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6 firm mattresses for back support to shop in 2021

Shopping for a mattress? A firm model can provide more support and improve your sleep.
Woman Lying On Bed At Home, with light shining on her face
If you’re a back sleeper or a side sleeper, a firm mattress can give you added spine support and relieve pressure on your joints.Natalia Romero / EyeEm / Getty Images

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You spend a lot of your life in bed, and anyone who’s had a poor-quality mattress knows how much it can affect your sleep. But if you feel like you’re constantly sinking into your mattress or don’t get enough support while you sleep, it may be time to consider a firmer mattress.

“Finding a mattress that offers the right amount of cushion and support can absolutely help you to have a better night's sleep,” said Meghan Hunter, senior editor at Mattress Nerd. To help you narrow down the sheer amount of mattress options online, we spoke to experts about features to look for in a firm mattress and used their advice to round up highly rated options on top of their own recommendations.

SKIP AHEAD Top-rated firm mattresses

What is a firm mattress?

Typically, the type of foam used in a mattress’ comfort layer determines how firm it is. A firm mattress may only have 1 to 2 inches of memory foam or other padding, while a soft mattress may have 4 inches or more, explained Logan Foley, managing editor at Sleep Foundation. The density of the foam can also affect firmness — mattresses with a higher density will have a much firmer feel.

You’ll be able to get an initial feel of how firm a mattress is by lying down on it. How much the mattress “gives” or “flexes” to your weight determines how firm it is, said Alex Dimitriu, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist. “Imagine a 10-pound bowling ball,” he said. “On a firm mattress it would sink in less deeply; on a soft mattress it would sink in more deeply.”

Top firm mattresses in 2021

Here are some top-rated firm mattresses to consider based on the shopping advice from our experts, as well as a few expert-recommended firm mattress options.

Bedgear M3 Mattress

Chris Winter, MD, a neurologist and sleep specialist, recommends this mattress to his patients. It allows you to choose different levels of firmness on each side of the bed, with four comfort options to choose from. The firm version of the mattress is rated 7.5 out of 10 on the firmness scale. Its ventilation panels are meant to help air circulate and prevent humidity from accumulating. You can also use the mattress on either an adjustable, slatted or box spring base, and you’ll get 120 days to see if it’s right for you.

Helix Dawn Firm Mattress

This mattress is Helix’s firmest model, ideal for back and stomach sleepers — the dawn combines both memory plus foam and the company’s own foam layers to create pressure relief on the body. It offers added support through multiple layers of high-density foam, but is still breathable, according to the brand. It comes with a 100-night trial, and its firmness is rated 8.5 out of 10 on the firmness scale.

Layla Sleep Memory Foam Mattress

With this model, you get two mattresses in one — one side of the mattress is firmer, while the other side is softer, depending on your needs. Made of copper foam, this mattress is both breathable and antimicrobial, so it will keep you cool through the night and fight odor-causing bacteria to keep your mattress fresh. The firm side is rated 7 out of 10 on the firmness scale. It has a 3-inch gel memory foam layer which offers added support and comes with a 120-night test trial.

Plank Firm Mattress

This flippable mattress offers two firmness options that allow you to customize your sleep: one ultra-firm side and one traditional-firm side. This model also comes with cooling panels to regulate your temperature while you sleep and is engineered to support your back and spine. The ultra-firm side is rated 9 out of 10 on the firmness scale, while the more traditional-firm side is rated 7 out of 10 on the firmness scale. This mattress comes with a 120-night trial.

Saatva Classic Mattress

This mattress comes with a layer of high-density memory foam for added firmness and back support, rated an 8 out of 10 on the firmness scale. The Classic is ideal for anyone with back issues — according to the brand, it has a seal of approval from the Congress of Chiropractic State Associations. It also comes with both a 180-day at-home trial and 15-year warranty.

Sealy Response Performance Elm Avenue Firm

This ultra-firm foam mattress comes with both cool gel foam and air foam for added support. Ranked a 7 out of 10 on the firmness scale, Sealy uses its proprietary Posturepedic Technology to target the heaviest parts of your body with reinforced support. You’ll also get a 120-night trial with the mattress.

How to shop for a firm mattress

When shopping for a firm mattress, be sure to check the firmness range that is listed on the company’s website. Most companies list a firm mattress anywhere from a 5-9 on the firmness scale (which typically ranges from 1-10), but Foley recommends at least a 7 on that scale for a truly firm mattress.

Pay attention to the quality of the mattress, too: Most mattresses these days are either memory foam or hybrids, meaning they are a mix of pocketed coils and memory foam comfort layers. The price will often indicate the quality of the mattress, so you probably shouldn’t buy the cheapest one out there, Foley noted. The better quality options will run around $1,000, though pricing depends on the mattress size.

Other features to consider include feel and temperature regulation, according to Winter. In our guide to cooling mattresses, experts previously told us that cooling gel, temperature sensitivity and ventilation can help a mattress expel heat instead of trapping it.

While shopping, also make sure your mattress isn’t too firm. When sleeping on your side, it’s important not to feel too much pressure in your shoulder and hip, said Dimitriu. Iif you find yourself needing a lot of pillows to hold your head up while sleeping, it may be a sign the mattress is too firm. Most brands let you “trial” out a mattress for a few months to see how it feels — Dimitriu recommends this option in case you find that your mattress isn’t what you were expecting. “Considering you spend about one-third of your life in bed, it is worth really researching and trying out different mattresses,” he said.

Should you get a firm mattress?

Whether you need a firm mattress depends on what type of sleeper you are, said Dimitriu. Back sleepers do better on firm mattresses, while side sleepers do better on soft mattresses. If you aren’t already a back sleeper, though, it might be something you want to consider: Studies show that sleeping on your back offers the most health benefits, as it uses gravity to keep your body in an even alignment over your spine and relieves pressure on your back and joints. If you want to become a back sleeper, buying a firm mattress may be the first step to getting there.

Firm mattresses may also be better for those who weigh over 230 pounds, said Foley, as it will prevent them from sinking in past the mattress’ comfort levels, giving them more support. And ultimately, “everyone is different and some people just prefer the feel of a firmer mattress when they sleep,” she said.

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