When you’re getting ready to buy a new bed one of the first things you should consider is do you like a firm or a soft mattress.
What makes a soft bed and what makes a firm bed and what is the major distinctions between the two?
That’s a question that probably a lot of people have before they start this purchase process and I’m here to try to answer that for you.
Before I get into everything about soft and firm mattresses, I just want to say that this is very general stuff and it’s based on my personal experience after testing more than 100 beds and counting.
This isn’t a typical article that I do. I usually do mattress best lists, comparisons, reviews, and so much more. I also want to say that there are exceptions to the rules so keep that in mind.
But let’s get into firm versus soft.
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When I say a mattress is softer, you can probably imagine what that feels like. You can probably picture a softer sleeping surface that will cushion and cradle you while you sleep.
One of the primary benefits of a soft mattress is pressure point relief. However, if you need more support from your mattress, you’ll be better off with a firmer bed.
While sleepers who prefer a soft bed might clarify a firm bed as being stiff and uncomfortable, firm beds typically provide more lumbar support for back and stomach sleepers.
When I say soft, you probably picture a cloud or a bunny and when I say firm you might picture a brick, but in general for mattresses, it’s all a lot closer to a medium and firmness is actually laid out upon a spectrum.
Soft beds will sink in when you sit or lay on them, while firmer beds will retain their shape better.
Mattress manufacturers use different materials to achieve a soft or firm feel. For example, memory foam can have a soft marshmallow-like feel that contours to the shape of your body. In contrast, other beds use latex foam or polyfoam blends that create a firm supportive feeling.
Firm and soft mattresses each are beneficial to different sleep styles.
For example, a side sleeper puts pressure on their shoulders, elbows and hips and by sleeping on a softer mattress, like Casper, Nova or Layla, these pressure points are cradled, cushioned and the mattress contours to the curves of their body.
On the flip side, the support given from a firm mattress typically works best for back and stomach sleepers. While a soft bed drops your body down, a firm mattress provides a lot of support needed to keep your spine in proper spinal alignment. A bed like Plank would be a good example that comes to mind.
Mattresses described with a medium firmness try to strike the balance between giving you support while also having pressure relief elements.
Benefits of Firm Mattress
Let’s discuss some benefits of a firm mattress. And the first one is being the reinforcement of the back and spine.
You might have heard that firm beds are better for back and stomach sleepers and you might have even heard that from me.
In reality, firm beds are great for stomach sleepers, back sleepers and heavier individuals looking for more support and proper spinal alignment.
Maintaining spinal alignment prevents tightening of the muscles and back pain, which is especially important for people who suffer from those kind of issues.
Instead of sinking too far into a soft bed, a firm mattress compresses less because of its supportive design.
Another great option for heavy individuals might be a bed with pocketed coils or inner springs.
I usually say that pocketed coils provide a lot more long-term support and durability for heavier body types.
Usually firm beds sleep cooler than soft mattresses.
With a firm mattress you sit more on top of the bed rather than sinking into those comfort layers. As a result, less your body comes in contact with the mattress, keeping you cooler at night.
Some potential downsides of a firm mattress might be the fact that if you like to switch sleeping positions throughout the night, the bed is not going to really change too much. If you’re start on your side, it’s going to be firm and if you go to your back, it’s also going to be firm.
So that’s something to keep in mind with firm beds.
Benefits of Soft Mattress
Let’s get into some of the pros for sleeping on a soft bed and that’s going to have to do of course with the amount of pressure relief you’re going to get from a bed like this.
For sleepers who enjoy a mattress that cradles their body, soft mattresses provide a deep cushioning hug or kind of a contouring feeling, such as what you’d get from a memory foam mattress.
Soft beds can be beneficial for pain relief. The bed acts to cradle and cushion you throughout the night, regardless of your sleeping position and this firmness level is really pressure relieving, which can help those with joint pain.
Finally this type of bed is probably better for petite sleepers, especially for individuals with body weights on the lower side of the scale.
A soft mattress is worth considering as a firmer mattress might provide less give than a softer mattress will.
Now it’s time to get in some drawbacks of a softer bed and one can be that in some cases a softer bed can be less supportive for heavier individuals.
If a bed is a softer mattress, there’s a chance that you’re going to get less support, because you’ll just sink into it more.
This might not be ideal for someone who weighs over the 230 pound range, because they most likely need a mattress that proves to be more durable and supportive under more pressure.
This can all change if you decide to go with a bed that has pocketed coils or a hybrid design. Make sure to research that while you’re making your mattress decision.
Another drawback of softer beds is that they’re probably aiming for one specific sleeper type, not all sleepers.
Verdict: Firm vs Soft Mattress
So which groups should buy a firm mattress?
I would say that back and stomach sleepers should go for one, because a firm mattress provides a lot of spinal support.
Another group is hot sleepers, since firm mattresses won’t swaddle you as much. It’ll keep you a little bit cooler.
Next we have heavy people. Anyone who puts a lot of pressure onto a bed would like that support that the firm mattress will provide.
Finally we have people with certain back problems, because a firm bed will keep your spine more aligned and protect against pain and tightened muscles.
As for people that would want to go with a soft mattress, I would recommend any side sleepers, as these sleepers put a lot of pressure on their shoulders, elbows and hips.
Then I would say size matters and suggest petite and average size sleepers go with a soft bed, as these people won’t put a ton of pressure on a soft mattress.
Next we have couples because softer beds are a bit better at motion isolation.
And finally we’ve got people with arthritis or joint pain. Since soft mattresses are excellent for pressure relief.
If you want to split the difference, you might consider going with a medium firmness bed and this would be a great option for combination sleepers as some people don’t conform to a strict sleeping position.
Small or average sized body types might want a medium firmness as well. If you’re under the 200 pound range, we especially think you can get away with the mattress like this, at a medium firmness regardless of your sleep style.
Finally couples with a different sleeping style, because a medium firmness is just very accommodating for all sleepers throughout the night.
So which bed should you go with? A soft bed, a firm bed or somewhere in the middle?
Choosing a mattress and choosing a firmness can be difficult but hopefully this article helped you out a little bit.
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Alex P. Davis has a BA in Interior Design from The New York School of Interior Design and 10 years of experience expertly designing sophisticated interiors.