How to make a firm mattress softer

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Mattress firmness can affect your overall sleep quality. Pairing your mattress with a softer mattress topper or replacing a solid bed base with a sprung base can help make your mattress feel softer.

A firm mattress was once considered good for the back. Doctors and medical professionals often supported this. But over recent years, this advice has changed. A mattress should conform to the shape of the body, providing the correct level of support and comfort.

There are several problems associated with sleeping on a firm mattress. A firm mattress creates pressure points, particularly around the shoulders, hips and knees. This can result in numbness, aches, pains and increased tossing and turning throughout the night.

If your firm mattress affects your sleep, there are several ways to make it feel softer.

young lady with back pain lying in bed

Use a mattress topper

If your mattress is relatively new and you’re finding it too firm to sleep on, then a softer mattress topper can help.

A mattress topper rests on the surface of your mattress, providing an extra cushioning layer. It is a cost-effective solution to help make a mattress feel softer and improve its comfort. But it is not a permanent solution for an old-worn out mattress as the topper will conform to the mattress’s shape.

Mattress toppers are available in various sizes, depths and materials. Ideally, they should be at least 5cm in depth; otherwise, anything less is unlikely to make much difference.

Each type of mattress topper has its advantages and drawbacks. Memory foam and latex toppers mould to the shape of the body and tend to be effective at relieving pressure points. Likewise, wool and feather toppers are breathable and give a softer, more luxurious feel.

Synthetic materials like polyester, microfibre and hollowfibre offer a cheaper alternative.

Change the bed base

If you’re finding your mattress too firm to sleep on, check the bed base the mattress rests on. A solid bed base or one with rigid slats will make the mattress feel firmer.

Divans, which are box-shaped bed bases covered in material, tend to be the most popular type of base. Most divans will either have a sprung bed base or a solid platform top base.

Sprung divans provide extra cushioning for the mattress, which can help to absorb some of the pressure and improve the mattress’s durability. The spring unit consists of either an open coil or pocket spring unit, which can make the mattress it is paired with feel softer to sleep on. Pocket springs are more supportive and generally provide more cushioning than coil springs. Some divan bases also provide a firm edge that extends the sleeping surface so that you don’t feel like you’re rolling out of bed.

Divan bed bases are usually available in various fabrics and storage options. Most manufacturers can provide a bed base separately from its mattress. But it is important to check that the bed base is compatible with the mattress you intend to use it with.

Bed frames will usually have a slatted bed base that the mattress sits on. These slats can be either solid or sprung. Solid slats are made with planks of wood and provide a slightly firmer feel. Whereas sprung slats are made using laminated wood, which are curved. They provide some cushioning for the mattress and give a slightly softer feel.

If you have a bed frame with solid slats that you don’t intend to replace, one option to help make the mattress feel softer is to use a bedstead base. A bedstead base is essentially a shallow divan designed to sit inside a bed frame for the mattress to rest on top.

A sprung edge bedstead base will provide similar benefits to a traditional divan, such as extra cushioning and support for the mattress. But, bear in mind that a shallow divan will increase the overall height of the bed, which may affect the bed frames aesthetics and whether you can comfortably get in and out of bed.

Like divans, it is important to check the slatted base is compatible with the mattress. Manufacturers usually provide guidance regarding slat spacing to ensure that the mattress doesn’t sag between the gaps.

Break it in

New mattresses will initially feel firmer to sleep on than expected but soften with use. Generally, it will take around a month to break in a new mattress. By then, the fillings should settle, and your mattress should begin to feel more comfortable.

Turning your mattress regularly will also allow the fillings to settle down quickly and provide an even sleeping surface.

Some mattresses are described as non-turn or no-need-to-turn. Although turning these mattresses may be unnecessary, doing so will help even out the wear and extend the mattress’s lifespan.

A no-need-to-turn mattress will have fillings on both sides of the mattress. These mattresses can be flipped over and rotated. A non-turn mattress only has a single sleeping surface as the fillings are only on the top side. These mattresses can be rotated but not flipped over.

How do I know if my mattress is too firm?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach with mattresses. Some people prefer to sleep on a firm mattress, while others prefer a mattress that moulds and wraps around their body.

But a common misconception is that a firm mattress is good for the back. This results in many people choosing a mattress that is uncomfortable and unsupportive.

Although personal preference is important, correct support depends mainly on your body weight, build and height. As a general guide:

Body weightRecommended mattress tension
Someone that weighs up to 11 stone (70kg)Soft
Someone that weighs between 11 and 16 stone (70 to 102kg)Medium
Someone that weighs 16 stone and above (102kg +)Firm

A handy check to determine if a mattress is too firm is to lie on your back and slide your hand underneath the hollow part of your back. If your hand slides underneath your back easily, the mattress is too firm. If you can’t slide your hand underneath, then it’s too soft.

There are several problems associated with sleeping on a mattress that is too firm, such as:

  • Back problems.
  • Aches and pains.
  • Pressure points around the shoulders, hips and knees.
  • Waking up with numbness, pins and needles.
  • Your mattress will feel uncomfortable.
  • Increased tossing and turning during the night.
  • Disturbed sleep.
  • Spinal misalignment.

Be wary of the term ‘orthopaedic’ used to promote mattresses. The term is misleading and generally refers to a firm mattress.

Replace your mattress

If your mattress is relatively new and you think you’ve made a mistake by choosing the wrong one, you may have the option for an exchange or refund. Some manufacturers offer extended trial periods, which can be up to 100 nights, where you can either return the mattress or exchange it for something softer, subject to their terms and conditions.

On the other hand, trying to rejuvenate an old worn-out mattress is unlikely to make much difference. The best course of action is to replace it as soon as possible.

Final thoughts

Mattress firmness can affect your overall sleep quality. Pairing your mattress with a softer mattress topper or replacing a solid bed base with a sprung base can help make your mattress feel softer. But both options may not provide a permanent solution. If you’re still finding your mattress uncomfortable or unsupportive after making it feel softer, it’s best to replace it.

About the author

About the author

Tony Brown is the founder and creator of The Bed Consultant. His career in the bed industry began in 2002. After graduating from university with a degree in Business Administration, Tony joined one of the largest independent furniture retailers in the UK as a bed consultant. Tony has helped thousands of customers find the perfect mattress.

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