Often mistaken with support, mattress firmness is the feeling of tension, rebound, and degree of immersion you would normally feel when resting down on the surface of any model.
It refers to the somewhat subjective sensation on the feedback from the mattress surface. A soft mattress would be more cushy and immersive, allowing your body to sink deeper. It will also provide a slower rebound when moving from one side to the other.
A firm mattress, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. It provides strong tension, fast rebound, and little to no sink-down.
So you would guess that a medium firm mattress sits somewhere in between. It provides a decent level of tension, with relatively fast rebound, and moderate degree of immersion.
Different materials and technologies
The manufacturing process along with the materials is tightly connected to the outcome in firmness. You cannot have a soft mattress when the base is constructed with strong Bonnel springs, or a firm one when all you have under the surface is layer upon layer of memory foam.
So let’s explore the materials used for different mattress varieties, how they affect the firmness, and how they sometimes fit together.
This is the traditional mattress design, with an edge-to-edge interconnected spring unit supplying the base support. Nowadays, when more models and technologies are available, it is less common to choose a coil spring mattress. However, the fillings play a huge role, and they can dramatically change the quality of the model.
Some of them preserve their shape for years on end, offer fast recovery, excellent breathability, and therefore great temperature regulation. Combined with a strong Bonnel unit for the base, and hand tufted buttons to keep the tension throughout the mattress surface, many companies are making decent medium firm mattresses using this traditional technology.
Memory foam models are usually on the soft end of the spectrum, but depending on the density of the foam layers, they can also feel less cushy. Watch, however, for all-memory models with dense foam, since they usually have poor breathability.
A relatively new technology, pocket springs are individually wrapped coils evenly distributed throughout the base. They are usually topped with fabric fillings or in many cases memory foam layers, in order to provide a more cushy and immersive surface experience.
Pocket springs provide excellent support, and help with spine alignment, offering different degree of softness for specific parts of the body. Called zonal support, this technology eliminates a number of pressure points, effectively helping people with chronic shoulder, hip or knee pain.
The hybrid models usually incorporate a micro-pocket grid that is greatly adaptive to the body which provides the base support. In addition, you are likely to see a layer or two of memory foam, thin enough to only provide a somewhat softer surface that is also weight reactive.
If you are looking for a medium firm mattress, the hybrid models offer the most reliable support, with more features than all of the other models combined.
What is the ideal firmness for each sleeping position?
Much of your choice depends on your sleeping position. If you don’t have strong preferences, a medium firm mattress is the way to go.
Have you noticed how some of the best hotels usually have medium firm varieties? That’s because it is the easiest way to please everybody without risking an uncomfortable level of firmness.
But let’s explore the other options.
Definitely go with a medium firm mattress, and preferably one that has pocket springs for the base support. Side sleepers – especially those who are heavier than average – usually have a lot of problems with shoulder and hip pain. A pocket spring grid would therefore eliminate this problem to a substantial degree.
This is the position for which you would like to choose a firm surface. Note however, that if you have someone next to you who likes to switch from one position to another, he or she will have a tough time resting comfortably.
Many people would choose a soft variety, but a medium firm mattress will do just fine as well, especially when you have chronic pain in your lower back.
Chronic back pain and mattress firmness
For those who struggle with chronic back pain, Bonnel springs are out of question. Memory foam, especially the softer variety, is not an option as well, so they would have to choose between pocket springs and dense memory foam models.
If you are heavy, I would recommend against all-foam mattresses, since there is a chance you will find the temperature swings to be intolerable.
A pocket spring model, with thin breathable layers of foam is the best option there is.
Personal factors determining the firmness of a mattress
If you prefer to sleep on the very edge, memory mattresses are not going to work, and you will definitely need something else for the base.
If, on the other hand, you sleep near the center, and have a partner of different weight, you will want to avoid Bonnel springs, and go with either dense memory foam or pocket springs and a foam layer beneath the surface.
Heat intolerance will dictate natural fillings for Bonnel spring mattresses, and breathable foam where there is a layer or two included. Also, a soft mattress will immerse your body completely, making it more difficult to cope with heat, so a medium firm mattress is a great alternative if you want to keep some of that comfort yet avoid the sweat.