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How To Choose The Right Degree Of Firmness


Nicky P.

Last updated: 26.02.2021 6.5 Min.

We’ve mentioned the firmness scale numerous times in our mattress reviews.

Manufacturers use a firmness scale, or different designations, to specify the degree of firmness.

You may have come across terms such as H2, H3, H4, softer, firmer, etcetera, numerous times. But what does all of this mean? These terms are a frequent cause of confusion.

In this article, we’ll explain the firmness scale and general degrees of firmness to you. You’ll learn why it is important to pay attention to mattress firmness, which degree of firmness you should choose for your weight and preferred sleeping position, and how we’ve set up the Sleep Hero firmness scale.

Firmness Scales
  • Overview
  • Firmness scale
  • Importance
  • Finding the right degree of firmness
  • Sleep Hero firmness scale
  • Mattress reviews
  • Our selection of the best mattresses

What is a firmness scale?

The firmness of a mattress describes - as the name suggests - how soft or firm a mattress should feel. Differences in mattress firmness are caused by the use of different materials and their respective densities.

Unfortunately, there is no uniform industry standard for the firmness of a mattress. The designations used are only for general orientation. Many manufacturers use terms like H2, H3, and H4. Other manufacturers simply describe their mattresses as ‘softer’ or ‘firmer. Other manufacturers, again, do not specify a degree of firmness at all, and many refer to their mattresses as universal mattresses.

In general, mattresses can be divided into three types:

  • Soft mattresses are generally memory foam mattresses with lots of padding. They are popular with people that are looking for superior comfort and relaxation.
  • Medium-firm mattresses are the perfect in-between, not too soft and not too firm. These are universal mattresses that will suit most people.
  • Firm mattresses generally offer high levels of support and are well-suited for athletes and people suffering with back pain.

There are many factors that can influence how firm a mattress feels, which is why we've created a firmness scale to guide you.

Why is the right degree of firmness so important?

Choosing the right degree of firmness is important for healthy spine alignment. If the chosen mattress is too firm, then the mattress will not allow certain parts of the body to sink in sufficiently, creating misalignment of the spinal column. At the same time, if the mattress is too soft, then the body will sink into the mattress too deeply. This results in a hollow back. In both cases, this spinal misalignment can lead to tension and back pain. You'll also sleep less comfortable.

This is quite different if you choose a mattress with the right degree of firmness. A mattress of the right firmness level will allow your body to sink in at the body’s centres of gravity, such as the pelvis and shoulder areas. This allows the spine to remain straight throughout the night and eases tension, allowing for a comfortable night’s rest.

As you can conclude from this, it is very important to pay attention to the degree of firmness when buying a new mattress. If you choose the wrong degree of firmness, then you will severely affect the comfort of your sleep and your overall health.

If you already struggle with severe back, neck, or joint pain, then you need to be even more aware of the degree of firmness. If this is the case, then we strongly suggest you choose a mattress that meets orthopaedic requirements.

Spinal alignment

Finding the right degree of firmness

Determining factors include your weight, height, and preferred sleeping position. General sleeping preferences may also play a role.

You should consider the following guidelines when choosing the right degree of firmness:

  • The heavier you are, the firmer your mattress should be.
  • Side sleepers and lighter-weight people often require softer mattresses than back and stomach sleepers.
  • Conversely, back and stomach sleepers require firmer mattresses.
  • All of that said, your physique and weight also play decisive roles.

Degree of firmness according to body weight

Bodyweight is a decisive factor in selecting the appropriate degree of firmness. However, since other factors such as height, sleeping position, and sleeping preferences are also decisive, everything must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The following firmness chart may help you decide which mattress is right for you:

Degree of firmness Feeling Recommended bodyweight
H1 Soft Up to 60 kg
H2 Soft to medium-firm 60 - 80 kg
H3 Medium-firm 80 - 100 kg
H4 Firm From 100 kg
H5 Ultra firm From 130 kg
No information (one-fits-all) Varies, mostly medium-firm See our mattress reviews

Degree of firmness according to sleeping position

  • Side sleepers: With side sleepers, only a few parts of the body touch the mattress. The entire body weight is condensed into these parts, putting an enormous amount of pressure on the mattress at these points. The side sleeper should choose a slightly softer mattress. This allows the hips and shoulders to sink in more deeply, keeping the spine in a healthy alignment.

  • Stomach and back-sleepers: Stomach and back sleepers can afford to choose a slightly firmer mattress. In both of these sleeping positions, the sleepers will need more support, especially in the lordosis area. This is necessary to prevent a hollow back.

Which degree of firmness do you choose for 2 people?

Couples should pay special attention to the degree of firmness before buying a mattress. This is simply because not every degree of firmness will be equally suitable for both partners.

One option would be to buy two mattresses that are the same height but have different degrees of firmness. In this way, each mattress will be adapted to each body type and will ensure that both partners can enjoy a restful sleep. One can easily buy a bed bridge to join the two mattresses together.

There are also mattresses that offer different degrees of firmness on different sides so that each half of the mattress can be individually adjusted. This is the ideal choice. In this way, it is possible for one person to lie on a softer side and one person to lie on a firmer side - all within one mattress.

The right degree of firmness for children

Firmness is also important to consider when you’re buying a mattress for your child. After all, your child should feel really comfortable on the mattress.

If the child's mattress is too firm or too soft, then there is a risk of spinal deformities developing, especially at an early age. Of course, this must be avoided.

Generally, a child’s mattress should be neither too firm nor too soft. Medium-firm mattresses tend to be a good bet.

Teenagers can already make use of adult mattresses and orient themselves according to more general firmness scales.

Child sleeping

The Sleep Hero firmness scale

Everyone who has read our mattress reviews will be familiar with the Sleep Hero firmness scale. We have created our own classification system and do not adhere to the manufacturer’s designations. This allows us to more easily compare mattresses to each other.

Why have we done this?

  • Incorrect designations: The degrees of firmness specified by manufacturers don’t always correspond to reality. A mattress that is designated as being an H3 mattress, for example, may actually feel firmer or softer if you lie on it.
  • Lack of regulations: Some of the newer models are referred to as universal or one-fits-all mattresses. With these, the manufacturer doesn’t give any information about the firmness of the mattress. In order to help you understand the feel of these mattresses better, we’ve had to classify them.
  • Inconsistent designations: Degrees of firmness mean different things to different manufacturers. It is necessary to try numerous mattresses to find out what the actual degrees of firmness are. This can only be done by trial and error and by comparing different mattresses. Fortunately, most online mattresses come with a risk-free 100-day trial period, so every customer can try out a mattress to see if it feels right to them. We've already tried out all of the mattresses featured in the mattress reviews section and have rated their firmness accordingly, saving you time and energy.
  • More comprehensive description: Our firmness scale is much more comprehensive. We rate mattresses on a scale of 1 to 10, which gives you a much better picture than if we’d only divide the mattresses into H1 - H5.

The Sleep Hero firmness scale is based on our personal experiences and comparisons with different people in different sleeping positions. We rate the firmness of a mattress on a scale of 1 to 10.

Using our scale, we recommend the following degree of firmness for the below sleeping positions:

  • 1 - 4: Very soft - for side sleepers
  • 5 - 7: Medium-firm - good for most sleeping positions
  • 8 - 10: Very firm - only for stomach and back sleepers; too firm for side sleepers

Degrees of firmness in our mattress reviews

The following table will give you an overview of where we have rated the firmness of various mattresses in our mattress reviews.

Firmness scale Corresponds to: Feels like: Recommended for: Our recommended mattresses:
1-3 H1 Ultra-soft Light-weight side sleepers (up to 50 kg) /
4 H2 Soft Side sleepers (up to 60 kg) Emma Original
5 H2-H2+ Medium-firm Side sleepers; light-weight stomach and back sleepers (60-80 kg) Eve Premium Hybrid, Eve Original (5.5), Simba (5.5)
6 H3 Medium-firm Many body types and sleeping positions (65-90 kg) /
7 H3 Firm Back and stomach sleepers; heavier-weight side sleepers (75-95 kg) Eve Lighter Hybrid, Bruno (7.5)
8 H4 Very firm Heavier-weight back and stomach sleepers (90-120 kg) Emma One
9-10 H5 Ultra firm Very heavy-weight back and stomach sleepers (from 130 kg) IKEA Morgedal

Our selection of the best mattresses

Looking for a new mattress to help you get the best night's sleep? Here are our top recommendations.

Additional information

  • How are contour zones constructed?

    A typical zoned mattress will consist of 3, 5, 7, or even 9 contour or comfort zones. These are usually divided as follows:

    • Pelvis/hip: This is the heaviest part of the body. Here, the mattress must provide more support. However, it must also be soft enough so that the pelvis can sink in sufficiently if the sleeper lies on the side. This will enable the spine to remain straight.
    • Lordosis area: Here, the mattress will require additional firmness and support to prevent the formation of a hollow back.
    • Shoulder area: This is another centre of gravity of the body. The mattress must allow for a little more sinkage in this area.
    • Head area: The head and the feet are comparatively light parts of the body and should, therefore, lie on a relatively soft zone. 
  • Your mattress is too firm - what now?

    If your mattress is too firm, then you have chosen the wrong degree of firmness. But what can you do about it?

    • Make use of trial periods: Because it is quite possible to choose the wrong mattress, we always recommend our readers to choose a mattress that offers a trial period. Many manufacturers, such as the Emma, offer a 100-day trial period. If you find that the mattress is not right for you and you’re still in the trial period, then you can simply return the mattress and receive a full refund.
    • Buy a new mattress: If the trial period has already expired or the manufacturer you’ve chosen doesn’t offer one, then your only option is to buy a new mattress. You can try to sell, dispose of, or donate the used mattress. But for the sake of your sleep and your health, you shouldn’t delay this decision and definitely find a different mattress. Our mattress reviews can help you make the right choice.
    • Change the feel of the mattress by using a mattress topper: If the above options aren't possible, then you can try to change the feel of the mattress by using a mattress topper. Mattress toppers are available in a variety of designs and with different degrees of firmness. As with mattresses, you can choose toppers made of Visco foam, cold foam, or latex foam. The topper may not be the best solution but it may just solve the problem, and it is definitely not as expensive as buying a new mattress. 
  • What is harder, H2 or H3?

    If you’ve read our article, then hopefully you’ll be able to answer this question already. Of course, H2 is softer than H3.

    The abbreviation simply refers to “hardness” and the respective level. This starts at 1 and usually end at 5, the firmest of them all. 

    When we talk about an H2 mattress, we’re referring to a softer sleeping surface. An H3 mattress refers to a medium-firm sleeping surface. 

  • Which mattresses are best for your back?

    This isn’t an easy question to answer. Most importantly, the mattress you choose should fit you. There are many different factors that come into play here.

    A mattress that’s good for your back should, above all, offer a high degree of stability and support. It should relieve the pressure and strain on your body and spine. We can recommend mattresses made of Visco foam or gel foam.

    Many people will also find it helpful if a mattress offers comfort zones. These make it easier for your body to sink in at the right places and be supported in all the places that need it. A side sleeper, for example, will need to sink in more deeply in the shoulder and pelvic regions and require more support in the lumbar region.

  • I suffer from back pain. Which degree of firmness is right for me?

    This depends entirely on your weight and height. Personal preferences, such as whether you prefer a soft or a firm mattress, will also play a role.

    However, if you choose the wrong degree of firmness, this will quickly lead to more severe back pain. This is because the spine will curve if the mattress is too soft or too firm.

    When choosing a mattress, you need to first make sure that you are well-supported when lying down. A firmer mattress tends to be better, but a softer mattress can also provide adequate support. We would suggest taking a look at our article on orthopaedic mattresses.

  • Which degree of firmness is right if I struggle with herniated discs?

    If you suffer from a herniated disc, then choosing a mattress with the right support is of enormous importance. It is important to immediately relieve pressure and ensure that the spine always remains in a healthy alignment.

    In order to achieve this, your mattress of choice shouldn’t be too firm or too soft. For most people, soft or medium-firm mattresses in the H2 or H3 range should be good. However, it may also be helpful to discuss this with your orthopaedist, who will be able to give you valuable tips. 

  • I’m overweight. Which degree of firmness should I choose?

    Anyone who weighs more than 100 kg needs to pay special attention to the right degree of firmness. The incorrect firmness can lead to severe back, neck, and spine problems.

    We would recommend buying a firm mattress in the H4 range. If you weigh over 140 kg, then considering an H5 mattress would also be a good idea. 

    Overweight people will benefit from buying a barrel pocket spring mattress. This will ensure that the mattress adapts well to the body and provides adequate pressure relief. 

Nicky P.

My mum calls me "bear" because I like to sleep so much. I never knew that, one day, that would be a very useful skill. Can you tell that I've found my calling? 

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