Firm mattress on a bed base in a bedroom

Firm, medium or soft mattress?

How do I choose a soft, medium or firm mattress?

We are all different, so there is no one mattress that would suit all. In fact, it’s pretty hard to find the right mattress, because we all have different body types and preferred sleeping positions. Here you will find some tips on what to look at to choose the right mattress hardness for you to enjoy a deep, undisturbed sleep. No marketing jargon of the sellers, just the criteria of choosing firm, medium or soft mattress. 

In this article we will explain how to identify the support and firmness of the mattress and what these terms mean. Here we will also cover how to choose a mattress depending on your:

  • weight
  • body shape
  • sleeping position

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

There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question. Whether it’s better to sleep on a hard or soft mattress will depend on your weight, body shape, sleeping position and simply your individual preference. Let’s look into more details on the mattress firmness. 


Two things to look at when choosing the mattress hardness

What makes a mattress soft or hard? As we mentioned earlier, there are two main parts of the mattress structure which influence how firm or soft the mattress feels: the top layers and the springing.

Top layers

When choosing a soft, medium or firm mattress,  you need to look at the upholstery layers on top of it first, as how the mattress feels depends on that. It’s the fibres on top that create the feel of the mattress.


The second thing you need to look at is the mattress firmness, which is created by spring tension. What’s the right firmness will depend on your body weight.


The next question to answer is: what is the best mattress tension for me?


How to choose the correct mattress tension

Choosing the right mattress will depend on your body weight. The support (type of springs) should be suitable for your body weight and your height. So how do I know what spring tension is right for my weight?


How to choose the correct mattress spring tension for your weight

As a general rule, we can say that depending on your body weight you will feel more comfortable sleeping on a firm, medium or soft mattress as follows:

  • Firm mattress – for body weight over 100 kg
  • Medium mattress – for body weight between 57 and 100 kg
  • Soft (plush) mattress – for body weight under 57 kg

When buying a mattress, look for the details about the spring tension weight tolerance in the product specifications. Mattress manufacturers normally include information on what weight the mattress can hold. 



How to identify mattress firmness

To identify how soft or firm the mattress is, check these two things:

  • the spring tension 
  • the comfort layers on top
Spring tension in the mattress

Soft, medium or hard mattress refers to the spring diameter – the larger the gauge (diameter), the firmer the mattress. The spring tension you should choose depending on your body weight, as we described above. 


Top layers of the mattress

The top layer is not to be overlooked, as it’s what will give you the feel of comfort. Below we describe how certain types of top layer materials will feel.


Top layer fabric and the feel of the mattress
  • plush mattress (soft feel): bamboo, alpaca fibre (these two are the softest), cotton, wool, cashmere, polyester, silk
  • medium mattress: memory foam, latex, horsehair, hemp
  • firm mattress: memory foam, latex, linen, flax, coconut fibre 
Examples of soft, medium and hard mattresses:

Soft Mattress 

Medium Mattress 

Firm Mattress 

How to choose a mattress firmness for your body shape

Now let’s look into what is the best mattress for your body shape. If you have wide shoulders or an hourglass body shape, you will feel better on a soft mattress.  It’s because you sink more into the mattress with your hips and shoulders and a soft mattress won’t create pressure in these areas. A hard mattress is not the best choice for these kinds of body shapes. 


Are there any other factors to consider when choosing the mattress hardness? 

Yes, apart from the above mentioned, the size of the mattress matters as well. Here is how:


Size and firmness of a mattress

Mattress tension also depends on the size of the mattress. A single mattress of the same build will be firmer than a double mattress.


Firmness vs support when choosing a mattress

What is the difference between firmness and support of a mattress? These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. 


The support refers to the mattress inner structure (type of springs) and should be chosen according to your body weight and height. Mattress support determines what weight the mattress can take. 



The firmness of the mattress refers to the top layers of the mattress and influences how the mattress feels (soft or firm). This will influence how comfortable the mattress will feel for you. 

Choosing the best mattress for your sleeping position

What mattress is best for back sleepers?

If you are a back sleeper, a hard mattress is best. But it shouldn’t be so hard, that there is a gap between the bed and the backbone as it may cause a back pain. 


Should side sleepers have a firm mattress?

No, if you are a side sleeper, a soft or medium type of mattress will be more comfortable for you. As a side sleeper you may experience joint or shoulder pain when sleeping on a firm mattress. If you sleep  primarily on your side and wake up with shoulder, hip or joint main, at least a mattress topper would improve your comfort. Or you can consider choosing a softer mattress. 



What mattress type is best for stomach sleepers?

As a stomach sleeper you should go for a medium-hard mattress, as you need some support to prevent excessive sinkage of your midsection. However, too hard a mattress will compress your chest and abdomen and feel uncomfortable. 


Best mattress for couples

What is the right mattress firmness for couples?

The mattress firmness may not be equally suitable for both partners. Generally speaking, a medium mattress would be a safe choice for couples, and this is what most people go for. 

However, if this isn’t working for you because you and your partner vary hugely in your heights, body weights or sleeping positions, you may want to go for two single mattresses of different firmness. You will need to choose mattresses of the same heights but different firmness. In this case you may also want to use a bed bridge to fill the gap between the mattresses. 




How do I know if my mattress is too firm?

A mattress which is too hard may cause quite a few issues. The signs that your mattress is too firm for you include:

  • you wake up with back, shoulder or neck pain
  • you wake up tired
  • joint pain 
  • the mattress doesn’t contour to your body
  • it feels uncomfortable
  • you wake up often (a hard mattress can make you change your sleeping position often which may wake you up)
  • you get a better sleep when you sleep on a softer mattress (e.g. on holiday)

Matching the right mattress for you, consider your body type, weight and sleeping position. Next things, when choosing a mattress, you need to look at: the spring tension and the top layers. 

Most people sleep best on medium firm mattresses.  This is because you need some support as well as some give for comfort. Pillow top mattresses and other extremely giving mattresses tend not to be durable and don’t give enough support. On the other hand, extremely firm mattresses can cause soreness to a lot of people, make you change your position frequently and cause frequent waking up because of that. 


What mattress do you feel most comfortable on? Share in the comments below!

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