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Medium-firm mattresses are all the rage these days, but softer mattresses still have their place — especially if you experience uncomfortable pressure points. And given that we sleep for a third of our lives, getting a mattress that works for you is an important investment for your comfort and health.
In a past life, I was a sleep writer for another e-commerce publication, and I spent many hours sleeping on mattresses, learning about mattress materials and constructions and uncovering which mattresses, in general terms, work for different people. But, to guide you on how to shop for a soft mattress (and, really, any mattress in general), we also spoke with several other experts about how we sleep. Then we rounded up highly rated soft mattresses that we think you should consider in your search.
SKIP AHEAD Top-rated soft mattresses of 2022
Should you get a soft mattress?
Why does how you sleep decide how firm your mattress should be? Well, depending on your usual sleep position, you need different things from your mattress to keep your spine properly aligned — spinal alignment is the crucial thing here, I’ve learned in my time as a sleep writer. For example, side sleepers need their shoulders and hips to sink further into the mattress to achieve spinal alignment, whereas back and stomach sleepers need to sink less — otherwise their spine will arch. Side sleepers also can experience significant pressure on their shoulders and hips if their mattress is too firm, since those parts of their body tend to sink deeply into the mattress. That’s less of an issue for back and stomach sleepers.
Heavier people (over 230 pounds, according to Logan Foley, managing editor at Sleep Foundation, in our guide to firm mattresses) sink further into any mattress, and heavier side sleepers might sink too far into a very soft mattress. But lighter back sleepers might feel like they’re sleeping on cement with a firm mattress, so it’s a sliding scale. But in general, heavier people might benefit from firmer mattresses than lighter people who use the same sleep position.
Comfort is subjective, though, and not always predictable — two people of the same body type, height and weight might have wildly different mattress preferences. Even if it’s largely a matter of personal taste, comfort can be directly related to sleep health. According to Dr. Seema Khosla, medical director of the North Dakota Center for Sleep, if you experience pain or discomfort while you sleep, your sleep can be more fragmented as a result.
“Sometimes you're just hanging out in lighter sleep instead of deeper sleep,” Khosla said.
In essence, she said, you “can’t progress” into deeper, restorative sleep. So it’s imperative that you find a mattress that’s comfortable for you.
How to buy a soft mattress
There’s no tried-and-true formula to finding the best mattress, because mattresses preferences are subjective — it’s an inexact science. I’ve learned that you should try as many mattresses as you can to see what feels best. Luckily, many online mattress companies offer free trial periods that can last three months or longer, so you’ll have plenty of time to break one in and feel out whether it fits your needs.
Generally speaking, find mattresses online that seem to match your preferences and then look for at least a 90-night free trial and 10-year warranty. Also, check to see if the return policy seems like a pain — some brands require that you donate the mattress yourself (the company won’t pick up or transport the mattress) or that you keep the mattress for a certain number of days before returning.
Top-rated soft mattresses of 2022
Using expert advice, my own expertise and our previous research, we’ve rounded up a list of highly rated soft mattresses you should know about. As per our guidance, every soft mattress we recommend comes with at least a 90-day trial period and a warranty of 10 years or more.
The WinkBed comes in a Softer version that the company rates 4.5 out of 10 on its firmness scale. According to the company, the “Hypersoft foam” at the top is designed to support your body while providing cushioning and relieving pressure, and the mattress is gel-infused for the cooling properties. With an average star rating of 4.8 out of 5, from over 7,700 reviews, WinkBeds are 13.5 inches thick and come with a lifetime warranty and 120-night trial period, as well as free shipping. There’s no restocking fee for returns.
We previously featured the Saatva Classic in our guide to firm mattresses, but this mattress also comes in a softer version that the company rates 3 out of 10 on its firmness scale. According to the company, the Plush Soft has “softer foams and extra padding” at the top of the mattress, compared to the Luxury Firm and Firm options. You can purchase it in both 11.5- and 14.5-inch versions. Saatva provides a 180-night trial period, a 15-year warranty period, and free delivery and in-room, white-glove setup in the continental U.S. They charge a $99 processing pickup fee for returns. On the Saatva website, the Classic has an average rating of 4.9 stars from over 2,000 reviews.
This mattress is flippable, with a softer and firmer side (we also featured this mattress in our firm mattress guide). While the firmer side (the darker side) featured in the firm mattress guide is rated 7 out of 10 on Layla’s firmness scale, the softer side (the lighter side) is rated 4 out of 10 for firmness. It comes with free shipping in the continental U.S., a 120-night trial and lifetime warranty. Layla does not list a processing fee for returns. We’ve reached out to the company for confirmation. Over 7,000 Layla reviewers have given the mattress a 4.6-star average rating.
We featured Helix hybrid mattresses in our guide to firm mattresses, but there we featured the Dawn, their firmest model, for back and stomach sleepers. Helix is known for its wide variety of offerings: They sell soft, medium and firm options for both side sleepers and back or stomach sleepers, Luxe versions of all six of those, a Plus version for heavier people and a two-sided version for kids. The Sunset is their softest version, meant for side sleepers, according to Helix. It’s 12 inches thick and includes two pillows. It comes with free shipping in the U.S., a 100-night trial and 10-year warranty. There’s no fee for returns. If you’re a back or stomach sleeper but like a soft mattress, you may also want to consider the Helix Moonlight. Helix reviewers gave the mattress a 4.6-star average rating from over 1,100 reviews.
As the most plush mattress from popular brand Casper, the Nova Hybrid is 12 inches thick and features a soft top layer, hole-punched foam for extra cooling, zoned support to help align the spine, and coils that add support and airflow, according to the company. It comes with a 100-night trial, 10-year warranty and free delivery in the continental U.S. and Canada. There’s no fee for returns. It carries a 4.5 average star rating from 587 reviews on Casper’s website.
For many, Tempur-Pedic is synonymous with luxurious, slow-sinking, memory foam mattresses — the company has said it uses foams originally developed by NASA. This all-foam ProAdapt is 12 inches thick, includes a soft option and comes at a premium price. The mattress has a 4.5-star average rating from over 5,000 reviews on the Tempur-Pedic website. It comes with a 90-day trial period (though you may owe a $175 fee if you return it) and a 10-year warranty.
How do you know when a mattress is soft?
We’ve spent a lot of time driving home that firmness is subjective. So how can we say for sure whether a mattress is soft, medium or firm?
Well, we really can’t. When companies list mattresses at certain firmness levels, that’s relative to the other mattresses they offer, and often to the mattress industry in general, as I’ve learned covering this field. However, that doesn’t mean one person will perceive the same mattress as being equally firm or soft as the next person does.
But that’s not to say there aren’t clear structural differences between soft and firm mattresses. In more scientific terms, each mattress we’ve recommended has some element of polyurethane foam, and there are differences between firmer and softer foams. Foams are essentially suspensions of bubbles separated by membranes, and the size of those bubbles, the membrane thickness and chemical formulation play a large part in the foam’s firmness, according to Stephen Carr, professor emeritus of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. He told us that, generally, larger bubbles and thinner membranes make for a softer, more compliant foam. The chemical formulation of the foam matters, too — in fact, Carr brought up an example of a “very stiff and crunchy polyurethane foam” with large bubbles, telling us it was created by altering the chemical composition of the foam.
But it’s not practical for most shoppers to contact manufacturers and ask about those kinds of markers of firmness. And quality control issues do exist in the mattress space. According to Keith Cushner, founder of mattress review site Tuck and chief marketing officer at OneCare Media, which owns several wellness publications, mattress companies will even send out mattresses with slightly different specifications, essentially testing different firmnesses on their unwitting customers, to see what constructions are popular for marketing purposes.
So there’s a lot of uncertainty with mattress firmness. Ultimately, what matters is how it feels to you.