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Buying Guides

Firm vs. Medium Mattress: What's Best for You?

    Last Updated
    February 29, 2024
    8
    min read

    The main difference between a firm vs. medium mattress is the amount of give the mattress has when you lie down. A medium mattress allows the body to sink further into the mattress than a firm mattress, which has less give.

    Selecting the correct mattress firmness for you makes all the difference when it comes to a good night's sleep. If you don’t know what mattress firmness level is best for you, you may be wondering, “Should I buy a firm or medium mattress?”

    Purple is here to answer that exact question and expedite your best night’s sleep. Everyone experiences the feel of a mattress differently based on preferences, body shape, weight, and more. Fortunately, there are key factors that will help you decide between a firm vs. medium mattress, all of which are covered in this guide.

    Maximum Comfort and Support

    Purple Restore™ Hybrid mattresses provide structured support and pressure relief to keep you comfortable.

    Mattress Firmness Definition

    Mattress firmness refers to a mattress's give when pressure is applied. This creates a firm or soft feel that is oftentimes the main factor impacting one’s comfort. The mattress firmness scale is measured from 1 to 10 1 being the softest and 10 the firmest. You may be already concluding firm or soft is best for you based on prior experiences, however, this guide will confirm if your initial reaction is truly designed for your best sleep. 

    Personal preferences remain vital since they affect your comfort levels and sleeping position. For example, a heavier person might want to consider a firmer mattress, while a petite sleeper might sleep better on softer or medium mattresses.

    When shopping for a new mattress, it’s not all about the size and thickness — it can also depend on the type of mattress.

    For example, the Purple Mattress® is a medium mattress that uses different comfort layers to maintain its firmness and support for a wide range of sleepers. While firmness greatly impacts comfort, support is something entirely different yet equally important. 

    Firmness does not equal support. Here’s a simple breakdown of the difference:

    • Support: Dictated by how well a mattress maintains proper spinal alignment by ergonomically adjusting to your specific sleep position
    • Firmness: Dictated by a mattress’ give and how comfortable you  feel immediately upon lying down

    Difference Between Firm vs. Medium Mattresses

    The difference between firm and medium mattress firmness is that a medium mattress is more plush than a firm mattress. Oftentimes, a firm mattress offers more support in place of plushness.

    Be sure to test how each mattress feels when lying down to understand your particular preference. Soft mattresses often cause you to sink when lying down. Meanwhile, firmer mattresses give a more buoyant, floating feel that should feel like the bed's surface is pressing against your back as you lie down.

    If you’re unable to test a specific mattress in-store or buying online, researching a mattress’ materials is a great way to gauge plushness and therefore firmness. Memory foam is more likely used for medium and soft mattresses, while hybrid mattresses are commonly found in a range of firmness levels, including firm mattresses.

    For example, Purple’s memory foam and hybrid mattresses are made of two different materials offering both soft and firm options. 

    Benefits of Firm Mattresses

    Although mattress firmness largely depends on personal preference, firm mattresses certainly have their benefits.

    Best for Heavier Body Types

    Depending on the quality of materials used, firm mattresses typically have excellent support, making them ideal for heavier sleepers or those with more body weight. This support prevents the mattress from sinking and causing body aches.

    Good Spinal Alignment

    Unlike some soft mattresses, firm mattresses can result in better spinal alignment for a wide range of sleepers and sleep styles. They also tend to help those with back pain, as long as the mattress isn’t too firm.

    Recommended for Stomach and Back Sleepers

    If you’re comfortable sleeping on your stomach or back, a firm mattress can keep your torso from sinking and relieve spine or abdomen pressure.

    Graphic of a firm mattress and a bulleted list of who should use one.

    Considerations of Firm Mattresses

    On the other hand, there are some considerations for a firm mattress.

    Can Be Uncomfortable for Lighter Body Types

    For lighter body types and light sleepers, a firm mattress can provide little to no give. More petite individuals may not sink into firm mattresses enough to benefit from their supportive layers. This may make the mattress feel too rigid or unforgiving.

    Motion Isolation

    A soft mattress oftentimes makes it difficult to easily move throughout the night due to its sinking feel. On the other hand, a firm mattress allows you to effortlessly toss and turn on the bed. While this motion isolation is a plus, firm mattresses may cause discomfort for side sleepers since there isn’t much give to properly cushion pressure points. 

    Not Ideal for Side Sleepers

    Side and combination sleepers are more likely to develop body pain and spinal misalignment with a firm mattress, as it doesn’t offer cradling for your hips. 

    Benefits

    Considerations

    Good for heavier body types

    May be uncomfortable for lighter body types

    Excellent spinal alignment

    May be uncomfortable for active sleepers

    Good for stomach and back sleepers

    May be uncomfortable for side sleepers

    Benefits of Medium Mattresses

    A medium mattress is a type of mattress with a feel that sits between a soft and firm mattress. Not too soft and not too firm, medium mattresses offer a range of benefits for a diverse group of sleepers.

    Suitable for Light to Average Sleepers

    A medium mattress is perfect for light and average-weight sleepers. It has soft padding that is comfortable for these body types as well as firm padding that offers proper body support.

    Allows for Motion Isolation

    If you switch between two or more positions in your sleep, a medium mattress is the right fit for you. It offers adequate firmness for you to easily transition to a different position while also isolating motion thereby reducing common body aches in the morning.

    Good for Side and Combination Sleepers

    A medium mattress is preferred by side and combination sleepers since it provides a balance of softness and support that molds to the contours of the body. 

    Graphic of a medium mattress and a bulleted list of who should use one.

    Considerations of Medium Mattresses

    Although your mattress firmness preference will come down to your individual taste, keep these considerations in mind:

    Not the Best Option for Heavier Body Types

    Heavier body types might find it difficult to sleep on medium mattresses since they typically need more resistance to keep a neutral spine alignment. This is why softer mattresses like medium mattresses are recommended for lighter sleepers.

    Not Ideal for Stomach Sleepers

    Stomach sleepers may experience a bowing sensation on medium mattresses causing back pain. Because of the soft feel, their hips tend to fall lower into the mattress than their legs and upper body which results in improper alignment. 

    Benefits

    Considerations

    Good for light to average body types

    May not offer enough support for heavier body types

    Allows for motion isolation

    May cause back pain for stomach sleepers

    Good for side and combination sleepers

     

    How To Choose Between a Firm vs. Medium Mattress

    With so many hours spent in bed, it’s imperative to find the right firmness level for you. Sleeping on too-soft mattresses can cause long-lasting back and stomach pain, while overly firm mattresses can be too hard on your sides.

    There are multiple elements to consider when finding the right firmness level. While the choice largely relies on personal preferences, below are a few essential considerations:

    • Sleeping position: Sleep positions can determine what mattress firmness is best for you. For example, firm mattresses may not be suitable for side sleepers since they cause spinal misalignment over time. Side sleepers should opt for a soft or medium mattress. 
    • Body type: There is a bed that provides optimal comfort and support for every body type. Lighter body types may prefer a softer mattress, average body weight sleepers may prefer a medium mattress, and heavier body types may prefer firmer mattresses.
    • Mattress type: The materials used within a mattress dictate a specific feel experience, so it’s important to find which experience and therefore material you like best. For example, memory foam mattresses are made out of materials that soften when heat is applied. This creates conforming pressure relief and added warmth which may or may not be your preferred way of sleeping.
    • Spinal alignment: Firm mattresses help support spinal alignment, especially for heavy sleepers and those who sleep on their stomach and back. Medium mattresses are appropriate for most body types and sleep styles with enhanced spinal cushioning compared to firm mattresses.
    • Number of sleepers: When sharing a bed with a partner, children, or pets, it’s best to opt for a medium mattress since this firmness level is applicable to many types of sleepers. 

    Support Where You Need It Most

    Available in soft and firm options, Purple’s Restore Hybrid mattresses provide adaptive support for a feel just right for you.

    Find the Perfect Firmness With a Purple Mattress

    When choosing between a firm vs. a medium mattress, factors such as sleeping position, body type, and mattress type impact your decision. When it comes to Purple, however, we’ve developed a sleep innovation that combines the best of both worlds. 

    Purple’s proprietary GelFlex® Grid has been specially engineered to combine the proper support of a firm mattress and the soft cushioning of a medium or soft mattress. With a patented column structure that cradles under concentrated weight such as shoulders and hips yet maintains support under broad surfaces such as back and legs, this state-of-the-art innovation offers a deep-sleep-inducing experience old mattress technology could never. 

    On the hunt for your dream bed but don’t know where to start when it comes to how to choose a mattress? Rest easy with Purple’s 100-night trial and money-back guarantee.

     

    FAQ

    Whether a firm or medium mattress is better for you will depend on your personal preference and sleeping style. For instance, stomach and back sleepers may prefer a firm mattress, while stomach and combination sleepers may prefer a medium mattress. Additionally, firm mattresses can be better for heavier body types while light to average body types may benefit more from a medium mattress.

    Yes! Many mattress companies have a wide range of mattresses with an adjustable firmness scale based on the comfort layers. From latex mattresses to plush mattresses, there’s a variety of feel experiences, but none that compare to Purple’s proprietary GelFlex® Grid technology.

    A myriad of factors impact whether or not a firm mattress is better for you. If you experience back problems, sleep on your back, or are a heavier sleeper, a firm mattress may be better suited for you.

    A medium mattress is great for light to average body types. Its motion isolation also makes it suitable for side or combination sleepers who may move around during the night.

    About the authors

    Cecilia Gillen

    Cecilia brings over five years of writing experience primarily centered around lifestyle and health topics. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Media and Journalism from the University of South Dakota. She’s both an advocate for sleep and a night owl at heart.

    Kristen Olson-Turner
    Senior Director of Merchandising, Mattress and Bases

    Kristen Olson-Turner is the Senior Director of mattresses, where she has spent 10+ years understanding customer needs and integrating solutions into Purple products for better sleep and comfort.