3 Times You Should Choose a Firm Mattress

Choosing the right comfort level for a mattress is crucial. While there's no industry standard for firmness, a 10-point scale is commonly used. A firm mattress is recommended for stomach sleepers, those with a bigger body, and individuals with back pain. However, side sleepers and lighter-weight individuals may prefer a softer mattress. An adjustable air mattress or mattress topper can be options for couples with different preferences.

One of the most important decisions you have to make when buying a new mattress is choosing a comfort level. While a mattress doesn’t need to be firm to be supportive, in some situations a firm mattress may be the best choice for you.

What is a firm mattress?

It’s important to point out that there is no industry standard for mattress firmness. To help guide your selection, many mattress companies (including Saatva) use a 10-point scale to rate mattress firmness. Generally speaking, the higher the number, the firmer the mattress, from 3-4 at the low end to 7-8 at the high end. Not surprisingly, the majority of people tend to prefer mattresses that fall in the middle of the firmness scale.

Here’s how to figure out whether a firm mattress is right for you.

When should you choose a firm mattress?

Determining whether a firm mattress is right for you starts by taking your body type, typical sleep position, and personal preferences into account. Here are three times when a firm mattress is a good option:

  • You’re a stomach sleeper. Most stomach sleepers do best on a medium-firm to firm surface, as this allows your body to maintain the best possible alignment while lying face-down. A mattress that’s too soft will pull your spine downward into an exaggerated curve, especially if you carry extra weight around your midsection. Most stomach sleepers will be well suited by a mattress in the 4-7 range on the typical firmness scale. The higher your weight, the higher you should go in that range.
  • You have a bigger body. If you weigh more than 230 pounds, you’ll likely sleep better on a firmer mattress than a softer one. A medium-firm to firm mattress will help keep your spine aligned without sagging. This, in turn, will help prevent low back pain, something larger-bodied people are at higher risk of suffering from. (Here’s how to choose the best mattress for heavy people.)
  • You have back pain. For years, I slept on a secondhand mattress an old boss gave me. I didn’t connect the aches and pains in my back and legs with the mattress until my doctor asked how old it was and suggested it was past time to replace it. Those aches and pains disappeared when I switched to a medium-firm mattress. Research shows a firmer mattress can be effective at alleviating back pain. For example, a study of 27 women experiencing shoulder and back pain found their pain greatly decreased after replacing their regular mattress with a medium-firm mattress that conformed to their particular sleep positions. “Sleep surfaces are related to sleep discomfort,” the researchers concluded, adding that it “is indeed possible to reduce pain and discomfort and to increase sleep quality in those with chronic back pain by replacing mattresses based on sleeping position.”

Keep in mind that you’ll want to avoid anything too firm. A too-firm mattress will put pressure on your back and take your spine out of alignment. It may even aggravate certain back problems, such as scoliosis and arthritis.

Find the best firm mattress for you at Saatva

Saatva Classic Innerspring Mattress

Our flagship luxury mattress is expertly engineered with coil-on-coil construction for durability, a layer of memory foam for enhanced back support, and a cushiony Euro pillow top for extra comfort.

Loom and Leaf Memory Foam Mattress

Premium memory foam, handcrafted in the U.S. with eco-friendly materials. Breathable organic cotton, cooling spinal gel, and layers of high-density support foam assure a cool, comfortable night's sleep.

Zenhaven Latex Mattress

Natural latex responds to every curve for pressure-free support and responsive comfort. Natural latex is supple, resilient, and durable, for the ultimate in elevated sleep. (It's naturally hypoallergenic too.)

When is a firm mattress not right for you?

Not everyone benefits from sleeping on a firm mattress. If you’re a side sleeper, for example, you’re better off on a softer, or plusher, sleep surface. That’s because you have concentrated pressure points in contact with the mattress: your shoulder, hip, and outside of your knee and foot. A softer mattress will let you sink in a bit and provide better pressure relief. A soft mattress may also be a better pick for lighter-weight individuals.

What if you like it firm but your partner doesn’t?

If you and your partner have different sleep preferences (say, you’re a stomach sleeper and they sleep on their side) or body types, an adjustable air mattress might be a good option for you. This type of mattress consists of separate air chambers on each side of the bed, allowing each of you to adjust your firmness. Another option is to create the equivalent of a king-size mattress with two twin XL mattresses side by side.

Not ready to buy a new mattress? Try a firm mattress topper instead

You don’t have to buy a new mattress to make your sleep surface feel firmer. If your current mattress is too soft, try adding a medium-firm or firm mattress topper. Popular mattress topper materials include memory foam and latex. That said, a mattress topper won’t fix a sagging mattress or revive one that’s past its prime. Read our guide to mattress toppers to find the right one for you.

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