Blog > The Mattress Firmness Scale + Guide: Which One Is Right for You

The Mattress Firmness Scale + Guide: Which One Is Right for You

When shopping for a mattress, one of the most important aspects of the mattress to consider is the firmness. The firmness of a mattress is determined by how it feels when you lay on it. Each mattress is going to feel different to everyone depending on your preferences, body type, and sleep position. It’s also important to remember that almost every mattress is available in different firmness levels. This way, if you find a mattress you want to purchase you will most likely be able to find it in the right firmness for you. 

There is no one size fits all when it comes to mattress firmness. If you’re looking for a new mattress or want to see what firmness level is right for you, this guide will help! 

Mattress Firmness Scale 

The mattress firmness scale uses a 10-point scale system to rate the overall firmness of a mattress with 1 measuring the softest or extra soft and 10 measuring extra firm. There is no universal scale used by every mattress manufacturer to judge firmness—every brand will feel different. To make sure you are getting the best mattress for you, we advise testing in person. Even though there is no standard scale, most will find a medium mattress to be the most comfortable—up to 80% of mattresses sold are within the medium firmness range. 

Like the major mattress manufacturers, SleePare has our own scale to help guide shoppers find their perfect mattress. The table below shows the firmness scale that we use when comparing mattresses. 

Mattress Firmness Levels

Mattress firmness levels aren’t something that we usually think about—until we have to. Understanding mattress firmness levels is the key to making sure you make the right choice when purchasing a few mattresses. Since every manufacturer and stores have different scales, it can get confusing, but most are within a similar range. Here’s a rundown of SleePare’s firmness levels and what to expect from each.

Firmness Levels #1 to 3 

Soft mattresses provide the least amount of support and are not as popular as medium or firm. While soft mattresses have the least amount of support, they still offer some. Soft mattresses provide more body contouring, or the “sinking” feeling memory foam and other soft mattresses are known for. Instead of keeping your body on top of the mattress, when sleeping on a soft mattress, the material conforms to your body and cradles it. They are ideal for people who sleep on their sides and suffer from shoulder or hip pain that is often exasperated by sleeping on a firm mattress. 

Memory foam mattresses are usually in the soft range on the firmness scale. The soft memory foam material is also used as a comfort layer in hybrid mattresses. The same material is also used in the support core for soft mattresses. This lessens the lifespan of soft mattresses, which is why they are often less appealing to shoppers.

Firmness Levels #4 to 7

This is the most popular firmness level for mattresses. In this range, you’ll find both medium-soft mattresses and the standard medium firmness mattress that most will find comfortable. 

Medium-soft mattresses are great for individuals who need a softer comfort layer for pressure relief and a stronger support core. These mattresses are not recommended for those who need extra spine and back support. In medium-soft mattresses, you’ll find similar materials like in soft mattresses but they will be stronger foams and maybe even include latex. When you lie down on a medium-soft mattress, it will still conform to your body, but you won’t sink like on a soft mattress. Medium-soft mattresses are more durable than soft, as they are made with stronger materials but still won’t last as long as a firm mattress. 

A medium-firm mattress is recommended for most sleepers. These middle-of-the-road mattresses offer both contouring comfort, support, and bounce. Most mattresses claiming to offer “universal comfort” are medium-firm. This firmness level is ideal for a variety of sleepers, including: 

  • Heavier individuals 
  • Combination sleepers
  • Those who move frequently while sleeping 

Mattresses in this range are more expensive than soft or even medium-soft mattresses, but are cheaper than firm mattresses. Unlike soft mattresses, medium-firm mattresses have a longer lifespan.

Firmness Levels #8 to 10

The hardiest of the mattress firmness scale are mattresses in this range. Firm mattresses offer the strongest support, but there are not many mattresses that will measure at a level 10 even though every brand has a different scale. Most often, you’ll find the firmest mattresses in a product line or brand at around an 8 or 9. 

When you lie down on a firm mattress, you will not sink in at all and your body will remain on top of the mattress. The comfort layers and support core on a firm mattress help your body stay on top of the mattress. Firm mattresses are recommended for back sleepers and heavier individuals. For hot sleepers, firmer mattresses are ideal as hybrid and latex mattresses are usually firm and are designed for optimal airflow. 

Looking for a long-lasting mattress? Go with a firm mattress. Even though firm mattresses are often cheaper than soft mattresses, affordability is not connected to durability, especially when shopping for mattresses. The sturdy, quality materials in a firm mattress will provide a supportive and comfortable sleep surface for years. 

Mattress Firmness Guide for People With Different Sizes

Many assume your preferred firmness level for a mattress is based on your sleep position and simply what you find comfortable. However, your body size and build can also impact how a mattress feels to you. Being in touch with your body, your sleep patterns, and how your body reacts to certain mattresses is essential for a good mattress buying experience and ensuring that you select the right mattress. It’s important to take these factors into consideration when shopping for a mattress. 

Here’s a quick guide to body size and mattress firmness.

Lightweight

Lighter weight individuals do not put as much weight and pressure on a mattress and will usually find a softer mattress more comfortable. People who weigh less will not sink into the mattress as much. If you are lighter weight and tend to sleep hot, a memory foam mattress might not be the best choice, as they tend to sleep much hotter than other mattresses. In this case, we’d recommend a hybrid mattress with comfort layers and proper ventilation to dissipate heat away from the body. 

Mattress Recommendation: Purple

Average Body Weight

For an average-sized person, there are a few extra variables to consider when selecting a mattress firmness level, such as if you sleep with a partner, suffer from back pain, or tend to sleep hot. For most average weight individuals, a medium-soft or medium-firm is the best option for both support and comfort. If you have back pain or sleep with a partner, a firmer mattress is ideal because they provide extra support and motion isolation. 

Mattress Recommendation: Helix Midnight

Heavier People

Heavier people, individuals over 230lbs., are the most comfortable on firm mattresses. When heavier individuals lay down on a mattress, they make more contact with the mattress’s support core. 

This can cause the mattress to sag, which can then lead to the mattress support deteriorating. To improve mattress longevity and support, it’s best for heavier individuals to select a mattress with thicker comfort and support layers to ensure you get the most out of your mattress. 

Mattress Recommendation: WinkBeds Plus

Mattress Firmness Levels For Different Sleep Positions

Along with your body type, your primary sleep position also determines the best mattress firmness. Your sleep position also determines which parts of your body make contact with the mattress. For the most comfortable mattress and to avoid pain and to relieve pressure, choose a firmness level that combines the ideal support and contouring to support your body. 

The table below outlines sleep positions and the best firmness level for each based on your body type. 

Side Sleepers

Side sleeping is the most common sleep position. Sleeping in this position puts extra pressure on the hips and shoulders. A mattress that is too firm can mis-align the spine and cause pain and pressure in certain areas of the body. A too-soft sleep surface can cause bad posture due to excessive drooping. Plusher surfaces that cushion or cradle the body are the best for side sleepers. Many side sleepers prefer firmness levels ranging from soft to firm, depending on body weight.

Mattress Recommendation: Puffy Lux

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers should choose a firmer mattress than side sleepers to avoid sagging in the middle. If you sleep on your back, try a mattress that provides adequate body cradling to support the lumbar and keep the spine neutral. Mattresses that are overly soft or too hard may cause lower back pain. Firmness ratings ranging from medium-soft to firm are the best for back sleepers. 

Mattress Recommendation: Purple Original 

Stomach Sleepers

Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended for several reasons—it can put strain on your neck and restrict breathing. Even with the risks, many people find it difficult to stop sleeping on their stomachs. If you can’t stop, go with a firmer mattress. Sleeping on your stomach can cause your spine to mis-align and can lead to headaches due to neck constriction.

Mattress Recommendation: Leesa Hybrid 

Combination Sleepers

Combination sleepers change positions several times a night and spend different amounts of time in each. Since each sleep position benefits from different mattress firmness levels, combination sleepers often struggle to find their ideal firmness level. For combination sleepers, the best option is a perfect medium firmness mattress that will help support all sleep positions. 

Mattress Recommendation: Helix Midnight

How to Choose the Right Firmness Levels

Knowing the firmness level options is one thing, but finding the right one can still be a challenge. When shopping for a mattress and trying to decide on firmness level, there are a few extra things to consider before making your decision. 

Sleeping with a Partner 

If you sleep with a partner, it can be even more of a challenge to agree on a mattress. Most couples compromise by selecting a mattress that is somewhere in the middle of their preferred firmness levels. If your partner’s body shape and/or sleeping habits are different from yours, it might be wise to invest in a split mattress. 

Temperature Preferences 

Overheating is a common issue that makes it difficult to get a good night’s sleep — no one likes to wake up uncomfortable and sweating. Softer mattresses, like memory foams, adapt to body shape and retain heat. If you’re a hot sleeper, a firmer mattress, like a hybrid with less sinkage, will sleep cooler because they allow for more air circulation. 

Price

Firmer mattresses with fewer layers are often less expensive than softer memory foams with many layers. However, quality hybrid mattresses, organic mattresses, and latex are available in different firmness levels and are varied in price. 

Mattress Off-Gassing 

Most synthetic mattresses, like memory foam, contain some kind of chemical smell. This is referred to as off-gassing and will dissipate naturally in a few days. If you are sensitive to chemicals or suffer from migraines or asthma that can be aggravated by smells, it’s best to avoid this type of mattress.  

Sex 

Responsiveness and sinkage are the two major variables that affect how a bed performs for sex. Mattresses that are responsive and bouncy make it easier to move. Those that absorb motion can hinder movement. 

Firmer mattresses are more durable overall, and the harder surfaces make it easier to move. Another important factor to consider is noise. If discretion is important, a softer mattress with more materials can absorb more sound. 

Mattress Size and Weight

Heavier and larger mattresses are much more difficult to move and set up. Softer models with coils and latex are heavier than memory foam mattresses. Also, remember that firmer mattresses are more durable and will last longer, meaning that they will be a better investment overall. When moving, or if you live in a multi-floor building, it can be hard to move larger mattresses.

Back Pain

The cause of your back pain can determine what mattress firmness level will work the best for you. Overall, a back-pain-friendly mattress will support your body and ensure that your lower back has plenty of contouring. Depending on your weight, the recommended firmness should be around a medium-firm or firm. 

Sleep is crucial for good health and wellbeing, and a good mattress is a key component of good sleeping habits. Shopping for a new mattress is more than just finding a mattress that you like and that fits your budget. Finding the correct firmness level can completely change your sleep. If you’re looking for more sleep advice and mattress recommendations, read our sleep blog or stop by one of our showrooms to find your perfect mattress! 

 
Emily Stringer

Emily Stringer


Emily Stringer is a Content Writer at SleePare. Emily has over five years of experience writing and conducting research for different industries. When she’s not writing, you can find Emily with her dogs in Lexington, Kentucky.