Is it better to sleep on a hard or soft mattress? Experts weigh in on which sleep surface is right for you

We asked some of the top UK sleep experts and brands what they think

(Image credit: DreamCloud)

Hard or soft? No, it's not about how you like your eggs boiled, this is about how you like your mattress! Your sleep is incredibly important, and getting good quality sleep is key to so many other areas of your life. Don't let a shoddy mattress get in the way of that. When shopping, too many people make a beeline for the lowest-priced mattress, without considering what firmness level to go for.

The best mattress is the one that is most suited to your body and how you sleep. Many people have different sleeping positions, such as on their front, side or back, and it's important to know this information when buying a new mattress. This is because you need to know what level of firmness to look for, in order for your body to be properly supported and aligned whilst asleep.

So, if you're in the market for a new mattress and are wondering if it's better to sleep on a hard or soft mattress, then you'll want to read on for even more insights from top UK sleep experts and brands, as they weigh in with their advice.

Is it better to sleep on a hard or soft mattress?

Hard vs soft mattress is ultimately a totally personal choice, and is down to what the person sleeping on it finds the most comfortable. What works for some people, will be quite uncomfortable for others. Ideally, the best way to choose a new mattress is to shop in-store, so that you can lie on several mattresses to be able to compare firmness.

Mattress Specialist and Director at Time4Sleep, Jonathan Warren, says; 'Mattress firmness refers to how the mattress feels when you lie on it, whether it fully supports your weight or moulds to your body. A good mattress should support your entire body, maintaining the spine's natural curvature and aligning your head, shoulders, hips, and feet properly.'

So with that in mind, let's dig into all you need to know about each sleep surface and which is best for you.

The Brook + Wilde Ultima mattress on an upholstered bed in a bedroom with decorative panelling

(Image credit: Brook + Wilde)

What is a soft mattress?

A soft mattress, like the Brook + Wilde Ultima mattress or the Emma Original Mattress, (which comes in a range of three different firmness levels to choose from, including soft) is a great choice for those with back pain.

This is because a soft mattress naturally has a little more 'give' to it, allowing the sharper points of your body (like hips, shoulders and knees) to sink a little deeper into the mattress, so that no matter your body position, your spine stays aligned and all on one level. This prevents your spine from curving or dropping too low.

So if you sleep on your side, or you move around a lot as you sleep, changing your sleep position, then a softer mattress could be better for you, to help prevent waking up with any aches or pains. We recommend trying an all-foam or memory foam mattress; alternatively, adding a mattress topper to your existing mattress can help to make it softer too.

The Sealy Newton Posturepedic mattress in a bedroom with a grey upholstered bed frame

(Image credit: Sealy)

What is a hard mattress?

A harder mattress, like the Sealy Newton Posturepedic mattress, has a solid spring construction inside, so that your body weight is supported, while still giving you a firm, level surface to sleep on.

They're perfect for those who like to sleep on their back, as they prevent the spine from sinking too low into the bed, as well as properly supporting the hips, so that they don't dip too low either, putting unnecessary strain on the spine.

Very firm mattresses are also best for front sleepers, although this sleep position puts the most strain on the spine out of all of them, so it's best to try and avoid sleeping in this position if possible.

A good firm mattress is also ideal for heavier body weights, by providing more support than softer mattresses, which in turn results in better sleep. No one wants to feel like they're sinking into the middle of their mattress! Look for open-coil springs and higher-tensioned mattresses.

Simba Hybrid Original mattress on bed in a bedroom

(Image credit: Simba)

Benefits of a soft mattress

We asked John Rastall, Head of DFS Home, who says; 'When it comes to choosing the right mattress to go with your bedframe, we all have different preferences. It's worth considering how you tend to sleep, as this might affect the kind of mattress you go for. There are a couple of things to consider: A medium mattress is good for most sleep positions, so offers versatility for couples with differing body types and needs.'

'A soft to medium mattress is great for those who sleep on their side, while a soft mattress may suit lighter sleepers who need a little extra comfort to help them drift off!'

Soft mattresses provide warmth and extra comfort, while also having enough give for those who move around a lot and sleep on their side, which could also be helpful for pregnant individuals who can't sleep on their front or back.

Eve Sleep Wunderflip mattress

(Image credit: Eve Sleep)

Benefits of a hard mattress

According to Jonathan Warren; 'Various factors, including weight, sleeping position, and any existing back issues, influence the ideal mattress firmness for each individual.'

'Firm mattresses are recommended for stomach sleepers, heavier individuals, and those with back pain, as they provide necessary support and prevent unnatural spinal curvature.'

Some people just naturally prefer a harder mattress, and find that the benefits are that they don't wake up feeling stiff or achy. The main benefits of hard mattresses seem to be more preventative, as Alison Jones, sleep expert at Sealy UK explains:

'The mattress that you sleep on is one of the most important ways to protect your spine as the wrong mattress can cause discomfort during the night and even long-term issues if not spotted soon enough. A mattress should be comfortable and supportive, helping to maintain your spine in a neutral position while you sleep.'

So hard mattresses can not only help to alleviate back pain, but also prevent the onset of it too.


(Image credit: DreamCloud)

Hard or soft mattress: which is better?

Now, as you've probably guessed already, this is kind of a trick question. As mentioned above, the best mattress for you will always be the one that supports your unique sleep position the best.

As Jonathan Warren explains; 'Whether you choose to sleep on a hard or soft mattress ultimately boils down to personal preference and finding the right balance between comfort and support. While some may prefer a softer mattress, others may find it leads to discomfort and achy mornings. Firmer mattresses can be a solution to this, but many may miss the feeling of being snug, cosy and comfortable in bed.'

So, to find out if it's better to sleep on a hard or soft mattress for you as an individual. Firstly, you need to figure out exactly how you sleep. Sleep apps can help with this, or setting up your phone by your bed to film a time-lapse while you sleep can you show you exactly how your body is positioned.

Once you know what your sleep position is, you then need to ideally try out several different types of mattresses in a mattress/bed shop. This will allow you to feel directly how comfortable a hard, medium, or soft mattress is.

Good quality mattresses can vary in price, but hard mattresses are no more expensive than soft mattresses, and vice versa.

To conclude, it's not really a case of hard vs soft and more a case of picking the perfect mattress for you that will help you get the best quality sleep.


Which is better hard or soft mattress?

When it comes to a hard vs soft mattress, you've got to remember that it comes down to you and how you sleep.

If you sleep on your back or front, then a harder mattress is better, because it will support the alignment of your spine better.

If you sleep on your side, or your sleep position changes constantly throughout the night, then a softer mattress will be better for you, because it has more give and will mould around your body contours as you move, to prevent waking up stiff and achy.

My mattress is too soft/hard. Can I fix it?

Sometimes, yes you can! If your firm mattress feels a little softer than usual, then it could be that it just needs flipping, which will re-distribute the filling inside the mattress, making it feel more firm and level again. However, if the mattress feels soft because it's too old, it will need replacing. Or, you can add firmness to your existing mattress by adding a firm mattress topper, which will add more comfort for you. It could also be that you need to replace the foundation/box spring, not the actual mattress itself.

If you want a soft to medium mattress and find that your mattress is too hard, then again, the same advice applies. Buy a mattress topper, ideally a soft bouncy one made of memory foam, and this will add extra cushion to your mattress to help absorb movement and add padding around your hips and shoulders. If you change your bed base to a sprung slatted base, this will also add some extra give and bounce, so your mattress doesn't feel so hard when you get on it.

Olivia Bevan

After graduating from Durham University in 2020, Olivia studied Modern Languages & Cultures, specifically French and German, where she had the opportunity to do a year abroad as part of her four-year course. This saw her living in Heidelberg for six months, then in Strasbourg for five months back in 2019, which has been one of the best experiences of her life so far. As a result of her lifelong passion for languages which started in primary school, Olivia can speak French and German, although not entirely fluently. She hopes to continue learning both and hopefully visit both countries more in the future. In the meantime, Duolingo will have to do.

Whilst at university, Olivia wrote reviews of student theatre pieces for various university publications, as well as writing voluntarily for a digital magazine during the pandemic. It was during this time that she discovered her love of writing reviews, mainly because she enjoys creating content that is helpful and informative for other readers.