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Firm vs. Medium Mattress: Pros and Cons

Lara Vargas

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Choosing the right mattress firmness is a fundamental step to getting a good night’s sleep. A large part of selecting a firmness boils down to personal preference, however, factors such as physical health, sleeping positions, and body size are important to take into consideration when buying a new bed.

Mattress firmness relates to how soft or firm a mattress feels on your body, comfort-wise. The scale of firmness ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 being extremely soft and 10 being extremely firm. Most mattresses fall in the middle of this range, and mattresses that are extremely soft or firm are a bit rarer.

Two popular mattress firmness options are firm and medium, and by having a better understanding of the benefits and drawbacks between the two, you can make a more informed decision when choosing your ideal mattress.

What is a Firm Mattress?

Firm mattresses are at the high end of the firmness scale between 7 and 10. This type of mattress has less give and is stiffer when compared to softer mattresses. Albeit stiff, firm mattresses still provide enough give to contour to a sleeper’s body so they feel comfortable at night.

Pros of a Firm Mattress

Firm mattresses provide an even surface for sleepers, which allows for better blood circulation, as the firmness puts less stress on their muscles, veins, and arteries.

A firm mattress also prevents your lower back from sinking, and rather provides adequate support for it. The improved support on your lower back can help your posture and prevent any potential lower back pain, such as sciatica.

Firm mattresses evenly distribute a person’s body weight, ensuring they are sufficiently supported throughout the night. The firmness sags little in comparison to softer mattresses, preventing someone from potentially sinking too deeply in bed and overheating in the cushioning. By laying atop your mattress rather than within it, it’s easier to remain cool while you sleep.

Recommended for:

  • Sleepers over 230 pounds (sometimes called heavy or plus-size sleepers)
  • Back sleepers
  • Stomach sleepers
  • Individuals sharing a bed
  • Individuals wanting to stay cooler throughout the night

Cons of a Firm Mattress

Firm mattresses may be a bit uncomfortable for some individuals such as side sleepers, petite sleepers, and some combination sleepers; this is especially true for sleepers transitioning from a softer mattress since the adjustment is more drastic. Firm mattresses tend to cause aches and pains amongst side and combo sleepers because they don’t adequately cushion the shoulders and hips. If a person has existing back problems, such as scoliosis, an overly-firm mattress can worsen pain by exacerbating the curve in their spine.

What is a Medium Mattress?

A medium mattress sits in the middle of the firmness scale at 5. Medium mattresses are a popular choice as they’re incredibly comfortable while being functionally versatile to compliment an array of different body types and sleeping positions. Their adaptability makes them some of the best mattresses for combination sleepers—which is most of us.

Pros of a Medium Mattress

A medium mattress provides a rapid response time to your body’s movements while softly cradling its curves, reducing pressure point build-up. While medium mattresses are relatively soft, they still offer enough firmness so that sleepers won’t just sink into them.

Furthermore, a medium mattress typically works with the most body and sleep types because it’s in the middle of the firmness scale, better suiting a wider user base. Medium mattresses are soft enough to offer lighter individuals necessary cradling, but at the same time, they’re firm enough to prevent individuals from sinking uncomfortably.

Recommended for:

  • Combination sleepers
  • Side sleepers
  • Couples with different firmness preferences
  • People unsure of what mattress firmness is right for them

Cons of a Medium Mattress

While medium mattresses are very beneficial for some individuals, they don’t work for everyone. A medium mattress may not be firm enough to support somebody who experiences consistent back pain, as their back may sag and cause their spine to misalign. They may also feel a tad too soft for heavier sleepers since they require sturdier support to resist sinkage and remain resting in comfortable alignment.

The Importance of Mattress Firmness

Comfort and personal preference is a large factor when choosing a mattress firmness, but an important aspect to choosing the best mattress is considering how well it suits sleeping position and body type. If a mattress’s levels of comfort and support aren’t compatible with your needs, you may wake up with stiffness and a sore body.

A mattress’s firmness is how soft or firm it feels under your weight. The firmness depends on the comfort technology built into it.

Something to note is that mattress firmness and support are not the same. While the two work together to create an overall positive sleeping experience, they serve different purposes. For example, soft mattresses still contain technologies to provide dynamic support and comfort for sleepers, thus able to relieve a person’s potential pain.

Mattress support is measured by how well it distributes weight, promotes spinal alignment, and prevents sagging. Alternatively, firmness is more preference-based and subjective, while support is not. Good support is dependent on a mattress’s quality.

Which Firmness Is Right For You?

When deciding the best mattress firmness for you, your body composition and sleeping position play the largest role, though personal preference is still important, too. In addition, your mattress should aid in keeping your spine neutral and cushioning your pressure points. To get the best night’s sleep possible, consider the following factors.

Sleeping Positions

The best firmness for a person’s needs can be gauged by their sleeping position. Based on your sleeping position, your body has varying pressure points in need of proper support and ultimate comfort.

  • We suggest medium to soft mattresses for side sleepers. These contour to the hips and shoulders comfortably while still offering stable support for the midsection to nurture healthy alignment.
  • Back sleepers enjoy the most comfort on medium, medium-firm, and medium-soft mattresses. Personal preference and body weight plays a bigger role in choosing the ideal firmness amongst back sleepers, as back sleepers need a mattress supportive enough to maintain alignment and stop the hips from dipping too far in the bed. Your weight can also help determine if you need a softer or firmer mattress.
  • The best mattresses for stomach sleepers are medium-firm and firm since these beds can prevent the belly from sinking into the bed. On firm mattresses, the spine has a higher possibility of remaining neutral to counteract the discomfort usually experienced when sleeping in this position.
  • Combination sleepers are most comfortable on medium mattresses because they accommodate the most sleeping positions. Sleepers who toss and turn need a versatile mattress to keep up with their changing sleep style.

Body Type

Your body type makes a difference when choosing the correct mattress firmness.

  • Sleepers under 130 pounds will need a softer mattress since they are fairly light and won’t compress into firmer beds as easily. Medium and soft mattresses contour to petite sleepers’ bodies better to relieve pressure and prevent pain.
  • Sleepers who weigh between 130 to 230 pounds are considered “average” and should choose firmness based on sleep style over body type, as most mattresses will feel true to their advertised firmness level.
  • Individuals weighing over 230 pounds need firmer mattresses to provide extra support. A mattress that is too soft will cause sleep-disturbing sinkage, make adjustments difficult, and lead to premature sagging.

FAQs

What mattress firmness is best?

It’s important to remember that there is no “best” firmness, and “the most comfortable mattress” varies from person to person. However, if you’re struggling to determine which firmness matches your needs and sleep style the most, medium to medium-firm mattresses are considered to be the best options since they evenly blend firmness and softness.

How do I know if my mattress is too soft or firm?

To determine whether your mattress is too soft or too firm for your needs, see whether or not your body is pain-free and comfortable when you sleep.

If your body’s pressure points, such as your shoulders, knees, and hips, are constantly uncomfortable in bed, your mattress is likely too firm. For example, if you’re a side sleeper whose hips and shoulders constantly ache, you may need a softer mattress or a cushioning mattress topper to ease pains.

Your mattress may be too soft if you frequently wake up with a sore back. As a frequent stomach sleeper, you may find your neck and shoulders always hurt in the morning, a sign your mattress is too soft. Other factors of an overly soft mattress include difficulty getting out of bed and struggling to relax properly on your mattress.

What do you do if your mattress is too firm?

When buying a new mattress, there is a brief adjustment period before your body is properly acclimated to your new bed. Your mattress may initially feel firmer than expected, though once you’ve broken it in, it will cushion your body properly. Most mattress companies offer sleep trials for this very reason, so you can get accustomed to the mattress and ensure it suits you.

However, if you’ve had your mattress for a while and it’s still too firm for your needs, consider a softer mattress topper. Firmness is based on the top comfort layers of a mattress, and by adding a soft comfort layer at the top, your body receives extra cushioning.

What type of mattresses are used in luxury hotels?

One of the best parts of hotels is the luxurious beds. While the mattresses in hotels vary from brand to brand, most often use memory foam or hybrid mattresses. Some hotel chains also use innerspring mattresses and pair them with soft foam mattresses toppers to give their beds a super “cloud-like” feel.

How long does it take to adjust to a new mattress?

It should take approximately 30 to 60 days to adjust to your new mattress, as it can initially feel somewhat stiff, and your body may not be accustomed to its new support system. That said, you might feel totally comfortable on it from day one, and that’s great!

Luckily, many companies offer sleep trials to give customers time to be certain they enjoy their new mattress. It’s encouraged that you test your mattress for at least one month before making a decision to keep or return it.

Conclusion

Choosing the correct mattress firmness can be daunting, but is not an impossible task once you understand the different firmness options and who they best serve. When shopping for the best mattress, remember to always take your needs or ailments, as well as your primary sleeping position and physical size, into account. Once you’ve decided on the correct firmness for you, choosing a mattress gets easy.

If you’re looking for a good balance of softness and support, are a combination or side sleeper, or perhaps you share a bed with a partner who has different sleeping needs, a medium mattress is the best suited for you. A firm mattress is a quality option if you’re a stomach or back sleeper, want to alleviate back pain, or are a larger individual as your body will be properly aligned and little strain is put on your muscles.

Many mattress companies offer risk-free trial periods to test your mattress at home. So, for individuals who are unsure about their desired firmness, they can rest easier when having the opportunity to grow accustomed to their mattress. Both firm and medium mattresses have different qualities and by properly testing the options, you can make the best sleeping decision for yourself.

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