How to Tell If Your Mattress Is Too Firm

By Caitlin Giddings

Jan 19th, 2023

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Sometimes the mattress you’ve chosen to fit your general sleep profile ends up being too firm and just doesn’t meet your individual needs. If this is the case for you, it might be worth considering a softer, more forgiving bed. After all, the supportive benefits of having a firm mattress are irrelevant if you’re just not getting quality sleep on it.

Here are five ways to know if your mattress is too firm and you’d be better served by swapping for a softer mattress, adding a mattress topper, or finding another way to make your bed softer:

Waking up with Back and Neck Pain

While firm mattresses provide good support, they fall short when it comes to relieving pressure—particularly for side sleepers, who rest on their shoulders and hips. If you’re often waking with back and neck pain, chances are you’re not getting enough give at those pressure points.

You don’t need to seek out a super-soft mattress to solve the problem, but finding one that’s lower on our 1 to 10 firmness scale or that uses pressure-relieving memory foam might take away or lessen your pain.

Numbness or Tingling in Your Hands and Fingers

That lack of pressure relief can also have some weird nighttime effects on your body. If you tend to roll into odd positions while sleeping, one of your arms can get trapped between your body and the hard mattress and develop paresthesia, or the pins and needles sensation that results from restricted blood flow. This isn’t a big concern if it happens to you once or twice; however, if you’re experiencing it more often you might want to seek out a mattress with more give.

You Want More of a Cradling Sensation

A too-firm mattress can feel like sleeping on a concrete slab—you want it to have a little more comfort and softness so that it contours to your form, even if you plan to lie on your back or stomach. If you’ve been sleeping for weeks on the same mattress and it doesn’t sink at all to support the shape of your body, your mattress is likely too firm.

You Toss and Turn All Night

Insomnia and restlessness have a long list of causes—and obviously not all of them are related to the composition of your sleep surface. However, if you’re always tossing and turning all night because you can’t seem to find a comfortable position, it’s likely that your mattress just isn’t working for you. Adding a memory foam mattress topper or finding a pillow top mattress will likely solve the problem. The good news is that there are lots of opportunities to sleep-test a newer, softer one before replacing yours, which leads us to our next point.

You Sleep a Lot Better Away from Home

Sleeping in a guest bedroom or hotel room is a great opportunity to test drive a new mattress. There are so many intangibles that go into determining which brand and model is right for you—sometimes you just have to luck into the ultimate night of rest in a new bed to know you’ve found the one. If you sleep on a softer mattress and wake up feeling infinitely better rested and refreshed, consider buying the same one for your home.

How to Find a Softer Mattress

If you’re looking for a softer mattress, check out our best soft mattresses guide, which includes top mattress options like the WinkBed, Saatva, and Purple Hybrid Premier.

  • The Winkbed has multiple firmness levels; we found the softer model, which scores 4/10 on the firmness scale, to be excellent for side sleepers.
  • The Saatva Classic mattress has an even softer firmness option, 3/10, and a cool and breathable hybrid build.
  • The Purple Hybrid is soft without sacrificing any support. It earns a 4/10 for firmness and provides a nice combination of spine alignment and pressure relief for both back and side sleepers.

If you’d prefer to keep your current mattress and add an extra layer to make it more soft, here’s our guide to the best soft mattress toppers. We recommend the Viscosoft mattress topper, with gel-infused memory foam and a down cover for added comfort, or the Linenspa mattress topper, our top pick for side sleepers.

When is a Firm Mattress the Best Option?

There are many great reasons to buy a medium-firm mattress or firm mattress—particularly if you’re a back or stomach sleeper, hot sleeper, or someone with mobility issues who has difficulty getting in and out of bed.

It’s tough to know which level of mattress firmness is best for you without trying one out, but there are some general indicators that firmer might be better. 

  • Weight is an important one, since it has a direct relationship with how much pressure you put on your bed surface. A heavier person will naturally sink into a mattress more than a light person, and override some of its firmness. Our firmness scale was designed for someone who weighs 170 to 190 pounds—if you’re 120 pounds or less, you might prefer erring on the softer side, and if you’re more than 250 pounds, you’ll want to go firmer. Our extra-firm pick for heavy people is the Brooklyn Bedding Titan Plus—it’s made from strong foam and heavy-duty coils, and designed to be ultra-durable. 
  • Sleep position will also have a big impact on what level of firmness you need. Side sleepers tend to do better with a softer bed that better cradles their shoulders and hips. If this sounds like you, check out our best mattresses for side sleepers Back sleepers, on the other hand, often prefer a medium-firm or firm bed for the support, though some don’t mind a softer bed. For back sleepers, it’s all about making sure the spine maintains its natural alignment. Check out our list of best mattresses for back sleepers. Finally, stomach sleepers almost always prefer a firmer bed that keeps their hips elevated. Here are some of the best mattresses for stomach sleepers.
  • Personal preference is what it all comes down to. Some people just have a natural preference for a firmer mattress, regardless of their body type and sleep style. If you like the sensation of sleeping on top of the bed instead of sinking down into it, this might be you. However, if you prefer the idea of being enveloped in soft, pillowy foam, go for a softer option. 

For more information on how much firmness is right for you, check out our Mattress Firmness Guide