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Bed Basics

Plush or Firm? How to Choose the Best Mattress for You

With so many options available when it comes to choosing your next mattress, selecting the right one can be a bit…challenging. As you start your search, one of the first questions you’ve probably asked yourself is “Do I need a firm or soft bed? Something in-between?”

The answer: It depends.

Read on to explore the differences between the two—and how landing on the right choice will get you closer to getting better sleep.

plush and firm mattress graphic

What is a plush mattress?

Plush mattresses have a softer feel when you first touch them. But “feel” is subjective. What’s soft and cushiony to one person might not feel the same way to another. This is important to keep in mind if you and your sleep partner have different reactions when you test new beds. It’s also helpful to note up front that the level of firmness best for you depends on several factors—not just feel—including body weight, the health of your joints and sleep position.

A common misconception is plush beds offer little support—but that’s not true! They can offer plenty of support. How much depends on what materials are used and how it’s designed.

The comfort layer

The softest part of a plush bed is the top layer—the comfort layer. This is where plush mattresses deliver their soft feel when you push your hands into them. But we don’t sleep on our hands. That’s why it’s important to lie on beds you’re interested in. Spend a few minutes on each, lie in your normal sleep position and get comfy! Because what might have felt too soft or too hard with your hands could provide comforting support you need to sleep your best.

Get in line

Support is created by materials beneath the top comfort layer—the denser, firmer layer(s) of foam, innersprings or a combination of both. The goal of support layers is to keep your body in the ideal position for sleep with your ears, shoulders and hips aligned. How do you know if your body isn’t in alignment? More than likely, you’ll find out (or have found out) while you sleep or when you wake up. Sleeping on a mattress with proper support can be a painful experience—and you’ll feel it in your neck, shoulders and/or back.

Proper support and body alignment are also big contributors to stress relief. When positioned correctly on your mattress, your body relaxes more easily. Another benefit? Your lungs take in more oxygen to help increase circulation.

Remember: the comfort layer is what helps you fall asleep. The support layer is what keeps you asleep.

State your position

The way you sleep—your body position—is another factor in choosing the right bed. Side sleepers can benefit most from selecting a plush mattress. These beds contour to the shape of your body and provide relief to shoulders and hips—two parts that sink into the mattress.

Weighing in

Your physical size is another consideration. Lighter weight people often go with a plush mattress because they don’t sink too deeply into the comfort layer. Because they’re sleeping closer to the surface of the mattress it’s easier to move during the night as their bodies naturally change position.

Don’t rock the boat

Have you ever been woken up by your partner or pet when they get out of bed in the middle of the night? Have you done the same and woken your partner up? That’s probably because you felt their movement—or they felt yours. When a mattress, such as a plush, has an adequate comfort layer, that motion is absorbed by the mattress. The result? You sleep undisturbed. When you hear the term “motion isolation” that’s what they’re talking about.

Plush Mattresses: Pros and Cons

The benefits of a plush mattress make it an ideal choice for many sleepers. There are also some downsides. Let’s look at both.

Pros

  • Many comfort level options are available
  • A good choice for side sleepers due to pressure relief for shoulders and hips
  • Promotes proper body alignment for the ideal sleeping position
  • Delivers motion isolation so you and your bed partner sleep undisturbed

Cons

  • Minimal support can lead to improper spine alignment
  • Possibly uncomfortable for people with back or joint pain
  • Lack of support for stomach sleepers
  • Sleeping deep in the mattress can trap body heat
  • When too soft, difficult to change sleep position

Who should use a plush mattress?

Lighter weight individuals will sleep better on a plush mattress. When you weigh less, you don’t sink into the comfort layer as deeply as heavier people. Plus, you receive benefits from the support layer, including proper body alignment.

Side sleepers tend to benefit most from the support, proper body alignment and pressure relief offered by a plush bed.

If you experience shoulder and hip pain a plush bed can help reduce discomfort.

What is a firm mattress?


The primary benefit of a firm mattress is support. The first thing you’ll notice when lying on a firm bed is that you don’t sink into it like you do on a plush. Depending on the level of firmness, you sleep on top of the mattress. When you don’t sink into the comfort layer as deeply, most people find it’s easier to change positions during the night. And because your body doesn’t trap body heat, you tend to sleep cooler.

The solid support of a firm mattress also has its drawbacks—namely pressure relief. Without the ability to sink into a firm bed, side sleepers can experience unwanted pressure on their shoulders and hips. But there’s a silver lining: back and stomach sleepers don’t want to sink into their mattress, which can cause lower back pain. A firm bed can be a perfect choice for them.

That sinking feeling

The first thing you’ll notice when pressing into a firmer mattress with your hands is they won’t sink in as far compared to a plush. That’s because firm beds have less cushioning at the surface. A firm bed will have anywhere from 1 to 2 inches of comfort material at the top. A plush mattress may have 4 inches or more. For sleepers who have trouble moving, a firm bed allows them to move more freely while sleeping. They can also get in and out of a firmer bed with greater ease.

Being supportive

Different levels of firm support keep the body aligned on the surface of the bed. The benefit of sleeping on the surface can create problems for side sleepers who need their shoulders and hips to ease into the bed for optimal body alignment. For back and stomach sleeps firm support can be perfect.

Heavy discussion

Larger frame and heavier weight people most often sleep better on a firmer mattress. Why? The main reason is they don’t sink into the mattress as deeply as they would on a plush, making it difficult to achieve optimal body alignment. By sleeping on, or closer to, the bed surface heavier people sleep cooler, change sleep positions more effortlessly, and stomach and back sleepers are positioned effectively for rejuvenating sleep.

Firm Mattresses: Pros and Cons

A firm mattress is a great choice for many sleepers. But, like any mattress—a firm bed is not for everyone.

Pros

  • For stomach and back sleepers, proper body alignment
  • Breathing is easier with greater oxygen intake
  • Can add a mattress topper for additional comfort at the surface, if needed
  • Easier for mobility challenged sleepers to move

Cons

  • Not the best choice for sleepers with muscle and joint pain
  • Without gentle support, some people may experience an increase in lower back pain
  • Lighter weight sleepers will sleep on top of the bed without key joint support
  • Can be difficult to adjust to without prior sleep experience

Who should use a firm mattress?


As you move through your mattress shopping and testing experience, keep the following in mind to help make your choice:

For larger frame and heavier people there are several benefits of sleeping on a firm bed. You won’t sink into the mattress which allows for proper alignment of your shoulders and spine, so you’ll move easier movement and sleep cooler. With your body in the best position for sleep, you’ll also breathe easier.

Most stomach and back sleepers can benefit from sleeping on a firm mattress. When your hips don’t sink deeply into the bed proper alignment can be achieved.

Anyone with joint pain can sleep comfortably on a firmer bed. With reduced pressure on your circulatory system, breathing is easier and you take in more oxygen to help experience deeper, more restful sleep.

pros and cons of plush and firm mattresses

Other Mattress Firmness Options


As you shop (and test!), you’ll find there are many options on the firmness scale that fall between extremely soft and extra firm. There are softs, mediums, medium softs, medium firms and firms. You’ll also find (and test!) gel foam, memory foam, innerspring and hybrid mattresses—each made for varying needs while offering different designs, materials and sleep experiences.

With so many options available, think of these levels of firmness as steppingstones to getting your best sleep. If one bed isn’t exactly right, move up or down the scale and try another. Keep trying until you land on the one that’s perfect for you.

You can see many mattresses that fall into the middle of the firmness scale here.

What if you and your partner have different sleep needs?


You can still find a perfect solution—even if perfection comes with a bit of compromise. But lots of mattress choices means one or both of you won’t have to give up much. And you’ll still get a great night’s sleep in return.

Special options

King beds are available in split styles, allowing you to choose one just-right bed for each of you. Split Kings are two extra-long twin beds positioned together on a King base and frame. There are also adjustable bases created to give bed partners individual and customized mattress and body position control to meet both of your needs.

Sound interesting? Learn more about extra-long twins and adjustable bases.

And if you want more information about plush and firm mattresses, some of the most frequently asked questions are below. You’re also invited to talk with a Mattress Firm Sleep Expert™. With 200+ hours of training, they know about sleep, mattresses, adjustable bases, pillows—the list goes on. They’ll listen to your sleep concerns and needs—tell them everything!—and help guide you to the bed of your dreams. You can find your nearest Mattress Firm here. Want to chat with right now? This is where you can—24/7.

FAQs


Are firm beds uncomfortable?


Not for the right person. Comfort is subjective. What’s comfortable for one sleeper might be uncomfortable for another. For a heavier body weight sleeper, a firm mattress can be comfortable and supportive, giving them a great night’s sleep. A firm bed might also be comfortable to anyone who grew up on that kind of mattress or sleep surface.

Are plush beds bad for you?


It all depends on your needs, your sleep position, your weight, and any physical aches and pains that cause you to lose valuable sleep. For a lighter weight person, a side sleeper, and anyone who can benefit from proper body alignment to help reduce pain or simply sleep their best, a plush bed can be a good choice. For someone who’s heavier and sleeps primarily on their stomach or back—a plush would be a poor choice.

Do firm mattresses last longer?


The frequently used materials for support layers in a firm mattress including coils, foam and latex are substantial, well-made and durable. A firm mattress will provide years of great sleep. Always-improving materials, components, construction, and the best manufacturer and retailer warranties ensure that.

Do hotels use plush or firm mattresses?


Better hotels generally provide medium to medium-firm mattresses for their guests. The reason: those are the most frequently purchased types of beds. They also provide the most comfort and support for all body types and sleep positions.

Is a firm or plush mattress better for your back?


When dealing with a physical concern, it’s always best to consult with your doctor or other health professional. They will have advice when it comes to mattress selection. As a rule, a medium-firm mattress can be a good choice for anyone experiencing back pain. This level of comfort and support contours to your body and helps put and keep you in ideal alignment for sleep.

Should my mattress be firm or plush?


A resounding “yes!” Your goal is to choose the best mattress for you—and your partner. The perfect choice can be firm, or it can be plush. It can also be somewhere in-between.

There’s a great online tool you can use now to help determine the best mattress choices for you: MattressMatcher™. It’s a really good starting point for your shopping experience—and an ideal way to make sure your already started journey is headed in the right direction. MattressMatcher™ identifies beds based on your needs by asking six questions. And it only takes a minute (seriously—time yourself).

After you get your results, you can shop online or take them to one of our local stores to talk things over with a Sleep Expert™. And there’s no better place to see and test your options than one of our stores.

Ready to start with MattressMatcher™? Here’s where to do it.

Enjoy your search for a new bed. You’ll find it!

Top-Selling Firm and Plush Mattresses