Firm vs. Soft Mattress: How to Make the Right Choice

Written by: Andjela Kastratovic
Updated: 04/12/2023

Trying to decide between a firm or soft mattress can seem like an overwhelming decision. It’s important to understand the differences between the two so that you can make an informed decision. This blog post will break down the main differences between the firm and soft mattresses, making it easier for you to find the right fit for your needs.

There are many different types of mattresses on the market, making this decision even trickier than ever. But one thing is for sure: you need a good night’s sleep!

So whether your preference falls toward softer mattresses or towards a firmer mattress option, it’s best to determine what kind of foundation construction best suits your weight, body and sleep position.

There are many reasons why sleeping on a soft mattress or a firm mattress can make all of the difference. What’s comfortable to one person might be unbearable for another, and depending on your individual needs there may only need to be two options available: one type that best suits you personally – whether it’s plush versus hard- surface; both sides have their pros & cons. 

So read on and let’s dive into the YESs and NOs of soft and firm mattresses!

Firm or Soft Mattress: Main Differences

What Makes a Mattress Soft or Firm?

Most mattress companies use a 1-10 scale to rate how firm their mattresses are, with 6.5 being medium-firm. Anything below 6.5 is going to be on the softer end of the spectrum, and anything above 6.5 is going to be firmer.

The construction and materials used in a mattress will determine its level of firmness; for instance, an innerspring mattress with no real comfort layer is most likely going to be firmer than average, while latex mattresses have a firmer feel and offer more support.

Memory foam mattresses are usually softer because they conform closely to your body shape, but there are also options available that have a firmer feel as well. Usually, memory foam mattresses are made from high-density foams which put them in the firm mattress group.

Innerspring mattresses are usually on the firmer side, depending on the type of coils used in their construction. On innerspring mattresses, heavier people will compress those coils so they experience an extra dose of ‘soft,’ while lighter individuals won’t really sink in which could make the mattress appear firmer.

In the end, everyone has their own definition of firmness, as it depends on size and body weight – basically, if you’re a lightweight sleeper then memory foam can feel quite soft, but for bigger folk, the same bed might feel firmer due to pressing through that comfort layer.

What is Mattress Firmness?

Mattress firmness is a highly subjective measure, but most companies use numbers on a 10-point scale to classify beds from Extra Soft to Extra Firm.

The construction and material of the mattress determine its level of support and comfort. For example, soft mattresses are usually constructed with thicker comfort systems that provide pressure relief.

How to Measure Mattress Firmness

The most common way to determine mattress firmness is to take a look a the mattress firmness scale.

The firmness of a given mattress is typically measured on a scale of 1 to 10.

1-2 – extra soft mattress, ideal for lightweight sleepers and side sleepers;

3-4 – softer mattress, ideal for lightweight and average-weight side sleepers

5-6 – a medium mattress firmness that will make a good fit for any body weight, especially side sleepers, stomach sleepers, back sleepers, combination sleepers

7-8 – firm mattresses, great for people with a higher BMI, back and stomach sleepers

9-10 – extra firm mattresses, prevent sinkage and perform best for heavy sleepers, back sleepers, and stomach sleepers

What Makes a Firm Mattress

A firm mattress is constructed with latex or coils, which makes it firmer. Also, when high-density foams are included in mattress layering, your bed will give you a firmer feel.

Based on our firmness scale, we consider a firm mattress to be anything rated a 7 and above. However, some people may experience a 7 rating as more medium-firm depending on their body weight.

Typically, heavier sleepers will feel a bed as softer than a lighter sleeper will, and vice-versa., so medium-firm is another popular choice. These models typically have sturdy support while keeping vital pressure relief, and alleviating joint pain.

What Makes a Soft Mattress

Comfort is key when it comes to mattresses. On the firmness scale, soft mattresses garner a 2 or 3 rating- they are highly responsive and contour perfectly with your body as you sleep.

On the mattress firmness scale, soft mattresses are roughly between a 2 to 3. A soft bed is highly responsive and easily conforms to a sleeper’s body.

What’s unique to soft mattresses is their thick comfort layer made from materials such as memory foam or latex. The mattresses are usually about 12 to 14 inches thick, while the comfort layers are at least 2 to 4 inches thick.

Stomach sleepers and side sleepers might not enjoy this one like they would a firm bed, because the cradling feel will either make them sleep hot or give them pain in key areas like their hips, neck and back, and will negatively affect their spinal alignment.

Medium Firm Mattresses and Medium Soft Mattresses

Searching for the perfect mattress in between? Let’s see what medium options have to offer…

Medium mattresses offer a great combination of comfort and support, catering to all types of sleepers: from active ones to side sleepers.

Plus they’re soft enough but will provide the firmness you need – even if you share your bed with your significant other and you want to avoid motion transfer.

Also, mattresses with a medium firmness won’t wear out as quickly as softer mattresses because they’re made with sturdier materials but aren’t as firm as mattresses that score 10 on the scale because they are made to comfort most types of sleepers.

The final conclusion? There is not much difference between medium soft or medium firm mattresses. To really feel it, you need to look into their support core and whether it’s made from latex or memory foam layers.

What is the Best Mattress Firmness for You?

When choosing a mattress type, it’s important to think about both comfort and support. The firmness of the mattress depends on your body weight. For example, those who are lighter tend to need softer mattresses for optimal comfort while heavier individuals should opt for firmer surfaces for better support.

The best way to choose a mattress is to analyze your sleeping position and the needs it creates.

Who is a Soft Mattress Best for?

Side Sleepers

If you’re a side sleeper, finding the right mattress is essential for keeping your spine aligned. For maximum support and comfort look for a plush mattress that offers both cushioning at pressure points like hips and shoulders but also enough firmness to keep everything in line.

Memory foam beds can be great options as they provide just this combination of softness with firmer foundational layers – whereas overly hard beds could cause alignment issues or discomfort in those same spots.

Take a peek at our best picks for mattresses for side sleepers.


If you’re sleeping with a partner, you want to avoid motion transfer. A plush mattress or a memory foam bed performs best in eliminating the feel of your partner’s movements during the night. Don’t choose the softest option, though, because it probably won’t conform both of you, which is why it’s best to take a shot at a medium-firm bed.

People Who Have Pain Issues

If you suffer from joint pain, shoulder pain, or any other discomfort after you wake up, a softer mattress is always a good choice because it conforms to all those pressure points, providing much-needed relief.

Who is a Firm Mattress Best For?

Back Sleepers

When it comes to back sleepers, finding a mattress that doesn’t let their hips sink and gives them superior support is essential. This is why back sleepers should choose a firm mattress.

Medium-firm mattresses are often recommended too as they provide just enough cushion while still being supportive; however firmer beds could also help ensure that the spine stays aligned through those long nights of snoozing.

Find your new bed in our top picks for the best mattresses for back sleepers!

Stomach Sleepers

For stomach sleepers, a firmer bed is typically their best choice. Sleeping on one that’s too soft can cause your lower back to dip and hyperextend the spine – resulting in back pain.

Heavy sleepers usually choose a bed with a firmer surface and this is the type of bed that’s considered to be a supportive mattress.

On the other hand, average-weight stomach sleepers can go for a medium mattress that offers gentle support that won’t let them sink into the sleep surface because it won’t trap body heat.

Take a look at the best mattresses for stomach sleepers here.

Hot Sleepers

Hot sleepers need a mattress that won’t trap body heat and may want to opt for a firmer mattress; because these mattresses don’t conform as closely as soft mattresses, they provide better airflow throughout the night which helps keep your body cool and comfortable.

Depending on the mattress materials used in its build, you’ll be able to tell if it’s the wrong mattress for you. Traditional memory foam tends to be warmer than other options because its purpose is to cradle your body and let you sink for comfort. And even a comfort layer that’s too soft can lessen the airflow of your mattress.

Though, depending on your sleep position, you want to make sure you go for the best firm mattress or the best soft mattress that will fulfill all of your needs.

Firm Mattresses: Pros and Cons

Some general perks of firm mattresses are that they offer more support than soft mattresses because they don’t sink as much when you lay down on them. This means that your spine can stay better aligned while you sleep, reducing pain and aches throughout the night.

They also tend to be cooler than soft mattresses and could present a good option if you don’t suffer from a bad case of back pain.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of firm mattresses.


A firm bed offers perfect support for a more restful night’s sleep. The mattress firmly holds up your body, preventing it from sinking too deep so you don’t feel ‘stuck’ in your bed. This is especially important because when you’re sleeping on a hard surface, there isn’t much pressure on your muscles, and your weight is distributed better.

Plus their construction allows for better air circulation which keeps the sleeping surface cool. The result: less tossing and turning and no pain.

For instance, firm beds are good for hot sleepers and sleepers with a higher BMI because they provide back pain relief and they keep your spine aligned throughout the night.


Depending on your body weight, a soft or firm mattress can help or have its disadvantages.

Looking at firm vs soft, hot sleepers can enjoy a firmer bed much easier, as larger people will because sinkage isn’t an option.

On the other hand, lightweight sleepers won’t enjoy it as much because it could cause new pain or worsen your existing pain, especially if you have scoliosis, arthritis or joint pain.

Conclusion: Should You Choose a Firm Mattress?

People who sleep primarily on their stomachs need a mattress that offers enough support across their entire body, but especially under their hips. A firm mattress should provide the requisite amount of support under the hips so that the spine stays in proper alignment.

While most back sleepers would do well to choose a medium-firm mattress, some could find a firm mattress to be a good match. As long as the mattress allows the hips to sink in just a bit, it could work for back sleeping. If a mattress is too soft, it might not be the best mattress for back sleepers.

Sleepers who are on the heavier side tend to need more support from their mattresses than lighter individuals do; otherwise, they may end up sinking further into the bed and not getting enough spinal alignment from their sleeping surface.

This is where firm mattresses can come in handy; providing extra stability and support for people who weigh more than average.

Depending on your sleep position a firm mattress can help alleviate or cause pain. The sleeping position is an important thing to consider since you won’t be able to fall asleep if you’re looking for pressure relief and you’re team side sleepers.

A firm mattress is better than soft mattresses for those who have back pain issues and tend to enjoy staying on top of the mattress.

Soft Mattress Pros & Cons

Soft mattresses can be really, really comfy. Depending on your body weight and sleep position and comparing a firm vs soft mattress, you can get a lot of relief in all those annoying pressure points on your body.

They can be a great relief for pain sufferers, so let’s dive into their pros and cons.


Side sleepers may benefit from sleeping on a soft mattress because it provides extra cushioning around their hips and shoulders which helps keep them comfortable throughout the night.

Those suffering from chronic back pain may also want to opt for a softer mattress since it helps reduce pressure points by conforming closely around their body shape while still providing enough support where they need it most.

People looking for maximum comfort may want to choose a soft mattress as well since this type of bedding provides that “sinking-in” feeling that many people crave when looking for optimal restfulness during sleep time.

Soft mattresses are also best for those who have joint pain and need superior pressure relief. With a memory foam layer on top, you can count on more pressure relief from these bad boys.


Despite their cozy appearance, soft mattresses can present a number of challenges for sleepers. Back pain and poor posture are common issues faced by both back and stomach sleepers as well as those who weigh more.

Even though it’s recommended for couples, a soft bed that’s too soft can present you and your partner with difficulty finding balance when one partner sinks further in than the other.

Additionally, softer beds may not last quite as long compared to firm mattresses since they tend to soften over time – though high-durability memory foam beds with a gentle feel still exist!

So, soft isn’t always the way to go. Back and stomach sleepers who are of a heavier weight may find themselves uncomfortable on these types of beds due to spine alignment issues that can arise as they sink further into them.

You should keep in mind that softer options don’t necessarily last longer than their firm counterparts. In fact, all kinds of beds tend to soften over time, but soft beds that rate from 1-4 on the scale will wear out pretty quickly, after just a couple of years.

Conclusion: Do You Need a Soft Mattress?

If your sleeping style is mainly side-sleeping and you suffer from back issues, softer options might be better suited for relieving those pressure points.

However, if you’re a back sleeper or stomach sleeper, then chances are that you’ll find greater comfort on firmer mattresses since they offer more support. Your options aren’t limited, though. If you do prefer to sleep on a firmer bed, you can always choose a mattress topper that’s on the softer side.

If you’re leaning towards a soft mattress, check out our top picks!

Firm vs Soft Mattress: Which is Best for Couples?

Putting a soft mattress vs firm against one another can help you decide whether a firm mattress or soft mattress could be considered an option if you’re sleeping with a partner. Considering how much each of you weighs, moves, and your sleeping position, you can determine the best choice.

If you’re in a couple, then softer beds – especially those with memory foam in their build – are the way to go. They do an amazing job at preventing the feel of your partner’s movement.

Though, you don’t want one of you to be swallowed by your mattress while the other sleeps on top. This happens when there’s a significant difference in how much you weigh. Your best choice is definitely medium firmness because it’s comfortable enough to prevent and relieve any pain points while blocking motion transfer for both of you.

Need more to decide? Check out our top picks for the best mattresses for couples!


Is it better to sleep on a firm or soft mattress?

When trying to decide between buying a firm or soft mattress, think about what type of sleeper you are and determine which kind would best suit your needs. For instance: do you require pressure point relief? Do you spend most nights sweating through sheets? Are you looking for something more supportive?

Answering these questions will help guide you toward making an appropriate decision based on what works best for YOUR individual needs.

Overall, firmer mattresses are better for people with a higher BMI, and those who love to sleep on their stomach and back, while soft mattresses perform best for lightweight people who want that sweet, sweet pain relief and a cradling feel.

Do softer mattresses wear out faster?

Soft mattresses don’t necessarily wear out faster than firmer ones. Instead, it all depends on the quality of the materials used in their construction.

Look for higher-quality components like natural latex foam, memory foam, and coils when shopping for your next mattress. These features increase your mattress’s longevity over time compared to cheaper synthetic material alternatives which may start sagging after just a few years of use.

Investing in a better-quality mattress can actually save money in the long run since you won’t have to replace it as often! Plus you’ll get better sleep knowing that your bed is comfortable and supportive night after night, year after year.

What happens if a mattress is too soft?

If soft beds are too soft, they could cause back pain and hip pain. Average-weight stomach sleepers might get restful sleep and their mattress could relieve pressure in the shoulders and hips, but they’d still need a mattress topper to avoid sinkage.

So, it’s best to avoid mattresses that are too soft because they might, ironically, feel like you sleeping on a too-firm mattress because they won’t offer support where it’s needed.

Final Thoughts

What makes a perfect mattress that will relieve you of back pain, shoulder pain, and all other pressure points on your body?

Whether you’re mattress shopping for a hybrid mattress, or a firm or plush mattress, the best thing to do is to look at your sleep position and weight to decide on a firm vs soft mattress.

If pain is what you need to get rid of desperately by sleeping on a cloud-like bed, you can get pressure relief from your mattress whether you’re team side sleepers, back and stomach sleepers, or any other type if you take all those things into consideration.

Whether you generally prefer a soft or firm mattress, it’s important to look into their construction and layering to determine if it’s best for you.

So, take a look at our mattress firmness guide to learn more!

Reviews written by:

Andjela Kastratovic - Co-editor

Anđela is a content writer by the day and an Illustrator by night. She loves anything creative, but sleep takes the cake – that’s why she enjoys writing for Anatomy of Sleep so much!

While in high school, she got accepted for her dream job – a ‘professional sleeper’. Her job was to test new mattresses from a local mattress brand and write reports on the quality of sleep. Ever since then, she’s been in love with reviewing mattresses and putting her compelling research into ultimate buyer’s guides. While not exploring the latest brands, she likes to illustrate and spend time with her dog and friends.