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How to Choose the Perfect Pillow

You probably already know that the right pillow can improve your sleep quality. Yet, with so many different options available these days, choosing the right one for you can be confusing, time consuming, and even overwhelming – which probably explains why many people choose the wrong pillow! [1] [2]

In this post, we'll help you simplify your search and show you how to choose a pillow based on your own individual sleep style and preferences, so you can get more quality sleep.

A Simple Path to Pillow Perfection

Since there are thousands of different pillows on the market, it's important to keep things simple – otherwise you're bound to get lost in a sea of choices.

Though choosing the right pillow may seem daunting, when you think about it, there are only three main variables to consider:

  • Pillow Firmness – The right amount of firmness ensures your pillow gives you proper support while you sleep.
  • Pillow Shape – In addition to standard (rectangular) pillows, there are myriad orthopedic designs that can be helpful depending on your specific preferences and goals.
  • Pillow Material - Choose from materials that conform to your body, prevent allergies, keep you cool, and much more.

In the next few sections we'll look at each one more closely, and explain what you might want to look for when choosing your next pillow.

1. Pillow Firmness

The firmness of your pillow can be a key factor in how well you sleep, according to this article from Harvard Health Publishing. As the post points out, pillows that are too soft can cause neck pain – so if you have a history of waking up with neck issues then you're probably better off with a pillow that's on the firmer side. In addition, according to the article, firmer pillows are usually a good choice for side sleepers, since they tend to need more support than those who sleep on their backs. [3]

Firmer pillows are also more likely to keep their shape, which can improve spinal alignment, preventing body stiffness. However, pillows that are too firm may be uncomfortable to some people, which can interfere with sleep – so if you do choose a pillow that's on the firmer side, it's probably best to feel it first to make sure it isn't too stiff. [4]

What about soft pillows? While there does seem to be some expert consensus that soft pillows should be avoided by side sleepers, there is good reason to believe they may be a better choice for people who sleep on their stomach. So, if you're in the latter group, you might consider trying a soft, cushiony pillow and seeing how that works for you. [5] [6]

2. Pillow Shape

While pillow firmness exists on a scale, when it comes to the shape of your pillow there is much more variety to choose from. While we tend to think of pillows as being mostly rectangular, today there are seemingly countless orthopedic pillow designs, each offering their own unique health benefits. [7]

Here are some examples:

  • Contour pillows that support your head and neck and keep your body in a neutral sleeping position. [8]
  • Body pillows – These run the length of your body and may be the best pillow for side sleepers (they also come in a variety of interesting shapes you can experiment with).
  • Cylinder-shaped pillows designed to offer extra neck support.
  • Wedge pillows, which can be helpful for people with certain types of health conditions, including acid reflux, sinus pressure, and more. [9]
  • Lumbar pillows, which are designed to give extra support to your lower back while you sleep.

These days, orthopedic pillows come in countless shapes and sizes, so there are just too many to cover in this post. However, a quick Google search for "orthopedic pillows" can give you lots of inspiration when it comes to choosing the right pillow for your individual needs and preferences!

Here are two additional tips that can help when deciding on the best pillow shape for you: According to this study, a contoured pillow with higher sides can be a good option for side sleepers; whereas a pillow that is flat in the middle may be the best pillow for back sleepers [10]. There are also pillows made for more specific sleep needs such as those who use sleep equipment. We found a thoughtfully designed pillow called Winkzzz that is made to support back and side sleepers wearing sleep equipment. It even includes shoulder cut-outs to reduce tangling so you can snooze peacefully.

3. Pillow Materials

In addition to firmness and shape, the material(s) your pillow is made with can make a big difference in the quality of sleep you get. Similar to the previous two categories, there are quite a few options available to you, and the right one depends highly on your individual situation.

For example, research shows that memory foam pillows may be a good option for people suffering from snoring, or other sleep disorders. [11]

On the other hand, if sleeping tends to cause you neck issues, this study suggests that a rubber pillow may be the best pillow for neck pain. [12]

For those who tend to get hot at night, a gel-filled pillow may provide you with the coolest pillow experience, as the gel is scientifically engineered to absorb heat from your neck and head.

Do you sometimes wake up with head pain? If so, down or feather pillows may be a good option, because of their ability to shape your head while you sleep. [13]

What about basic polyester-filled pillows? While these may not offer a ton of health benefits, many people still choose them due to price concerns, as these pillows are generally inexpensive. However, if you are on a budget and do opt for an inexpensive polyester pillow, keep in mind that – while they may start off with good shape – they can lose thickness fairly quickly once you start sleeping on them. [14]

And, if you have allergies or asthma, it may be best to avoid both polyester and feather pillows – due to their ability to collect and store dust. Instead, you might consider a pillow made of wool or cotton, which is hypoallergenic and dust-resistant. (Keep in mind that these pillows can also be quite firm.) [15]

Final Thoughts

Remember, with so many different types of pillows on the market, it can be easy to get lost in all of the choices. But if you start to feel confused or overwhelmed, just go back to the three basics we've laid out here – firmness, shape, and materials – and you'll be fine!

Also, whenever possible, remember to physically touch and feel a pillow before you buy it. That way, you can get a "preview" of what it will be like once you sleep with it, before actually committing.