If you’re happy with the pillows you have, you probably won’t think twice about them. But if you’re experiencing neck strain or just still not quite comfortable, your pillows may need a second look. Neck and back alignment are critical for a good night’s sleep, and your mattress isn’t the only factor. Going through the trouble of researching mattresses and neglecting your pillows may leave you to think you’ve bought the wrong mattress, but you may just need to find a better pillow. Consider upgrading them to complete your restful night’s sleep.
Types Of Pillows
Before spending money on the wrong pillows, investigate the types that are available. Just like your bed, pillows are made from a number of different materials, and each one has unique properties that may or may not be right for you.
Down Pillows—made with the “down” feathers of ducks, geese and other waterfowl, they’re comfortable for those who like to “sink” into their pillows. Air circulation may decrease as they flatten, causing heat retention. They must be dry-cleaned, not washed.
Down Alternative Pillows—for those who are allergic to natural down pillows, these less-expensive models are washable and as comfortable, but may not last as long as the down.
Foam Pillows—the filling could be any combination of latex foam, memory foam or polyurethane, in any number of forms—noodle, molded, shredded, or a combination.
Shredded Foam Pillows—polyurethane foam is chopped into small pieces (think sugar cubes) and stuffed into pillow sacks. Because of its shape, it tends to sleep a little cooler, and is very adjustable.
Molded foam—exactly as the name implies, it’s one molded piece and can’t be adjusted. It usually has a contoured shape, and is great for people who have neck or back pain.
“Noodled foam”—similar to shredded foam, this is a foam that is turned into long noodles. This gives a pillow that’s adjustable and great for stomach and side sleepers.
Kinds Of Pillows
Memory Foam Pillows—these can be made with memory foam alone, or a combination of the above three. It offers cushioning, but possibly too much cushion, and may tend to sleep hot as a result. They may also have a strong chemical smell. It’s commonly used for pillows designed to support certain areas, such as back or neck, between the knees or under the stomach.
Latex Foam Pillows—like mattresses, they’re made from natural or synthetic latex, and can be more expensive as well as “bouncy.” But they last longer, feel cooler and don’t have the same smell as a memory foam pillow.
Polyurethane Foam Pillows—a less-expensive alternative to latex, poly foam pillows are cooler than memory foam but not quite as cool as natural latex. The filling could be shredded or molded foam, and the density is based on how much foam is actually used in it. It may also have a “smell.”
Cotton Pillows—cool and natural, everything is cotton, including the filling. They’re not as expensive as some of the other types, but may flatten and not last as long.
Polyester Pillows—inexpensive and available at nearly every store that sells pillows, they’re similar in feel to cotton. But they also tend to flatten easily and not last as long.
Buckwheat Pillows—made from the shells of buckwheat, these pillows are noisy and don’t respond to movement well. They’re also not washable; to refresh, just leave them out in the sun a couple of times a year. But they are breathable, supportive, hypoallergenic and don’t retain heat, so fans of buckwheat love them.
Now, What Size?
Pillows come in four basic sizes to accommodate each bed:
Toddler Pillow, 14″ x 20″
Standard Pillow, 20” x 26”
Queen Pillow, 20” x 30”
King Pillow, 20” x 36”
These are general sizes, and not all manufacturers use them, but the pillow size is usually printed on the package. Some vendors only offer standard and king, while others will have a full range of sizes. (This is also true of pillowcases.) If you order online, check before you click the “order” button.
Best Pillows For Stomach Sleepers
Sleeping like this calls for a pillow that’s soft enough to give you proper neck support without pushing your head up and your neck and back out of alignment. Lower lofted pillows offer that kind of support that lets you sleep comfortably on your stomach without interfering with back and neck alignment (although heavier sleepers may need a medium loft for comfort.) Some pillows allow you to remove or add loft to get just the right amount for you.
This pillow could easily be classified as a “cooling pillow.” But XTreme Comfort’s CertiPUR-US Certified Foam pillow allows you to add or remove loft as you need it to give you individual neck and spinal alignment in any position. They’re shipped rolled in a vacuum-sealed bag for additional cleanliness. If it does flatten a bit, just refresh it in the dryer for 20 minutes or fluff by hand.
Bamboo cover keeps the pillow’s surface cool
Hypoallergenic, resistant to dust mites
Six-year warranty with a 30-day money-back guarantee
Safe, with no chemical smells or “off-gassing”
Dimensions might be larger than normal pillowcase sizes
Sable’s comfortable, adjustable pillow is also CertiPUR-US Certified Foam that’s hypoallergenic. Additionally, it’s made with top-grade materials that include a YKK #3 zipper for a no-stick zip, with 40% bamboo fiber to prevent perspiration. This pillow is also registered an FDA Class 1 medical device, since it offers neck pain relief. With a thick bamboo cover, it’s softer but cushions your neck for a good sleep. At just $28.99, it’s affordable, too. No wonder it’s an Amazon’s Choice!
Machine washable and dryable
Adjustable loft for a custom comfort
No latex foam
Removable cover for washing
Only available in queen size
Some users report chemical smell
Pillow may not support as well as others
Best Pillows For Back Sleepers
Like stomach sleepers, good alignment is essential to a comfortable sleep. Low-loft pillows are also good for smaller sleepers, with heavier or average-sized sleepers needing medium lofts. Here are two that can help you do that.
With a unique stitched center divot, support areas on both sides and unique areas for both large and small necks, this pillow supports your head and keeps it in one place while you sleep on your back. Using a chiropractor/orthopedic recommended design, the high-sided/low centered design also supports your head should you switch to side sleeping. Whether you suffer from injuries or just want to sleep on your back comfortably, this Nature’s Guest pillow is hypoallergenic and comes with a 90-day money back guarantee. At $55, it’s more expensive than most pillows available, but designed to keep back sleepers in perfect alignment.
Adjustable loft with zippers on both sides
Gusseted for better comfort
All natural materials, with 100% cotton cover with cotton/wood fiber filling
This contoured pillow boasts an ergonomic design in molded memory foam for cervical alignment. It’s fused with both charcoal and bamboo make for a cleaner, cooler sleep. The TAMPOR is CertiPUR-US tested for quality, durability and content. There’s no off-gassing, because they’re free of the ozone depleters, PBDEs, TDCPP, TCEP flame retardants, mercury, lead and heavy metals, formaldehyde, phthalates regulated by the CPSC, or CFCs. The special contour design holds your neck and head in a natural curve, giving you pain relief as well as helps prevent snoring. The removable airflow cover is washable, and covers both the core and an inside cotton cover. Natural resources are used to produce a comfortable pillow.
If neck pain relief is your goal, this flatter model may just be what you’re looking for. Soft memory foam combined with firmer foam guarantees proper support along with enough softness. The ergonomic design allows you to sleep better with better spinal alignment. The core is made from CertiPUR-US certified foam, so it’s free from chemicals and is hypoallergenic. The outer cover is washable, and the inner cover provides moisture wicking and breathability. Priced at just $26, it’s affordable, too. Jiaao offers a 90-days NO QUESTIONS ASKED money back guarantee and a 5-Year warranty.
Ergonomically design offers good spinal alignment for back sleepers
No chemical smells
Cover is machine washable
Foam core is not machine washable
Best Pillows For Side Sleepers
Adjustable lofts are best if you prefer to sleep on one side or the other (or turn back and forth.) You can either remove some of the loft, or move it around as needed.
This fully adjustable pillow is an Amazon’s Choice for side sleepers. Inside the bamboo and polyester cover is Coop’s proprietary mix of shredded visco elastic memory foam, removable and adjustable for that just-for-you thickness. CertiPUR means it’s made without the usual chemicals that are frequently found in bedding like flame retardants and VOCs. It’s machine washable, and guaranteed not to flatten.
Hypoallergenic, resistant to dust mites
Shredded foam and bamboo help keep you cooler
Great customer service
Made in the USA
Some off-gassing when the pillow is new
A more expensive pillow than most
Utopia Bedding Gusseted Quilted Pillow For Side and Back Sleepers With Blue Gusset
Another Amazon’s Choice for “firm pillow” with over 1600 reviews and 43 questions answered. Made from medium-firm polyester gel fiber in a 100% cotton cover, many happy users report that they don’t flatten out like others. Utopia’s Gusseted Quilted offers a firmer support for head and neck for side sleepers, and offer maximum comfort for any position. The pillow is somewhat soft, but not to the point of “sinking.” Like a bed-in-a-box mattress, these pillows come vacuum-sealed and fluff back up when they’re opened and re-inflated.
Machine washable and dryable, without losing its loft
Sold in sets of 2
Affordable price point ($29.99 for a pair of queen, $39.99 for king set)
Only available in queen and king sizes
May be too warm for some users
Best Cooling Pillows
In a class by itself, cooling pillows can work with a cooling mattress to help with temperature regulation. A lot of body heat is generated at the head, and if your pillow doesn’t dissipate that heat, you may find yourself constantly turning the pillow to find a “cool spot.” Cooling pillows will solve that problem by providing breathability and heat dissipation, just like a cooling mattress does.
Bluewave Bedding Super Slim Gel-Infused Memory Foam Pillow
This unusually lower pillow is not only a lower loft for back sleepers, it’s cooling. The cover is made from 60% polyester and 40% bamboo-derived rayon, and is machine washable (but the foam core isn’t.) CertiPUR-US certified memory foam is infused with gel particles along with ventilation to help you sleep cooler at night. It’s free from mercury, lead, and other heavy metals. A lower loft and profile can also help alleviate neck and shoulder pain for back or stomach sleepers.
Another take on the contour pillow, this model also has a cooling gel layer. Unlike normal memory foam, which can trap heat and sleep hot, Save & Soft’s model is good for back, side and stomach sleepers who need cooling at night. A built-in cooling gel pad prevents overheating that memory foam is known for. Priced at $38, it’s under $50 but offers benefits you normally see in more costly models.
Removable cover is infused with bamboo and aloe vera, and hand washable
Long-lasting support, maintains its curved shape
Hypoallergenic, with no latex
Good neck support
May not be suitable for side sleepers
Slight chemical smell may linger
Classic Brands Reversible Cool Gel and Memory Foam Double-Sided Pillow
An Amazon’s Choice for cooling pillow, and priced right at just $24.00 with a three-year warranty. With a 5-inch loft, it’s suitable for back, side or stomach sleepers. Reversible, so you can take advantage of the cool gel panel for warm nights or the memory foam side for cooler evenings. The hypoallergenic performance-knit cover is removable and machine washable, so it’s easy to keep this pillow clean. Open-cell foam technology helps move and dissipate heat. It’s also naturally hypoallergenic and antimicrobial, so it’s resistant to dust mites, mold, bacteria and other allergens. The responsive design contours to your head and ensures that your back, neck and shoulders are well aligned to give you the best sleep while keeping you from overheating.
Zippered removable cover for easy washing
Less expensive than other models
Helps with hot flashes and night sweats
Also helpful for migraine sufferers
May have chemical smells
Harder than a normal pillow on the gel side
Heavier than typical pillows
May not stay cool for a long period of time
Find Your Best Pillow
Even with a mattress that’s just “pretty good,” your bed’s pillows can make or break a good night’s sleep. Whether you need a cooling pillow, a higher-loft one to sleep on your side or a contoured model to support your neck, there is a pillow for every sleeping need. Don’t give up on your mattress until you’ve tried new pillows that are suitable for your sleeping style. We hope this guide will help you find the one that’s best for you.