Firmer + topper vs. less firm?

First of all, this forum is amazing. I’m getting close to making a purchase - doing some deciding on price between beds at Dixie Foam, something at Economy Foam (a foam store that does beds here in NYC) vs possibly going online to Dreamfoam. The other thing I’m figuring out, though - or trying - is the relationship between the mattress and the topper.

I’m a side/stomach sleeper that likes a bed that squishes down a little bit - a medium firm with a sense of give or being held. (I’m a fan of pillowtops but want to avoid the durability issues they present.) Knowing that bed softening over time is a big problem, I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off buying a firmer mattress and adding a soft topper instead of going with a softer bed to begin with.

I know that I’m eliding comfort layer and support layer somewhat, but I’m not quite sure how to break it down. Any thoughts? I tried to find threads about this in the forum but as you can imagine, the keywords “topper” and “firm” are very popular…


Hi arielariel,

As you probably know from reading here … combination stomach side sleeping is a more difficult combination because they are at opposite ends of the range. Side sleepers typically need thicker softer comfort layers to relieve pressure points in the hips and shoulders while stomach sleepers typically need a firmer thinner comfort layers to help prevent the alignment issues that come from sleeping in a “swayback” position. the best option is usually to have a comfort layer that is “just enough” to relieve pressure when you are sleeping on your side but no more so that the risk of alignment issues on your stomach is lessened. Zoning that has a firmer section under the middle of the body can sometimes be helpful as well.

The softening isn’t an “automatic issue” and is more connected with the quality of the materials in the mattress. If there are higher quality foams or materials in the comfort layers then softening isn’t nearly as big an issue regardless of the type of construction of the mattress.

I think that buying a mattress and a topper separately introduces two unknowns and is much more difficult to get right. First you have to buy the mattress and sleep on it and then you need to estimate what the best topper would be based on your experience and best judgement and this can often take some experimenting.

It’s can be a great idea if you test them both at the same time so you know how the combination feels for you and this has several advantages over a mattress that is one piece without separate layers and a zip cover because a separate topper can be replaced without replacing the whole bed. It can also have a different softer feel than the same layer in a mattress cover but it’s not as good an idea IMO if you have to buy them separately because there is a much greater risk of making wrong decisions (unless of course you are able to get a refund on the topper if you make the wrong choice but this is much less common).

My first choice would always be to get as close as you possibly can with a single purchase.

If you do end up buying a mattress that needs a topper (or you are making an exchange and your options are very restricted and this is the best way available to eliminate lower quality foam in the comfort layers) … then post #8 here can provide some guidelines but these depend on sleeping on your mattress for a while first to help you identify how much “change” is required and this can be a fairly subjective process. It would never be my first choice.

Hope this helps.


One common theme that I see happening here is: Help my mattress is too firm. It felt softer in the store. Please help me select a topper. Six or 8 topper tries later (total waste of time and money) the party is often satisfied or at least close to satisfied. Lots of these are with the PLB Pamper. It is what it is. A firm mattress with minimal (next to nothing) comfort layers.

To me I want to do it right the first time and not waste the resources to ship back regardless of who pays.

I’ve been on a 3-5 year mattress roller coaster cycle for the past15+ years. I finally took control of my destiny by purchasing a SleepEz configurable mattress. Now if something starts to soften I can do swapping and if I feel the loss of support prior to the condition measuring as warrantable, I can just buy a layer or two and be fresh once again.

This is great, and good to think about. I tend to wake up on my side so am going a little softer generally speaking than might be good for a straight stomach sleeper.

I’m still working out the exact details but the reassurance about quality is great - it’s hard to buy a bed with room for an unknown variable and I do not have the $ to spend getting things just right on endless toppers (especially if I stretch my budget a little for a good bed.) Thanks for the feedback. I think I am going to do a little more meditation/one last circuit of going and lying down and then from there make a good call. This site has been an invaluable part of my process. Thanks a ton.