely get softer and softer as it ages. This can become uncomfortable and may cause back issues.
  • They can be hard to get up from – If a mattress is very squashy, it can be hard to get enough purchase to lift yourself from the bed because the soft surface will likely move under you as you try to push off it and stand up. This is particularly true if your bed is very low to the ground.
  • They’re not well-suited to back sleepers – If you like to sleep on your back, a soft mattress can’t support you in the correct neutral position. 

Are Firm or Soft Mattresses Better for Back Pain?

Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals, and you should not take this as medical advice. If you suffer from back problems, speak to your doctor before choosing a mattress.

Tip: If you already experience some back pain after sleeping on the mattress, there is a simple trick to check whether your mattress is soft or firm for your needs. If you experience upper back or shoulder pain, mostly your mattress is firm for you. On the flip side, if you experience lower back pain, most likely, your mattress is a bit too soft for your needs. 

If you suffer from back issues and require a supportive surface, a medium to firm mattress is likely the better choice. They’re easier to get on to and will hold your body in a comfortable position. If you’re a back sleeper, they’ll give you the neutral spine position you need. 

However, a firm mattress can also work for side sleepers with back pain too. Try a firm pillow under your head and neck and place a second one between your knees. This will help to align your spine correctly and reduce discomfort during the night.

If your back pain gets worse with pressure, a soft mattress may work for you. Soft mattresses put less pressure on your skin and muscles as you sleep.

Aussie folks can check out our recommendations for the top mattresses for back pain here.

Which Mattress Is Best: Soft or Firm?

Whether you choose a soft or firm mattress depends on your needs and personal preference. A firm mattress is best for:

  • Anyone who sleeps on their back or stomach.
  • Anyone who tends to get too hot at night.
  • Anyone who is heavier.

A soft mattress is best for:

  • Anyone who sleeps on their side.
  • Anyone who feels more comfortable if they can sink into their mattress.
  • Couples who move around a lot in their sleep.

If you’re still not sure which to choose or sleep in a combination of back, front and side, you may be best suited to a medium-firm mattress. Koala or Ecosa mattresses are good options if you’re considering a medium firmness mattress.

Tom Russell

Tom Russell

Tom Russell is a web content writer who specialises in health and wellness. He has a particular interest in sleep quality and how it can affect our day-to-day lives and overall health.

Five years ago, Tom was suffering from regular bouts of insomnia, which led him to explore the concept of sleep hygiene. He learned that a few changes and the introduction of a night-time routine could improve his chances of a good night's sleep. Now he avoids caffeine after 12 pm, puts all screens away at least an hour before bed, and sleeps like a log.

Tom and his wife share their home with two daughters and a lifetime's collection of books. He grew up in Norfolk, UK, and graduated in English and History at Anglia Ruskin University.

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