A single pea was placed on the bedstead, covered by 20 mattresses and then, for good measure, 20 eider-down beds. With 40 mattresses and eider-down beds, the princess had to climb a ladder to get to her bed!
While the Princess and the Pea literary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen sounds ridiculous by contemporary standards, it may well have started a modern idea. The idea: The thicker the mattress, the more luxurious, comfortable, and supportive it will be.
But is it true? No, not necessarily, as mattress comfort and support level rest on a wide range of objective and subjective factors! These include the materials used, the number of layers, and the sleeper’s preferred sleeping position, among others.
There’s also the matter of getting the Goldilocks balance when it comes to mattress thickness. Too thin, and your body won’t be comfortable without sufficient cushioning. Too thick, and you may have difficulty climbing into bed, or you’re likely to overheat. Indeed, hitting the sweet spot can be tricky, but it is achievable!
Read on and find more about the best thickness for your mattress.
Table of Contents
Categories of Mattress Thickness
Despite the nearly 36 million mattresses shipped by the industry every year, there are no standard regulations on their thickness! Manufacturers make decisions about the height or depth of their mattresses without local, state, and federal oversight, not even industry regulation. Most high-quality mattresses, nonetheless, range in thickness between eight and 15 inches, which can accommodate the needs of average sleepers.
But mattresses also come in several categories based on thickness, from low profile to extra deep. Most mattresses come in these thickness categories, too, so there’s always one for even the pickiest buyer. Note that thickness and size are completely different aspects – thickness refers to the height measured from top to bottom, while the size refers to the length and width measured on the surface.
- Low Profile (2-4 inches)
These mattresses are the thinnest and, as such, often the least expensive ones on the market. But these have their uses, too, such as in cribs for infants and trundle beds for children. Their thinner depth means that infants will find it easy to turn over and move instead of being “caught” in a thick mattress. Since children can quickly outgrow their beds, purchasing affordable low-profile mattresses makes financial sense, too.
Low-profile mattresses can also be used on foldaway beds, guest beds, and air mattresses for added comfort. These mattresses add comfort to bare wood or metal frames while still being easy on your budget. Just remember, however, that these aren’t suitable choices if you often host guests overnight – adults don’t find them comfortable, and these break down faster.
- Slim (5-8 inches)
These mattresses are thicker than the low-profile mattresses and, thus, typically come with higher price tags. Their thicker layers make them good choices for children and people with mobility issues, and petite persons. In many ways, these are the Goldilocks of mattresses for these cohorts – thick enough for comfort and support, thin enough for ease of climbing into bed and moving around while on it.
- Standard (9-12 inches)
These are the more common options recommended for average adults whose preferred sleeping positions range from back, stomach and side to combination. Most standard sizes, from twin to king, queen, and California king, are in this thickness range, too. Plus, the wide range of materials, technologies, and price points for mattresses with standard heights can be bewildering.
- Thick or Deep (13-16 inches)
These mattresses can be pricey, but their increased durability and quality can more than make up for them. Side sleepers and larger or heavier sleepers are more likely to benefit from the increased thickness.
- Extra Thick or Extra Deep (17 inches and above)
While these mattresses may seem the most luxurious, they can be unnecessarily thick that even plus-size individuals won’t benefit from. These also add little to no extra comfort and support than the thick or deep mattresses. These are also so thick that no known mainstream brands make them, meaning you can only have them custom-made.
Factors Determining Mattress Thickness
Mattresses have at least two layers that make up their thickness. Even all-foam mattresses have two or more types of foam, such as memory foam for the comfort layer and dense polyurethane foam for the base layer. But there are also mattresses with three or more layers consisting of different materials, including foam and innerspring coils.
The thickness of each layer and the materials used in each one affect the comfort and support experience of the mattress and its overall durability. For example, dense foam is considered more durable than soft foam, but it may not be as comfortable due to its firmness. Thus, it’s more commonly used as a base layer.
The three major layers in mattresses that make up their height are as follows.
- Comfort Layer
The top layer is typically made of latex foam, memory foam, or gel foam since it’s a material known for its comfortable cushioning effect. In many innerspring mattresses, the comfort layer can be a pillow top or Euro top made of cotton, polyfoam, or wool.
Regardless of the material used, its main purpose is to provide the individual sleeper with a comfortable cushion resulting in significant relief from pressure points. The material must have adequate softness and responsiveness to contours the body’s shape while still firm enough to prevent spine misalignment.
Other purposes of the comfort layer include decreased motion transfer, noise, and heat retention. All-foam mattresses tend to be less noisy, while innerspring and hybrid mattresses with their coils can creak and squeak with movement. But pocketed technology combined with a thick comfort layer can muffle, if not eliminate, these sounds.
Ideally, the comfort layer should be at least two inches thick for sufficient comfort for your body. But a thicker comfort layer is welcome, too, particularly when it’s made of multiple foam layers. Yes, the comfort layer can have multiple layers, including its quilting, the middle upholstery with thick foam, and insulators.
- Transition Layer
The transition layer may or may not be present depending on the type of mattress, but it’s fairly common for all-foam, innerspring, and hybrid mattresses to have it. The main function of every type of transition layer, whether latex foam or memory foam, is to create a barrier between the softer comfort layer and the firmer base layer. It prevents your body from sinking too far into the base layer, with less comfortable denser foam or coils.
But it can have other purposes, too, depending on the type of mattress. For example, all-foam mattresses are designed to provide targeted support for the shoulders, back, and hips, even the legs, and feet. By targeted support, each part of the body receives support depending on its need – your shoulders and hips benefit from softer foam while your head, lower back, and feet get more comfort from firmer foam.
Many transitional layers are also designed with an uneven surface – small valleys and hills carved into the foam. The uneven surface increases breathability and, thus, decreases heat retention through open pockets where heat can be dispersed faster.
The ideal thickness for the transition layer ranges from one to two inches, but it can also be thicker. The material is typically different from the comfort layer, such as dense latex, gel-infused memory foam.
- Base Layer
The base layer is also known as the foundation layer because it’s in the bottommost part, and it provides the foundation upon which the upper layers rest on. The materials used are also stronger to withstand the weight of both the comfort and transition layers and the sleepers. These include dense latex foam or polyfoam and pocketed springs, common in innerspring and hybrid mattresses.
In most mattresses, the base layer can make up to 50% of their thickness! Such thickness is necessary since the base layer impacts the mattress’s overall durability, quality, and support capacity.
If it’s too thin, the comfort and transition layers may wobble and even become too squashed. Over time, the mattress will show signs of premature wear and tear, including sagging at the middle and edges. You will also suffer from its effects since the mattress isn’t as comfortable and supportive as it should be.
Tip: Choose a mattress with at least 50% of its thickness due to its base layer. So, a 10-inch mattress must have a 5-inch base layer, and it’s usually stated in the product description.
- Mattress Toppers and Protectors
While mattress toppers and protectors aren’t part of a mattress per se – these are removable accessories – these will add height to it. These can add two or more inches to the mattress’s original height depending on their respective thickness. These accessories must then be considered when you’re choosing the height of the mattress and its frame.
Keep in mind, too, that mattress toppers and protectors are different things. On the one hand, mattress toppers or pads provide extra comfort and support, increase breathability and temperature regulation, and enhance mattress life. Depending on their construction, these can either soften or firm up the feel of your mattress.
Mattress toppers can be made of cotton, wool, and down and latex foam or memory foam. Many of these products are at least two inches thick – and these can be as thick as four inches, too – and the extra inches can add up on your mattress.
On the other hand, mattress protectors are a protective barrier against solid and liquid stains seeping through to the comfort layer. These are typically placed between the beddings and the mattress topper if any. This way, solid and liquid accidents only penetrate the sheets, so it’s a simple matter of changing them, not getting deep cleaning services for the mattress.
Mattress protectors are typically thinner and, thus, won’t add too much to your mattress’ overall height. Choices include encasements, anchors, and fitted protectors, available in various materials, including polyurethane, vinyl, and polyester.
Factors to Consider When Deciding on Mattress Thickness
With that said, we can ask the all-important question: What’s the best thickness in a mattress? None! More specifically, there’s no right or wrong answer since there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to mattresses.
Note, however, that the height of your bed – the mattress and the frame it sits on – will affect your overall comfort when getting in and out of it, as well as when lying down on it. This is true whether your bed is a humble Japanese-style futon on the floor or the humongous 40 mattresses in the Princes and the Pea story.
Let’s discover the major factors that must be considered when choosing mattresses based on their thickness. Note that all of these factors have equal weight, so it’s best to approach the selection process with a holistic perspective.
- Height of the Base or Frame
Before browsing mattress selections, you must first get an accurate measurement of the base on which your selected mattress will rest. Otherwise, you can get a too thin or thick mattress concerning the best possible height for your age, physical mobility, and aesthetic preferences. Regardless of your existing base, this is true – a box spring, a wooden platform, a metal foundation, or an adjustable bed.
Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all overall bed height! But sleep experts recommend a bed height no more than 25 inches for adults. At this height, an average adult will have an easy time getting on and off the bed.
For example, if your existing frame is seven inches high, an 18-inch high mattress is the limit. But you can also buy a new frame based on the height of your preferred new mattress while keeping this rule of thumb in mind.
This general 25-inch rule, of course, doesn’t apply to every Tom, Dick, and Harry! In the end, your specific height will also affect your decision. You must then conduct a practical test to determine whether you’re comfortable with a 16-inch high bed or a 25-inch high one, or somewhere in between.
The test is quite simple, too. Sit at the edge of your bed while maintaining good posture and ensuring that your bottom is comfortably seated (i.e., not slipping down). Check if knees are level with your hips and your feet are flat against the floor – if they are, then your bed is at its most ergonomic height.
If your knees bend above the level of your hips, your bed’s too low to the ground. If your feet dangle above the floor, or you can’t place your feet on the floor without sitting at the very edge of the bed, then it’s too high. You can then make a more informed decision about mattress height with this thought in mind.
Don’t forget about your preferred aesthetics, too, as bed height will affect your bedroom’s overall look and vibe. You may want a slightly taller bed if your bedroom has high ceilings or a lower bed with limited space. Remember that form (i.e., aesthetics) and function (i.e., ergonomics) can be combined with imagination.
- Preferred Sleeping Position
Think about your preferred sleeping position because different levels of thickness will mean different levels of comfort and support. Again, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but sleep experts recommend the following sleeping position-mattress thickness correlation.
Back sleepers must maintain their spines’ natural curvature and, thus, prevent prolonged spinal misalignment. Otherwise, the dull aches and sharp pains in their back, neck, and shoulders will persist during the day. Muscle stiffness is also a common side effect of poor spinal support since the body is subjected to uncomfortable positions.
The recommended thickness for back sleepers is between 10 and 12 inches. But thickness isn’t the only essential aspect – the mattress should ideally have a thinner comfort layer and a thicker base layer. This combination prevents sinkage into the mattress and, thus, provides more spinal support.
Side sleepers place more pressure on their hips or shoulders. They are also prone to muscle aches after several hours in the same position. For this reason, the best thickness for side sleepers ranges between 12 and 14 inches. These thick or deep mattresses provide ample cushioning to the shoulders and hips, thus, resulting in decreased pressure.
Stomach sleepers have the highest risk of spinal misalignment because of their position. Mattresses with at least 10 inches in depth are a great choice, but these should have a thinner comfort layer combined with a thicker base layer. The result is a medium-firm to firm mattress that offers resistance against the pressure from the abdomen.
Combination sleepers change positions during sleep, such as from the side to the back. Mattresses with at least 12 inches in depth and with a medium feel are their best choice. The equal balance between soft and firm feel means sufficient comfort and support in all sleeping positions.
- Body Type
Lighter people have a lesser compression effect on a standard mattress than their heavier and larger counterparts. Your choice of mattress, thickness-wise, will be partly determined by your body type, including your height and weight. You may want to consider these recommendations.
Lightweight sleepers, defined as persons weighing less than 130 pounds, can sleep well on slim and standard mattresses with a thickness between eight and 12 inches. Their lighter weight means less compression on the mattress, so a thicker comfort layer will better contour.
Average sleepers with a weight range from 130 pounds to 230 pounds will appreciate the medium-firm feel of mattresses with 10 to 12 inches in depth. While 10-12 inches seem too thick for their weight, it’s just right because it’s also in the midrange of the thickness spectrum.
Plus-size sleepers weighing above 230 pounds need extra-thick mattresses that will withstand the higher compression from their bodies. The comfort layer must be at least six inches, a thickness just enough to prevent sinkage while still providing a comfortable hug.
For co-sleepers, the recommended mattress thickness will be different. There’s more compression on the mattress with the combined weight, resulting in more sagging in the specific sleeping areas. In this case, a thicker mattress is a must for co-sleepers, preferably at least 12 inches thick.
- Specific Medical Conditions
For people with medical conditions, the height of the bed will have more impact than on healthy persons. If you have chronic pain in the hips, shoulders, and knees, a bed with a lower profile makes ergonomic sense. You don’t want a difficult time climbing on and off your high bed, not to mention that the strain will worsen your aches and pains.
Go for a thinner mattress but also check that its firmness level works to your benefit. Mattresses with a medium-firm feel are excellent for joint pain-related issues since these provide ample spine support combined with a reasonable cushion.
- Mobility Issues
Yet another subjective factor that influences mattress thickness is mobility issues, such as persons in wheelchairs or the elderly. Thick mattresses are a big no-no because they hinder their ability to get on and off the bed easily.
Again, there is no one-size-fits-all solution since every person has needs specific to their age, mobility limitations, and height. But it may be helpful to start with a bed about the same height as a standard chair, which means between 18 and 23 inches.
Tip: Look for an adjustable bed with a mechanism that allows for lowering and raising it. Its height can then be adjusted based on the height of the mattress and the overall bed height most beneficial in your case.
When you consider these factors, you will find it easier to choose the right thickness in a mattress. If you are unsure, go for a mattress with a standard thickness (9-12 inches) and a medium-firm feel. You can then make adjustments as needed. These can include adding a mattress topper for added height and adjusted firmness level or adjusting the height of the frame.
And therein lies the beauty of modern mattresses! You don’t have to conform to other people’s expectations regarding your quality of sleep. You can take their advice, but you must also consider your own unique needs in a mattress and enjoy the bed you made for yourself. Just think of what the princess could have enjoyed if only she made her bed – starting with getting rid of the pea – and laid on it!
The Pros and Cons of Thin Mattresses
Of course, thin mattresses have their merits, too. While there’s been a push toward their thicker counterparts, the low profile and slim mattresses have their niche for the following reasons.
- These are lighter in weight and, thus, easier to move. People with a mobile lifestyle or temporary accommodations prefer thinner mattresses because these can be easily stored or transferred.
- These are safer to use for infants and even small children. A crib mattress should not be more than six inches thick and should be on the firm side for safety reasons. The firmer the crib mattress, the better since soft mattresses can suffocate newborns and infants. To test its firmness, press around its edges and on its center – the mattress should immediately bounce back when you release the pressure.
- These are typically more affordable than thick mattresses. But with careful consideration, low profile and slim mattresses can provide the sweet spot between comfort and support.
- These have a lower profile and, thus, are easier to get on and off even when mounted on a frame.
There are disadvantages to low profile and slim mattresses, too. Co-sleepers find that these offer less comfort and support and sag faster than their thicker counterparts. These mattresses are also less durable and, thus, may not be a good investment in the long run.
The Pros and Cons of Thick Mattresses
Extra-thick mattresses were not as common in the 20th century because the materials and technologies made for comfortable, supportive, and luxurious mattresses weren’t available then. Manufacturers then compensated for it by producing thicker mattresses with multiple layers.
With more advanced materials and technologies, mattresses with 16-, 18 – and 20-inch thickness became unnecessary. For example, gel-infused memory foam decreased the need for higher pocketed coils for more airflow and less heat retention in the mattress.
But there are benefits to standard and thick mattresses that contribute to their enduring popularity!
- These provide more comfortable cushioning due to their thicker comfort layers. As previously mentioned, side sleepers and co-sleepers benefit from the thick latex or memory foam top layer.
- These are more durable due to their thicker base layer, not to mention that the base layer itself consists of stronger materials like dense foam and pocketed springs. Most standard and thick mattresses also come with a 10-year warranty, proof that their manufacturer stands behind the quality of their products. (Plus, changing your mattress before the ten years are up is highly recommended.)
- These may provide a more attractive aesthetic, particularly if you want a posh bedroom. Many design ideas can be done on a thick mattress, such as ruffled covers.
On the flip side, standard and extra-thick mattresses have their drawbacks.
- These are more expensive due to their numerous layers, quality materials, and labor-intensive production process. But if you consider their superior quality and durability, you will think of them as an investment in your health.
- These are heavier, too, for the same reasons, and it can be to your advantage or disadvantage depending on your lifestyle. You are likely to have a hard time changing the sheets and moving them to another room. But if you have no immediate plans of moving it, then it’s all good.
- These aren’t suitable for persons with certain medical conditions, such as arthritis, and with limited mobility for reasons mentioned above.
- These can be heat traps resulting in overheating while you sleep. The good news is that modern materials and technologies exist for better temperature regulation, such as gel-infused memory foam and pocketed coils.
In conclusion, thin or thick, your mattress must meet your specific needs and wants on a sleeping surface! Unlike the fairy tale princess and her pea, your mattress doesn’t have to be proof of your identity as an individual. But, it must contribute to a life lived like a royal, even if it’s only in your sleep.