Guide: Firm vs Soft Mattress - Pros & Cons

Last Updated on September 12, 2020

by Marc Werner, Founder - Ghostbed

When shopping for a new mattress the question of what firmness is desired will inevitably come up. With so many choices of beds the question on whether you prefer a soft or firm mattress will also be front and center. Before making a purchase though it is important to understand the difference between soft and firm – along with the pros and cons that you should factor in during the decision-making process. What are the benefits of a firm mattress? What are the benefits of a soft mattress? More importantly, if you’re spending 1/3rd of your life in bed, what are some of the issues of either choice?

I. Difference Between Firm & Soft Mattresses

II. Pros & Cons of a Firm Mattress

III. Pros & Cons of a Soft Mattress

IV. How to Choose Personal Mattress Firmness

1. Back or Shoulder Pain Sufferer?

2. Factoring Weight

3. Sleep Position

4. Personal Preference

IV. Summary

No matter the firmness you may desire, the main goal of looking for the right mattress is to find the right one that properly supports your body. Whether the mattress is made of several layers of memory foam, or hybrid comprised of memory foam + traditional springs, the bed should contour and cradle the body so that the spine is kept in proper alignment in the desired sleep position.

Difference between Firm & Soft Mattresses

Just as you would think, the initial difference between a firm and soft mattress will be how it feels when laying down on the bed. Firmness levels range from very soft (a 1 on the scale) to very firm (the highest level being a 10). The firmer mattress will be harder and feel less flexible as the body lays on top of it, whereas a softer mattress will have a plusher feel as it cushions around the body.

While researching soft and firm beds keep in mind that there are many choices of mattress materials. Modern memory foam mattresses no longer universally considered “too soft” giving you that immediate sinking feeling. In this new age of memory foam mattresses beds are infused with gel and latex, along with other comfort properties, which allow for cooling as well as a more acceptable firmer feel. Hybrid mattresses take it a step further for those who enjoy a firmer, more traditional spring feeling as well as the softer contouring of foam.

While questioning the benefits of a firm or soft mattress you should note that 80% of the population prefers a medium firmness. The universal firmness level of the 5 to 7 range generally pleases both those who enjoy a firmer mattress, as well as those who want the deeper compression of a softer feel. With this in mind, if you share a bed with your partner a medium-firm mattress is more likely to benefit you both.

Pros & Cons of a Firm Mattress

Back pain sufferers may prefer the feel of a firmer mattress initially, but for certain pain a mattress that is too-firm may further affect pressure points and cause more discomfort.

Pros

The age-old standard for back pain sufferers has been to sleep on a harder surface in order to help ease the pain. This is because a mattress that is firmer will keep the heavier buttocks region from sinking in below the upper back. It is important for the body’s weight to be evenly distributed in order to be relieved of the pressure causing the pain.

It should be noted that for people who do not have severe back pain a firmer mattress allows for pressure to be taken off the muscles and placed on the body’s bones instead. With the weight off the muscles, circulation through the veins and arteries is improved, and extra strain on the back is alleviated – which is a lesser-known benefit a firm mattress can provide.

Cons

Those who suffer from severe back or other body pain, either caused by conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, will find that the hard surface of a firm mattress can make the pain worse. As one lays down on the firm mattress, pressure points will put stress on the bones and joints creating even more discomfort.

GhostBed’s Top Pick for a Firm Mattress is the GhostBed Classic.

Pros & Cons of a Soft Mattress

Those who have a smaller frame and lower body weight, as well as side sleepers, may prefer a softer mattress. Yet a softer bed may prove to be trouble in paradise for couples if one partner much heftier than the other.

Pros

For those who have pain in the back and other areas that affects the bones and joints, a softer mattress may provide soothing comfort as it cradles the body and supports pressure points. Side sleepers will enjoy the benefits of a soft mattress for the same body-contouring qualities, as it molds around the shoulders and hips, holding them in alignment with the spine to provide a restful sleep.

For those people that have a smaller frame and lighter body weight the softer mattress can actually provide more support than a firmer bed. The firm mattress can prove to be too hard for lighter weight individuals and not provide enough contouring to cradle proper spinal alignment.

Cons

People who are heavier might find that they sink too far into a very soft mattress causing discomfort and poor spinal alignment which can lead to back pain. This is true for back and stomach sleepers as well.

If you share a bed with a heavier partner, they might find a soft mattress may lead to more discomfort as some parts of the body sink more than other parts. This can cause your partner to wake up in pain as they spent their sleep unaligned.

Durability and lifespan may also be more of an issue with a softer mattress. Some mattresses actually get softer with age, so it stands to reason that a mattress that starts off soft will likely have a shorter lifespan than a firmer bed. Most brands offer a 5-10 year warranty, while some online companies vary between 10-15 years, with GhostBed offering 20-25 years. GhostBed’s Top Pick for a Firm Mattress is the GhostBed Classic.

GhostBed’s Top Pick for a Soft Mattress is the GhostBed Luxe.

How to Choose a Personal Mattress Firmness

Choosing a mattress firmness is a personal journey in which you should consider any pain you might be suffering from, your sleep position, weight, and ultimately your personal preference.

Back or Shoulder Pain Sufferer?

If you suffer from back and shoulder pain choosing the right firmness is even more important. Surprisingly neither very firm or too soft of a bed will offer much pain relief.

The softer mattress will have you sinking in disproportionately, causing the body to be thrown out of alignment. On the other hand a firmer mattress will put pressure on the joints as they attempt to cushion into mattress, adding to the discomfort.

For those pain sufferers, the best mattress firmness is a medium firm bed. This universal firmness provides pressure relief allowing the body to be alleviated of pain while also correctly contouring, allowing for proper alignment.

Factoring Weight

Weight certainly needs to be factored in when choosing a mattress firmness. A heavier person may find much discomfort on a mattress that is too soft as they can find themselves sinking in unevenly, throwing the spine and body out of alignment, leading to poor sleep and ultimately pain.

A lighter weight person will find issues sleeping on a bed that is too firm as a harder mattress may not contour enough to provide the smaller body with enough support. This can also throw the body out of alignment and lead to restless nights and painful mornings.

Sleep Position

Considering sleep position is very important when choosing a mattress firmness. The firmer mattress will work best for back and stomach sleepers as it is better able to keep the spine aligned in a position that is more natural. A softer mattress will see the belly sinking in deeper than the body for the stomach sleeper, and the lower back sink in more if you’re a back sleeper. This means uneven support for the body which throws the spine out of alignment.

Side sleepers will find more comfort with the softer mattress as it cradles points, such as the shoulders and hips, to help keep the body straight and aligned. Pressure points are relieved along with pain!

For those of you who toss and turn, or for bed partners of different sleep positions, you may want to opt for a medium firmness mattress. This type of bed will provide pressure point relief while at the same time contouring to the body in all positions.

Personal Preference

Regardless of pain or size, different people have different personal preferences when it comes to mattress choices. While some enjoy the luxury of sinking into bed at night, others would rather have the feeling of floating atop a bed instead.

One may want to factor in the type of bed along with the mattress firmness. A hybrid mattress can provide a firmness with its coils while also adding a layer of softness on top that provides the best of both worlds.

It is important to have the ability to test out the mattress that is being purchased. The best choice will have a trial period, such as GhostBed’s 101-night sleep trial, in which you can try their mattress to see if it is the right fit – with the option of a free return if doesn’t feel right for you.

Summary

With the correct mattress one will find relief of pressure points, allowing the body to rest comfortably and wake up with no pain. There are benefits to both firm and soft mattresses, but keep in mind you must factor in any pain in the body that needs relief, as well as your sleeping position, and body weight when deciding on the right firmness.

Just remember: the best mattress will assure that the head, shoulders, back, down to the feet will be kept aligned as it contours to the physique. This allows the body to heal and rejuvenate while it rests to not only sleep better, but also wake up relaxed and refreshed. Taking advantage of a trial period allows you to purchase a mattress with confidence, knowing that a free return is available if not totally pleased with your choice.


Marc Werner - Founder, GhostBed

Marc Werner

Founder - GhostBed

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After undergoing three neck surgeries, Marc knew what it was like to live and sleep in constant pain. In 2001, after searching fruitlessly for a comfortable pillow and mattress that supported his neck and back ... Learn More

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