How firm is too firm?

Hello! New guy here. Going to Oklahoma Mattress Co. tomorrow for 2nd visit with Jim. Looking at all latex. Started with 6" firm core with 2" each med and soft Talalay. Got up after 20 minutes and my back hurt. Everything I tried after that, my back hurt. Wife and I tried different combo’s for 2 hours, but I think once I started hurting, I was not able to really feel anything correctly. I’m 6’2 and weigh 300lbs. Jim said we will start tomorrow with 6" firm core with 4" med, then try xtra firm core with 4" firm. My wife is afraid I’m going for too much support and no comfort. She’s 5’10 and 200 lbs, and she wants lots of smoosh on her half. I’m afraid she’ll have all comfort and no support. This will be our 3rd bed in 5 years. First 2 were big chain big S beds that were firm. About 6k worth. The tops surrendered w/i a few months. We’re both side sleepers, and my shoulder hurts when I sleep, and I get up with back pain that soon dissipates after I move around. A few months back wife bought soft 4" dunlop topper to try to help my shoulder. No luck. So, we are nervous about getting this right for us. Whew. Wife thinks we need all latex, and Jim doesn’t sell latex over innerspring, so all latex it is. Getting ready for tomorrow, studied tons of info and feedback over the last 2 weeks! I hope we get this right! Thank you all so much for the education. My wife says that Phoenix is a genius. Your advice is calm and logical and smart. We appreciate anything you could say that might help us before going back. This site deserves an award!

Hi Ivehadit,

There is really no easy or specific answer to this question because it depends on the design of the mattress and which layers you are talking about as well as how each person interacts with each design based on the differences in their body type, sleeping style, and individual sensitivities and even physiological differences. As you can read in post #4 here and in post #5 here … the goal of a mattress is to provide you with the PPP (Posture and alignment, Pressure relief, and your Personal preferences) that is closest to your personal ideal. This will take a combination of firmness and softness in different layers that work well together with your body type and sleeping style.

I will say though that at your weight much firmer than the norm would be a better choice because heavier weights will perceive firmer layers as being softer than lighter people.

Your experience of testing is also not unusual in terms of the “residual effect” of testing some mattresses and it’s usually a good idea to wait a bit before testing more when this happens or when you lose the ability to differentiate between mattresses because of “testing fatigue”.

You are in good hands and I would take your time. I would also remember that a little firmer is usually a little safer choice than a little softer because you can always soften up a mattress that is too firm over time but you can’t improve the support of a mattress that is too soft by adding layers on top and you would need to remove or replace layers in this case.

In general terms … most people today are used to mattresses that are probably too soft for their needs although mattresses that are too firm (firm enough that they produce symptoms of pressure relief or alignment issues when you sleep on them) are also not good choices. It’s always the balance between the conflicting requirements of pressure relief and alignment which produces the “ideal” mattress for each person.


Just want to thank you for your time and response. So that was testing fatigue. Hope we get a better feel tomorrow for whats right for us. Does the number of layers affect things? Do I even need a little soft layer on top? Again-Thank you

Hi Ivehadit,

The place to start is always post #1 here and the information it links to. As you can see from this article and the other posts I linked, all people need some degree of softness (relative to them) on top for pressure relief and to help fill in the gaps in the sleeping profile and maintain alignment in each of your sleeping positions and also deeper firmness to help stop the pelvic girdle from sinking down too far and causing either joint of spinal misalignment. The key in both cases is to use your testing to find out what is “enough” which will vary in both cases based on the many differences between people. This is where the help of experienced and knowledgeable people who can help you in person can be very valuable.

The number and type of layers can change the feel and performance of a design as well as layer thickness and even the thickness of the mattress itself along with many other factors but these are only some of the considerations that may be involved in a mattress design and getting too involved in more complex “theories” won’t really help you make the best choice when your body is the most accurate testing tool you have.

The overall combined effect and the quality and value of the materials is what you are looking for. There are many “pathways” to a mattress that can provide you with your “needs” although some of them may have a different “feel” and suit your preferences more or less than others.


Hello Phoenix! Got back from Okla Mattress Co. this afternoon. Tried 4" of 25 ILD Talalay over 6" 38 ILD Talalay for about 20 minutes and got up with lumbar pain. Then I tried an innerspring Xtra firm with 3" of compressed cotton. The innerspring felt better, but I think I was still goofed up from latex bed. Going back Friday to try a full 10 inches of 38 ILD latex, and then the xtra firm innerspring again.Am I heading in the right direction? Is this much firmness good for a body? Jim also mentioned a semi-flex foundation instead of boxspring for even more firmness under innerspring. I have been sleeping poorly on a bad bed for months, and I wonder if my perception is skewed and I won’t be able to recognize the right thing when I try it. Thank you for helping me and so many others who are desperate to get it right.

people your size can benefit from thicker than usual mattresses. in fact a 10" mattress may bee too thin for you IMO. as a matter of fact i am 230 lbs and i’m not really considering 10" for myself as i think it is too thin. according to the information i have seen for people your size 12" mattress is the minimum.

Hi Ivehadit,

By working with a excellent local manufacturer … I would say yes.

Once you have connected with people with the years of experience and knowledge that Jim has … any advice I could give you (or advice from other forum members with little knowledge or personal experience with mattress design or theory) would not be nearly as helpful as what he can provide in real time and in person that is specific to your circumstances.

As I said before … you are in good hands and as the saying goes … too many cooks will spoil the broth :slight_smile:


Hello Phoenix! Going back to OKLA Mattress tomorrow. I’m going to try a Bonnell xtra firm innerspring with 75 lbs of compressed cotton that we were told would not get body indentations. No foam, just cotton. I thought ALL upholstery would compress sooner or later, sooner if you’re big like me. (And trying all latex again.) Any thoughts on the cotton thing? Thank you again

Hi Ivehadit,

Oklahoma mattress would have the most accurate information about the specific versions or construction of the materials they use and I would go by their guidance, information, and experience

Cotton can compress and become firmer over time but if it is pre-compressed or tufted it will do so much less and their own experience over many years would be much more accurate information that any speculation on my part about the specifics of the cotton layers and construction (such as tufting) that they use to minimize impressions. There are many variations of mattresses that use cotton and making a cotton mattress is a very specialized skill that few manufacturers today still possess. Cotton itself is very durable and will last for a very long time. It may also be on the firm side compared to foam constructions but with your weight and back issues you may also find that the mattress provides good support and alignment for your body type because the springs will be doing much of the conforming. It will feel and respond much differently than a mattress that uses foam … although only your own testing can tell you how well the mattress works in terms of PPP.

I am really not the best source of specific information about more specialty mattresses made by knowledgeable and experienced local manufacturers who know their mattresses and how they perform over time (often decades) much better than anyone else and when there can be so many variables in the specifics of the materials, design, and construction they are using.

My role is to help you provide you with more generic information and to connect you with the type of knowledge and experience that they have gathered over very long periods of time so you can use their knowledge and experience to your best benefit. When it comes to their own mattresses and the materials and designs they use (outside of things like foam density etc) … they are much more informed and in a much better position to help you and provide you accurate and specific information than any “theory at a distance” I could provide.


Hello Phoenix! Been a tough week. Made 3 more visits to see Jim at Okla. Mattress. Trying different ILDs of latex toppers on xtra firm innerspring. Every time, at about the half hour mark, i’d get up with a twangy lower back. Without the topper, my back is fine, but my shoulders hurt. So Jim is making me a custom topper. A 3" king size piece of latex, half (for her) in about a 19 ILD, the other half xtra firm except for the top 24" , which will be about 35ILD for under my shoulder’s. my own personal zoning. I have to say it . I wouldn’t have found Jim without this website, and I never could have made good decisions w/o your advice.
We haven’t had a good nights sleep in a while, so we’re looking forward to getting this new bed. Jim said if this doesn’t work, we keep trying till it does. ( I hope this doesn’t mean twin beds)What a guy. I’ve told my friends at work about you and Jim, cuz they hate their beds and want new ones. They are thrilled to know there are decent folks out there that really want to help, so they’re here getting educated.
When the bed gets here, I’ll tell you how it goes. Thanks again

Hi Ivehadit,

Thanks for your great feedback … and that’s what I call personal service :slight_smile:

Manufacturers like Jim are true gems both in terms of their quality and value and their service and as you know are a pleasure to deal with … even in difficult and challenging circumstances.

I’m looking forward to your feedback when you’ve slept on your new mattress.


Hello Phoenix. We got our new bed. To recap: hand- tied innerspring with compressed cotton, extra firm. Box spring- extra firm. A 3" Talalay topper, my half xtra firm 44 ILD with med firm under my shoulders, her half- 21 ILD. She’s comfortable. I’m not. Wake up with lumbar pain and shoulder pain. She says I have to give it a few weeks before making any decisions.(We’ve only had it 3 nights) So I’ll tough it out for a while. Man this is tough. If I’m still not happy in 2 weeks, can you advise on some ideas for tweaking? I’ll ask Jim at OK mattress of course, but I sure would appreciate any input from you before I start making changes. I really hoped this bed was it. Remember, we’re big people, and I don’t have back trouble except for getting up in the a.m. Thank you for your patience.

PS - Tried to sleep in guest bdrm. Wife said man up. She’s strict!

Hi Ivehadit,

I can only really talk in generalities because I can’t see you on the mattress and I’m not familiar with the overall characteristics of the mattress itself so I am working completely in the dark as to specifics. The first suggestion I would have is to work and communicate closely with Jim first (before me rather than after me) who has much more experience with his mattresses and materials and “fine tuning” them to different people than I would have.

In general terms though it sounds to me like your side may be a little on the firm side for you at least for the moment which could cause both of your “symptoms” which is the pressure relief under your shoulders and the lower back pain which could be caused by not sinking into the firmer foam quite enough to provide good secondary support. While lower back issues are usually caused by a mattress that is too soft in the support layers or too thick and soft in the comfort layers … they can also be caused by a mattress that is too firm … at least initially … and isn’t allowing your pelvic girdle to sink in quite enough and this can also change the natural curvature of the spine.

Your wife’s advice is good and would be the same as I would suggest initially. Your mattress will break in over the first few weeks as the cotton settles, the foam softens a bit, and the cover stretches which will allow you to sink in a little more than you are now both in your shoulders and in your hips/pelvis. This initial break in period can take up to 90 days or so but most of it would be in the first few weeks up to about 30 days. You will also go through an initial adjustment period as your body “unlearns” it’s old sleeping memory from your previous mattress and muscles and ligaments lengthen and loosen and become accustomed to a new sleeping system with a more neutral position (which may not be what you are used to). If the cause of your “symptoms” are mainly because the mattress is different but your alignment is better on the new mattress then you will see them lessen and go away over time.

If this is an ongoing issue that isn’t improving over the initial few weeks then my guess (subject to Jim’s much better suggestions) would be that you may need either slightly softer or thicker comfort layers.


Rip the custom topper in half. Save the 19 ILD half for wife’s side of the bed. Then, don’t use a topper for your side and get yourself a big pillow. Pull the pillow down so it’s under your shoulders just a little. You might have to play around a little more and add a tiny pillow on top of the big pillow to put your head on.

How is that for completely novice advice?

But seriously, just using common sense, isn’t that the obvious thing to do? Or would be better to say obvious thing to try?

Hello Phoenix! It’s been about 10 days since we got our new mattress. A very firm custom made hand tied innerspring and box-spring, with 2 inches of compressed cotton, flippable, and a Talalay topper- 3" of 44ILD on my half, 19 ILD on hers. Good news/ bad news. My lower back pain has gone! Poof! But my shoulders hurt. And wife’s shoulders hurt. We think maybe my latex is too firm, and her’s is too soft. We are going to wait another week, go see Jim at OK mattress, and work out a different topper. She thinks she’s sinking too fast to the hard mattress, and I think I’m not sinking enough. Maybe 2" of med. firm over 2" of firm for me, and 2" of soft over 2" of med. for her. Do you think we’re heading in the right direction? You’re input is appreciated so much. Thank you for the hard work you do to help us all.

Hi Ivehadit,

There’s no way for me to really know for certain and since Jim has more knowledge and experience with your mattress than I do his insights would be more valuable than mine. Given what I know of the construction of your mattress though … your thinking makes sense to me. It sounds to me like the firmer latex is doing well for your back so I wouldn’t play with that part too much. It may be worth talking to Jim about only making the upper part a little softer. The other possibility is adding a little thickness which will “act” a little softer and give your shoulders more thickness to sink into.

For your wife … it’s highly unlikely that 19 ILD is too firm so either a little extra firmness to better isolate her from the firmness underneath or a little extra thickness would also make sense.

Most of all though it’s only been 10 days and I would give it a little more time yet (2 weeks is the minimum I would wait for any new mattress and firmer mattresses may need a little longer than this to “break in” and get to their longer term feel and performance).


Hello Phoenix ! Been 6 weeks since we got our new mattress. We did an innerspring with compressed cotton, very firm, then added a latex topper that was half xtra firm for me and her half soft. 3" worth. No more back problems, but I found out HOW FIRM IS TOO FIRM!. Yikes. My shoulders are killing me. And the wife is sinking too fast thru her half to the firm mattress. We are overweight side sleepers. So yesterday we went back to Okla. Mattress Co. and Jim made some suggestions toward softening up my side and firming up hers. He’a going to make something new for us to try and delivering it to us next week. The adventure continues. We can hardly wait to be comfy in our bed. Here’s hoping!

Hi Ivehadit,

It can be challenging to find your perfect mattress when your needs are outside the norm but all I can say is I’m glad you’re dealing with a such a good local manufacturer who is continuing to work with you because as the ad goes … this kind of ongoing service is priceless.

If you were making a purchase from a typical mass market outlet you may get one exchange (and in most cases the original mattress and what you would have available to exchange for would not be good value) and then you would have to keep whatever you ended up with no matter how well it worked or didn’t work for you.

I’m looking forward to your ongoing feedback and I hope that your next choice is the perfect one :slight_smile: