Choosing the Right Firmness Level for Your Mattress

Picking the proper level of firmness is one of the most important steps in finding the perfect mattress for you.

The majority of all mattress returns are the result of the mattress being either too soft or too firm, so it pays to know what you’re doing here.

To be a complete mattress firmness expert, you’ll need to first master two skills:

  1. Recognizing when whether or not the mattress you’re trying to sleep on is a good fit for you.
  2. Predicting the kind of mattress firmness you’ll need.

Once you know what you’re doing here, you’ll be well on your way to becoming the true mattress master.

Playing “Goldilocks”

Our journey through the varying levels of mattress firmness begins with a story we all know and love: Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Goldilocks is a little girl who goes for a walk in the forest.

She comes on a cottage that is home to three bears: Momma Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear.

None of the bears are home right then, so Goldilocks goes around the house, trying out a bunch of things owned by the three bears.

Eventually she comes to the bedroom, where she tries lying on three different mattresses.

The first is too hard.

It makes her back ache when she tries to lie flat, and she’s forced to get up and try again.

The second is too soft.

She just sinks down and down into the soft mattress layers.

It’s not at all comfortable, and she has a hard time climbing her way back out!

Finally, she tries the last mattress.

This one is just right—and she immediately falls asleep.

When it comes time to choose a mattress, we all have to become little Golilockses.

A lot of mattresses are going to be too hard for us, while others are going to be too soft.

It’s up to us to figure out which mattresses will turn out “just right.”

Is My Mattress the Right Firmness Level?

If you’re trying to decide on whether or not you need a new mattress, or if you’re trying out a new mattress need to decide whether it’s a good fit, you’re going to need to be able to realize when a mattress is the wrong level of firmness.

Thankfully, this isn’t too difficult to figure out.

All it takes is paying attention to what’s happening to your body at night and when you wake up.

You can see our full article on recognizing proper mattress firmness here, but basically, if you’re experiencing any kind of pain or discomfort when lying in bed, you shouldn’t be using that mattress.

Mattresses that are too hard tend to aggravate pressure points in different areas of the body.

Mattresses that are too soft, meanwhile, can disrupt the proper curvature of the spine—leading to more pain.

Things to Consider When Deciding on Firmness

There are a number of different factors you’ll have to consider when you’re trying to decide on the firmness you want in a mattress.

a scaleYou might even call it one of the few disadvantages of purchasing your mattress online, in that you won’t be able to physically feel your mattress before it’s already at your doorstep.

Don’t worry about this too much, though.

First of all, you should to bear in mind that most mattress companies have generous return policies, so it’s not the end of the world if you try a mattress and find it doesn’t work.

Second of all, if you consider your weight, preferred sleeping position, and whether or not you sleep with a partner, as well as any issues you tend to face when getting to sleep, it’s not too hard to get a good idea of the firmness level you’ll need.

Consider Your Body Weight

Your body weight is the single most important factor in determining the mattress firmness level for you.

As a general rule of thumb, the more you weigh, the firmer the mattress you will need.

Lighter People

Lighter people (<130 lbs) tend to favor softer mattresses.

They tend to rest on their mattresses’ upper comfort layers, so if they’re going to get the same level of support as their heavier counterparts, they’re going to need a much softer mattress.

Unfortunately, though, these softer mattresses often come with some irritating drawbacks—especially if you tend to sleep hot.

Materials like memory foam may trap heat against your body, so if you’re a skinny person with a tendency to get hot at night, be sure to invest in a mattress that’s both soft and well-ventilated.

This will help make sure you get the kind of sleep you need.

Average-Sized People

Average-sized people (130 – 200 lbs) have it a little easier.

They’re the kind of person most mattress companies are marketing towards, which means they’ll be able to sleep on most products with very few problems.

Anything medium-soft or medium-firm will work just fine for the typical sleeper, so if that’s you, you can focus more on other things, like your sleep position.

But more on that later.

Heavier People

For heavier people (>200 lbs) firmer mattresses are the way to go.

If you’re a heavier person and you’ve been lying on a mattress that’s too soft for you, you’ll likely find yourself sinking all the way to your mattress’s support core. 

That’s not a pleasant experience.

It can often result in a sagging sensation, or a feeling of being totally unsupported.

A medium-firm to firm mattress can make your sleep life significantly better.

These have firmer support cores and denser comfort layers, so you can rest on the upper levels of the mattress the way you’re supposed to.

What Kind of Sleeper Are You?

a guy sleeping on the sideYour preferred sleep position(s) at night are another biggie in this decision process.

This might come as a bit of a surprise to you, since many people don’t really think about the way they sleep too much.

It’s just something that happens naturally for most of us–but it can make a huge difference for the kind of mattress you need.

Going either too soft or too firm can leave you with serious back pain and comfort issues.

You can check out our complete article on the best mattresses for each kind of sleeper here, but here are some general guidelines.

Side Sleepers

If you’re like most people and sleep on your side at night, you’re probably going to want to pick a slightly softer mattress than you might otherwise consider based on your weight alone.

That’s because the side of your body has a lot of contours, which means there are more opportunities for you to place undue pressure and tension on various parts of your body.

Side sleepers in particular need to be on the lookout for hip and shoulder pain, and investing in a slightly softer mattress can go a long way to keeping your body in tip-top shape for years to come.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers have it a little easier, here.

Sleeping on your back allows you to more evenly distribute weight across your entire body, which means you’re less likely to accidentally create pressure points while trying to get to sleep.

Firmness ratings anywhere from medium to firm will work well for back sleepers, and particularly firm mattresses will be best if you suffer from chronic back pain. 

Just be sure to steer clear of mattresses that are too soft.

These won’t provide back sleepers with the kind of spinal support they need, and can create a sinking sensation.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleeping is, in general, the most problematic sleep position.

Sorry, stomach sleepers.

It’s just the truth.

This position tends to place too much pressure on your lower back, which can lead to pain on waking in the morning.

It can also lead to neck pain, which comes from sleeping all night with your head twisted to an unnatural angle.

Because of this, soft mattresses are the worst possible kind of mattress for most stomach sleepers.

Your spine will sag way too deep into the upper layers, and you might even find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with pain.

You need a mattress with some backbone!

Firm mattresses will provide your hips and back with the kind of support they need, keeping your spine in its natural “S” shape.

Do You Have Back Pain?

If you already suffer from chronic back pain, that’s something to take seriously when selecting a firmness level.

In general, back pain means you’ll need a firmer mattress that offers more support.

Bear in mind, though, that’s it’s the support that’s important here—not the firmness of your mattress itself.

You want all parts of your body to be experiencing equal amounts of pressure, and depending on who you are and how you sleep, the kind of mattress you’ll need for that will vary.

Do You Sleep With a Partner?

Now, the advice above is all well and good if you’re sleeping by yourself.

If you’re sleeping with a partner, though, things get a little more complicated.

What happens if you have back pain, and your partner doesn’t?

What happens if you and your partner have radically different weights?

If this is the case for you, you might be better off just going for a medium-firm, or “universal,” mattress.

We like to say that you shouldn’t compromise when it comes to your sleep, but at a certain point that just becomes bad relationship advice!


Now that you’ve considered all these factors, you’re well on your way to finding the right mattress for you.

Choosing the right mattress firmness will help you beat back pain and find the comfortable, luxurious sleep you’ve always wanted.

Don’t be afraid to take your time in choosing your ideal firmness level.

The specifics of our needs vary a lot from person to person, but in the end, we’re all really the same.

We all just need a good night’s sleep—and the perfect mattress to help us!

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