Updated May 26, 2022
Our Comfort Scale is simple. We rate mattresses with a number from 1 to 10, with 1 being the firmest and 10 being the softest.
Some people instinctively think that the softer the mattress is, the better. So, they think a Comfort Scale rating of 10 is the best, but that isn't quite how it works. Few people actually prefer a Comfort Scale of 10 or a Comfort Scale rating of 1. Most people do best with a comfort level somewhere in-between.
See below for a more in-depth look at the range of Comfort Scale ratings.
Mattresses with a Comfort Scale rating in the 1-2 range are designed for those who want the firmest mattress possible. Mattresses with this level of comfort are generally recommended only to back sleepers. Side and stomach sleepers usually need more softness and padding. These mattresses have minimal padding and focus on rigid back support that keeps your spine properly aligned.
Good for some back sleepers
Too firm for stomach sleepers
Too hard for side sleepers
Mattresses with a Comfort Scale rating in the 3-4 range are considered medium-firm. These mattresses work well for back and stomach sleepers who prefer something on the firmer half of the Comfort Scale. They're generally too firm for side sleepers though. Mattresses in this comfort range are for those who need a firmer, more rigid sleeping surface but enjoy some padding for comfort.
Good for most back sleepers
Good for some stomach sleepers
Too firm for side sleepers
The 5-6 range on our Comfort Scale is sometimes referred to as the "Goldilocks" zone. These mid-range mattresses have a great combination of softness and support. They work well for all sleeping positions. They're soft enough for most side sleepers, firm enough for most stomach sleepers. They provide a near-perfect balance of comfort and support for back sleepers. This comfort zone is ideal for guest bedroom mattresses, as it appeals to the widest range of sleeping types. And it works just as well in your master bedroom. Medium comfort mattresses aren't perfect for everyone though. Some people prefer a sleeping surface that's firmer or softer than mid-range.
Good for many back sleepers
Good for most stomach sleepers
Good for some side sleepers
Mattresses in the 7-8 range on our Comfort Scale are ideal for most side sleepers and work for back sleepers who like a plush mattress they can sink into. Stomach sleepers should beware of sinking in too much. It can overextend the arch of your back with a mattress this soft, so look lower on the Comfort Scale. If you're in the market for a mattress that's main focus is pressure relief, this is likely the comfort range for you.
May work for back sleepers
Too soft for stomach sleepers
Good for side sleepers
We sometimes refer to very soft mattresses in the 9-10 range of our Comfort Scale as "cloud-like." These mattresses use some of the softest comfort materials available, for a plush sleeping surface that you're sure to sink into. Stomach sleepers should avoid mattresses in this category. Most back sleepers will also need something with more support. But for side sleepers and the few back sleepers who want the most pressure relief possible, this comfort range may be right for you.
May work for some back sleepers
Far too soft for stomach sleepers
Good for some side sleepers
Support comes from the system within the mattress and has to do with whether your spine is kept in alignment. Comfort is how the mattress feels in terms of soft or firm. Both firm and soft mattresses can provide excellent support.
Comfort is directly affected by how well your body is supported by your mattress. A term we often use to talk about support is "rigidity." Does the mattress keep your spine straight or does it sag in areas where most of your body weight is focused? If your back is out of alignment due to poor support, your comfort deteriorates and you won't get quality sleep.
A supportive mattress can have a firm comfort or a soft comfort, and firm and soft mattresses can have poor support or great support. So, don't choose your comfort level based on support, choose it based on what you like! Look at the support separately from the comfort.
One way that US-Mattress helps you do this is with our pressure tests. Look at the chart featured on most of our mattress product pages that shows who the bed is recommended for. These tests are done with sleepers of different body types and sleep positions to show how the bed supports and relieves pressure.
Comfort can be a tricky term because you might be talking about firm comfort, soft comfort, or just "comfortable" in general. It is important to know that what is "comfortable" for one person might not be for another. So the term "comfort" should be used objectively in terms of softness or firmness.
The most common myth about mattresses is that firmer equals more supportive. Firm mattresses do feel stiffer it doesn't mean that they're more supportive. Firm mattresses are designed to prevent you from sinking into the mattress. It's important to remember that there isn't one mattress that's perfect for everybody.
Everyone has different body shapes, sizes, and preferred sleep positions. As an example, a person who sleeps on their back could benefit well from sleeping on a firm mattress. A side sleeper would not benefit from a firm mattress because of the excess pressure on their hips and shoulders.
If you compare two mattresses in the same collection they typically have the same coil system. One mattress can be a very soft model while the other can be a very firm one. Since the coil system provides support to the mattress, both the very firm and very soft models can adequately support your body.
The most important factor for you to consider when you shop for a mattress is what feels most comfortable to you. If you lie on the cheapest mattress and feel like you've found the mattress of your dreams, then go for it! If you lie on the latest and greatest mattress with all of the bells and whistles and you don't find it very comfortable, then don't buy it! Find what makes you the most comfortable, and shop from there.
Don't let anyone tell you what mattress you should choose. It's your body, your comfort, and your sleep, so you're the only one who can determine what mattress is best for you. Remember, as long as the mattress has a strong, supportive coil system or core, then the relative softness or firmness of the mattress is only a matter of preference.
If you need some help picking what firmness level is best for you, our team of experts can help! Give us a call at 1-800-455-1052 to speak to someone with the experience and training to help you decide.
Can a firm mattress hurt your back?
Maybe. It really depends on how you sleep and your body type, as well as the quality of the mattress. Outside of your preference for a firm bed, here are a few guidelines that will tell you if a firm mattress is a good choice for you or not:
Are you a back sleeper? If so, most back sleepers can get great back support and comfort when using a firmer mattress. Firmer coils and foams tend to support the natural curves of the spine very well.
Is your body size average to large? You'll probably be comfortable on a firmer mattress if you're not a side sleeper. Stomach sleepers and back sleepers in this body size range often find good comfort and support on a firmer mattress. Petite sleepers may find something in the medium-firm realm is better.
Are you a side sleeper? If you are a side sleeper, a firm mattress will likely be very uncomfortable for you. Our testing shows that most side sleepers experience too much pressure on their joints when laying on a firmer mattress. This can lead to discomfort, pain, and a terrible night's sleep.
Is a soft mattress bad for your back?
The truth is that a mattress that doesn't support your body properly can cause back pain. People looking for the best mattress for back pain can get easily confused. Here's what you need to know in regards to buying a new soft mattress:
Softer mattresses tend to work well for side sleepers.
Back sleepers often experience pain or discomfort due to improper support.
Larger people (210 lbs.+) usually experience some type of discomfort on a softer bed.
If you've ever experienced any type of discomfort while laying a soft mattress then you should try something firmer.
If firm beds are causing you aches and pains then a softer mattress might help you to sleep better.
A soft, or plush mattress is designed for you to sink into its plush comfort layers. As such, it doesn't support every body type as well. Large people (210-275 lbs.) and stomach sleepers would likely experience discomfort and even pain in their lower backs. A softer mattress is usually ideal for smaller people under 210 lbs and side sleepers.
Because of the lower spring tension or foam firmness, the more weight on these mattresses, the less support and pressure relief they get. These reasons are why you should steer clear of a softer mattress if you're a larger individual or a stomach sleeper.
Juliana has spent several years in the mattress industry, writing about and reviewing mattresses. She has a deep understanding of how mattresses work for different people and affect sleep.