There is an old wives tale that a firm mattress is the best surface to sleep on.
This piece of mythology has found its way into the consciousness of the modern day mattress buying consumer.
On the other hand many people are seduced by a very soft plush pillow top that feels great for the ten minutes they lie on it in the store.
There is a strong line of thinking that says soft is better.
However many people in poorer countries sleep on very thin mattresses or no mattress at all, yet chronic back pain is a first world problem.
So what really is the story?
The key to understanding the mattress firmness issue is understanding that firmness in terms of comfort and firmness in terms of support are not the same thing. You can have a mattress that feels comfortable yet still offers firm support, likewise you can have something that feels like you are sleeping on a brick but offers no support at all.
Lying on a mattress for a few minutes in a store can be deceiving. You cannot feel firm support until you sleep on a mattress night after night and notice what effect it has on you.
You need a mattress that has firm to medium firm support otherwise you are going to be waking up with aches and pains. This means that the core and middle layers should be quite firm. Whatever layer goes on top for comfort is up to you.
While the firmest mattress myth has persisted it is closer to the truth than those who advocate for a soft mattress. Research has shown that a medium firm mattress is the best for back pain. It has to be firm enough to provide support but err closer to medium in order to allow the hips and pelvis to sink in slightly to allow the spine to sit in perfect alignment.
However whether a firm or a medium firm mattress is right for you does depend if you are a back, stomach or side sleeper. Read my mattress firmness guide to find out more.