One of the enduring truths when it comes to mattresses is that there is no such thing as one best mattress for everyone. Each person has unique preferences when it comes to the perfect mattress feel for them. While some people desire a mattress so plush that it feels like they are sleeping on a cloud, others find it much more comfortable to have a firm or very firm sleeping surface.
A medium-firm mattress has the broadest appeal in that it is acceptable to the largest percentage of the general population. But there are many sleepers who find even a medium level of firmness to be too soft. For these sleepers, an extra firm mattress is the key to settling soundly into a good night’s sleep.
In this guide, we’ll discuss some of the benefits and downsides of a firm mattress, describe the different types of mattresses on the market, and address some of the key considerations for shoppers looking for a firm mattress. You can keep reading to find this information, or you can click here to jump straight to our recommendations for the best firm mattresses.
Pros and Cons of a Firm Mattress
In this section, we outline some of the potential benefits and risks of sleeping on a firm mattress. Keep in mind, though, that these benefits and risks can vary based on exactly how firm the mattress is and on factors unique to the individual, such as their sleeping position.
Benefits of a Firm Mattress
- Prevents sagging: a mattress with too much sink can cause issues both for comfort and support. By sinking excessively in response to the body’s weight, a very soft mattress can cause the spine’s alignment to become warped. This can disrupt your sleeping and can lead to problems like lower back pain. A firm mattress avoids this risk by dramatically limiting the amount of sinking that happens when a person lies down.
- Good edge support: most firm mattresses are built with this firmness throughout the sleeping surface. This boosts the edge support for the mattress, which is especially important for people who may sit or sleep on or near the edge of their mattress.
- Good for sex: by providing a solid and stable surface to move on top of, a firm mattress usually is better for facilitating sexual activity. The flip side of this, though, is that an extremely firm mattress may feel less inviting and may create more impact from moving on the bed.
- Less likely to sleep hot: one of the main causes of sleeping hot is the effect of sinking deeply into a mattress. By reducing this plushness, a very firm mattress usually does not have the same issues of sleeping hot.
- Toppers can make it softer: if a mattress is very firm, often, it can be made somewhat softer through the addition of a mattress topper. But a very soft mattress, especially if it is soft through the transition layers and support core, usually cannot be effectively modified to become more firm. This enhanced flexibility may be desirable for people who aren’t sure about their exact firmness preference.
- Usually better for heavier sleepers: issues associated with too much sinking into a mattress are quite commonly amplified for heavier sleepers (generally defined as people over 230 pounds). For these customers, a very firm mattress may provide a more reliable, supportive, and durable sleeping surface.
Downsides of a Firm Mattress
- Not enough support: it is important to remember that firmness does not equate perfectly with support. Support refers to how well a person’s spinal alignment is maintained by the mattress. If a mattress has no give and no ability to conform to a person’s weight and body, it can be the equivalent of sleeping on concrete. This can mean that certain parts of the body, specifically major pressure points (such as in the shoulders or hips), may not get adequate support, leading to spinal misalignment and potential back pain.
- Just not comfortable: most people would tell you that sleeping on hard ground just isn’t comfortable, and many extra firm mattresses can feel roughly equivalent to being on the ground with little or no padding.
- Softens with use: almost every mattress starts to wear down with years of everyday use. The most noticeable element of this wear-and-tear is a loss of firmness and height in the mattress. This means that people with an extra firm mattress may be at a heightened risk of feeling the effects of mattress that isn’t durable or built to last.
Many terms are used to refer to mattress firmness. In some cases, these terms may be applied differently depending on the mattress manufacturer or retailer. To try to help compare apples to apples, it is common to see firmness described instead using a numerical 1-10 scale. In this scale, a 1 represents the softest mattress while a 10 represents the hardest. Extremes like 1 or 10 are unusual and normally should be avoided. Nearly all mattresses will fit within this scale without reaching a 1 or a 10. The ratings in this scale are described in more detail below:
1 (very soft): The softest available with a plush sleeping surface most people will sink into deeply.
2-3 (soft): Good sinkage, contouring, and softness.
4-6 (medium / medium-firm): Right in the middle of soft and hard, usually with a good balance of firmness, support, and conformability.
7-9 (firm): Firm without compromising all comfort or conformability.
10 (very firm): Extremely hard with little padding or conformability.
Types of Mattresses
You can read a lot more detail about the different types of mattress options that are on the market in our Buyer’s Guide, but we’ll provide a quick refresher here. You can classify almost all mattresses into the following categories:
- Foam: these mattresses are built with several layers of foam, and the exact foam composition and specifications can vary. One of the most common types of foam mattress construction involves a base of support foam with one or more comfort layers on top. The comfort layers are most often composed of memory foam or another type of foam with a similar feel. Specifically, this type of comfort layer responds to the amount of pressure applied in each specific place, which helps to provide appropriate support to each part of the body.
- Innerspring: these mattresses use coils inside the mattress to provide spring and support. This is the most traditional type of mattress, and the innerspring coils often have a slightly softer top layer, such as a pillowtop, that provides additional plushness or comfort. There are numerous types of innerspring construction that can affect the support and performance of an innerspring mattress.
- Hybrid: Hybrid mattresses include elements of memory foam, innerspring coils, and/or latex. Specifically, a hybrid mattress has a layer of memory foam, latex, or a similar type of foam on top of a support core of innerspring coils. The goal of a hybrid is usually to try to capture both the benefits of an innerspring and a foam mattress. That said, the benefits and downsides of a hybrid mattress depend in large part on the layering and materials involved in its construction.
- Latex: these mattresses are made from either natural or synthetic rubber. Latex tends to be a heavier and more expensive material, so it is not uncommon to see all-latex mattresses sell for thousands of dollars. Latex offers a high level of responsiveness, but it also tends to be bouncier and more resilient than many foams on the market.
Considerations When Looking for a Firm Mattress
- Firmness: as described previously, people looking for a very firm mattress should focus on options that fall between a 7-9 on the typical firmness scale.
- Support: as we mentioned before, keep in mind that firmness is not the same thing as support. Support refers to how well a mattress keeps your spine aligned. While firmness definitely affects support, other factors, including the mattress material, can influence support as well.
- Mattress type: virtually every type of mattress described in the previous section can be built in a way that has a very firm feel. People searching for an extra firm mattress should consider some of the different characteristics of those mattress types to try to narrow down which is most likely to be the best for them.
- Resilience: resilience refers to how quickly a mattress regains its original shape after pressure is removed from it. A very firm mattress with more resilience is likely to feel even firmer than a mattress with less resilience.
- Durability: because a mattress that isn’t durable will likely start to feel less firm with time and use, people looking for an extra firm mattress may want to place even more value on durability and finding a mattress built with excellent materials.
Features to look for
- High-quality materials: nothing determines the performance of a mattress more than the quality of the actual components that are used to make it. You’ll come across a lot of fancy marketing terms for different features, but sometimes this is just window dressing to cover over a mattress built with shoddy internal parts. When looking at the materials, here are some questions to think through:
- Does the company provide detailed specifications? For example, do they list the actual thickness of each layer of the mattress? If it’s a foam layer, do they publicly share the density and/or ILD of the foam? If it’s an innerspring layer, do they tell you about the type of innerspring construction? The more vague the details, the more skeptical you should be that perhaps the company cut corners in choosing their materials.
- Is there a weak spot? Some mattresses may use great materials in the comfort layer but use a low-quality foam for support. Remember that one weak layer can dramatically reduce the overall performance of the mattress.
- How thick is the comfort layer? An extremely thin comfort layer may degrade the intended and desired feel and performance of a mattress. It may also detract from its long-term durability as more pressure will be put on the supporting layers. In general, look for a comfort layer that is at least 3” thick.
- Shopping for two?: many people who want a very firm mattress share a bed with someone else who may have a different comfort preference. It is extremely important to talk these issues through before starting to home in on potential mattress choices. Check out our guide to the Best Mattresses for Couples for more in-depth tips on finding the best mattress for two.
- Price and value: you can find mattresses for bargain basement prices and for thousands and thousands of dollars. The cost of a mattress is often not reflective of its overall quality. That’s why we suggest inspecting the design of the mattress and doing your best to comparison shop. For more about getting the best deal, you can review our Guide to Mattress Sales and Discounts.
- Free shipping: it’s important to consider the total cost of buying a mattress and not just the price of the mattress itself. Most online mattress companies offer free shipping. If you’re enticed by a mattress that has a shipping charge, just make sure to factor that into your total assessment of the value of the mattress.
- Free and no-hassle returns: many people get concerned about buying a mattress online because they don’t have an opportunity to scope the mattress out in a store. Thankfully, most direct-to-consumer mattress companies offer an extended sleep trial that allows you to try the mattress out in your own home for several months. If you realize during the sleep trial that the mattress isn’t right for you, you can return it at no charge and with no hassle from the company. We suggest choosing a mattress that has this type of sleep trial and return policy to help protect your investment in case you find that the mattress just isn’t the right fit.
- Solid verified reviews: as we’ve stated, there’s a lot of marketing that takes place in the mattress industry, and one of the best ways to cut through the noise is to only rely on trusted reviews. We’ve tried to do a lot of this legwork for you, and you can read more about any specific mattress in our brand reviews.
- Pillow selection: Finding a pillow that is comfortable, supportive, and fits with your preferred sleeping position should be considered part-and-parcel of the mattress buying process. A very firm mattress combined with a very soft or tall pillow may exacerbate the risk of spinal misalignment.
- Sheet and blanket selection: for customers looking to achieve a certain feel for their bed, it is important to select bedding that aligns with that goal. Soft and inviting sheets and blankets may help to take some of the hard feeling off of a very firm mattress, which may or may not be any individual’s preference.
The Novosbed with the Firm firmness option is our pick for the best all-foam firm mattress.
Why? The Firm Novosbed falls a 7-8 on the typical firmness scale. It has two layers of memory foam in the comfort layer totaling 4″ of memory foam. One layer has a density of 4 PCF and the other a density of 5 PCF. The result is a mattress with more durability and support than many competitors. Finally, the Novosbed is made by a company that has a strong track record and reputation for customer service.
Why not? The Novosbed is somewhat more expensive than other all-foam mattresses, and their sleep trial is more complicated than that of most other online, direct-to-consumer mattresses.
The Bottom Line: For people looking for an affordable all-foam mattress that is firm but still built with quality materials that can offer a high level of support and comfort, the Novosbed is an excellent option to consider.
The Saatva mattress in its Firm model is our choice for the best innerspring option for people wanting a very firm mattress.
Why? The Saatva is built with excellent components, including multi-layered coils, which gives an extra boost to the support and resilience of the mattress. The Firm model falls at around an 8 on the typical firmness scale. The Saatva has received solid reviews from customers, and the company has a reputation for a high level of customer service.
Why not? Unlike many competitors, the Saatva comes with a charge for shipping that is not refundable if you decide to return the mattress.
The Bottom Line: while you can find very firm innerspring mattresses out there for a much lower cost, they simply won’t deliver the kind of mattress performance offered by the Saatva, especially at its price point.
Our top pick for the best soft hybrid mattress is the Tuck mattress.
Why? The Tuck is made with high-quality materials including latex, gel-infused memory foam, and well-built innerspring coils. In addition, the company builds each mattress to fit the customer based on the response to a sleep quiz. For people who are in search of a mattress with a firm feel, the sleep quiz helps to ensure that the mattress is built in a way that is tailored to optimize their comfort while also taking other sleeping preferences into account.
Why not? The Tuck mattress is still new to the market, and while early signs are good, we do not have long-term data about the durability of the mattress or the company’s overall track record.
The Bottom Line: The Tuck mattress offers a combination of materials quality and customization that usually comes at a much higher price tag. This represents an excellent option to consider for people who want a mattress that is tailored to their preferences.
Our choice for the best soft all-latex mattress is the Sleep On Latex Pure Green Mattress in its Firm model.
Why? The Firm Pure Green Mattress falls around an 8 on the typical firmness scale. This mattress is built with natural latex that gets excellent reviews for its performance. With its combination of resilience and responsiveness, latex can offer a great blend of comfort and support both to enhance spinal posture and to prevent excess heat buildup.
Why not? Sleep On Latex doesn’t provide quite as much detail about the mattress specifications as we would like. For example, they do not list the density or ILD of the latex used in their mattress.
The Bottom Line: Even without knowing every detail of the build of this mattress, we can safely say that it includes a considerable amount of high-performance latex at a price that is a fraction of what these types of mattresses are often sold for.