Having a mattress that is too firm can lead to discomfort, pain, and poor sleep quality. Luckily, there are several effective ways to soften an excessively firm mattress and improve comfort.
Signs Your Mattress is Too Firm
Here are some common indicators that your mattress is too hard and not providing adequate pressure relief:
- Waking up with stiffness, numbness, aches and pains
- Tossing and turning during the night
- Feeling like you’re sleeping “on” the mattress rather than “in” it
- Better sleep quality on softer mattresses like in hotels
- General discomfort and sore pressure points
If you are experiencing any of these on a regular basis, it’s likely your mattress is too firm for your body’s needs. The materials are not cushioning your body’s natural curves and pressure points optimally. This can lead to reduced blood circulation, contact stress on joints, misalignment of the spine, and decreased sleep quality due to discomfort.
Some other signs your mattress may be too firm include:
- You feel the need to add lots of blankets or toppers to soften the surface
- You wake up frequently or are a light sleeper
- You experience numbness or tingling in your arms, shoulders or hips
- Your joints or muscles ache and feel sore in the mornings
- You are sleeping predominantly on your back or stomach rather than your side
- There are gaps between your body and the mattress surface when lying down
Pay attention to any patterns of discomfort that emerge after sleeping on your mattress for an extended period. If some of the above issues sound familiar, your mattress is likely too hard for optimal support and pressure relief.
Consequences of Sleeping on Too Firm a Mattress
The main problems associated with an overly firm mattress include:
- Discomfort and frequent tossing/turning during sleep
- Misalignment of the spine, leading to back and neck pain
- Joint pain and numbness/tingling in shoulders, hips, arms
- Reduced blood circulation resulting in waking up frequently
- Increased tension, soreness, and fatigue upon waking
Sleeping on a surface that is too hard prevents your body from relaxing into the mattress. This cuts off blood circulation to muscles and joints, causing aches, stiffness, and “pins and needles” sensations when bearing weight on sensitive pressure points for too long.
Without proper cushioning for the body’s natural curves, back sleepers in particular may experience flattening of the spine’s S-shape. Side sleepers often feel discomfort in the shoulders and hips which can’t sink into the mattress. Stomach sleepers tend to develop neck pain from excessive arching backwards.
The tossing, turning and disrupted sleep caused by an overly firm mattress can leave you feeling exhausted rather than rested. Mattress comfort and support are crucial for rejuvenating sleep.
Effective Ways to Make Your Mattress Softer
If you determine your mattress feels too hard, there are a number of ways to soften it up for greater comfort:
Wait for Break-In Period
New mattresses often start quite firm and soften over an initial break-in period of 30-60 days as the materials compress under regular use. Give your new mattress 1-2 months for any initial firmness to ease up.
However, if significant discomfort persists beyond 60 days, your mattress is likely the wrong firmness level for your preferences and body type. Continuing to use an unsuitable mattress can aggravate aches and disrupt proper rest.
Exchange During Trial Period
Many mattress companies offer risk-free trials of 100 nights or more. If your new mattress still feels excessively firm after 30+ days of initial break-in, you have the option of exchanging it for a softer model more suited to your needs.
Be sure to read the trial period terms closely and choose a company that makes exchanges or returns convenient, such as free at-home pickup of the unwanted mattress. This makes it straightforward to swap out a mattress that just doesn’t provide the right comfort and support.
Use a Mattress Topper
Adding a soft topper made of memory foam, latex foam, featherbed, or other cushioning material is an easy and affordable fix for a too-firm mattress. Choose a topper that is 2-3 inches thick for significant softening effect.
The plush layer helps cushion pressure points around the shoulders, hips, and back for side and back sleepers. Look for toppers with contouring properties to get support and push-back while still relieving pressure on joints. Down and feather toppers add luxurious density.
Be aware that while very thin 1″ mattress toppers may protect against dust and spills, they don’t noticeably modify the firmness of a mattress. Aim for at least 2-3″ thickness of visco-elastic, latex or down materials if you want to feel a substantial improvement in softness and comfort.
Rotate and Flip Regularly
Rotating and flipping your mattress can help soften it up over time. This evens out the compression from prolonged use in any one spot, allowing the materials to recover some of their loft and flexibility. Mattress rotation should be done every 3-6 months.
Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, as some mattresses like those with foam comfort layers should only be rotated and not flipped. Pay attention to any changes in firmness as you rotate, which can indicate if compression is uneven or more severe in certain areas.
Mattress flipping involves rotating the mattress 180 degrees so the top and bottom switch places. Do this every few months for 2-sided mattresses, or 1-2 times per year for single-sided mattresses that can be flipped. Flipping helps the padding wear evenly and prevent sagging indentations.
Adjust Your Foundation
Placing your mattress on a box spring or flexible slatted foundation allows more “give” than a rigid solid platform bed frame. This allows slightly more sinkage and conforming to relieve pressure on joints.
A box spring is essentially a wooden frame with flexible bent springs inside. Some are soft and springy while firmer ones offer more support. Adding a box spring can make your mattress feel a bit softer and bouncier.
Platform beds or slat foundations with slats spaced 2-3 inches apart are also more forgiving than solid platforms. Avoid placing your mattress directly on the floor, as this can make it feel excessively firm and is bad for moisture control.
Change Sleep Positions
Switching from back or stomach sleeping to side sleeping requires a softer mattress surface for proper spine alignment. Side sleeping helps open up the curves of the spine, so adequate cushioning in the shoulders and hips prevents hyperextension of these joints.
Placing a pillow between your knees further relieves pressure. If side sleeping results in a better night’s rest than back or stomach positions, your mattress is likely too firm to support healthy alignment of your body. Changing positions can help in the short term, but a softer mattress may be needed.
Purchase a New Mattress
If your current mattress is over 8 years old and other methods don’t solve the firmness issues, replacement is likely needed for ideal comfort and support. When buying a new mattress, look for those described as plush, ultra plush, cushion firm, pillowtop, eurotop or with thick comfort layers.
Aged mattresses tend to get firmer over years of use as the materials compress and lose resiliency. Advances in mattress fabrics, padding, spring systems and pressure-relieving foams also means newer mattresses provide plusher comfort than older designs using equivalent firmness ratings.
Seeking out customer reviews that specifically mention the words “soft” or “plush feel” can help identify mattress models that naturally run on the softer side. This ensures the mattress will continue feeling lightly cushioned even after the expected gradual firming through regular usage over time.
Reasons Why Mattresses Can Become Too Firm
There are a few common reasons why a mattress can feel excessively hard and uncomfortable:
The padding and comfort layers compress – Over many years the quilting, foam, fibers and padding on top compress from repeated body weight. This causes a flatter, firmer surface.
Your personal firmness preference has changed – You may have preferred a very firm mattress initially, but now seek more plush softness for pressure relief as you age.
You didn’t properly break-in the mattress – Insufficient rotation and not allowing the materials to fully compress and soften during the first months of use can make it feel overly hard.
The firmness is wrong for your sleep position or body type – Different body types and sleeping positions require different firmness levels. What felt great initially may now cause discomfort.
A change in health or weight – Increased aches/pains or weight gain can mean you now need more thick cushioning though the mattress itself hasn’t changed.
Using an incompatible foundation – Beds that don’t flex like box springs can exacerbate firmness issues in the mattress layers above.
FAQs About Improving Mattress Firmness
Can I make my firm mattress softer without buying anything new?
Yes, using a mattress topper, adjusting your foundation, and trying new sleep positions are effective free ways to soften an existing mattress. Give break-in, rotation and alternative bedding a chance before assuming you need an entirely new mattress.
Is a soft or firm mattress better for back pain?
People with back pain often need a medium soft mattress that cushions while supporting the spine’s natural alignment. Extreme firm or soft mattresses can both worsen pain. Try to find an optimal balance.
How much do mattress toppers soften a firm mattress?
Good quality 2-3 inch memory foam or latex mattress toppers can make a mattress feel significantly softer and reduce pressure points. 1 inch toppers provide minimal softening. Thick plush toppers make a noticeable difference.
Are extra firm mattresses good for your back?
Very firm mattresses can cause pain by not conforming properly to the body’s natural curves. Unless recommended by a doctor, medium mattresses are usually best for back health. Softer surfaces provide more pressure relief.
When should you replace instead of soften your mattress?
Consider replacement instead of softening if your mattress is sagging, over 8 years old, uncomfortable even with toppers, or no longer providing proper support for back & joints.
The key takeaways are:
- Allow 30-60 days for new mattresses to soften during break-in
- Rotate and flip mattresses regularly to even out wear
- Experiment with mattress toppers, bedding layers, and foundations
- Gradually make small adjustments to find the right comfort level
- If significant pain persists, mattress replacement may be the best solution
With some patience and troubleshooting, you can turn an uncomfortably firm mattress into one that perfectly cushions and supports your body so you can sleep soundly. Pay attention to any nagging pains or sleep disruptions as signals your mattress is too hard. A few simple tweaks can work wonders for transforming the feel of your bed.