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Home / Best Pillows of 2022 / Best Pillows for Neck Pain

Best Pillows for Neck Pain

Keith Cushner

Written by

Keith Cushner, Sleep Product Expert

Jenny Iyo

Medically Reviewed by

Jenny Iyo, Physical Therapist

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Methodology

We personally test every product featured in our reviews and guide to provide accurate, data-driven recommendations. Learn More

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We recently added a video that offers a more in-depth look at our top pillow picks for neck pain. The video explores the design and performance of each pillow.

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Neck pain plagues many Americans, and the causes aren’t always clear. If you often find yourself waking up with a sore neck, chances are your pillow could be partly to blame. Your pillow’s job is to hold your neck and head at the right height to prevent unnecessary strain. A pillow that’s too high or too low can cause pressure to build up as the neck tries to compensate for the lack of support.

In our testing, we examine how they stand up to wear and tear, decide who will find them comfortable, and determine whether or not they could help reduce neck pain. Since weight and sleeping position both affect how your pillow feels, we make sure to use testers from multiple weight groups and sleeper types. We also make sure to test all pillows on the same mattress so our ratings are consistent.

The Best Pillows for Neck Pain

Best Pillows for Neck Pain Video

Watch our video below to learn more about our lab’s top pillow picks for sleepers with neck pain.

Read our top picks to learn more about each one’s materials and unique qualities. In the buyer’s guide section, we’ll break down the reasons you could be experiencing neck pain and how your pillow can help. We’ll take a deeper look at how body position and pillow construction can enhance comfort, and we’ll teach you what to look for when shopping for a pillow for neck pain.

Product Details

Best Overall

Saatva Latex Pillow

Saatva Latex Pillow
Price: $165 - Queen $185 - King
Fill: Shredded 100% American Talalay latex and down alternative
Firmness: Medium Soft
Who it's best for:
  • Sleepers who prefer softer pillows that conform closely
  • Those who want a pillow with adjustable loft
  • Hot sleepers
Highlights:
  • Microdenier padding softens the latex core for a comfortable, balanced feel
  • Removable components allow you to change the loft and feel
  • Encased in a breathable organic cotton cover
Saatva Latex Pillow

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Bottom Line:

Usually pillows with strong contouring have a tendency to trap heat. Our testers found the Saatva Latex Pillow to be exceptionally cool, considering how closely it cradles the head and neck.

The Saatva Latex Pillow checked boxes for many of our testers thanks to its adjustable design. This feature made it a hit for our team’s stomach sleepers and side sleepers.

How It Performed

You can choose between using the inner pillow and the core together or using just the inner pillow. Stomach sleepers on our team who prefer flatter models enjoyed using the inner pillow, which has a 2-inch loft and a softer feel. If you sleep on your side, we recommend using both pillows. This configuration has an 8-inch loft that helps keep a side sleeper’s head and neck aligned with other areas along the spine.

A thick gusset helps the pillow maintain a full shape, earning it high marks in our shape retention tests. Thanks to this feature, you shouldn’t need to fluff it very often. Latex and cotton are both naturally breathable materials, so the internal components didn’t retain too much body heat and the pillow slept fairly cool during our tests.

What It’s Made of

The core contains shredded Talalay latex that feels soft and responsive in equal measure. Down alternative microdenier fiber cushion the inner pillow to enhance the plushness without compromising support. The outer cover is made of breathable organic cotton. As a bonus for owners, both the cover and microdenier pillow can be laundered at home, allowing you to avoid inconvenient hand washing or dry cleaning bills. Queen and king sizes are available.

As part of your purchase, you may include two sateen pillowcases for an added charge. Saatva provides free shipping to all customers in the contiguous U.S. The pillow is backed by a 45-night sleep trial and 1-year warranty.

Best Value

GhostBed GhostPillow - Shredded

GhostBed GhostPillow - Shredded
Price: $190
Fill: Shredded memory foam and microfiber
Firmness: Medium
Who it's best for:
  • Hot sleepers
  • People seeking pressure relief for the neck
  • Value seekers
Highlights:
  • Shredded memory foam fill can be added or removed to change loft
  • Cover composed of cooling Ghost Ice fabric
  • 101-night sleep trial
GhostBed GhostPillow - Shredded

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Bottom Line:

Our testers really enjoyed the GhostPillow’s adjustability, which allowed most of them to find a loft that fit their needs. This feature and the two-pillow bundle make the pillow a great value for shoppers on a budget.

The GhostBed GhostPillow – Shredded catered to our testers’ diverse sleep positions and personal sleep needs thanks to its customizable design. The adjustable loft and balanced feel also make this pillow ideal if you experience neck pain at night. Each purchase comes with two pillows, which works out to be a good value compared to competing foam pillows.

How It Performed

Regardless of your chosen loft, the plush fill gives the GhostPillow – Shredded a medium feel. This firmness level best suited back and stomach sleepers on our team, who often prefer softer pillows that allow their heads to sink in comfortably. Our stomach sleepers tend to have a hard time finding a pillow with the low loft they need, so they particularly enjoyed the adjustable design.

When fully filled, the pillow measures 6 inches thick. The full loft suited some of our side sleepers. The pillow contoured closely to cradle our testers’ heads and necks to alleviate pressure, but it didn’t sink too much. The proprietary cover material helps to offset some of the foam’s heat-absorbing properties, resulting in less heat buildup and cooler sleep.

What It’s Made of

The fill consists of shredded memory foam, polyfoam, and down alternative clusters that offer close contouring for the head and neck to relieve pressure buildup. This fill type is also breathable and highly moldable. The cover is composed of proprietary Ghost Ice fabric that feels cool to the touch. The cover can be removed and machine-washed whenever the pillow needs to be cleaned. Wash in cold water on a gentle cycle and dry on low heat.

GhostBed ships the pillows for free anywhere in the contiguous U.S. Your purchase includes a 101-night sleep trial, which is generous for a pillow, and you’ll also receive a 5-year warranty against structural defects.

Best for Side Sleepers

Eli & Elm Cotton Side-Sleeper Pillow

Eli & Elm Cotton Side-Sleeper Pillow
Price: $125
Fill: 75% Latex and 25% Polyester Fiber
Firmness: Medium, adjustable
Who it's best for:
  • Side sleepers looking for an ergonomic shape
  • Hot sleepers
  • People who appreciate being able to adjust loft and firmness
Highlights:
  • Filling can be added or removed to adjust loft and firmness
  • Moderately high loft and medium firmness are well-suited to side sleeping
  • Unique design accommodates shoulders to reduce neck and shoulder pain
Eli & Elm Cotton Side-Sleeper Pillow

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Bottom Line:

The side sleepers on our team welcomed the recessed design of the Cotton Side-Sleeper Pillow. The curved shape offered space for their shoulders and enabled stronger contouring to their necks.

The Eli & Elm Side-Sleeper Pillow has a unconventional shape with a recessed middle for the shoulder, designed to fit to your body while side sleeping. This accommodates your shoulders and provides the needed support to reduce neck pain.

How It Performed

The pillow has a relatively high loft that our side-sleeping testers thoroughly enjoyed. This thickness helps keep your head and neck aligned with the rest of your body while sleeping on your side. Although the pillow is specifically designed for side sleepers, our team’s back sleepers weighing up to 230 pounds also enjoyed this model’s mid-range feel.

Latex has a more responsive feel, and this prevented the pillow from sinking beneath the weight of our testers’ heads. Thanks to the use of breathable materials like cotton and latex, the pillow excelled in our temperature neutrality tests. We recommend this model if you tend to run hot or sweat at night.

What It’s Made of

The filling is a blend of latex and polyester fiber that provides enough resistance to hold your head aloft. Latex is a naturally breathable material, and the filling features gel infusions for enhanced cooling. Filling can be added or removed to adjust the loft, which also had an impact on the firmness during our tests. You can also purchase additional fill if you prefer an even thicker profile. The pillow has a breathable cover made of an organic cotton and polyester blend, which you can machine wash for easy care.

The Eli & Elm Organic Cotton Side-Sleeper Pillow is offered in just one size, suitable for a queen or a king mattress. Shipping is free to the contiguous U.S. The pillow comes with a 45-day return policy and a 5-year warranty.

Brooklyn Bedding Talalay Latex Pillow

Best for Spinal Alignment

Brooklyn Bedding Talalay Latex Pillow

Brooklyn Bedding Talalay Latex Pillow
Price: $89 - Queen $99 - King
Fill: Talalay latex foam
Firmness: Medium firm
Who it's best for:
  • Side and back sleepers
  • People who overheat easily at night
  • Those who enjoy pillows that feel slightly bouncy
Highlights:
  • Talalay latex core conforms closely to the head and neck while ensuring support
  • 4-inch thickness caters to sleepers who prefer lower profile pillows
  • Latex and cotton construction promote breathability
Brooklyn Bedding Talalay Latex Pillow

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Bottom Line:

Many of the latex pillows we’ve tested are too thick for our team’s stomach and back sleepers. The Brooklyn Bedding Talalay Latex model is offered in two profile options, so most of our testers found a comfortable option. It also felt nice and cool.

The Brooklyn Bedding Talalay Latex Pillow comes in 2 profile options that back sleepers on our team thoroughly enjoyed. We recommend this pillow if you’re seeking a model that offers enough support to help you maintain healthy sleep posture.

How It Performed

The pillow is available in two loft options, low and high. Our team’s back sleepers found the 4-inch profile of the low-loft option more comfortable because it didn’t crank the neck too high. Meanwhile, our side sleepers found the 6-inch loft comfortable, as well as some back sleepers The latex core conformed closely to their heads and necks, which helped reduce pressure buildup. The medium firm feel ensured that their heads remained supported. You should find this pillow very comfortable if you sleep hot, since latex retains minimal heat. The cover is also very breathable, so the pillow surface stayed fairly cool during our temperature neutrality tests.

What It’s Made of

Talalay latex makes up the pillow core, offering gentle cradling for the head and neck to alleviate pressure points. Latex’s natural responsiveness ensures the pillow won’t sink too deeply beneath your head’s weight. The shell is made of organic cotton, a naturally breathable and moisture-wicking material. The pillow cover may be removed and machine washed on a gentle setting, then tumble dried on low heat. You should only spot clean the latex core. Queen and king sizes are available.

Brooklyn Bedding offers a 30-night sleep trial, during which you may return the pillow for a full refund and free return shipping. The pillow is also backed by a 3-year warranty. Shipping is free to addresses in the contiguous U.S.

Luxome LAYR Customizable Pillow

Best Adjustable

Luxome LAYR Customizable Pillow

Luxome LAYR Customizable Pillow
Price: $100 - Standard/Queen $115 - King
Fill: Down alternative, shredded gel-infused memory foam, solid gel-infused memory foam
Firmness: Adjustable
Who it's best for:
  • Combination sleepers
  • Those who tend to sleep hot or sweat in bed
  • Value seekers
Highlights:
  • Each pillow comes with three inserts that allow you to customize the loft and firmness
  • Bamboo-derived viscose shell is exceptionally soft and breathable
  • Customers who buy two pillows receive a 50% discount on the second model
Luxome LAYR Customizable Pillow

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Bottom Line:

The Luxome LAYR is one of the most customizable pillows we’ve tested. Each insert has a distinct feel, and all of our testers found at least one configuration that felt thick and supportive enough.

The Luxome LAYR Customizable Pillow’s adjustable design accommodated most of our testers regardless of their loft and firmness preferences. Each pillow comes with three inserts. Luxome encourages you to mix and match the inserts to find your ideal loft and firmness levels.

How It Performed

The softest insert is best if you enjoy exceptionally plush pillows. Stomach sleepers on our team enjoyed the soft feel that provided an even sleep surface. The second insert feels slightly firmer, but also provides deep cushioning for your head and neck. This option performed best among our back-sleeping testers, whose needs tend to be more flexible. Meanwhile the firmest insert delivers even support, which made it popular among our side sleepers. You can also remove inserts to customize the loft for your needs. Thanks to the breathable components, the pillow slept fairly cool during our tests despite the foam inserts’ heat-retaining tendencies.

What It’s Made of

A cover made of viscose derived from bamboo encases the inserts. The softest insert is made from down alternative fibers, the medium feel features shredded gel-infused memory foam, and the two firmest inserts contain solid gel-infused memory foam. Mesh panels on the side promote airflow throughout the interior and the fabric has moisture-wicking properties. The cover and insert shells are machine-washable, but you should avoid laundering the foam or down alternative fill. Standard/queen and king sizes are available.

The LAYR Customizable Pillow carries an approachable price-point. If you order two pillows, you’ll receive a 50% discount on the second model. All customers in the contiguous U.S. qualify for free ground shipping. Luxome allows returns and exchanges within 30 days of the delivery date as long as the pillow is clean and not damaged.

Cozy Earth Silk Pillow

Best Luxury

Cozy Earth Silk Pillow

Cozy Earth Silk Pillow
Price: $279 - Standard $329 - King
Fill: 100% long-strand mulberry silk
Firmness Medium soft
Who it's best for:
  • Hot sleepers
  • People with sensitive skin
  • Shoppers who want to invest in a long-lasting pillow
Highlights:
  • Plush mulberry silk provides luxurious softness and exceptional support
  • Shell composed of breathable, moisture-wicking viscose derived from bamboo
  • Durable design resists clumping and pilling
Cozy Earth Silk Pillow

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Bottom Line:

The Cozy Earth Silk Pillow has a luxurious feel that performed well across our various product tests. The fill is soft yet supportive, and the moisture-wicking shell should suffice if you tend to sleep hot.

Few materials can match the softness and durability of mulberry silk, but most pillows we test with silk fill carry expensive price-points. The Cozy Earth Silk Pillow is an exception to this rule. If you have neck pain and have struggled with softer pillows in the past, we recommend this model.

How It Performed

The pillow is medium soft in terms of firmness, which made it popular among our stomach sleepers. These testers noted they were able to sink comfortably into the pillow with no neck strain. Some back sleepers on our team also appreciated the softer feel. The bamboo-derived fabric cover is highly breathable and wicks moisture away from the body to keep you comfortable on hot or humid nights. Silk also has cooling properties, so the pillow is a great choice if you tend to sleep warm or sweat at night. We also found the pillow recovers its shape very well during our tests. The fill shouldn’t shift or clump even after prolonged use, so you won’t need to fluff the pillow very often.

What It’s Made of

The fill consists of mulberry silk strands that provide plush cushioning for your head and neck without sacrificing even support or sinking too much beneath your weight. A shell made of bamboo-derived viscose encases the silk. You may wash and dry the pillow in commercial-size machines. That said, laundering the pillow too often can affect its structural integrity and cause permanent damage. Cozy Earth recommends spot cleaning or dry cleaning instead, and using a protector can help keep the pillow clean. Standard and king sizes are available.

Cozy Earth offers free shipping for orders within the contiguous U.S. The company permits returns and exchanges within 100 days of the purchase date. Your Silk Pillow is backed by a manufacturer’s warranty that covers defects such as shifting fill for up to 10 years.

Silk & Snow Pillow

Most Comfortable

Silk & Snow Pillow

Silk & Snow Pillow
Price: $75 - Standard $85 - King
Fill: Shredded memory foam core with down alternative microfiber outer chamber
Firmness: Medium
Who it's best for:
  • Sleepers who need strong pressure relief
  • People whose loft changes vary night to night
  • Those who enjoy plush pillows
Highlights:
  • Adjustable loft
  • Memory foam and faux down construction
  • Fill contours deeply around the head and neck to alleviate pressure
Silk & Snow Pillow

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Bottom Line:

We loved the plushness of the Silk & Snow’s down alternative combined with the contouring of the foam. This is a great pillow option if you’re looking to relieve neck pain.

If you experience neck pain at night, you can benefit greatly from a pillow that alleviates pressure. We found the Silk & Snow Pillow provides enough cushioning to cradle your neck, thus relieving pressure buildup, while still maintaining moderate support.

How It Performed

Given the adjustable design, the Silk & Snow was compatible with most of our testers’ sleep positions. Even stomach sleepers on our team, who typically have a harder time finding suitable pillows, found this pillow comfortable. If you sleep on your stomach, you often require low-loft pillows to keep your head aligned with your spine. This pillow allows you to remove large amounts of foam in order to achieve this low loft. The plush fill and memory foam together offer excellent contouring for your head and neck, which goes a long way toward relieving aches and pains. At the same time, we found the pillow retains a medium feel that prevented our testers’ heads from sinking deep into the pillow.

What It’s Made of

The pillow features a core made of shredded memory foam that helps lift the head while remaining quite moldable. The foam core is surrounded by a chamber of microfiber fill that mimics the plush feel of down, offering cushioning for the head and neck. A breathable cotton shell encases the pillow. This cover is also removable and machine-washable for easy care. Silk & Snow recommends you wash on a cold cycle and dry on a low setting.

Silk & Snow offers a 100-night sleep trial, during which you can test the mattress and return it after a mandatory 30-day break-in period. The pillow is also backed by a 3-year warranty. Shipping within the contiguous U.S. and all Canadian provinces is free.

Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Cloud Pillow

Best Neck Support

Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Cloud Pillow

Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Cloud Pillow
Price: $79 - Standard/Queen
Fill: Solid Memory Foam
Firmness: Extra Soft
Who it's best for:
  • Back sleepers
  • Sleepers who experience pressure buildup in the neck
  • Frequent travelers
Highlights:
  • Extra-soft feel allows generous contouring for the head and neck
  • Solid memory foam construction supports the neck
  • Easily compressible to fit in a travel bag
Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Cloud Pillow

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Bottom Line:

The Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Cloud Pillow offers a great balance of cushioning and support, thanks to the extra-soft feel and solid memory foam composition. Back sleepers on our team loved these features, as well as the mid-range profile.

A pillow with proper support for the neck is crucial to avoiding neck pain. The Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Cloud Pillow provides solid support thanks to its solid memory foam composition, while the plush feel ensures ample cushioning.

How It Performed

The pillow’s extra soft feel and 5-inch loft earned high ratings from back sleepers on our team. These testers found relief for pressure buildup in the neck without excessive sinkage. Some of our side sleepers also enjoyed the higher loft that helped keep their head and neck aligned with the rest of their body. If you sleep on your stomach, you may find the loft too thick. The pillow retained its shape very well during our tests, and it should last longer than other pillow types thanks to the all-foam composition.

What It’s Made of

A knit polyester shell encases the pillow. Solid memory foam makes up the pillow core, offering cradling for the head and neck while preventing excessive sinkage. The pillow cover is fully removable and machine-washable for easy care, but you should only spot clean the memory foam insert. If you tend to travel often, you can compress and roll the pillow up to fit into travel bags.

The TEMPUR-Cloud pillow is one of the company’s most affordable pillows, and shipping is free to customers living in the contiguous U.S. Tempur-Pedic does not offer a sleep trial, but pillow purchases come with a 5-year warranty against structural defects.

Sweet Zzz Plant-Based Pillow

Best Pressure Relief

Sweet Zzz Plant-Based Pillow

Sweet Zzz Plant-Based Pillow
Price: $99 - Queen $119 - King
Fill: Plant-based down alternative fibers
Firmness: Medium
Who it's best for:
  • Hot sleepers
  • People with sharp pressure points
  • Value seekers
Highlights:
  • Cotton cover allows airflow to regulate temperature
  • Plant-based down alternative fill cradles the head and neck to help alleviate pressure buildup
  • 50-night sleep trial
Sweet Zzz Plant-Based Pillow

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Bottom Line:

The Sweet Zzz Plant-Based Pillow offered excellent cushioning for our testers who experience pressure buildup in their necks. Compared to traditional down, it also slept much cooler.

The Sweet Zzz Plant-Based Pillow features a core made from botanically derived down alternative fibers that deeply cushion the head and neck. This gesture and the medium feel made the pillow popular among our testers with sharp pressure points.

How It Performed

The medium feel offered a comfortable balance of cushioning and support that most of our team enjoyed. Our testing found back sleepers particularly appreciated the mid-range feel, which helped keep their bodies on an even plane while relieving pressure in the neck. You may also enjoy the pillow if you tend to sleep hot because the fibers retain less heat than traditional down. The cover is naturally moisture-wicking, making it a great option if you often sweat at night.

What It’s Made of

Natural cotton makes up the pillow shell, which is breathable and moisture-wicking. The pillow core features two layers of plant-based fibers. The outer layer contains plush fibers that add great cushioning for the head and neck, while the inner layer has firmer, denser fibers for extra support. The pillow is fully washable in household machines. Simply wash it in cold water on a gentle cycle, and tumble dry it on low heat.

Two sizes are available: standard and king. Along with the competitive price-point, you’re eligible for free shipping if you live in the contiguous U.S, and Sweet Zzz offers a 50-night sleep trial. Plant-Based Pillow purchases are backed by 1-year warranties that cover structural defects.

Sweet Night Original Pillow

Best for Back Sleepers

Sweet Night Original Pillow

Sweet Night Original Pillow
Price: $63 - Standard $78 - Queen $81 - King
Fill: 90% Shredded Gel Memory Foam, 10% Shredded Comfort Foam
Firmness: Medium Soft
Who it's best for:
  • Those who want a pillow with adjustable loft
  • Hot sleepers
  • Value seekers
Highlights:
  • Shredded memory foam fill can be added or removed to change the loft
  • Soft, breathable cover
  • Very approachable price-point
Sweet Night Original Pillow

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Bottom Line:

Our team’s back sleepers loved the Sweet Night Original Pillow thanks to the adjustable design. The shredded memory foam compositions also offered cushioning to the head and neck to relieve pressure.

The Original Pillow by Sweet Night is a standout adjustable model stuffed with shredded memory foam that can be added or removed to change how thick the pillow feels. This feature made it popular among our team’s back sleepers, who often prefer a medium to low loft.

How It Performed

Adjusting the loft can affect the firmness level, though we noticed this pillow maintains a comfortable balance of contouring and support regardless of its overall volume. The cover is composed of breathable fabric that helped keep our testers cool despite the foam’s heat-absorbing properties. The core also stays cooler than other models we’ve tested thanks to enhanced airflow from the shredded design. Since the foam is shredded, we also found the pillow quite moldable and well suited to those who enjoy clutching or cuddling with a pillow while they sleep.

What It’s Made of

The polyester cover is engineered to be waterproof, which can be helpful if you tend to sweat at night. The core features shredded gel-infused memory foam that contours to the head and neck and relieves pressure without sinking too deeply. Gel infusions in the foam are designed to absorb and dissipate excess body heat. The cover can be removed and machine washed whenever it needs to be cleaned, though Sweet Night recommends hand washing in order to preserve the fabric’s lifespan. The foam should never be cleaned. Standard, queen, and king sizes are available for the pillow.

The Original Pillow’s sticker price is quite low compared to other adjustable, shredded foam pillows. Sweet Night also offers free ground shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S. Each purchase includes a 100-night sleep trial, during which you can test the pillow and return it for a full refund. If you choose to keep the pillow, it is backed by a 3-year warranty.

Why You Can Trust Us

Our team at Sleep Foundation includes experts and testers with years of experience in the sleep product industry. We have tested over 300 pillows in order to determine which ones are best suited to sleepers with different needs. Our team includes back, side, stomach, and combination sleepers, as well as sleepers of different body types. This allows us to represent as wide an array of sleep preferences as possible in our findings.

How We Evaluated These Pillows

During the testing process, our team members lie on each pillow for a period of time to evaluate firmness, support, pressure relief, and other performance features that are relevant to sleepers with neck pain. Testers shift around to evaluate the pillow in different positions. The picks above reflect the pillows that out-performed all other models.

What Is Neck Pain?


The neck is responsible for bearing the entire weight of your head, and it’s not surprising that this delicate part of the body is highly susceptible to injury. The 2018 US Burden of Disease study found that neck pain is rising in importance as a leading cause of disability among the American population. Most sources estimate that between 25 and 30 percent of people suffer from neck pain every year. While many episodes of neck pain resolve naturally, for some it can become a chronic condition with adverse consequences for their quality of life.

Neck pain can be caused by a number of factors. It may stem from an injury or a chronic condition such as arthritis, or it may arise from daily habits such as poor posture or too many hours of sitting at a computer. While symptoms vary, people with neck pain often experience:

  • Neck pain, especially during repetitive activities or long periods of sitting upright
  • Limited range of motion
  • Headaches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Poor sleep quality

If you have severe pain or additional symptoms, or if you’re not sure what’s causing your neck pain, it’s a good idea to visit a doctor to rule out underlying conditions.

Regular exercise and a healthy body weight are thought to have a positive impact on chronic neck pain. The American Chiropractic Association notes that neck pain often goes hand-in-hand with high stress levels and obesity.

Neck Pain and Sleep

The 8 hours you spend in bed every night is a critical time if you experience neck pain. The positions you adopt as you sleep can either relax your neck or put it under additional strain. As part of your sleep setup, a supportive pillow should promote proper neck and spine alignment.

Not only can an unsupportive pillow exacerbate your neck pain, but studies show that the wrong pillow can be the direct cause of discomfort during the night. This leads to nighttime awakenings, creating a vicious circle that makes it difficult to get the rest you need to recover from neck pain.

Your pillow is unlikely to be the sole source of your neck pain. However, choosing the right pillow and adopting a healthy sleeping position can help ease pressure on your neck. You should replace your pillow when it’s no longer able to provide the proper support.

How to Choose a Pillow for Neck Pain

If you experience neck pain, choosing the right pillow can be a key step toward living pain-free. The right pillow will depend on your individual needs. We’ll walk you through the most important considerations, including how to choose the best material, shape, and thickness for your individual sleeping style.

What to Consider When Purchasing a Pillow for Neck Pain

Most people don’t give much thought to their pillow, beyond choosing a pillow that’s nice and squishy for immediate comfort. This means that when we do realize our pillow may be contributing to our neck pain, we may not know how to go about choosing the best pillow. If you’re in this position, you may be susceptible to misleading marketing and end up choosing a pillow that’s ill-suited for your needs.

To help you get started, we’ve made a list of the most important factors. Focusing on these factors and having a basic understanding of pillow features and construction can help you find the pillow that works best for you.

  • Loft: The loft determines the angle of your head in relation to your spine. A pillow that’s too high or too low can force your neck to bend at an unnatural angle, causing strain and discomfort over time. That’s why sleep experts recommend choosing a pillow loft that keeps your head and neck aligned with your spine. When choosing your pillow, don’t forget to consider the width of your shoulders and size of your head. If you’re not sure of your ideal loft, you may wish to purchase a pillow with an adjustable loft.
  • Support: In addition to being the right height under your head, a pillow should also adequately support your neck. This is most often seen in cervical pillows, which contour to the neck instead of leaving a space where the neck is unsupported.
  • Firmness Level: The pillow firmness will determine where your head comes to rest, so it’s important to give this aspect careful consideration. The right pillow firmness for you will depend on how heavy your head is, how high the pillow is, what position you tend to sleep in, and the firmness of your mattress. Pillows that are too firm may cause pressure points, for example in the ears when side sleeping. On the other hand, pillows that are too soft may sag under your head and fail to provide proper support.
  • Pressure Relief: A good pillow provides pressure relief by taking strain off your neck and contouring to reduce pressure points. For the best pressure relief, choose a pillow that’s the appropriate shape and size for your sleeping position, and the appropriate firmness to alleviate pressure at contact points.
  • Shape: Today’s manufacturers offer a varied assortment of ergonomic pillows that provide enhanced support by adapting to the shape of your head and neck. Some people also choose to add another pillow to their setup, one popular choice being a small roll under the neck in addition to the main pillow. Pillow shape is a matter of personal preference, but if you can’t find relief from your neck pain, one solution may be to try a cervical pillow.
  • Price: Investing in a good pillow is crucial to your overall health and your neck health in particular. Pillow prices vary widely depending on their materials and design. When shopping for a pillow, keep in in mind that certain types of pillows will last you for years, while others may need to be replaced after a year or two as their materials wear out and lose their loft or conforming abilities.
  • Quality Materials: Within broad categories such as memory foam or feather pillows, the quality of your individual pillow plays a significant role in determining its longevity and comfort. Some pillows can be washed occasionally and properly dried to fluff them up and increase their lifespan.

What Pillow Materials are Best for Neck Pain?

The best pillow for neck and shoulder pain is firm enough to hold your head at a healthy angle, but soft enough to alleviate pressure points. Most sleepers find success with either a memory foam, latex, buckwheat, or feather pillow, as these materials offer the best balance of support and pressure relief.

  • Memory Foam: Memory foam molds in response to heat and pressure, contouring to form a supportive cradle around your head and neck. Memory foam pillows are hypoallergenic, cheap, and widely available, either in solid or shredded form. However, they have a limited lifespan, and the material’s slow response to pressure may be frustrating if you’re a combination sleeper. The material is also prone to trapping heat.
  • Buckwheat: Buckwheat hulls naturally interlock and hold their shape, making them a great choice for head and neck support. As a natural material, buckwheat is naturally breathable, resistant to allergens, durable, and environmentally friendly. On the downside, buckwheat pillows tend to command a high price-point, and they may take some getting used to as they aren’t as soft as other traditional pillow types and do make some noise as you change positions.
  • Feather: Good quality feather pillows are soft and offer excellent conforming. They’re also often customizable, allowing you to adjust the loft by taking out feathers or adding more. Unfortunately, feather pillows tend to lose their loft as the feathers get compressed over time. Many people also find that the feathers may become displaced under the weight of their head, affecting the support they provide.
  • Latex: Natural latex has a buoyant feel that holds your neck in place while minimizing pressure points. Many latex pillows feature pincore holes for improved temperature regulation. The major downside to latex is that latex pillows usually come in one solid piece, so you can’t adjust them into a customized shape. While many people turn to latex as a natural and sustainable option, organic and other certifications tend to raise the price tag.
  • Down: Made from the inner feathers of ducks and geese, down is exceedingly soft and lightweight, and pillows made with this fill material can be reshaped to suit your preference. Due to its high price tag and ability to provoke allergies in some people, many sleepers opt for down alternative, made from polyester fibers. Unfortunately, both down and down alternative pillows easily lose their shape and tend to be too soft to adequately support the neck.
  • Polyfoam: Most polyfoam pillows offer some contouring and boast a quicker response to pressure than memory foam, although like memory foam, they will trap heat. Polyfoam pillows are lightweight, affordable, and hypoallergenic. However, they develop permanent indentations over time and will need to be replaced more often than other pillow types.

What is the Best Pillow Positioning for Neck Pain?

Sleep experts recommend either back or side sleeping if you experience neck pain. Sleeping on your stomach causes your head to bend at a sharp angle and arches your spine, which puts unwanted pressure on your neck. If you strictly sleep on your stomach, you should choose a pillow with a low loft to minimize pressure.

For best results, back and side sleepers should ensure that their head, neck, and top of the spine form a straight line. Sleeping with a pillow that’s too high or too low can cause aches and pains. Likewise, sleeping with your head rolled to one side or the other is also likely to cause neck pain.

  • Side with Elevated Neck: In order for side sleepers to avoid neck pain, it’s important to keep your head in line with your spine. The best pillow for side sleepers with neck pain should have a loft that equals the distance between the ears and the edge of the shoulders. This means that if you have bigger shoulders, you’ll usually need a higher loft. Since your neck sits naturally higher than the head, cervical pillows have an elevated area under the neck that helps support the neck and encourage proper alignment.
  • Back with Two Pillows: Usually, pillows for back sleepers should have a medium loft that raises the head just enough to sit in line with the neck. But back sleepers face a similar problem to side sleepers in that most pillows don’t support the higher curve of the neck. If you have trouble finding a properly supportive pillow, you may opt for a small rounded pillow under the neck for added support in addition to the main pillow.

Other Tips for Sleepers with Neck Pain

In addition to choosing the right pillow, you can reduce neck pain through lifestyle changes like adopting proper posture, taking stretching breaks, and generally being more active. People who experience neck pain should avoid shoulder bags, slouching, and long periods of sitting at the computer.

  • Choose the Right Mattress: Your body’s overall position is influenced not only by your pillow, but also your mattress. Plusher mattresses allow your body to sink down further, meaning you’ll need a lower-loft pillow. The opposite holds true for firmer mattresses, which will require a higher pillow to maintain proper alignment of the neck and spine.
  • Engage in Physical Therapy: From daily habits to more serious regimens, there are plenty of exercises you can do to relax your neck muscles and relieve strain on the neck, shoulders, and upper back. A certified massage therapist or chiropractor may also be able to help. Always consult a health professional before starting any kind of treatment.
  • Use Ice or Heat: Many people with neck pain receive instant relief from a hot or cold compress, or from taking a warm shower. This may not cure your neck problems, but it can be a helpful short-term solution.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What pillow types are best for sleepers with neck pain?

    The best pillow for neck pain is one that has the right loft, firmness, and shape for your preferred sleeping position. Preferences vary among types of pillows. Some people find that memory foam pillows relieve their neck pain while others are much more comfortable with microfiber filling.

    There are also variations within pillow types — memory foam pillows are available as a solid piece or with shredded foam filling, and each variant works well for some people but not others. Instead of focusing on the type of pillow, it is more important to determine the loft, shape, and filling that will work best with your body type in your preferred sleeping position. Reading independent reviews can help you understand these factors, as can speaking to any health care professionals treating your neck pain.

  • What pillow loft works best for sleepers with neck pain?

    The correct pillow loft for alleviating neck pain is one that will hold your head and neck at a neutral angle in alignment with the natural curve of your spine. The right loft therefore depends on your preferred sleeping position. For example, side sleepers usually need a medium to high-loft pillow, while stomach sleepers require lower pillows so as not to crane their neck upwards. You should also consider how far you sink into your mattress, since one that cradles you deeply may require you to use a lower-loft pillow.

  • How firm should a pillow be to help alleviate neck pain?

    Pillows should be firm enough to support the neck without creating pressure points, but the precise firmness of a pillow depends on your usual sleeping position. Back and side sleepers usually require firmer pillows than stomach sleepers, while combination sleepers and people whose firmness preferences change may want to consider an adjustable pillow.

    If you prefer very soft pillows that do not adequately support your neck, you may enjoy a memory foam pillow with significant pressure relief. While the core of the foam should still provide enough support, its contouring qualities may make it feel subjectively “softer” and therefore more comfortable.

Still have questions?

Our product experts have extensive experience testing just about every sleep product on the market. Send an email to [email protected] or call us at (877) 672-8966 with your questions and we’ll help you find exactly what you’re looking for.

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About Our Editorial Team

author
Keith Cushner

Sleep Product Expert

Keith is a sleep product expert with nearly a decade of experience researching, developing, and testing sleep products.

author
Jenny Iyo

Physical Therapist

DPT

Dr. Iyo is a Doctor of Physical Therapy at an orthopedic clinic in Seattle. She specializes in hands-on therapy and tailored exercise programs.