How to Find the Best Firm Mattress for You
Choosing a mattress is a significant decision. It affects the quality of your sleep, health, and life. Not only is it an important decision, but also very subjective. Everyone experiences sleep differently, and the mattress that’s best for you won’t be best for someone else.
This guide will help you explore the pros and cons of a firm mattress, who can benefit from a firm mattress, the choice of materials, our top picks, and firm mattress reviews to help you decide. Armed with this information, you’ll be ready to choose and buy your mattress.
How is Firmness Measured?
Mattress firmness is rated on a numerical scale of 1-10. However, what feels medium-firm to you may be a hard mattress to someone else. Your body mass index (BMI), physical sensitivity, your sleep position, whether you run “hot” when you sleep, and if you sleep alone or with a partner all matter.
Although firmness is about your perception of comfort, mattress manufacturers rate products on the numeric scale to help guide customers. Mattress firmness rankings run from extremely soft to extremely firm along this general scale:
|1||Extremely soft||These are plush mattresses that give the sensation of “sinking in.”|
|2-3||Soft||These are soft with the “sinking in” quality.|
|4-6||Medium||These middle-ground mattresses are plush but with less “sinking in.”|
|7-9||Firm||These are harder and offer limited sinking and less soft sensation.|
|10||Extremely firm||These are very hard with no plushness, sinking, or softness sensation.|
Our Top Picks for Firm Mattresses
|Avocado Green||Latex Hybrid||5.5 and 7||$959-$2,099|
|Brooklyn Bedding Signature||Hybrid||4, 6, and 8||$600-$1,149|
|Layla||Memory Foam Hybrid||5 and 7||$499-$999|
|Saatva||Innerspring||3, 5-6, and 8||$599-$1,399|
|Zenhaven||Latex||4-5 and 7-8||$1,299-$2,499|
*Price varies by mattress size from twin up to California King. Optional pillowtop accessories may increase price in some models.
Is a Firm Mattress Right for You?
What feels extra firm to you might not feel firm at all to someone else, because comfort is subjective. Your weight is also a factor. A heavier person will experience a mattress differently than a lighter person. The important thing is to determine if a firm mattress will give you a good night’s sleep and how firm of one you need. Your sleep style, overall health, age, and other factors should influence your decision.
If your current bed is not firm and you have pain or soreness upon waking that goes away after stretching and being active, your bed might be the problem. You might need a firmer sleep surface. This guide will walk you through firm mattress options so that you can decide if you’re ready to change your bed to improve your sleep. Here are some considerations.
Firm to medium-firm mattresses are better suited for:
- Stomach sleepers
- Back sleepers
- High BMI people
- Hot sleepers
- Back pain sufferers
- Arthritis sufferers
Stomach sleepers are a rare breed. Research by Professor Chris Idzikiwoski of The Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service in the UK surveyed 1,000 people and learned that just 7% sleep on their stomach. The study calls this the “freefaller” position. Firm mattresses are better for stomach sleepers because if you sink in too deeply, your spine’s curvature will misalign.
Back sleepers are also relatively rare and may benefit from a firm mattress to support the “S” curve of the spine while sleeping. If you can slide a hand between your lumbar region (pictured) and the mattress, you might need a different sleep surface. The University of Rochester Medical Center suggests back sleepers put a small pillow under their knees to help alignment.
Back sleepers usually find they are best suited to a mattress in the medium-firm range rather than an outright firm bed. A medium-firm mattress – depending on body type – allows for some sink in the hip/pelvic region to help maintain the natural curve of the lumbar area, while being stiff enough to support the upper back.
Heavier people, gauged by Body Mass Index (BMI), often benefit from a firmer mattress. A study by the Sleep to Live Institute found those with greater BMI (30 or higher) sleep less, have a lower quality of sleep, less energy in the daytime, and more daytime sleepiness.
Studies suggest that those with higher BMI benefit from firmer mattresses that prevent excessive “sinking in” or “hammocking” effects. A heavier person will automatically dig further into any mattress than someone of a lower BMI, so a firmer bed will help to offset that natural sink.
Hot sleepers are more commonly women than men as women experience hormonal surges at mid-life, but anyone can wake up sweating. A study from Sleep Medicine Reviews showed a link between higher body temperature at night and insomnia. Hot sleepers benefit from firmer mattresses that don’t let you sink into soft materials that insulate and increase body temperature.
Back pain sufferers benefit greatly from firmer mattresses. Studies from Harvard Medical School show that medium-firm to firm beds are best for those with low back pain while another study in Canada concluded medium-firm was preferable. The evidence is clear that soft mattresses are typically not good for those with back pain.
Children sleep better on firmer surfaces. The sleep patterns of children evolve significantly as they age and can change rapidly. Healthy Children reports that firm mattresses are safer for children. Also, growing children are less able to regulate their body temperature while they sleep and firmer mattresses are cooler and may help children sleep better and through the night.
Arthritis sufferers may benefit from a firm mattress with a soft upper comfort layer, according to an expert from The Cleveland Clinic. Keeping the spine properly aligned helps ease arthritis aches and pains while sleeping. Firm mattresses allow you to shift position more easily so that your joints won’t stiffen as you sleep. Mattresses that are too soft can increase arthritis pain.
Firm to medium-firm mattresses may not be a fit for the following:
- Side sleepers
- Low BMI people
- Older people
- Sleep apnea sufferers
Side sleepers are the most common position. The UK sleep study mentioned above found that almost 70% of people sleep on their sides. Firm mattresses are less comfortable for side sleepers. Discomfort in the pressure points of your shoulders, neck, and hips may not be cushioned enough by a firm mattress. Softer mattresses may support side sleepers better.
Thinner people may find firm mattresses uncomfortable because they don’t weigh enough to get a “sink in” effect. Those with a Body Mass Index of less than 18.5 are considered underweight. If you’re very thin, you may need a cushier sleep surface. The top layer of a mattress – called the comfort layer – won’t help if you don’t weigh enough to sink into it.
Older people might not benefit from a firm mattress. Softer mattresses may be preferable for seniors because the materials retain heat and better relieve pressure thanks to the “sinking in” of richer comfort layers. Seniors with certain medical conditions, such as arthritis, might be better with a firmer surface, but in general, older joints, bones, and muscles benefit from more cushion.
Sleep apnea sufferers are strongly recommended to sleep on their sides. SleepHealth.org reports that 20% of Americans suffer from sleep apnea. On your side is the best sleep posture for apnea relief and that means a softer mattress may be better. The latest CPAP masks are soft and flexible enough to allow beneficial side sleeping while using the life-saving gear.
Benefits of a Firm Mattress
While your choice of mattress is deeply personal, there are some confirmed benefits of choosing a firm mattress over a softer one. These benefits include:
Less sag in your sleep.
A comfortable mattress lets you sink in a little, but too much softness can turn into sagging. If you sink into the bed too deeply, your spine won’t stay aligned, and it can be tough to change position. Excess sagging can lead to a “hammock effect” that’s unhealthy for your spine and can have you waking in pain.
Better air flow.
If you live in a warm climate or are naturally a hot sleeper, a firm mattress will be better for you. Because you’re not sinking down into the structure of the mattress, you’ll have better airflow which can keep you cooler. Studies show that sleep temperature is critical to your quality of sleep and running too hot can lead to insomnia.
Optimal edge support.
Firmer mattresses have better edges which are important if you’re someone that sleeps near the side of your bed. Soft sides can send you tumbling to the floor. A firm mattress supports you when you sit on the edge of your bed to stretch, put on socks and shoes, read, relax, fold laundry, etc. Softer beds don’t offer this benefit.
Better for sex.
Mattresses aren’t only for sleeping. Firmer mattresses are shown to have better bounce and are more reactive during sexual activity. Soft mattresses that allow you to sink in too deeply can inhibit amorous activities. Edge support on a firm bed is also better for sex. Firmer mattresses are usually more durable, which is also a plus.
Depending on your sleep position, a firm mattress may offer improved spinal alignment. Keeping your ears, shoulders, and hips aligned is recommended no matter in what position you sleep. If you’re a stomach or back sleeper, you’ll likely find alignment easier to attain on a firm mattress supplemented with high-quality pillows.
While shopping for a mattress, the variety may seem overwhelming. Every manufacturer has many models, and salespeople use buzz words that might not mean much to you. The important thing to know is that there are four basic types of mattress materials. Once you know this, it simplifies the options and lets you cut through the industry hype.
The four basic types of mattresses are:
These types of mattresses may be memory foam, polyurethane foam, or a combination of both. Memory foam is also polyfoam but undergoes a chemical process to increase the viscosity (thickness) and density. All foam mattresses are synthetic products, but memory foam and polyurethane foam mattresses feel very different from each other.
There are three types of polyfoam – regular, high density, and high resiliency – in order of quality and cost. Memory foam (also called viscoelastic) is less springy than polyfoam, and better conforms to the body. Both types of foam can range from soft to firm, but memory foam sleeps warmer than polyfoam.
There are three types of latex – natural, synthetic, and a blend of both. Natural and synthetic may be used alone or together. Once considered a luxury option, latex mattresses are now more affordable thanks to greater competition. Natural latex is made from the sap of rubber trees while synthetic latex is from a chemical process. Blended latex is a combination of sap and petrochemicals.
Latex mattresses come in varying firmness levels. They offer great bounce and temperature regulation and are known to contour well to relieve pressure. Latex is denser and heavier and known for durability. For those with greater BMI, latex may be preferable because the materials are sturdier and offer enhanced support.
This traditional mattress type has been around for almost a century with coils inside. Coils can vary in quantity, quality, and design and there are four types of coils. Innerspring mattresses may be Bonnell, offset, continuous wire, or Marshall (pocket) coils. Coil count, the thickness of wire, and angle of the coil vary by design and affect comfort.
Innerspring beds offer less pressure relief and are usually firmer than foam. This design may be better for hot sleepers because it offers greater air circulation. Those with higher BMI may prefer an innerspring because of firmness and support. Innerspring is the most affordable but may be noisier than foam or latex and usually has a shorter lifespan.
These mattresses represent the best of all the options. Hybrids use pocketed coils as the support layer. On top of that is one or more layers a comfort layer of either latex, or memory foam, or both. Pocket coils are springs inside fabric pockets that are glued or sewn together. Pocket coils offer greater flexibility than coils attached to each other by wire.
Hybrid beds are designed to contour as well as foam but without the bounciness and motion issues associated with innerspring. To be a true hybrid bed, it must have both innersprings and foam. Otherwise, it’s just a marketing buzzword. Hybrids sleep cooler, offer good support for alignment, and can vary widely in firmness.
Best Firm Mattress Reviews
When choosing the best firm mattress for you, it’s a matter of personal preference, sleep style, health concerns, and your budget. Below is a review of our top five firm mattresses with details on each including pros and cons, information on construction and materials, and why this could be the best mattress for you.
Construction: This latex hybrid mattress is made of sustainable, organic materials. The top comfort layer is two inches of firm, durable Dunlop latex foam. Beneath that is a support core of eight-inch innerspring coils. Below that is another one-inch layer of Dunlop foam. The cover is tufted organic cotton over high-quality New Zealand wool. It is available in medium-firm and firm and has an optional pillowtop.
Pros: One of the best things about the Avocado Green is that the materials are all-natural and organic. With two firmness options, you can evaluate your preferences and how much support you need. The optional pillowtop allows greater customization of the comfort layer. With free shipping and a 100-night sleep trial, you can take your time to decide whether the mattress works for you. There’s also a generous 25-year warranty.
Cons: If you have a latex allergy, the Avocado Green might not be the bed for you. One downside to this hybrid mattress is the comparative cost compared to other mattresses on our top five list. It’s the second to highest priced bed on the list but is also a high-quality organic product. Plus, the company gives 1% of their revenue to charity. Expect a two to three-week wait for delivery after you order.
Why Choose Avocado Green: Mattress selection is very personal but based on reviews and customer feedback, average to heavier sleepers will like this product. If you’re a back or side sleeper, this mattress may work well for you. Finally, if you’re concerned with organic products and companies that give back, the corporate philosophy of Avocado Green is another selling point.
Brooklyn Bedding Signature
Construction: The Brooklyn Bedding Signature mattress is a hybrid with a six-inch base of innerspring pocket coils. The 1.5” thick comfort layer of quilted polyfoam sits on gel-infused polyfoam. There are three firmness options, and the gel layer is thicker in the firmer option. Under that is a transitional layer of polyfoam that’s thinner in the firmer model.
Pros: The three firmness grades mean that you have more latitude when shopping the Brooklyn Bedding Signature line. It also has excellent edge support for sitting or sleeping up close to the sides of the bed. Unlike some other hybrid mattresses, this one is responsive to motion activities such as sex. Delivery is free, and the sleep trial lasts 120 days, so you can really give it a go.
Cons: A downside to this mattress is that the company mandates that the full price return policy doesn’t start until you have the bed for 30 days and the 10-year warranty is pro-rated. The company doesn’t provide information on the density of the foam, and because some of their materials are proprietary, it’s difficult to compare them apples to apples with other mattress brands.
Why Choose Brooklyn Bedding: Because of the three firmness options, the Brooklyn Bedding Signature hybrid mattress has an option that works well for stomach, back, and side sleepers and those that change position while sleeping. Customers seem to like it based on reviews. If your budget is $1k or less, this mattress might be worth considering since it’s one of the most affordable on our top five list.
Construction: The Layla is a three-layer foam construction mattress with top and bottom layers of copper-infused memory foam and a six-inch middle layer of support foam. The top layer is three inches thick, and the base layer is one-inch thick. These are both comfort layers because the mattress can be flipped. One side has a firmness rating of 5, and the other side has a firmness rating of 7.
Pros: The flippable design is one of the biggest reasons this mattress is on our top-five list. Stomach and back sleepers usually prefer the firmer side. The lifetime warranty is extremely generous and doesn’t prorate like other companies. Plus, shipping is free to most of the US. Reviews show it doesn’t transfer motion and offers good pressure relief.
Cons: The edge support might not be as strong as you want. Because it’s a newer company, it’s hard to gauge what the potential lifespan of the Layla mattress might be. The trial period is 120-days, but the refund option won’t kick in until you’ve slept on the bed for at least two weeks. The mattress is heavy so flipping it alone might be a chore, but at least you have the option.
Why Choose Layla: For a memory foam mattress, the Layla is very price-competitive with a king bed for less than $1k. The copper-infused foam offers a cooler sleep experience as does the open cell memory foam design. If you’re in a hurry for your mattress, Layla ships within just a few days after you order so it can be in your home faster than many other brands.
Construction: The Saatva is the only innerspring on our top five firm mattress list, and it comes in three firmness levels of soft, medium-firm, and firm and two different heights. The inner construction is two levels of coils. The support core is hourglass coils, and the middle layer is pocket coils for contour. Atop these is a comfort layer of thin memory foam with a European pillowtop.
Pros: Innersprings offer cooler sleep, and three firmness options mean that side, back, and stomach sleepers can all find a fit. The moderate price is impressive considering that Saatva’s delivery team brings in the mattress and sets it up for you. The mattresses are made to order, and customer service is excellent.
Cons: It takes a bit longer to get your bed (7-18 days) because the beds are made to order. You must be home because of the custom delivery. It’s a heavy bed, so it might be hard to move on your own. There is a delivery fee of $99 unlike other mattress brands on our top five list, and if you request a refund, you won’t get back the delivery fee. If you purchase an adjustable base, it’s not returnable at all.
Why Choose Saatva: This is a luxury mattress at an affordable price, and the home delivery option has a concierge feel. Customer reviews are excellent. The innerspring design makes it more durable, and the company offers a unique Fairness Replacement Option where you can keep a defective mattress and buy a new one at a significant discount (that prorates over time) plus a delivery charge.
Construction: A 100% organic all-latex mattress, the Zenhaven is made of Talalay latex and New Zealand wool and cotton. There are two firmness layers in one mattress with a flippable design. One side is a 4-5 firmness, and the other is 7-8. The four-layer bed has a 1.5” firm comfort layer on one side and a luxury plush layer on the other. In between is a three-inch firm layer and three-inch plush layer.
Pros: The flippable design allows you flexibility and customers like the good bounce for sex. It sleeps cool because of the latex design, is 100% organic, and anti-microbial. Zenhaven delivers and sets up the mattress for you. As a division of Saatva, they offer the same Fairness Replacement Option and the longer 120-day trial period.
Cons: Like the Saatva, it takes longer to get your bed (7-15 days), and you must be home to accept delivery. The bed is heavy and isn’t easy to move on your own, and if you return the mattress, you won’t get back your $99 delivery fee. It’s the most expensive of the firm mattresses on our top five list running about $2,500 for a king, but the cost is about half that of comparable beds.
Why Choose Zenhaven: Although most customer reviews show a preference for the Luxury Plush side over the firm, the dual design leaves your options open. Customer service is excellent, and the concierge set-up feature makes getting your new bed hassle-free. Zenhaven is a luxury mattress at a better price than you’d get in a showroom and seems to work for both back and side sleepers.