If you are considering a new mattress, you may be wondering which firmness is best for you. This will actually depend on a number of different factors. Here you will find the information you need to help you choose the right mattress firmness.
An individualized decision
The ultimate goals of finding the correct level of mattress firmness are a) comfort and b) proper alignment of the spine. As long as both of these goals are met, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for the level of mattress firmness.
Assessing the comfort of a mattress is straightforward, and simply depends on how you feel when you lie down on it. When looking at mattresses in a showroom, it's important to spend enough time trying them out. Lie down for at least a good 10 to 15 minutes each time.
In addition to the mattresses you are already interested in, try out some that might be softer or firmer than you may initially be drawn to. This is for the sake of making informed comparisons. You may also be surprised to find out that your natural comfort level demands a softer or firmer mattress than you had anticipated. This happens a lot, since there is no industry-wide standard for what constitutes a 'firm' mattress versus a 'medium-firm', for example. Also, over the years since your last mattress, your body's needs may have changed. This is perfectly normal, and the goal as always is to ensure you receive the best possible comfort.
Proper body alignment is more difficult to assess, but is still of paramount importance when selecting the level of firmness. A good mattress with the correct level of firmness should support the natural alignment of the spine, with the shoulders, hips, heels and head supported.
In contrast, a mattress which is too firm will create painful pressure points and it will feel like you are sleeping 'on top of' the surface instead of being cushioned by it. On the other hand, a too-soft mattress will not sufficiently support you, so your body will sag into the mattress. Both of these scenarios result in misalignment of the body and spine, and will cause undesirable aches and pains upon rising in the morning.
The correct level of firmness depends not just on the mattress but on your body too. In general, a smaller person would need a softer mattress whereas a larger heavier person would need a firmer mattress to give the same correct level of support.
How can you tell in a showroom whether your spine is in alignment? Bring a friend along when shopping. When you lie down on a mattress, ask your friend to observe whether your spine is lined up normally. It's best to do this in a side-lying position. On a mattress with the correct level of firmness, your spine will be naturally straight - but the surface of the mattress will curve.
General advice when buying a mattress
- Do not feel obligated to go with a specific brand. Since it's typically many years between mattress purchases for you, the manufacturing may have changed dramatically within a brand over that period of time. Just because your old mattress was made by a specific manufacturer does not mean that the same brand will necessarily be best for you this time around.
- If you really cannot decide between two levels of firmness, one solution may be to pick the firmer mattress. The reason behind this is that if it is too firm, you can always make it softer by adding a topper layer. By contrast, there is no way to make a softer mattress firmer.
- You should always take advantage of an in-home trial, if offered by your mattress store, as this will avoid the dilemmas in the previous point. Most reputable mattress shops have a policy like this. Details differ between different shops, but the general idea is that you can try out the mattress in your own home for a set period of time (usually 30 days). If you are not satisfied with the comfort level then the bedding shop will switch it out for a softer or firmer one.
Consider a mattress with zoned back support
For the ultimate in spinal alignment and comfort, consider a mattress which offers zoned back support. This means that within the mattress there are different zones of softness and firmness corresponding to different areas of the body. For example, the hip area will be firmer than the shoulder area, to allow the shoulders to sink into the mattress yet give you good support in the hips and lower back. The lower leg area will be softer, since you do not have much weight or pressure points in those areas.
These zoned mattresses are less common and are harder to find when shopping, but are very much worth looking for. The more zones of back support, the better your spine will be aligned. European Bedding sells a 7-zone back support latex mattress.
Identifying the right level of mattress firmness is a very individualized decision. A mattress which is just right for you may quite easily be too soft or too firm for someone else. So finding the right level of firmness for you is something which can only be done by testing out the mattress. Most reputable mattress shops have a showroom, so make sure you visit to try out mattresses before buying.
The correct level of firmness is that which promotes proper spinal alignment in your body, while also feeling very pleasant and comfortable. If you are able to find and try out a mattress with zoned back support, this may be the ideal solution.