Mattress firmness is a huge selling point in the mattress industry. When people are shopping for their new bed, firmness is one of the criteria that people use to choose the right mattress for them.
However, even though firmness is a motivating factor behind people’s purchase decisions, it’s often poorly defined by marketers and retailers. What does mattress firmness even mean? We define it more in-depth in this article to help prospective mattress buyers sort out their choices and choose the brand that works for them.
Subjectivity and Firmness
The first thing that needs to be made clear is that firmness is not a hard and fast rule. What is firm for one person and soft for another varies based on experience. For this reason, firmness on new mattress products is often listed as a number, implying that there is a set standard of firmness across the industry. People’s preferences, however, can be completely based on experience.
It’s also important to note that regardless of the marketing, more firmness does not necessarily mean more comfort. No one wants to sleep on a hard cot.
What’s the Difference Between Firmness and Support?
In marketing, firmness is so prioritized in mattresses that people often mistake it for support. However, a mattress’s support is not the same as its firmness. What’s the difference?
Firmness refers to how the mattress “feels” to individuals that lie down on the bed. By contrast, support refers to the effect of the mattress on the user’s spine.
This means that a mattress’s firmness level may not be healthy or comfortable, despite being the selling point of the whole bed. Without contouring or the right structure, even a firm mattress can lack the support required for a healthy night’s sleep.
This is why it’s important to choose firmness based on your experience, but not to prioritize it above all other considerations. Even a mattress at the ideal firmness can falter on other elements necessary to keep the spine aligned in a healthy position.
Understanding the Firmness Scale
When you buy a mattress, it will display a firmness scale, which is a number from 1 to 10. Many people refer to this as a “sleep number” after the popular mattress brand that allows you to change it. Regardless of what it’s called, it refers to firmness – many buyers go to the mattress store armed with this number, to find the mattress they know they already like.
For those that need help understanding the firmness scale, however, we’ve broken it down below.
Firm, or 7-10
Firm mattresses can be made with adequate support and are sometimes contoured around the user’s body sufficiently to provide relief from pressure points. Mattresses with this score are often too firm for the average sleeper, but those with digestion issues may find that the firmness helps.
Medium, or 4-6
Mattresses with this firmness are the most desirable. They offer support for musculoskeletal pressure points and often come with enough contouring to keep people’s spines in a healthy position. If you don’t know the firmness level you should buy, those in this range are the safest bets.
Soft, or 1-3
Almost no retail mattresses have a firmness level of 1 since people who go shopping for a bed probably want a little firmness. Basically, even a soft mattress can fall between a 1-10 on the firmness scale, according to Sleepstandards.com.
Mattresses in this range can still have support, however, and keep the sleeper’s spine in the right position. Contouring is important, but too much can leave the user’s body sinking into the mattress, which can misalign the spine.
Mattress firmness dominates mattress commercials so much that many shoppers think it’s all that matters. However, even though most sleepers can’t make use of a mattress that has level 1 firmness, level 10 firmness is also too much for most people.
A balance of firmness and support gives mattresses qualities that relieve pressure points, align the sleeper’s spine, and give them a healthy night’s sleep as a result. Sleepers often learn their firmness preferences through experience and shop accordingly.
Even if you don’t know what firmness you prefer, knowing what firmness means and how to differentiate it from support can help you shop smartly and choose the mattress most likely to give you a great night’s sleep.