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Lauren Fountain

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Neck pain plagues a significant amount of Americans, and the causes aren’t always entirely clear. If you often find yourself waking up with a sore neck, chances are your pillow could be partly to blame.

The job of your pillow is to hold your neck and head at the right height to prevent unnecessary strain. A pillow that’s too high or too low, or which fails to support the neck itself, can cause pressure to build up as the neck tries to compensate for the lack of support. While your sleep setup might not be the original root of your neck pain, it can play an important role in making it better or worse.

We’ll break down the reasons you could be experiencing neck pain and how your pillow can help. Ultimately, the best pillow for neck pain is the one that works for you. However, we’ll also share our top picks for pillows that stand out for their ability to reduce neck pain.

The Best Pillows for Neck Pain

Product Details

Coop Home Goods Eden

Coop Home Goods Eden
Fill:
Cross-cut gel-infused memory foam and microfiber
Firmness:
Medium Soft
Coop Home Goods Eden
Highlights:

The Coop Home Goods Eden pillow is an adjustable crowd-pleaser, made with cooling gel memory foam and microfiber and is backed by a 100-night sleep trial and a 5-year warranty.

Who it's best for:
  • Stomach and back sleepers
  • Sleepers looking for adjustable loft
  • Those who sleep hot on memory foam

Our Editor’s Pick is the Coop Home Goods Eden Pillow, a well-rounded pillow that adapts to the needs of various sleeper types. The pillow is designed to sleep cool, with a shredded gel-infused memory foam and polyester fill.

This pillow has a medium soft feel that is most comfortable for stomach sleepers and back sleepers. That said, the filling is adjustable so users can add or remove as much as they need to suit their sleeping style. The Eden pillow is delivered with a half-pound bag of filling so you won’t go short.

A big bonus is the cover, which is removable and machine-washable. It’s made of a breathable polyester-viscose rayon blend with a stretchy polyester liner and a thick gusset to help the pillow hold its shape. The pillow itself can also be washed and dried once a year.

Hypoallergenic and cruelty-free, made in the U.S. Available sizes include standard, queen, and king. Coop Home Goods offers a 100-night sleep trial with free returns. After this, the pillow is backed by a 5-year warranty.

Eli and Elm Side-Sleeper Pillow

Eli and Elm Side-Sleeper Pillow
Fill:
75% Latex and 25% Polyester Fiber
Firmness:
Medium, adjustable
Eli and Elm Side-Sleeper Pillow
Highlights:

The Eli & Elm Organic Cotton Side-Sleeper Pillow has a unique design that prevents pressure on the shoulders while maintaining healthy alignment of the neck and spine.

Who it's best for:
  • Side sleepers looking for an ergonomic shape
  • Hot sleepers
  • People who appreciate being able to adjust loft and firmness

The Eli & Elm Side-Sleeper Pillow has a unique shape with a recessed middle for the shoulder, designed to fit to your body while side-sleeping. This accommodates the shoulders and provides the needed support to reduce neck pain. The filling is a blend of latex and polyester fiber that provides just enough resistance to hold your head aloft.

The pillow’s medium feel and relatively high loft are well-suited to side sleepers. Filling can be added or removed to adjust the loft, which will also have an impact on the firmness.

Eli & Elm has included cooling gels in the pillow’s filling to help maintain temperature neutrality and give the pillow a softer feel. The pillow has a breathable and machine-washable cover, made of an organic cotton and polyester blend.

The Eli & Elm Organic Cotton Side-Sleeper Pillow is offered in just one size, suitable for a queen or a king mattress.

Essentia Ergonomic Pillow

Essentia Ergonomic Pillow
Fill:
Solid Latex
Firmness:
Medium Firm
Essentia Ergonomic Pillow
Highlights:

Made from natural latex, the My Essentia Ergonomic Pillow provides top-notch support for back sleepers with neck pain.

Who it's best for:
  • Environmentally conscious shoppers
  • Back sleepers
  • People who need firmer support

The My Essentia Ergonomic Pillow is a cervical pillow designed with the typical S shape. It’s taller at the back and shorter in the middle, with a raised area in the front. This shape is especially beneficial for back sleepers, for whom it supports the natural curve of the neck to promote healthy spinal alignment.

The pillow is made from natural latex, which has conforming properties similar to memory foam but without the heat retention. The pillow’s buoyant, medium firm feel does a good job of providing support.

The pillow also has an organic cotton cover, and the entire Canadian factory is certified organic by the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The end result is a hypoallergenic pillow free from harmful chemicals.

My Essentia offers free shipping in the U.S. and Canada, and backs the pillow with a 1-year warranty.

Sweet Night Original Pillow

Sweet Night Original Pillow
Fill:
90% Shredded Gel Memory Foam, 10% Shredded Comfort Foam
Firmness:
Medium Soft
Sweet Night Original Pillow
Highlights:

Sweet Night offers a bargain option with the Original Pillow, a shredded memory foam model that’s versatile enough for all sleeping positions.

Who it's best for:
  • All sleeper types
  • Shoppers on a budget
  • Those who like close conforming

The Sweet Night Original Pillow is a shredded memory foam pillow sold at a very attractive price-point. The shredded memory foam conforms closely but allows plenty of room for airflow to keep the pillow cool.

A zippered cover allows you to adjust the feel to your liking, so you can choose the loft that works best for your sleeping style. This makes it a viable option for side, back, and stomach sleepers who suffer from neck pain.

The Sweet Night Original Pillow is available in standard, queen, or king sizes, and Sweet Night offers a 30-night sleep trial so you can fully explore the pillow’s possibilities. After this, the Original Pillow is covered by a 3-year limited warranty against manufacturing and workmanship defects.

Organic Textiles Contour Pillow

Organic Textiles Contour Pillow
Fill:
Solid Natural or Organic Dunlop Latex
Firmness:
Soft, Medium, Firm
Organic Textiles Contour Pillow
Highlights:

Neck pain sufferers interested in a sustainable and breathable pillow can’t go wrong with the Organic Textile Contour Pillow, offered in three firmness levels to suit every sleeping position.

Who it's best for:
  • Side and back sleepers
  • People who sleep hot
  • Those who want a sustainable, natural product

The all-latex Organic Textile Contour Pillow is a cervical pillow contoured to fit the head and neck. This shape tends to be best suited to back sleepers and some side sleepers. The pillow is available in a choice of three firmness levels: soft, medium, and firm.

The soft and medium options have a high loft that measures 5 inches at the highest point, 3 inches in the middle, and 4 inches under the neck. Most side sleepers will be most comfortable on the medium pillow, which offers a suitable balance of loft and firmness to ease pressure on the shoulders.

The firm option is thinner, measuring 4 inches at the highest point, 3 inches in the middle, and 3.5 inches under the neck. Back sleepers should be satisfied on either the soft or firm pillows, depending on personal preference. All pillows are the same size, 19 by 24 inches.

The pillow is made of aerated Dunlop latex that sleeps cool thanks to airflow through the holes. Customers can choose to spend a little more for organic latex, certified by the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS). The cover is made of organic cotton and has a zipper for easier care.

Level Sleep Restore Pillow

Level Sleep Restore Pillow
Fill:
Solid Memory Foam
Firmness:
Medium Firm
Level Sleep Restore Pillow
Highlights:

The innovative Restore Pillow from Level Sleep offers targeted neck support and ventilated holes to relieve pressure on the ears, and comes with a full year-long sleep trial.

Who it's best for:
  • Combination sleepers
  • Side sleepers who experience sore ears
  • Those seeking a long sleep trial

Level Sleep has designed an innovative pillow with removable inserts for a customizable sleep experience. Adding or removing the inserts allows users to tailor the Level Sleep Restore Pillow to any one of three loft levels. Additionally, rotating the pillow 180 degrees provides a different level of neck support. This construction makes it easy to switch between side and back sleeping.

The pillow is made of solid memory foam with a medium firm feel for sturdy support. The center of the pillow cushions the head while sleeping on your back. In turn, the sides are optimized for side sleeping, with breathable ear wells to prevent pressure points from forming where the ears hit the pillow. A stretchy, machine-washable cover completes the offer.

Level Sleep offers a generous year-long sleep trial and forever warranty, both of which are significantly longer than average for a pillow.

PlushBeds Wool Pillow

PlushBeds Wool Pillow
Fill:
Wool
Firmness:
Adjustable
PlushBeds Wool Pillow
Highlights:

With their Wool Pillow, PlushBeds has created a durable and comfortable product with a customizable loft and supportive feel that gently cradles the neck and head to reduce neck pain.

Who it's best for:
  • All sleeper types
  • Sleepers who prefer all-natural materials
  • Those who sleep hot or cool

The PlushBeds Wool Pillow is a classic wool pillow of the highest quality. Stuffed with lofty, springy natural wool, each pillow is handmade to order. Customers can pre-select their desired firmness level and adjust the filling as needed once the pillow arrives to achieve the needed loft for optimal neck support.

The wool is responsibly sourced from ethically managed sheep, and free of harmful substances. Wool excels at wicking moisture away from the sleeper, moderating temperature to keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It’s also hypoallergenic and highly durable, simply requiring re-fluffing once in a while. The exterior of the pillow is made of organic cotton.

The wool pillow is sold in standard, queen, and king sizes. PlushBeds provides free shipping and a 3-year warranty. Because each pillow is made to order, PlushBeds is unable to accept returns.

This model costs a little more than most of our other top picks, but its sticker price is reasonable compared to other solid memory foam pillows. The solid foam is also quite durable, and the pillow shouldn’t flatten too much over time.

What Is Neck Pain?

The neck is responsible for bearing the entire weight of the 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, neck pain sufferers 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 eight hours you spend in bed every night is a critical time for those who suffer from 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 lead to 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 for your neck pain. However, choosing the right pillow and adopting a healthy sleeping position can help ease pressure on the 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

For neck pain sufferers, 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 a proper one. Shoppers in this position may be susceptible to misleading marketing and end up choosing a pillow that’s ill-suited for their 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 how pillows work 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 for some combination sleepers. 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 owners 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 the 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 users 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 the user’s 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 suffer from 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. Strict stomach sleepers 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: For side sleepers to avoid neck pain, it’s important to keep the head in line with the 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 people with bigger shoulders usually need a higher loft. Since the 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. Those who have trouble finding a properly supportive pillow may find it more comfortable to use a small rounded pillow under the neck for added support in addition to the main pillow.

Other Tips for Neck Pain Sufferers

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 suffer from 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 neck pain sufferers 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 About Pillows for Neck Pain

Can the wrong pillow make neck pain worse?

Your pillow likely isn’t the only reason for your neck pain, but it can definitely exacerbate the issue. We spend so much time on our pillows that a strained position can cause significant pain the next day. Using a supportive pillow is crucial if you want to give your neck a chance to recover overnight.

What is the most important consideration when choosing a pillow for neck pain?

The most important consideration when choosing a pillow for neck pain is that it keeps your head, neck, and spine in a straight line. Pillows can go about this different ways, but many neck pain sufferers find that the best pillows for neck pain incorporate features that contour to support the neck.

What is the worst pillow type for neck pain?

Any pillow that fails to keep your neck at a neutral angle compared to your head and spine is inadequate for those who suffer from neck pain. Since everyone has a different body and sleeping style, there’s no one type of pillow that could be considered the worst for neck pain. However, most people find that excessively soft or flat pillows, such as those made from polyfill or down, fail to provide the needed support to prevent neck pain.

Can a rounded pillow help with neck pain?

Depending on your sleeping style, you may find that tucking a rounded pillow under your neck can help ease the strain. This is especially true when sleeping on your back, as the neck sits so much higher than the head in this position. A rounded pillow supports just the neck, leaving your head free to relax on the flatter main pillow instead of forcing it to bend at an awkward angle.