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Mattress Firmness Scale: How Firm Should Your Mattress Be?

While it might seem simple in the first place, the mattress firmness scale is quite a tricky topic. What some of us understand as “soft”, others perceive as “firm”. The problem is that mattress firmness[1] is one of the most important factors when picking the right bed for yourself.

In this guide, I will help you to solve the confusion that appears towards the mattress firmness scale. I’ll cover the detailed description of the mattress firmness scale, provide information on firmness and support, and go through all the aspects you should consider when picking the right mattress for yourself. 

Caleb Backe

Certified Personal Trainer, Health & Wellness Expert

How different mattress firmness levels can impact the way we sleep?

You mattress responds to your body weight and pressure which means that mattress firmness has a profound impact on sleep - and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Taking into account your weight and sleeping position is important when choosing a mattress with the right firmness levels for your needs. If your weight is relatively light you should go for a softer mattress whereas generally speaking, someone who is heavier set would do well with a firmer mattress. Additionally, side and back sleepers would benefit from medium-firm mattresses while stomach sleepers need a firm mattress to avoid a U curvature in the spine.

Mattress Firmness Scale: What is That? 

The first misconception that people have about the mattress firmness scale is believing that it refers to the same meaning as a mattress support. Even if these two characteristics correlate, there’s a difference. 

Mattress firmness can be explained pretty easily. It’s the way that mattress feels - is it firm or soft? That’s the main question you should be asking yourself. Mattress support[2], on the other hand, defines how well the mattress holds the body in place throughout the night. Does it keep my spine in a healthy position? That’s the question you should be asking when considering the level of support. 

Firmness  1-2 3-4 5-6 7-8 9-10
Feel  Very Soft Soft Medium Firm Very Firm
Best for Very Light People Light Side Sleepers Average-Weight Sleepers  Heavier Back Sleepers Heavy Sleepers

Thus, even if it’s a subjective matter, I’m going to introduce you to the mattress firmness scale and how each of the levels of firmness is defined in the market. 

Understanding Mattress Firmness Scale 

Let’s take a look into the mattress firmness chart to understand the difference. 

1-2 (extremely soft)

Such mattresses are super soft, they do not provide the needed level of support and you will feel like sinking into your bed. Sleeping on such mattress, will, most likely, negatively impact your sleep and health - your spine won’t stay in a healthy position and you will feel super uncomfortable. Only very light people could pick such a mattress. There are very little mattress providers that offer such an alternative as the small percentage of people pick such beds. 

3-4 (soft)

Soft or plush mattresses are great for very lightweight sleepers. Such mattresses tend to sink in from 1.5 to 3 inches depending on your weight. Those who love cushioning and like to sleep on their side could benefit from a soft bed. 

5-6 (medium)

The bed that’s from 5 to 6 on the mattress comfort level is the option that the majority of sleepers prefer.

Mattress firmness scale: medium firm mattress

It offers limited sinking and some plushness. Each top-tier brand offers the ability to pick a top firm mattress. It completely depends on your personal preference whether you choose a mattress that’s firm or medium-firm. 

7-8 (firm)

Such mattresses tend to be firmer than we’re normally used to. They provide much less sinking and hugging compared to the medium ones and, naturally, give you more support. Sleepers who prefer rather firm options usually consider it as the alternative. Otherwise, it can be too hard. 

9-10 (extremely firm) 

Normally, you won’t see extremely firm mattresses in the market, as very little people prefer a rock-hard bed. However, sleepers who suffer from obesity should consider picking such an alternative as it would give much more support.

As you can see, the mattress firmness scale is pretty easy to figure out. 

Can One Firmness Fit All?

You’re probably wondering if the phrase “one firmness fits all” make sense? As surprising as it sounds, there’s a firmness that fits 80% of the individuals. The majority of sleepers prefer from 5 to 7 on the mattress firmness scale. That’s why this phrase actually makes sense. 

Some of you might argue and believe the approach that one firmness fits all in this situation is inapplicable. You wouldn’t be wrong saying this, however, the majority of sleepers actually prefer mattresses that are medium in the firmness scale. 

So, even if you should choose the mattress based on your needs, the majority of sleepers always prefer a medium-firm alternative. Thus, this is the safest option when you're not sure what bed to choose. 

Mattress firmness scale: medium firm mattress

However, you shouldn’t forget other aspects that come together with mattress firmness, such as support. Your mattress should be firm enough depending on your weight and sleeping position, and, of course, provide enough support to keep your body in the same position throughout the night. 

Whatever you do, do not choose cheap mattresses as they’re made of low-quality materials that won’t provide you with needed qualities as well as have a much shorter lifespan. Therefore, you will end up spending more than getting a high-quality mattress in the first place. 

Choosing the Right Firmness: Aspects to Consider 

Even though the mattress firmness ratings are pretty easy to figure out, there are additional aspects that should be considered before purchasing a bed. 

Firmness Based on Sleeping Position

The majority of us are multi sleepers, meaning that we tend to turn around and change sleeping positions during the night. However, you probably have one sleeping position that you prefer when falling asleep: back, stomach, or side. As you probably understand, the way you sleep should also have an impact on your mattress choice.  

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers should pick either medium or medium-firm mattresses. While sleeping on your stomach is not the healthiest position due to the unnatural curving of your body, when you pick a bed that's on the firmer side, you will provide your hips with the needed support and will be able to maintain your spine in the straightest possible position. 

Side Sleepers

Mattress firmness scale: side sleeper

Side sleepers usually prefer quite soft mattresses that can range from 3 to 6. When sleeping on a too-firm mattress, side sleepers might experience unpleasant support in their shoulders. Needless to say, when your shoulders are elevated more than needed, your spine will crook and, in the long run, it might lead to some serious issues.  

Back Sleepers 

Mattress firmness scale: back sleeper

Back sleepers don’t have that many requirements regarding mattress firmness scale. If you’re sleeping on your back, then my advice is to consider mattresses that are from 4 to 8, depending on your weight. That’s exactly what I'll be discussing in the further section. I've noticed that back sleepers tend to appreciate innerspring mattresses the most.

Combination Sleepers

The majority of us are combination sleepers, meaning that we tend to sleep in 2 or more positions. The result shows that it’s best to choose a mattress that’s from 4 to 6 on the mattress firmness chart. 

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Firmness Based on Weight

Firmness together with the level of support goes hand in hand with one another. These aspects are crucial to sleepers of different weight groups. 


Lightweight sleepers (less than 130 pounds) should pick either soft or medium mattresses. Differently from heavier sleepers, the sinkage into the mattress will be minimal. By picking a mattress that’s too firm, you won’t feel the pressure relief qualities as you’ll be floating on top of it. Additionally, it will create many pressure points.  


Medium weight sleepers (from 130 to 230 pounds) tend to benefit from beds that are from 5 to 7 on the mattress firmness scale. Basically, whether you choose a mattress that’s more on the firmer or softer side of the mattress firmness chart completely depends on your sleeping position and personal preferences. Medium-firm mattresses will provide you with the needed level of both firmness and support. 


If you’re a heavyweight sleeper (over 230 pounds), you’ll find that you need more support that can, generally, give firmer mattresses. When sleeping on a soft mattress, you’ll feel like sinking in due to the lack of support. What is more, if you pick a firmer mattress, it will serve you much longer than the soft option and will give you more breathability together with coolness because you will be sleeping on the mattress rather than in it. I recommend choosing a mattress that’s at least 10 inches thick.

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Firmness Based on Health Issues

If you wake up with aches in your back, hips or shoulders, it means that you need a new mattress - most likely, you weren’t aware of the mattress comfort level before purchasing. 

Back Pain 

Mattress firmness scale: girl suffering from back pain

If you’re experiencing back pain problems, it means that your spine is unnaturally curved when you sleep. If you’re back or stomach sleeper, you should pick a mattress that’s about 5 to 8 on the mattress firmness scale (depending on your weight). This way, your lower back will get the right level of support and maintain your body in a healthy position. 

Hip Pain

Hip pain can be caused by many different factors, inappropriate spine alignment is one of them. As I said in the very beginning mattress firmness and support are not the same. So, in this case, you need a bed that’s supportive, yet soft. It will make a significant difference.

Shoulder Pain 

Mattress firmness scale: girl suffering from shulder pain

Shoulder pain is often caused by a too firm mattress. People who sleep on their side experience this problem quite often. You need a mattress that’s more on the soft side to cushion the shoulders and hips and keep the spine alignment. 

Firmness Based on Sex

Even your sex has a difference when picking the mattress comfort level. Men are typically heavier than women, which means they need more firmness and support. When men choose a mattress that’s not firm enough, it can lead to spinal misalignment and cause serious health issues. 

Women typically weigh less than men, thus, they need a mattress that’s not too firm. What is more, since women have a more subtle body structure, they should pick a bed that’s more supportive. I’m always highlighting the fact that sleeping position is vital when choosing a bed, however, women should pay even closer attention to this factor. 

Other Important Aspects 

Let’s get through some additional aspects that also have a major impact when choosing the right mattress for yourself. 

  • Edge support. You may have noticed that mattresses tend to be softer on the edges. So, if you’re picking the mattress that’s already plush, you will have very minimal to none edge support. People, who find edge support super important usually pick a firmer alternative. 
  • Hot sleepers. If you tend to sleep hot, then you should never pick a soft and super conforming mattress that’s made of memory foam. You will, possibly, sink into such bed and will feel like sleeping in the mattress rather on top of it. I recommend choosing a more supportive alternative that’s at least medium on the mattress firmness scale.
  • Motion transfer. If you’re a sensitive sleeper and tend to wake up due to your partner’s movement, then you’re probably thinking of a more isolating bed. Mattresses that do not transfer movement tend to be conforming and on the softer side of the mattress firmness scale. In most cases, such mattresses are made of memory foam
  • Sex. Not all mattresses work great for sex - if you choose a mattress that’s too soft, you will sink deeply into it and won’t be able to perform certain actions. If your mattress is too firm, then it may not be as comfortable. In the perfect world, you should pick either medium or medium-firm bed based on the mattress firmness ratings. 

Mattress firmness scale: memory foam mattress


Therefore, the mattress firmness ratings/scale varies from extremely soft to extremely firm. Since the options are unlimited, it's important to know what kind of bed to choose based on your personal needs. 

Basically, mattress firmness shows how firm your mattress is. It refers to a different meaning than mattress support, which is the ability to keep your body in a healthy position throughout the night. 

Even though many providers say that their mattress fits all, it's only partly true. The majority of sleepers (about 80%) choose beds that are medium firm. The rest 20%, pick either softer or firmer alternatives. 

There are many factors that you should consider when picking the right bed for yourself. That includes your sleeping position, weight, health issues, sex, and such aspects as edge support, bounciness, motion transfer, and whether you're a hot or cold sleeper.

If you need more guidance on how to choose the mattress for yourself, you can find more information here. By the way, you can jump straight into the most recommended mattresses' list and find a perfect option there.

Mattress firmness scale: woman checking mattress

Caleb Backe

Certified Personal Trainer, Health & Wellness Expert

Contributed By Caleb Backe, Certified Personal Trainer, Health & Wellness Expert

Caleb Backe's work with natural product development has given him insight and expertise in the health industry, as well as an attuned understanding of the wellness world. When Caleb is not developi...

Read Full Bio...

Scientific References

Contributed by Caleb Backe, Certified Personal Trainer, Health & Wellness Expert

1. Eugene Kraft: 'Varying firmness mattress'

2. John W. Wilkinson, Richard W. Raburn: 'Automated pressure relief mattress support system'

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Recent User Reviews

I had to buy a new one

I'm a right side sleeper, i use my hand on the pillow and i always had some shoulder pain. My mattress was too firm, and i had to buy a softer one. Thanks god, everything is fine now!

Thanks ! !

Excelent post to take the right decision, there are so many feautures to consider and this definitely is making it easier

Wanna buy the best

I ran into this post because buying a bed is an expensive investment and I just wanna know more about it, it was an easy read.

Firm mattresses are not for me!

I'm a stomach sleeper, of course, i can't use a firm mattress.


love this post! it's exactly what i was looking for, now i just have to focus on the pillows and see what works best

memory vs latex

my main problem is that when i go to bed it's way too hot, i currently own a memory foam mattress but i wonder if latex would work better, any advice?

nice post

loved all the types of mattresses that you talk about, great to choose the right one for sure!



Amazing content

Thank you for this amazing article! The content was very informative and useful.

A 6 or a 7 would be convenient for me!

Well, i guess i'm just like the majority of people, a 6 or 7 on firmness scale would suit me.


this is true but it also depends on the brand of mattress you buy, we always check the physical mattress because soft-medium-firm can mean different things for different brands

Side sleeper

I'm a side sleeper, judging by firmness, i'd say i need a mattress with an 8 on the firmness scale.

my hip hurts

got here cuz i CANT take the pain anymore, every single morning i wake up with hip pain, it's horrible!!! I wish i had known before about this firmness thing

Spine support

Great article! If you bought a firm bed cuz you needed back support, it could be counterproductive! check that it isnt too firm first.



I need more support

I'm looking for a firm mattress but that isn't very hard, just the right support, it seems difficult to find a good option

A very bad experience

I had a very bad experience lately, as a heavy weight man, i needed a very firm mattress. The provider i bought from was claiming that the mattress is convenient for everyone, even for me. It was a very different story after my first night. I was in his shop on the morning to give him the mattress back.

Love them soft

dont care what this says, I loooove when a bed is really soft and I can feel warm and comfortable

I never considered this!

I've never considered this, indeed, it's very important to have the best quality of sleeping possible.

Very useful content

Very useful content, thank you for sharing this article.


Is a firm or medium mattress better?

Back and stomach sleepers usually prefer sleeping on a firmer mattress as it helps to keep the body in a healthy position. Side sleepers, on the other hand, choose softer mattresses to get more contouring on shoulders and hips. Here's the perfect guide on how to pick the right mattress.

What is mattress firmness?

Mattress firmness describes how the mattress feels - is it soft or firm? Even though mattress firmness is not the same as support, these two factors correlate with each other. If you find mattresses preferred by the majority of sleepers, you can find them here.

What is a memory foam mattress?

Memory foam mattresses are created mostly from polyurethane and have additional chemicals added that increase its viscosity and density. It’s also often called “viscoelastic polyurethane foam”. In order to create the air movement and let your body “breath” while you sleep, it has open foam bubbles. Memory foam mattresses are created in a way to adapt to your body curves and to also recover their original shape after you get up. Therefore, this kind of top mattresses offer you the feeling as if is created specifically for you.

Do top rated mattresses offer a money-back guarantee? Is there a catch?

All of the top mattress brands offer a money-back guarantee. The free trial usually starts from 90 to 100 nights, and if you don’t like the mattress, you can simply give it back. The majority of best mattress providers will not only give your money back but will also come to get it for free. If the mattress provider is reputable, there won’t be any catch - everyone understands that you have to try the mattress before knowing if it fits you.

What is off-gassing? Is it poisonous?

Off-gassing refers to the odor which comes from a new mattress. It’s the process that happens when volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) leak out of the mattress foam into the air. Those chemicals include both human-made and natural components, including formaldehyde, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), benzene, trichloroethane, and perfluorocarbons. Top rated mattresses will have zero or very minimal off-gassing. Many of them are sent to the customer already after the off-gassing. Is it dangerous, though? Even though the smell can be unpleasant, there’s usually only a very small amount of chemicals that can do no harm to your health.

How long do top rated mattresses serve?

The durability of a mattress depends on the provider and the quality of the materials used. Usually, you get a 10-year warranty, which will be valid in case of any defects. Normally, mattresses will serve you from 7 to 10 years, or even longer. Thus, when you buy the best mattress, you should take it as a long-term investment.