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Written by

Daniel Noyed

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Finding the Right Pillow

A great pillow can make a world of difference for your sleep. An important part of sleep hygiene, your pillow cushions your head and neck, which is essential for both comfort and support. A pillow that maintains a proper neck angle can ward off neck pain and encourage overall spinal alignment.

Given the immense selection of pillow types and sizes, though, many shoppers are unsure of how to find their perfect pillow. We’ve covered all the bases for you with top pillow picks based on sleeping position, pillow type, and specific preferences and needs.

How to Choose a Great Pillow

When you’re looking for a new pillow, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the huge variety of options for sale. You’re most likely to sleep soundly with a new pillow if you keep the following shopping considerations in mind:

Loft
The pillow’s height is also referred to as its loft. Although not all manufacturers use the same terminology, loft is usually described in one of three categories: low (three inches or less), medium (three to five inches), or high (five inches or more). Finding the right loft is essential for keeping your head and neck at an angle that avoids excess tension and pain.

Firmness Level
Many pillow materials are quite soft, which can reduce their loft when you lay your head down on them. For this reason, it’s important to take firmness into account when determining the proper loft level you need.

Sleeping Position
Side, stomach, and back sleepers position their head and neck in different ways, and as a result, they each need a pillow with the right loft and firmness to keep their neck in an angle that is comfortable and pain-free. It can also be helpful to consider your body shape and head size when determining the right pillow design to suit your sleeping position.

Adjustability
Some pillows are more easily adapted to fit your needs. Adjustable pillows let you add or remove fill material to change the loft level. Other types of pillows, such as down, have more moldable fill that lets you modify the pillow’s height in real time.

Cooling Properties
Among pillow materials, there is considerable variation in breathability and how likely they are to build up heat during the night. Down and memory foam may trap heat while buckwheat and down alternatives typically sleep cooler. Some pillows may have added features, such as a more breathable cover or a gel infusion, to improve temperature control.

Price
You can find pillows offered at virtually every price. The cost usually reflects the materials and craftsmanship, but a pricier product isn’t always better. Quality pillows can be found to fit most budgets, but always look for a well-designed and well-reviewed pillow that has the characteristics and features that you are looking for.

Pillow Size
The most common pillow size is Standard, measuring at 20 inches wide by 26 inches long. A Standard pillow works for most sleepers and fits on many beds, but specific pillow sizes are available for Queen and King beds.

Pillows for Different Sleeping Positions

Your sleeping position is central to how your body is aligned during the night, making it an important consideration when selecting a pillow. The loft, or height, of a pillow and its firmness directly affect whether it can meet the needs of your body.

Though many pillows can be used effectively in more than one sleeping position, we’ve identified what distinguishes the top performers for side, back, and stomach sleepers. If you are a combination sleeper who changes positions frequently, look for a pillow that best suits the position that you spend the most time in.

Side Sleepers
When lying on your side, your shoulder generates a sizable space between your head and the mattress. This can put pressure on your neck if your pillow is too short. For that reason, most side sleepers, and especially those with broad shoulders, do best with a pillow with medium or high loft. Adjustable-loft pillows are popular with side sleepers, who also benefit from pillows with plenty of fill and at least medium firmness.

Back Sleepers
Back sleepers should look for a pillow that can lift their head into a comfortable and supportive angle. In most cases, that’s a medium-loft pillow with at least medium firmness so that it doesn’t compress too much under their head.

Stomach Sleepers
Stomach sleeping is the least common position, and it can create unique needs for maintaining proper alignment. Stomach sleepers get the best results with a low-loft pillow; taller pillows can push their head too far upward and put pressure on their neck. A pillow that is thin and either soft or medium firm suits most stomach sleepers.

Pillows and Different Types of Pain

Pillow choice is very important to people who live with neck, shoulder, or back pain. The right pillow can help alleviate tension and stiffness in these areas, while the wrong pillow can cause more discomfort and pressure. All pillows flatten over time, so if you’ve been using the same pillow for years, you may experience added aches and pains.

Pillows for Neck Pain
People with neck pain typically prefer pillows that contour evenly to the head and neck while providing adequate support and maintaining a full shape. For those with severe pain, a contoured ergonomic pillow that cradles the head and supports the neck may be the best option.

Pillows for Back Pain
Many people develop aches and pains in their back because their shoulders and hips are not aligned with their spines while they sleep. A pillow for back pain should support these areas to ensure even alignment. Side sleepers can also improve their alignment by lying with a second pillow between their legs.

Pillows for Shoulder Pain
A supportive pillow that cushions the head and neck can make a huge difference for people with persistent shoulder pain. Some pillows sold today are specifically designed for people with torn rotator cuffs, osteoarthritis, and other conditions that cause shoulder discomfort.

Pillows to Support Your Body

Not all pillows are designed to go under your head and neck. Depending on your sleeping position, body pain, comfort preferences, or other needs you may find it helpful to use a different type of pillow to support yourself.

Knee Pillows
Knee pillows can improve spinal alignment and alleviate pressure for side sleepers. Back sleepers can also place these pillows beneath their legs for added support. Most knee pillows are constructed from dense memory foam that doesn’t compress too easily, allowing the material to maintain a full shape.

Wedge Pillows
A wedge pillow is shaped with a slight incline to support the head and shoulders. These pillows are particularly beneficial for heavy snorers and people with acid reflux. Some back sleepers also prefer to rest their legs on wedge pillows, which can help alleviate aches and pains in the lumbar region and hips.

Body Pillows
Body pillows are ideal for side sleepers who enjoy snuggling with a pillow while they sleep. Pregnant women can also use them to help improve spinal alignment. Additionally, a body pillow can help alleviate discomfort for people with back pain and provide extra cushioning for stomach sleepers.

Travel Pillows
Travel pillows allow you to sleep comfortably on airplanes, trains, and other types of public transportation. They can also be useful for people staying in motels, youth hostels, and other overnight lodgings where bedding quality is questionable. Most travel pillows are light and compact enough to fit in any luggage.