Understanding how pillows provide support in various positions can help you find the best pillow for your needs. Your pillow is so much more than another piece of bedding; it supports your neck, which plays a vital role in your comfort. An unsupportive or incorrect pillow can lead to neckaches, backaches, and even headaches. The best pillow is one that works with your mattress, your body, and you sleep position to deliver optimal comfort and preserve proper alignment. Keep reading to learn about different pillow options and which shapes are best for different positions.
Learn About Types of Pillows
Memory Foam Pillows
These pillows utilize the same material as memory foam mattresses to offer a customized fit. Contoured versions feature a rounded edge designed to mimic the contour of the neck. Memory foam pillows can also be found in solid rectangular shapes, or as more traditional designs stuffed with shredded memory foam. Similar to how it acts on a bed, this type of pillow supports your curves and promotes alignment. While they offer many benefits, some brands can receive complaints of heat, odor, or being heavy.
Natural Latex Pillows
Latex is another foam-type material that excels at contouring and good support. Latex pillows are typically made in a “slab” type format, in both the classic and contour shapes. This material is extremely durable, and one of the best options for individuals that suffer from allergies as latex is naturally anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and dust-mite resistant. For pillows, 100% natural latex is the best option. Softer ILDs of latex will also likely feel best (10-20) for pillows
Feather and down pillows have been popular for centuries and are often seen as a luxurious item. However, these types of pillows do not offer optimal support for most sleepers. Over time the natural filling will lose its loft and flatten out, requiring folding and fluffing throughout the night. To top it off, at times the feather tips will poke through the ticking, which is uncomfortable to say the least. People with allergies should also avoid down, as dust mites can become an issue. If you do opt for a down pillow, it is wise to use a zippered waterproof cover that can be machine washed.
Down Alternative Pillows
There are many types of pillows on the market, including polyester, basic foam, down alternative, buckwheat and water. Polyester, foam and down alternatives remain widely used due to their low cost. If you walk down the pillow aisle at your average department store, these are the types of pillows likely to line the racks. While they are cheap, they tend to lose loft and thus lose support fairly quick. The average lifespan of a polyfill/down alternative pillow is about 6 months, whereas down and high quality foam pillows can last several years.
Poly foam pillows also tend to be fairly cheap, made of basic furniture-grade foam. But, compared to a memory foam or latex pillow, the lesser quality foam is hard and unyielding, smelly and looses support after a few weeks. They tend to be very thin and lacking effective ergonomic design. Water pillows and buckwheat pillows have a few avid believers; however these remain fairly niche products and may not be the best pillow types for nightly use.
How to Find the Best Pillow for Your Sleeping Position
Best Pillow for Back Sleepers
Back sleepers generally require support at the base of their head and neck to cradle this area, with a thinner profile under the main part of their head so it is not pushed up. A shallow contour-shaped memory foam or latex pillow is good for back sleepers, since it supports the natural shape of the neck. Traditionally-shaped pillows that support the neck and allow the head sit at a natural angle will also offer comfort. Again, you want a pillow that is fairly shallow, with just enough loft to keep your neck level. Pillows with too much filling can hold the head at an unnatural angle with the chin pointing down into the upper chest. This can cause pain and aggravate existing problems like snoring and neck pain.
- Thinner Pillows
- Medium to Plush
Best Pillow for Side Sleepers
Side sleepers require additional support between their ear and shoulder. Generally firmer support is considered the best pillow for side sleepers. The right shape should allow to sleep with your neck and spine straightly aligned. Contour memory foam pillows and contoured latex styles will often specify that they have been created to provide the necessary support for side sleepers, with latex providing the firmest support. These types of pillows support the natural curvature of your neck, and also won’t lose their shape halfway through night.
- Thicker Pillows / Contour Pillows
- Medium to Firm
Best Pillow for Stomach Sleepers
Stomach sleepers generally need a thin pillow and possibly a second one to support their stomach to help eliminate lower back pain. Pillows should be breathable and the cover composed of a washable material, since it will be very close your face for several hours. A soft, thin fiber pillow or plush memory foam-filled pillow may offer the greatest comfort.
- Thin Pillows
Many people prefer to have more than one pillow and may switch from sleeping on their side to their back throughout the night. Additional styles designed for special support include cervical pillows and positional pillows. At times changing sleeping positions as well as the position of the neck and head, from sleeping on your back to the side, will help alleviate snoring. If you tend to adopt multiple sleep positions, consider a medium thickness pillow or a contour pillow that offers two different profiles (a flatter end and a thicker end). Choose a comfortable memory foam or latex pillow that aligns and supports the spine. Keep the head from tilting forward or backwards may help stop snoring, as well as reducing pressure pain of injured joints. Foam materials also prohibit mold and dust mites, and thus may offer a better choice for those with allergies.
One of the best pillows we’ve found for universal comfort is Amerisleep’s plant-based memory foam pillow , which comes in the classic shape and utilizes a VOC-free, temperature neutral material. This product has a consumer rating of 4.3/5 from 27 reviews and is compatible with both back and side sleeping.
The best pillow will provide support where it is needed according to your sleep position, and will also be extremely comfortable. A high quality pillow is as imperative to a good night’s rest as a mattress. On average people spend nearly one-third of their lives in bed, making your pillow very important. If you are having difficulty finding a comfortable sleeping position, folding and fluffing a pillow throughout the night, or waking up with headaches or neck pains it is probably past time to replace your pillow. The best pillow for your needs will depend on how you sleep, how you like your pillows to feel, and what you can spend. Devoting some time to learning about alternative pillows types and how they can improve your sleep quality can help you get the best pillow.