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How to Pick the Best Pillow for Your Sleeping Style

Find the perfect pillow for your body type and sleep style in our selection of pillow favorites

By Andrea Pisani Babich

Everyone knows how important it is to sleep on the right mattress. Well, your pillow is just as important, but just like mattresses, the array of choices can be overwhelming. Memory foam pillows. Latex pillows. Buckwheat husks, wool, silk, cotton, and water fill hundreds of pillows on the market. Soft, firm, medium firm, very firm, low, high, scrunchable, fixed shape, contoured — these are just some of the varieties of pillows that can confuse you as you shop for the perfect pillow that’s just right for you.

With so many choices of pillows, it’s hard to know which one is the pillow that will be comfortable and provide you with the support you need to get to sleep and stay asleep. Mattress Advisor dozens of different pillows and consulted with pillow experts to bring you this comprehensive guide on finding the perfect pillow.

In this guide, you will learn: 

  • Why a pillow is so important to getting quality sleep 
  • How to find the best pillow based on your sleeping position, body type, and other physical issues
  • The different types of pillows available (materials, size, ticking)
  • Our favorite pillows for every sleeping position 

Can’t wait to see our favorite pillows? Click here to jump below.

What Does a Pillow Really Do?

Sure, it’s comfy and good for snuggling, but what does it do for your weary head? The best pillow will support your head and neck and keep them in perfect alignment with your spine. If your head, neck, and spine are not in alignment — often caused by the wrong pillow — you will not get the deep, restorative sleep you need and may develop headaches and chronic neck pain.

During Mattress Advisor’s exclusive interview with Mike Lindell, CEO, inventor, and founder of MyPillow put it this way: “Sleep is about the distance from your head to your bed.” The perfect pillow will fill that space where the magic happens.

Kevin Chon, co-founder of Coop Home Goods, designed his pillows with adjustability in mind, recognizing that sleepers come in different shapes and sizes, and sleep in different positions. According to Chon, “It’s not fair to have everyone adjust to their pillow. The pillow should adjust to them.”

How to Pick the Perfect Pillow

If you feel like finding the right pillow is like finding a needle in a haystack, relax. With so many pillow options available, there are certainly several pillows that can be perfect for you. There’s no one right answer but rather a range of right choices. But there are some smart ways to eliminate the options that are not right for you.

First, you need to think about your needs when you sleep.

1. What is your preferred sleep position?

Your sleeping position is probably the most important consideration when choosing the perfect pillow. About 74% of people sleep primarily on their sides, and their needs are different from those of the 10% who sleep on their backs and the 16% who sleep on their sides.

  • Side Sleepers need to fill the space from their neck to the edge of their shoulders in order to keep their neck in a neutral position. And because that distance is different for each individual depending on their size, side sleepers need to find a pillow that they can either customize to a height that fits their body or a pillow that can be squished into the desired height. Some pillow manufacturers, like MyPillow, offer both squishability (the official industry term) as well as different sizes to best fit the wide range of body types.
  • Back sleepers want a pillow that has a medium loft that gently cradles the back of their head. If your pillow doesn’t yield to the pressure of the weight of your head, it will give you a headache. Too low, and it will force your neck into an arched position; too high and it will force your neck to bend the opposite way with your chin close to your chest, blocking your airway and straining your neck muscles.

Sleeping on your back can encourage snoring as gravity will pull your tongue and throat tissues to the back of your throat, obstructing your airway. Thomas Roth, Ph.D., founder of the Sleep Disorders Center at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, recommends using two or three firm pillows or a wedge pillow to elevate the top half of your body if you tend to snore when you sleep on your back. Just make sure you keep your neck in a neutral position to avoid cutting off your airway or causing neck pain.

Back sleepers might also consider placing a pillow under their knees to relieve pressure on their lower back.

  • Stomach sleepers may swear by their preferred position, but this is the one position universally recognized as the worst sleep position for your health. Although sleeping on your stomach can reduce the risk of snoring, neck strain, headaches, and an increased risk of facial wrinkles are just some of the problems associated with sleeping on your stomach. That said, you can minimize the potential problems by choosing a low-profile pillow that supports your head but yields to pressure.
2. What is your body type?

Are you short and stocky? Long and lean? Broad or narrow shouldered? Your body type, as well as your preferred sleep style, will determine how high your pillow should be. Remember what Mike the MyPillow Guy says: “Sleep is about the distance between your head and your bed.” The perfect pillow for you will fill the space between your body (either your back, shoulder, or chest depending on your sleep position) and your bed while keeping your neck and spine in a straight alignment.

3. Do you have physical issues that disturb your sleep?

According to Mike Lindell, “There’s [sic] two things you get sleep interruptions from: one is heat and one is a bent neck.” If you sleep hot, a pillow that is not specifically designed for sleeping cool will significantly affect the quality of your sleep. Back and neck pain, sleep apnea and snoring, acid reflux, and breathing issues are all sleep snatchers that can be alleviated by choosing the right pillow.

Not All Pillows Are Created Equal

After you’ve thought carefully about your needs when you’re sleeping, it’s time to consider the type of pillow that can meet them.

1. Pillow size: Is it big enough to do the job?

While most people manage perfectly fine on a standard size pillow, those who sleep in a king size bed may find they are rolling off their standard size pillow as they make use of their entire expansive bed. If you tend to cover wide distances as you roll around in your sleep, be sure your pillow is big enough to keep you supported no matter where you roam. Consider a king size pillow, especially if you sleep in a king size bed.

What about pillow height? Mike from MyPillow says, “It’s not about the softness, it’s the height.”

The key to the perfect pillow is to find one that keeps your head, neck, and spine in a straight line. Too much of a curve or bend will result in head and body aches and a lot of tossing and turning that will disturb your sleep.

So, what is the optimal pillow height? Well, that depends on sleep position, body size, and sleep issues like sleep apnea, acid reflux, and neck pain. That’s why many of our favorites below include adjustable height, or loft, either by adding or removing fill or by adjusting the shape of the pillow by squishing.

2. What is your pillow made with?

Since every sleeper has different needs when they sleep, pillow manufacturers have answered the call by creating pillows with a wide range of fills. Each type of fill creates a different sleep experience, so it’s important to know how each type fill will perform and how it will affect your sleep.

Here are the most common types of pillow fills:

Memory foam pillows

Like memory foam mattresses, memory foam pillows conform to the shape of your head and neck as they respond to pressure and body heat. As a result, memory foam pillows relieve pressure points on your head, neck, and shoulders, making them a good choice for people who suffer from head and neck pain when they sleep. Keep in mind that the foam’s ability to respond to body heat also makes them retain heat.

For people who sleep hot, shredded memory foam pillows are a better choice than pillows made from solid pieces of foam that don’t allow for air to circulate. Charcoal-infused memory foam pillows offer a new solution to the problem of heat retention in memory foam pillows.

Latex pillows

Latex pillows are a cooler alternative to memory foam. Made from a naturally derived polymer, latex for pillows consists of a matrix of bubbles that provide air circulation as well as a pleasing bounce that memory foam cannot. Like memory foam, latex pillows yield to compression offering relief for pressure points (think head, ears, and neck) but without the close contouring or heat-retaining qualities of memory foam. Latex pillows spring back to their original shape instantly and are naturally resistant to mold and dust mites, making them perfect for allergy sufferers and others who want a pillow that offers solid support and pressure relief all night long without adjustments. 

Down pillows

Down pillows are filled with the insulating under-feathers of ducks or geese. Goose down usually has larger tufts resulting in a higher loft and better insulation. Goose down pillows are considered more luxurious and usually cost more than many other types of fill.

Down fill results in a pillow that is highly shapeable as well as light and soft. Down pillows start out looking light, fluffy, and supportive, but depending on the stitch count of their ticking, or fabric cover, they lose their loft and compress under the weight of your head. As a result, you may find yourself fluffing them up throughout the night to get them back into shape. Whether you fluff them or not, they are not recommended for side sleepers because they do not retain their loft. But if you sleep exclusively on your stomach or back and don’t need a lot of height, and just like the quaint idea of a down pillow, they can be a good choice.

Another word of caution about down fill pillows: lower quality down that hasn’t been cleaned properly can cause allergic reactions in many people. To avoid allergic reactions, look for hypo-allergenic down that has been thoroughly cleaned or choose a down alternative.

Down alternative pillows

If you like the moldability of down but are allergic or are looking for a more affordable option, pillows filled with synthetic down or polyester fibers are your go-to choices. Like down pillows, down alternatives can (and should) be washed easily to eliminate bacteria, mold, and odors. They will flatten over time no matter how much you fluff them up so will need to be replaced sooner than down pillows.

A word about fill power: Down and down alternative pillows come with different fill powers ranging from 550 to over 800. Not surprisingly, the higher the fill power, the better the pillow and the longer it will last.

Wool pillows

There’s a whole lot to like about pillows filled with wool. Wool fill is 100% natural and environmentally friendly. It is friendly to most humans as well since it is hypoallergenic (unless you are allergic to wool), dust-mite repellent and temperature regulating. Because the natural fibers wick away moisture and, surprisingly, will keep you cool in summer, wool pillows are a good choice for people who sleep hot and tend to sweat. They tend to be heavier, flatter, and firmer than some other types of pillows but hold their shape without needing adjustment.

Cotton pillows

Cotton-filled pillows are naturally hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites and mold. Because they are breathable, they will not retain heat and will absorb sweat and moisture. Cotton pillows are flat, not moldable, and firmer than many pillows, but are a solid option for people with allergies or chemical sensitivities.

Buckwheat husk pillows

Buckwheat husk is a relatively new type of pillow fill that offers sleepers a natural way to provide contouring support without the off-gassing and heat retention of memory foam. The height and support can be adjusted simply by adding or removing husks from the pillow to suit your sleep style and support preferences. The downside of buckwheat husk pillows is that they can be heavy and noisy (all those husks rustling around as you move). Some people may welcome the white noise and find it soothes them to sleep.

Water pillows

Water pillows are more than just a sac filled with water. They have a fully customizable water-filled base layer that supports a polyester fiber layer surrounded by a cotton case. Because you can adjust the height and support by simply adding more or less water to the pouch, water pillows work well no matter what your preferred sleep position. The fluid-filled base layer responds to your movements through the night, offering comfortable support without having to reshape or fluff into position. By adjusting the height and support to your individual preference, you can relieve back and neck pain caused by fixed shape pillows. Just make sure there is no air bubble in the water-filled pouch to prevent a sloshing noise when you move. 

3. Don’t forget the ticking

The ticking is the fabric cover that surrounds any fill (not to be confused with your own pillowcase). The ticking’s thread count should be at least 260 for down fills and at least 200 for pillows with other fillings. These thread-count minimums will ensure that you and the fill are protected from leaks and excessive moisture.

Our Favorite Pillows

Mattress Advisor may receive a commission fee for some of the products mentioned in this guide. This is at no cost to you, the reader and helps fund our review and research process.

Best Pillows for Side Sleepers

MyPillow

MyPillow is a great choice for side sleepers because it is easily shaped into the contour and height you need to support your neck in a neutral position. It is filled with thousands of pieces of polyurethane foam shredded into three different size pieces that interlock under the pressure of your head. Once you adjust MyPillow into the shape and height you want, the fill holds its shape throughout the night without further fluffing.

MyPillow comes not only in Standard/Queen and King sizes but can be ordered in different heights depending on your size and sleep preference. Be sure the check the MyPillow Fitting Guide before making your selection.

Other highlights:

  • Machine washable and dryable
  • Made in the USA
  • Comes with a 10-year Warranty
  • Comes with a 60-day Money Back Guarantee

Sleep Right Side Sleeper Pillow

We love the Sleep Right Side Sleeper Pillow because it is specifically designed for people who sleep on their sides. Its unique shape features a 12-degree shoulder cradle that reduces the pressure point on your shoulder, allowing for increased blood flow and decreased risk of your arm falling asleep. The side sleeper pillow also features a facial cradle that reduces pressure on your ear, jaw, and face. Finally, and this is really cool for side sleepers, the pillow includes impressions on the left and right of the face cradle to allow for airflow as you sleep on your side. Ever feel like your nose is forced into your pillow when you sleep on your side, making it hard to breathe? The Sleep Right Side Sleeper Pillow takes care of that with the left and right air paths.

Made of premium Visco-elastic memory foam, this pillow responds to the weight and heat from your head and neck to contour to your anatomy, giving your head a stabilizing hug. You can choose from three different profiles that are designed for your own height, and each pillow comes with a machine washable, hypoallergenic bamboo cover. A 5-year replacement warranty protects you from manufacturing defects and degradation.

Hullo Buckwheat Pillow

Looking for a more natural way to support your head while you sleep? Well, your search ends here at Hullo Buckwheat Pillows. Filled with premium buckwheat hulls, grown and milled in the USA, these pillows can be molded into whatever shape you want and filled to whatever loft you need. By simply adding or removing buckwheat hulls from the shell, you can adjust your pillow height to meet your exact needs. They feature a 100% organic cotton twill cover that surrounds the totally breathable fill, keeping you cool and sweat-free while you sleep. And trying it out is a no-risk event with Hullo’s 60-night money back guarantee.

Unlike most pillows, these pillows look and feel and sound a bit like beanbags. You may find the gentle rustling sound of the buckwheat hulls soothing as you drift off to sleep.

Best Pillows for Back Sleepers

Coop Home Goods Original Memory Foam Pillow

Coop Home Goods Original Memory Foam Pillow is made from a blend of shredded CertiPUR-US® certified memory foam for support and microfiber for the soft feeling of down without the feathers. The shredded fill ensures breathability so you can sleep cool while enjoying the contouring benefits of memory foam. The best feature of this pillow is the ability to adjust the fill height simply by adding or removing fill fibers, making it the perfect pillow for all sleepers no matter what your size or preferred sleeping position.

Other highlights:

  • Hypoallergenic
  • Dust mite resistant
  • Machine washable
  • Available in queen and king sizes
  • Backed by a 5-year warranty
  • Available for a 100-night sleep trial

The Leesa Pillow

The Leesa Pillow has all the hug-like contouring of memory foam without the uncomfortable heat retention. Their Avena® foam is designed with hundreds of ventilation channels to increase air circulation while supporting your head and neck. Once the pillow responds to the weight of your head, you’ll feel the stabilizing hug of the pillow’s foam that will hold its shape all night long without refluffing or adjusting. Their 100-night trial period makes the Leesa pillow easy to try in your own bed under normal sleeping conditions.

Best Pillows for Stomach Sleepers

Belly Sleeper Pillow

The Belly Sleeper Pillow is not trying to be everyone’s favorite pillow. It caters to that elite group of sleepers who find tummy time to be the most soothing and relaxing way to end their day and spend their night. Yes, I’m talking about you, stomach sleepers, who need a low-profile pillow that yields under the weight of your head, lifts it gently off the surface of the mattress, and keeps you cool at night. The Belly Sleeper Pillow does all this with a 2.5-inch loft and gel-infused polyurethane foam that provides even and cooling support. The removable bamboo and polyester cover is machine washable, and the foam fill is naturally hypoallergenic and dust mite resistant.

Xtreme Comfort Slim Hypoallergenic Bamboo Pillow

This pillow offers stomach sleepers the ability to adjust the height, or loft, of their pillow for individualized support. Remember, stomach sleepers need lower pillows to prevent neck strain and to maintain neutral spine alignment.

The CertiPUR-US shredded memory foam is free from toxins and heavy metals and is encased in a micro-vented bamboo cover that provides softness and breathability. These pillows are dust-mite resistant, antibacterial, and hypoallergenic. Unlike many memory foam pillows, the Xtreme Comforts pillow is entirely machine washable.

Snowe Down Alternative Pillow

The Snowe Down Alternative Pillow offers the fluffiness and softness of down without the allergies and without harming any animals. The hypoallergenic microfiber fill is 100% allergy free and encased in a soft, 330 thread- count cotton shell that is breathable, smooth, and unspoiled by skin-irritating and respiratory-inflaming additives. Stomach sleepers should order the “Soft” fill density for a lower loft that won’t strain your neck.

This pillow is made in the USA and completely machine washable and dryable.

Best Pillows for Neck Pain

Mediflow Water Pillow

The Mediflow Water Pillow is the first water-based pillow to be clinically proven to reduce neck pain and improve quality of sleep. It uses an innovative water-based design to provide responsive support all night long. The base consists of a water-filled pouch that can be filled to your desired height and firmness for personalized support that keeps your neck aligned and relieves pain. A hypoallergenic combed-fiber layer surrounds the water base and provides softness and cushioning. You can also choose down, down alternative, or memory foam for the comfort layer.

Other highlights:

  • 200 thread-count cotton shell
  • Machine washable and dryable
  • 30-day Money Back Satisfaction Guarantee
  • 3-year warranty

Best Pillows for People Who Sleep Hot

Brentwood Home Crystal Cove Activated Charcoal Pillow

Brentwood Home’s Crystal Cove Activated Charcoal Pillow uses the natural cooling action of open-cell, high-density memory foam infused with purifying activated charcoal to draw heat away from your body and prevent hot spots. This pillow taps the healing properties of charcoal that include trapping toxins and chemicals from the body and preventing reabsorption. The memory foam is made without ozone depleters, PBDE flame retardants, mercury, lead, heavy metals, formaldehyde, or phthalates, and the pillow is handmade in the USA.

Leesa Hybrid Pillow: Side 1

Leesa Hybrid Pillow

Sure, it looks weird, but this may be the coolest pillow you’ll ever sleep on. The cool-to-the-touch pillow fabric is made with chilling fibers you’ll just want to rest your warm, weary head on. One side features quilted pockets of down-like fill that hold their shape and uniform fluffiness all night long without extra fluffing. The other side consists of a ventilated cooling gel layer for additional cooling on those really hot nights. In between the two layers is a pillow insert that can be removed for a lower profile pillow for sleepers with smaller body frames or who sleep on their stomachs. That makes four unique ways to use this one remarkable pillow:

  • Quilted pocket side with insert
  • Quilted pocket side without insert
  • Gel cooling side with insert
  • Gel cooling side without insert

Share your pillow shopping story below in the comments. We’d love to hear what pillow you chose to match your sleep style and how you like it.

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