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Feel: Mattress Comfort Preferences
Choosing a Mattress that Meets Your Personal Requirements

Last updated on August 19, 2020

There are two things every mattress must deliver: Spinal alignment and pressure relief. But beyond those two must-haves, many mattress characteristics are preference-based based on your personal needs and likes/dislikes.

Mattress preferences are not what's "best," but what you prefer. The first concern on most people's minds when they're thinking of buying a new mattress is comfort — how soft or firm the mattress feels. Beyond that, there are lots of other characteristics that you can choose in your mattress, depending on what is important to you (we call these "mattress features").

Feel: Deciding on Your Comfort Preferences

"Comfort" is the way the surface of the mattress feels against the surface of your body. It is what makes you feel cozy and relaxed in your bed, and it is probably the first thing you notice when you lie down. Softness is probably the first characteristic that comes to mind: How soft or firm of a mattress you like.

Cushioning depth is separate from softness; it refers to how much you sink into a mattress. Do you like a deeply quilted top, or prefer one that's smooth and cool? Cushioning depth is the sense of being hugged or cradled by a mattress as opposed to feeling more like you are floating on top of it. Lastly, 'responsiveness' is about how much memory feel and bounce you prefer in a mattress.

Softness Choices

Firm

Harder (or less soft) mattresses with a thin or relatively unyielding layer of padding material on top are often called “firm,” “extra firm,” or “ultra firm.” These models are typically the best choice for stomach sleepers, but can also be suitable for back sleepers. While firmer mattresses tend to have less padding, note that not all firm mattresses have minimal padding—some have a stiff padding material but plenty of it. There are even firm pillow tops! 

Medium

Mattresses that offer a medium amount of softness (in between firm and plush) are often labeled “medium," luxury firm” or “cushion firm.” Models with medium softness are typically the best fit for back sleepers, but can also be a good match for some side sleepers and stomach sleepers.

Plush

The terms “plush” and “ultra plush” generally describe the softest mattresses. These mattresses tend to have thicker layers of padding composed of soft, compressible material. They are generally most appropriate for side sleepers, though they can also be a good fit for back sleepers. Note that many retailers call their softest mattresses "pillow top," because these mattresses have an extra layer of padding, but technically a pillow top can have different degrees of softness, depending on what it's made of.  

Deciding on Softness

It is easier to "soften up" a firm mattress than to "firm up" a soft mattress. If you are in doubt, or if you and your partner have different preferences, you should err on the side of purchasing a firmer mattress rather than a softer one. You can always add a mattress topper to one or both sides to soften it up, but you cannot really make a mattress less soft.

Mattresses tend to soften up naturally as you use them. So a mattress will feel firmer when it's brand new than it will after a few months of use.  (Likewise, your brand new mattress may feel firmer than the same model you tried on the showroom floor; yours will soften with regular use.)

Mattresses with thick, soft layers of padding will typically develop body impressions more quickly. The cheaper the quality of the padding material, the faster it's likely to compress and conform to the weight of your body. If you prefer a soft mattress but are concerned about body impressions, consider choosing a firmer mattress with minimal padding and purchasing a mattress topper separately that you can replace a few times throughout the life of your mattress.

Cushioning Depth

This refers to how deeply you sink into a mattress, and it's different from overall softness or firmness. For example, you could have a firm mattress that has a deeply quilted top that gives you a feeling of being hugged or cradled. At the same time, you could have a softer bed that has a tight top cover with not a lot of that 'sink in' feeling.

Some memory foams in particular are more deeply cushioned that others. If you like feel hugged or cradled by your bed, you'll want to look for a bed that has deeper cushioning.

Below: A mattress with a deeply cushioned top

Responsiveness / Memory Feel

When you press your hand on the mattress, then remove it, does it spring back to shape immediately or does your hand print remain for a few seconds before the mattress returns to shape? That's what we call responsiveness. For example, memory foam behaves on a spectrum; some foams come back to shape right away, while others take several seconds to fully return to shape.

When you're laying on a mattress, a "slow responding" bed can make you feel like you're sinking into it slowly as your body warms the mattress. Some people really love a slow-responding bed, but others just don't, comparing it to feel like they're in quicksand.

If you like that slow response feeling, memory foam beds are the way to go, but there's a lot of variance among models regarding how much of that "memory foam feel" they have.

Below: Watching memory foam slowly come back to shape

Bounce

Back in the days when all mattresses were made of springs, all mattresses were bouncy. These days, there's a lot more variety. Mattresses that use an innerspring or pocketed coil support are most likely to have some bounce. Those that employ memory form, latex, or other foams sometimes have no bounce at all.

At GoodBed, we look at bounce in three ways. Surface bounce (which includes the cover), mid-level bounce (the type of motion you might experience when you change sleeping positions, or during sex), and deep bounce (as you might experience if you plop your whole weight onto the bed at once.

If you prefer more traditional-feeling mattresses, you'll probably want one with an innerspring support core, where coils can push you back up. But if you like more of a motion-dampening effect, looks towards mattresses that have more foam, memory foam, or latex.

Find the Right Bed

Not sure which type of bed to buy? Answer a few questions to see good matches for you with GoodBed's unbiased, personalized results.

Let's start… Select your preferred sleeping position:
This is awesome. Now I feel equipped to walk in somewhere and say with certainty, "This is exactly what I'm looking for."
— Sara in Phoenix, AZ

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