5 signs you should be sleeping on a firm mattress, not a soft bed

A woman lying on her back wearing an eye mask wakes up after a bad night's sleep on an unsupportive mattress
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A soft and snuggly bed might sound delightful in theory, but the sink-in feel of a softer mattresses isn't for everyone. If you feel your bed isn't providing the support you need, it might be time to switch to a firm mattress.

The best mattresses of 2024 come in a range of feels, from marshmallow-soft to rock hard. Firm mattresses are often recommended for those who sleep on their back or stomach, as well as those with heavier bodies, due to the harder support they provide. And some people just prefer the feel of a firmer mattress, especially if you like to move around in the night.

Here we're looking at five common signs that you need a firm mattress instead of a soft bed. If you're thinking of getting a firm mattress, we've also picked out some of our favorite choices. And with the Memorial Day mattress sales coming up soon, this is a great time to save. 

What is a firm mattress?

We rate mattresses on a firmness scale of one to 10, with one being soft and 10 being hard. A firm mattress is typically categorized as being between eight and 10, (although some brands described 7.5 as firm).

The best firm mattresses have a stronger support than softer mattresses, so you shouldn't feel yourself sinking into the bed. However, that doesn't mean no cushioning at all – only extra firm mattresses feel like sleeping on a board. As a general rule, hybrid and latex mattresses tend to be firmer than memory foam beds, but that doesn't always hold true. 

5 reasons you should be sleeping on a firm mattress

1. You're waking up with back pain

When you sleep on a soft mattress, the body often sinks into the cushioning at awkward angles. This is a particular problem for back sleepers and those with heavier builds. And when your spine is placed at an awkward angle, you're more likely to wake up with an aching back.

On a firmer mattress, back sleepers should find their spine is held in a neutral position, allowing for a more even distribution of pressure. Chiropractors agree that a firm mattress isn't a universal solution to back pain, but it could be the solution if you're a back sleeper looking for relief. Read more in our best mattress for back pain guide.

Man sits on a bed and rubs his back, looking uncomfortable

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2. You feel trapped in the mattress

Many of us struggle to find one comfortable position and stay in it all night, preferring to change things up to suit our needs. If you enjoy freedom to move around, it's best to opt for a firmer mattress. Sink into a soft mattress and you might feel that you're trapped within the bed, unable to turn one way or the other.

As well as making it hard to shift during the night, a soft mattress can be a struggle to get out of in the morning. This can be true of softer memory foam mattresses. Firm mattresses tend to have stronger edge support, allowing you to push against the side of the bed without feeling like you're going to slide right off or fall back in. 

3. You're a stomach sleeper needing support

There's some debate around what's the best mattress firmness for stomach sleepers, but if you sleep on your front and wake up with an aching neck and shoulders, consider a firm bed. 

A firm mattress provides greater support for the entire body, meaning when pressure is taken off the lumbar region it isn't shifted elsewhere. It also keeps your neck and spine aligned, preventing any further unnatural twisting. The best mattresses for stomach sleepers encourage better spinal alignment for what's largely considered one of the worst positions to sleep in.

Man asleep in bed, lying on his stomach

(Image credit: Getty)

4. You're waking up warm

The body cools as it prepares to drift off, which is why we find it hard to sleep in hot weather – or a hot mattress. Softer mattresses have a tendency to hold onto heat, as there's limited room for air to circulate between the body and the close embrace of the cushioning.

Sleep on a firmer mattress and the surface will at most only gently contour to your body. With plenty of room for heat to circulate the air chills quicker and the overall sleep experience is cooler. If you want a softer bed with a cooler feel, it's worth investing in a specialist mattress. Our best cooling mattress guide has some great options.

5. You could sink straight through the mattress

Sleep on a too-soft mattress and it can sometimes feel like your back is going to hit the floor, especially if you have a larger body. The best mattresses for heavy people tend to be firm in order to provide enough support and prevent the feeling of 'bottoming out'.

As well as lacking the support your body needs, this can affect the overall lifespan of the mattress. Dents from where the body typically lies can start to form after only limited use. When these dips are pronounced, it can be hard to get comfortable and the mattress won't have enough pressure relief.

3 best firm mattresses

1. Saatva Classic mattress: $1,186 at Saatva

1. Saatva Classic mattress: was from $1,395 | $1,186 at Saatva
Ticking all the boxes during our Saatva Classic mattress review, this luxury bed is among the best firm mattresses on the market. There are actually three firmness levels to choose from – Plush, Luxury Firm, and Firm – so there's something for every sleep style. Saatva mattress sales are semi regular, and the queen size is currently reduced to $1,781.

2. Siena Memory Foam Mattress: | $199 at Siena Sleep

2. Siena Memory Foam Mattress: was from $499 | $199 at Siena Sleep
An affordable choice for those looking for a firm mattress, in our Siena Memory Foam Mattress review we found this bed delivers impressive quality for a low price. There's always a mattress sale at Siena, so go ahead and ignore the MSRP. You shouldn't expect to pay more than $399 for a queen.

3. WinkBed Plus mattress: $1,049 at WinkBed

3. WinkBed Plus mattress: was from $1,349 | $1,049 at WinkBed
Firm mattresses are typically recommended for those with heavier builds, and the WinkBed Plus can support sleepers weighing 250lbs and above. We haven't had a chance to test the Plus, but head to our WinkBed mattress review to learn more about the overall build. There's always $300 off in the WinkBed mattress sale, making a queen $1,699.

Ruth Jones
Sleep staff Writer

Ruth Jones has recently joined the Tom's Guide team as a sleep staff writer, covering all things mattresses and sleep. Ruth previously worked as a sleep and mattress writer for our sister website TechRadar, and has a deep interest in sleep and how it affects our day to day wellbeing. Ruth is a self-confessed stomach sleeper with a penchant for medium-firm mattresses, and also loves a good eye mask for helping her to fall asleep easier at night.