Firm vs. Soft Pillow: Which One Is Best?

Choosing the right pillow is essential for a good night's sleep and can help alleviate neck and shoulder pain. However, there's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to pillow firmness. A firm pillow offers consistent support and improves spinal alignment, making it ideal for side and back sleepers. Meanwhile, a soft pillow conforms to the shape of the head and neck, providing cushioning and moldability that may suit some sleepers. Soft pillows are best for stomach sleepers who require neck support. A medium-firm pillow offers a blend of comfort and support and is suitable for combination sleepers. The ideal pillow firmness will depend on sleeping position and personal preferences.

If you’ve ever experienced neck pain or shoulder stiffness, you’ve probably heard all kinds of advice about what type of pillow is best for your situation. Some will say a firm pillow will cure all your aches and others swear by soft pillows.

It’s true that the right pillow can make a huge difference in your sleep quality and help alleviate neck pain. But the truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to pillow firmness. The ideal pillow must properly support your neck in your preferred sleep position.

So what are some differences between firm vs. soft pillows, and how do you know which one is best for you? Allow us to explain.

Firm vs. soft pillow: What’s the difference?

Simply put, a firm pillow is a pillow that doesn’t have much give when you press it with your hand, while a soft pillow is much cushier and more moldable.

Soft vs. firm pillows differ in the type of support they provide to your head and neck. A firm pillow generally provides more stable and consistent support and doesn’t allow too much moving around as you sleep. The softer the pillow, the more squishy it is and the more easily it conforms to the shape of your head and neck.

Just like with mattress firmness, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to pillow firmness. The right choice for you will depend on your sleeping position, any existing health issues, and your personal preferences.

Pros and cons of a firm pillow

A firm pillow provides more consistent and stable support and improves spinal alignment, so it’s generally great at preventing neck and shoulder stiffness (unless you’re a stomach sleeper—in which case, keep reading).

On the flip side, because a firm pillow doesn’t conform to the shape of your head and neck as much as a soft pillow does, it isn’t as good at providing pressure relief.

A firm pillow is a must for side sleepers. According to Thomas Tozer, a chiropractor with Imperium Chiropractic in Wisconsin, a firm pillow will help ensure optimal spinal alignment while you sleep on your side.

A firmer pillow may also benefit some back sleepers, as this position also requires stable neck support and head and neck alignment. A firm pillow, however, isn’t suitable for stomach sleepers as it will make their neck crane backward, pushing it out of alignment.

Pros and cons of a soft pillow

Soft pillows provide more gentle support and conform to the shape of your head and neck. They’re moldable and can be a fit for a variety of sleeping positions. Soft pillows don’t provide the same level of stable support as firm pillows, but their cushioning and moldability may be the perfect sleep solution for some sleepers.

For example, soft pillows are ideal for stomach sleepers who don’t need support for their neck but instead need something plump and thin under their face. Lauri Leadley, president and clinical sleep educator at Valley Sleep Center, says a softer pillow is a must for stomach sleepers as it ensures that their neck doesn’t stay resting at odd angles during their sleep.

Side sleepers and back sleepers should avoid soft pillows as they don’t provide enough support and may cause neck pain, shoulder stiffness, or even headaches. Keep in mind that a soft pillow may also lose shape faster than a firmer one and get lumpy over time.

Medium-firm pillows

If you’re still undecided, a medium-firm pillow may be what you need. Medium-firm pillows offer a good blend of comfort and support and are ideal for people who need something firmer but crave the feeling of something plusher.

They’re also great for combination sleepers who need something versatile enough to support them throughout the night as they shift from one position to the other.

Get a comfortable, supportive pillow from Saatva

Latex Pillow

A core of shredded natural latex, wrapped in a breathable organic cotton cover. Plush and responsive for the perfect head and neck support.

Down Alternative Pillow

Made from two types of hypoallergenic down alternative fibers, wrapped in 100% organic cotton. Soft, plush, and breathable for cool, comfortable sleep.


Is it better to have a soft or firm pillow?

There’s no one right answer when it comes to firm vs. soft pillows. Your ideal level of pillow firmness will depend on your sleeping position and your personal preferences. Here are our best tips for choosing a pillow firmness for your sleep position:

Do side sleepers need a soft or firm pillow?

Side sleepers should choose a firmer pillow as it promotes proper spinal alignment. Without proper support in this position, your head will drop toward the mattress, causing stress on the muscles and nerves of your neck.

Who should use firm pillows?

Firm pillows will benefit side sleepers and some back sleepers. Both these positions require proper neck support and spinal alignment.

Find the best pillow for your sleep style at Saatva

Saatva has a wide range of pillows to suit all sleep positions and preferences. We offer a

latex pillow
saatva latex pillow
Latex Pillow

Hotel-quality comfort with responsive & ultra-breathable support


memory foam pillow
saatva cloud memory foam pillow
Graphite Memory Foam Pillow

Cooling comfort and contouring support ideal for side sleepers

, and

down alternative pillow.
saatva down alternative pillow
Down Alternative Pillow

Hypoallergenic with a plush and airy feel that’s perfect for cuddling

All of our pillows are made with the highest-quality materials and designed to give you optimal support for your head and neck.

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