Plush vs. Firm Mattress: Which Is Best For You?
Plush and firm mattresses offer vastly different sleeping experiences—plush mattresses offer lots of cradling, while firm mattresses provide a solid sleep surface. Mattress firmness determines the immediate sensation of your mattress and its pain and pressure relief capabilities.
However, plush beds aren’t the most comfortable mattresses in the world, just like firm beds aren’t the most uncomfortable mattresses in the world. Your comfort all comes down to your sleeping position, size, and whether or not you share your bed.
Our quick guide goes over the difference between plush and firm mattresses and how to know what level of firmness is right for you.
What is a Plush Mattress?
Plush mattresses are very soft to the touch and low on the mattress firmness scale, measuring 3 out of 10. They have extra padding to cradle sleepers comfortably throughout the night.
Despite being so soft, plush mattresses can still offer great support. Side sleepers benefit from the cradling of a soft mattress as it prevents pressure points in their hips and shoulders. A plush mattress is also soft enough to contour around petite sleepers and promote proper spinal alignment.
Plus-sized sleepers might find plush mattresses are too soft and cause them to bottom out in bed. They can get away with a soft mattress if it’s thicker than 14 or 15 inches, but a firm feel is best when it comes to a mattress for a heavy sleeper.
Stomach and back sleepers should skip plush mattresses since they’ll sink too much and are in need of extra firmness and support. The same goes for combination sleepers—it’s difficult to switch positions on plush mattresses because they have such a hug-like feel.
Plush mattresses typically have very minimal motion transfer, so couples can rest without bothering their partner.
Pros of a Soft Mattress
- Gentle enough for petite sleepers
- Extra cushioning in a mattress for side sleepers
- Luxurious feel
Cons of Soft Mattresses
- Overly soft for plus-sized sleepers
- Not enough support for back and stomach sleepers
- Difficult to shift around
- May soften sooner than firmer mattresses
What is a Firm Mattress?
A firm mattress is 7 out of 10 on the mattress firmness scale. It provides a very flat, even surface and great spinal support for stomach and back sleepers. Firm mattresses prevent your lower back from collapsing, potentially making it easier to breathe at night.
Firm mattresses provide extra support for plus-sized sleepers as they tend to sink into softer mattresses. On the other hand, a firm mattress is likely too firm for petite sleepers since they don’t put as much force onto the bed. This results in pressure points and pain for petite sleepers.
However, firm mattresses don’t conform enough for side sleepers to be comfortable. Side sleepers will notice pressure build-up and achiness in their hips and shoulders if their mattress is too firm.
Pros of Firm Mattresses
- Protects lower back from collapsing
- Offers great support to back and stomach sleepers
- A good firmness for plus-sized sleepers
Cons of Firm Mattresses
- Uncomfortable adjustment period when switching to a firm mattress
- Can exacerbate chronic back pain
- Creates pressure points on side sleepers
How to Choose a Mattress Firmness
When sleeping on the correct mattress for you, your body should be neutral, meaning your spine maintains its natural curve and is aligned with your hips, neck, and head. You should also feel minimal to no pressure when sleeping on your mattress.
Mattress firmness can come down to your preferences and varies from person-to-person, but there are general guidelines you can use for reference.
A big part of finding the right mattress firmness comes down to your sleeping position because it impacts your pressure points and how much cradling you need. Based on your sleeping position, the following mattress firmness will work best for you:
- A mattress for side sleepers: Medium to medium-soft
- A mattress for back sleepers: Medium to medium-firm
- A mattress for stomach sleepers: Medium-firm to firm
- A mattress for combination sleepers: Medium to medium-firm
Another important factor when deciding mattress firmness is your weight. Firmness guidelines are based on the average-sized adult, roughly 130 to 230 pounds. Plus-size and petite sleepers have to slightly adjust their mattress firmness choices to accommodate their sizes.
- If you weigh less than 130 pounds, choose a softer mattress than what’s recommended for your primary sleeping position.
- If you weigh over 230 pounds, choose a firmer mattress than what’s recommended for your primary sleeping position.
When you share a bed, you have to take into consideration your partner’s firmness needs as well. If you and your partner have vastly different firmness needs, the best option is to use a split king mattress so you can share a bed but pick the firmness for your side of the bed. You can read our guide on king and split king mattresses for more information.
If you don’t have the budget or space for a split king, consider choosing a medium or medium-firm mattress since these mattresses suit most sleeping positions.
Frequently Asked Questions
While choosing a mattress firmness can be due to personal preference, the ideal mattress firmness depends on your sleeping position and size. Petite and side sleepers are usually most comfortable on plush mattresses. Back sleepers, combination sleepers, and average-size sleepers do best on a medium mattress because of the extra support.
Mattress durability isn’t correlated to firmness, but rather the quality of materials. Better materials usually increase how long a mattress lasts.
A high-quality plush mattress should last just as long as its firmer counterparts, so roughly about 7 to 10 years. But beware, some low-quality plush mattresses lose their bounce and cushioning sooner than firm mattresses. Also, if you are a plus-sized individual, sleeping on a softer mattress may cause it to wear down quicker as well.
When you get a new firm mattress, it feels extra firm but softens slightly as you use it during the next few weeks. You can step on your bed to speed up the softening process. A hard mattress also softens over years of use, but it won’t soften enough to ever feel like a plush mattress.
When the mattress feels wrong for your sleeping position or body type, it’ll cause pressure build-up and can take your spine out of healthy alignment. You might develop back, shoulder, and hip pain.
If it’s a new mattress, you’ll ideally notice it’s too firm and return it during your sleep trial. However, if you realize your mattress is too firm after your sleep trial, consider getting a soft mattress topper to better cradle your body.
If you constantly wake up tired, in pain, or are unable to get comfortable and fall asleep at night, your mattress might be the incorrect firmness for you. If you know your mattress is getting old, it might’ve softened up with time and gotten lumpy, meaning it’s no longer properly supporting you. A bed that's grown too soft or too firm is one of the major signs it's time to replace a mattress.
Which Firmness is Right For You?
Plush and firm mattresses are merely the two ends of the firmness spectrum and most people opt for a mattress somewhere between these two extremes. However, the most noticeable differences between plush and firm is the amount of contouring from their comfort layers. Plush mattresses conform to your body, while firm mattresses are more sturdy and have less give.
If you’re ever uncertain what mattress firmness to choose, most mattresses nowadays come with extended sleep trials, meaning you can test for your mattress at home for between 30 to 365 nights depending on the company. It’s always best to test your mattress out for at least 30 nights to get accustomed to your new sleep surface before deciding whether or not to return it.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.