Firm vs. Medium Firm: What's the Difference?
Whatever type of mattress you choose—innerspring, memory foam, or latex—you'll want to make sure you pick the right firmness level for your preferences.
Mattress firmness is measured on a scale from soft to medium firm to firm. While the difference between a soft and a firm mattress is often self-evident, the difference between a firm vs. medium firm mattress is more subtle.
How exactly do medium firm and firm mattresses differ from each other—and how do you determine which one is right for you? We've put together this firm vs. medium firm guide to help you out.
How firm is firm?
While there is no universal measure of mattress firmness, most companies use a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the softest and 10 being the firmest. A firm mattress is typically around an 8 on this scale—anything firmer than that would just be too uncomfortable for most people.
Keep in mind that because every manufacturer has its own scale, what feels “firm" in one won't feel the same in a mattress made by another company.
At Saatva, we use a mattress firmness scale ranging from 1 to 10, as illustrated below.
Comparison between firm and medium firm
Mattress firmness is a function of the amount and type of material in the top, or comfort, layer of the mattress, which determines how the mattress feels when you lie down on it.
Keep in mind that mattress firmness and mattress support are not the same things. To be supportive, a mattress does not need to be firm. A medium firm mattress can still be supportive enough if its bottom layers provide enough support for the person's specific body type.
A firm mattress will have firmer foams in the comfort layers. Thanks to these firmer foams in the upper layers of the mattress, you'll feel more like you are lying on top of the mattress rather than sinking into it.
While a firm mattress typically falls around an 8 on a scale of 1-10, a medium firm mattress is generally in the 5-7 range, giving it a slightly softer, more cushiony feel.
Not surprisingly, most people tend to prefer medium firm mattresses—but your choice between a firm vs. medium firm mattress will depend on your sleeping position, body type, existing health issues, and personal preferences.
Benefits of a firm bed
Here are the top three reasons to consider getting a firm mattress:
- You sleep on your stomach. If you're a stomach sleeper, a mattress that's too soft will pull your spine downward, exaggerating the curve of the lower back. This is especially true if you carry extra weight around your midsection. To promote healthy spinal alignment, stomach sleepers should snooze on a firm mattress.
- You have a bigger body. Generally, the heavier you are, the firmer your mattress should be. If you weigh 230 pounds or more, you'll be more comfortable on a firm mattress as it will help keep your spine aligned without sagging. This, in turn, will help prevent low back pain—something heavier people are at higher risk of suffering from.
- You suffer from back pain back painback pain. If you have back pain, you should be particularly careful when choosing the firmness level of your mattress. Your choice should depend to some extent on your sleeping position , but generally, mattresses that are too soft will make your backache worse. You want your mattress to be firm enough to help you maintain the natural S-curve of your spine. Be careful not to go too firm, though, because if the mattress does not have any give it also won't provide sufficient comfort for your back.
Our Best Mattress for Bigger Bodies
Benefits of a medium firm mattress
Here are some cases when you might want to go with a medium firm mattress:
- You move around while you sleep. If you tend to switch positions during the night between sleeping on your side and your back, a medium firm mattress might work well for you. Side sleepers require a soft enough mattress that provides enough cushion to cradle their hips and shoulders, while back sleepers need a firmer surface. If you're one of those people who switch between the two positions often, a medium firm mattress will provide an optimal middle ground.
- You're of light to average weight. People who are lighter generally need softer sleeping surfaces than heavier people to ensure their bodies properly supported. If your sleeping position call for a medium firm to firm mattress and you are a light to average weight, go with a medium firm mattress.
- You sleep with a partner. Sleeping with a partner who has different comfort preferences than you comes with its own challenges. If you want to go firmer and they want to go softer (or vice versa), a medium firm mattress can provide a middle ground and keep you both reasonably comfortable—and happy.
Our Best Medium Firm Mattresses
Not ready to buy a new mattress—but want to see if a firmer sleep surface is right for you? Consider adding a firm mattress topper to your bed. Read our guide to mattress toppers to find the right one for you.