Firm or Soft? 6 Simple Tips On Selecting The Right Mattress

There are lots of different options for mattresses out there, and it can be difficult to know which one to choose, especially if back pain is an issue. Firm or soft? Innerspring or memory foam? And what about waterbeds and futons–are those ok?

Hopefully, this guide will dispel any misconceptions you may have about selecting a mattress and help you choose the mattress that is right for you.


Selecting a mattress that suits your needs can be quite challenging to you and your partner.
Selecting a mattress that suits your needs can be quite challenging to you and your partner.



1. Try before you buy.

Ultimately, there is no one mattress that is best for a particular condition–everyone is different. What works well for someone else will not necessarily work for you, especially if you suffer from back pain. If you’re not sure where to start when choosing a mattress, go to a mattress store where the the sales associates are knowledgeable about the different types of mattresses–they can help you narrow down your options. Be prepared to try it out several mattresses, though; it’s the only way to really determine which one is right for you. Also, if you haven’t changed out your mattress in over 10 years, it’s time to replace it.

2. Shop with your partner if you’ll be sharing a mattress.

You and your partner may have different needs in a mattress, and you need to find the mattress that works best for both of you. However, if your mattress needs are very different, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get separate beds. Many adjustable air mattresses allow you to adjust the level of firmness on each side of the bed. 

3. Choose the most supportive mattress and rotate it every 6 months.

The key is to find the mattress that is soft enough to conform to the natural curves of the spine, but firm enough to provide support so that you don’t sink in too far. Medium-firm mattresses work best for most people, but ultimately it depends on your preferences. Once you have selected a mattress, keep it in good shape by repositioning it every 6 months. It should be rotated 180 degrees and flipped lengthwise. This will prevent the mattress from wearing out in a particular spot and ensure that you continue to get even support from your mattress.

4. Don’t get a mattress just because it’s “orthopedic,” expensive, or a name brand.

Price and name brand do not necessarily equal quality, and the more expensive, brand-name mattresses will not necessarily be right for you. Mattresses can vary greatly from brand to brand, but just because a particular brand is supposed to be the “best” doesn’t mean it will be the best for you. Also, many manufacturers claim that orthopedic mattresses are designed to support the spine and relieve back pain. However, there is really no standard for what makes an “orthopedic” mattress orthopedic. Often, they will use materials that are more supportive and of a higher quality than cheaper mattresses, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better than non-orthopedic mattresses of a similar construction.

5. Know the difference between memory foam and innerspring mattresses.

Before you go shopping for a new mattress, you’ll want to have an idea of the different types available on the market. Innerspring and memory foam are the two most common types of mattresses on the market. One is not necessarily better than the other, but one type may fit your needs more.

Innerspring mattresses are made up of a steel coil support system, with different variations on coil designs. Generally, the more coils, the more support you get. The coils are covered with padding to make them more comfortable. Innerspring mattresses tend to be the least expensive option.

Memory foam mattresses rely on polyurethane or latex foam to provide support. Memory foam molds to the shape of your body, and often minimizes the transfer of movement from the other side of the bed. However, memory foam mattresses tend to be more expensive than innerspring mattresses.

6. Your days of sleeping on futons and waterbeds are hopefully over.

A waterbed will probably not give your back the support it needs, especially if you have a condition like degenerative disc disease, a herniated disc, or frequently suffer from back pain. A futon may not be terrible if it’s of a good quality, but most futons are cheaply made and will not provide the best support for your back. In general, you should avoid futons, but if you need one for space reasons, go for the highest quality one you can afford. As a rule of thumb, if it’s something you would have owned while you were in college, you probably shouldn’t be sleeping on it as an adult.

No one but you can decide which mattress is right for you, but this guide should help to steer you in the right direction. Sweet dreams!


For more on healthy living and lifestyle, visit Michael A. Gleiber, MD 

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