Firm vs. Medium Mattress: What's Best for You?

September 16, 2021 | Casper Editorial Team
medium vs. firm mattress medium vs. firm mattress medium vs. firm mattress

You may wonder which mattress option is best for you: firm vs. medium. After all, you spend about a third of every day in bed, so it’s important to find a mattress that feels comfortable and provides the right level of support.

Getting your mattress firmness right could be just the thing to help you get the most restful sleep. We’ll take a look at how mattress firmness is measured and the pros and cons of each firmness level.

Mattress Firmness Scale

mattress firmness scale

Before we talk about mattress firmness, let’s clarify something: Although they’re closely related, firmness and support aren’t the same thing. 

  • Support refers to how well a mattress keeps your body and spine aligned and relieves pressure points. 
  • Firmness relates to comfort and how your mattress feels when you’re lying on it. 

So, a firm mattress can be comfortable and a soft mattress can be supportive. It all depends on you, your sleeping style, and your body type. Sleep Foundation classifies individuals into the following body types:

  • Lighter-weight sleepers weigh less than 130 pounds
  • Average-weight sleepers weigh 130-230 pounds
  • Heavier-weight sleepers weigh over 230 pounds

Notice that we’re not talking about weight in proportion to height, but weight in general for determining whether you’re a lighter-, average-, or heavier-weight sleeper. 

Mattress firmness is often measured on a scale of 1-10 — one is the softest and 10 is the firmest. Although the scale can be a useful guideline, it’s not a universal measure of comfort or support. Firmness varies by brand and mattress type (e.g., innerspring, foam, hybrid, etc.).

In general, here’s how mattresses fall on the firmness rating scale:

mattress firmness chart

Almost no mattresses are rated below a three or above an eight on the firmness scale. As Goldilocks said, those are either too soft or just too hard! You’ll want to find a mattress that’s just right.

And there’s another variable: Mattress comfort is subjective. What feels perfectly comfy and supportive to you might feel like sleeping on a rock to someone else. Fortunately, a little guidance can point you toward the right comfort level for you, regardless of the numbers on the firmness rating scale.

How To Measure: Medium vs. Firm

The softest mattresses are often referred to as “plush.” When you see “plush” in a mattress’s name or description, it means the mattress is on the soft side. 

Medium, medium-firm, and firm mattresses are usually described as just that. You may also see terms like “supportive” or “most supportive” used to refer to mattresses that lean toward the firm and even-more-firm side of the spectrum. Casper blends comfort and support to create mattresses that are well-suited for the widest range of sleepers.

What does it all mean? One way to look at mattress firmness is by considering how much you settle into the mattress when you lie on it. With a softer mattress, you’ll feel as though your body sinks into it. A firmer mattress gives you the feeling of lying on top of it. 

What Does a Medium Mattress Feel Like?

A medium mattress responds to pressure with body-cradling give, but it also offers good support. It may also have more responsiveness than a soft mattress, springing back slightly with pressure or movement.

What Does a Firm Mattress Feel Like?

For most sleepers, a firm mattress feels as though you’re lying on top of it rather than settling into it. Heavier-weight sleepers will find they are better able to move on a firm mattress without feeling “stuck.”

Pros of Firm Mattresses

The best mattress for you depends on a few variables. Here are some of the advantages of a firm mattress:

Well-Suited for Stomach Sleepers

If your idea of comfort is sleeping on your stomach, a firm mattress may be the best choice. A firm mattress is less likely to give, which can prevent your torso from sinking and help keep your spine aligned.

Provides More Support for Heavier-Weight Sleepers

Heavier-weight sleepers may want to opt for a firmer mattress. Some find that softer mattresses sink, which can cause uncomfortable spinal misalignment. A too-soft mattress can also restrict circulation for bigger-bodied sleepers.

Cooler for Those Who Sleep Hot

If you tend to feel hot at night, a firmer mattress may provide more cooling relief over one that tends to hug your body. If you’re looking for a mattress that helps keep you cool and comfortable all night long, check out our cooling collection, complete with mattresses with temperature regulating features, a key dimension of Casper 4D Sleep Technology.

firm mattress benefits and drawbacks

Cons of Firm Mattresses

Here are a few reasons that you and a firm mattress may not be the perfect match:

Creates Pressure Points for Side Sleepers

If you’re among the majority of people who sleep mostly on your side, a firm mattress could be uncomfortable. Its lack of give can create pressure points, especially around your hips and shoulders. The good news is that Casper mattress experts have succeeded in creating zoned mattresses that ergonomically align spines and support various sleeping positions. 

Uncomfortable for Lighter-Weight Sleepers

Lighter- and average-weight sleepers may find a firm mattress too hard. The smaller and lighter you are, the less a firm mattress will contour to your body in a way that feels both supportive and comfortable.

Pros of Medium Mattresses

For many, a medium mattress offers the perfect balance between too soft and too hard. 

A Good Choice for Back and Side Sleepers

Average-weight people who prefer to sleep on their back or side may find a medium mattress provides just the right amount of give for their hips and shoulders while helping to keep their spine supported and neutrally aligned.

A Compromise for Couples

It’s a no-brainer! When one person wants a firm mattress and the other prefers something softer, a medium to medium-firm mattress can satisfy both preferences.

medium mattress benefits and drawbacks

Cons of Medium Mattresses

For many, a medium mattress hits the sweet spot between comfort and support, but there are some disadvantages for the lightest- and heaviest-weight sleepers.

Too Firm for Lightest-Weight Sleepers

Lighter-weight sleepers may need a softer mattress with more give to cushion their pressure points. Medium mattresses are best suited for average-weight sleepers.

Too Soft for Heavier-Weight Sleepers

A medium mattress may not be quite supportive enough for some heavier-weight sleepers. In general, the heavier you are, the firmer your mattress should be. Consider opting for medium-firm or firm instead.

Firm vs. Medium Mattress: Which Should You Choose?

The best mattress firmness for you depends on your body type and your sleep preferences. The good news is that there’s a perfect firmness for everyone! So let’s recap.

  • Firm Mattress: If you’re a heavier-weight sleeper, choose a firmer mattress for the best overall support. Also consider a firmer mattress if you’re primarily a stomach sleeper.
  • Medium Mattress: If you’re an average-weight sleeper and sleep on your side or back, a medium mattress is an excellent choice. It’s also a great compromise for couples with different firmness needs.

FAQ

Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between firm and medium mattresses, let’s get some of your other mattress questions answered.

Should I Get a Foam or Spring Mattress?

There are many different types of mattresses, and the perfect one for you depends on some of the same factors that affect how firm your mattress should be: your body size, sleep style, and personal preferences. 

Here are a few of the differences between mattress types:

  • Innerspring Mattresses: Innersprings have a plush comfort layer topper over coil springs and a firm foam base. They can be a good choice for those who need extra back support. 
  • Foam Mattresses: Foam mattresses have a foam top comfort layer over layers of memory foam and support foam and a low-density foam base. They’re likely good contenders for side sleepers and people with joint pain, and absorb motion well. They’re also budget-friendly.
  • Hybrid Mattresses: Hybrids combine a foam comfort layer, memory foam, and support foam over coil springs and a high-density foam base. They provide a great combination of softness and support, and they’re a solid choice for couples with different firmness needs.

How Can You Tell If a Mattress Is Too Soft?

There are a few telltale signs that your mattress is too soft to support you:

  • Your mattress sags under your weight.
  • You feel as though you’re rolling toward the middle or falling off the side of your mattress.
  • You may wake up with stiffness or soreness in your lower back.
  • You sleep on your stomach and wake with a stiff neck.
  • You find it difficult to roll over or get in and out of bed without feeling “stuck.”

How Can You Make a Mattress Softer?

If your mattress feels too firm, there are a few steps you can take to make it softer without sacrificing support. 

First, if your mattress is brand new, just wait awhile. There’s a break-in period for new mattresses, and you may even feel some discomfort on a new mattress at first. It can take at least 30 days for your body to adjust.

If you’d like to soften the surface of your mattress, consider adding a mattress topper. Toppers come in a variety of different materials from wool to down to memory foam. They add a layer of comfort that can help relieve pressure points and promote spinal alignment.

If your new memory foam mattress is too firm, consider raising the thermostat in your room. Foam responds to heat and body temperature, so a slightly warmer room can help a new mattress soften.

When Should I Replace My Mattress?

Mattresses typically last 7-10 years, but how often you should replace your mattress depends on the type of mattress you have.

  • Latex Mattresses: Latex mattresses hold their shape and stay comfortable the longest, lasting up to 15 years. 
  • Memory Foam Mattresses: Memory foam mattresses also have good longevity, lasting up to 10 years.
  • Innerspring Mattresses: Innersprings have a coil system with a life span of up to seven years.
  • Hybrid Mattresses: Hybrids that combine innerspring coils with foam have a generous life span of up to 10 years.

Keep in mind that rotating your mattress regularly has a significant impact on how long it lasts. Forgetting to rotate your mattress will cause uneven wear that can create lumps and sagging or “hammocking.” 

rotating your mattress

How Much Should a Quality Mattress Cost?

When it comes to shopping for a new mattress, buying a high-quality mattress for more restful sleep is an investment in your health and happiness.

These are a few considerations that affect the price of a mattress:

  • As you would expect, the larger the mattress, the more it costs. A king mattress will cost significantly more than a twin.
  • Materials make a difference. Foam is the least expensive to produce while latex is the most costly.
  • The advanced features used in higher-end mattresses are reflected in their price. Expect to pay more for mattresses with cooling technology or edge reinforcement.
  • Online shopping for a mattress in a box will cost you less than shopping from a physical retail store where overhead is higher and mattress prices are marked up to compensate.

A budget foam mattress may cost $450 or less. Higher-end foam mattress options start at $600 and up. Expect to pay $1,200 or less for a budget latex mattress (or latex hybrid) and at least $2,500 for a luxury option.

Is a Firm Mattress Better?

There’s a longstanding myth that a firm mattress is better for your back, but some research has found that medium to medium-firm mattresses provide more relief for people with chronic, nonspecific lower back pain.

There’s no single ideal option when it comes to mattress firmness. The best mattress for you depends on factors like your sleep position, body size, health needs, and personal preferences. 

How To Shop for the Most Comfortable Mattress for You

If you’ve decided that a medium or firm mattress is right for you, our mattress thickness guide will help you take the next step toward finding that just-right fit for a good night’s sleep tonight and every night.

When you’re ready to shop for a new mattress, look for one designed to contour to you instead of forcing your spine and joints into unnatural positions so you can sleep sweetly and wake rejuvenated. Casper’s premium selection offers the perfect blend of comfort and support to ease you off to dreamland.