Like mattresses, pillows are not a one-size-fits-all sleep accessory. There are a variety of different pillows on the market today; but to find the right pillow for you, you need to understand what exactly you need in a new pillow. Reflecting on your own unique sleep needs and doing a bit of research on the different types of pillows to choose from can steer you towards the most comfortable option for yourself. In this pillow guide, we’ll be discussing which pillows are best for each sleeping style, the different fills you can choose, our Editors’ recommended pillows you can buy today, and more.
The Amerisleep Comfort Classic is our Editors’ Choice as the best pillow of 2019 because it’s eco-friendly, designed with enhanced cooling channels to prevent you from getting too hot, and has a loft perfect for side and back sleepers. Plus, it comes with a risk-free 100-night sleep trial!
Pillows by Sleep Styles
When it comes time to choose your next pillow, there are many factors to take into consideration, such as firmness, pressure relief, fill, responsiveness, loft, personal preference, and your budget. The loft of a pillow refers to how thick it is— a high loft means a thicker pillow while something with a lower loft is thinner. The thickness of your pillow is important because it determines whether or not your spine is going to be in healthy alignment or contorted unnaturally. How you sleep will directly impact how tall your pillow should be.
Let’s talk about what each type of sleeper needs from their pillow.
- Back Sleepers: Back sleeping is quite uncommon, and usually back sleepers find themselves sleeping in other positions, too. Because back sleepers sometimes toss and turn, they’re best suited for a pillow that’s a happy medium in regards to both loft and firmness. When back sleepers lay flat on their back, they want their pillow to align with their shoulds and reinforce the natural curvature of the spine. A comfortable pillow for back sleepers has a medium loft and medium firmness. The most important thing when choosing a pillow for a back sleeper is making sure it’s not too thick or too thin.
- Side Sleepers: A recent survey conducted by WebMD showed that nearly 70% of people would categorize themselves as a side sleeper; with only 16% of people identifying as a stomach sleeper and 14% as back sleepers. Side sleepers require a firm pillow with a higher loft to keep their neck healthily in line with the rest of their body. Sleep specialists suggest the perfect loft for side sleeping is 4-6 inches. In the next section, we’ll be discussing different pillow types, but wanted to mention that contoured pillows are often recommended for side sleepers because they have two edges that allow you to pick which side fits your neck most comfortably. Side sleepers should avoid softer pillows because they prevent your neck from sinking down and resting at an uncomfortable angle.
- Stomach Sleepers: It’s crucial for stomach sleepers to find a low loft, soft pillow to prevent their neck from craning upwards when they sleep. Sleeping on your stomach isn’t the best for your spine, because when you sleep on your stomach, you have to turn your head to the side to breathe, twisting your neck. The last thing you want is to have a pillow that’s too tall, causing your neck to be both twisted sideways and tilted upwards. Finding a relatively flat pillow will allow your head to rest comfortably in line with the rest of your spine, reducing the chance of experiencing neck pain as a stomach sleeper.
Best Pillows of 2019
|Amerisleep Comfort Classic||Solid Memory Foam||Side & Back Sleepers||$75|
|Coop Home Goods Premium Adjustable Pillow||Shredded Memory Foam||All Sleep Styles||$59.99|
|Leesa Hybrid||Hybrid: Gel-Foam & Polyester Microfibers, a Down Alternative||Side & Back Sleepers||$125|
|Zen Chi Buckwheat Hull Pillow||Buckwheat Hulls||All Sleep Styles||$39.95|
|Saatva Pillow||Hybrid: 100% Natural Talalay Latex & Micro Denier Fiber Fill||Side & Back Sleepers||$145|
Types of Pillows
When you think of a pillow, usually a fluffy, cloud-like rectangular shape comes to mind. However, pillows today are now sold in all shapes and sizes. From small travel pillows to lengthy body pillows, there’s a variety to consider.
A standard size pillow is what you would imagine an everyday pillow looking like; they’re the most commonly found in bedrooms and fit well in both standard and Queen sized pillowcases.
Bolster pillows are a half circle, meaning one side is flat and the other is rounded. These pillows are most often used to combat pain; you can place a bolster pillow under your knees when you sleep on your back or side, and it’ll boost circulation and relieve pressure. You can also set a bolster pillow in between your knees to alleviate back, leg, knee, ankle, hip, and joint pain, as a cushion between your knees reinforces natural spinal alignment.
A wedge pillow resembles the shape of a block of cheese. When you lay down on a wedge pillow, it’ll slightly elevate your shoulders, neck, and head, allowing you to snooze more upright. Wedge pillows are also convenient for in-bed reading or watching TV, as it lifts your head without the use of an adjustable base. If you’re somebody who experiences chronic lower back pain, you can also place a wedge pillow below your knees to ease pressure on your tailbone.
European pillows are square in shape, instead of rectangular. For the most part, European pillows are used as decorative pillows and not actually utilized for sleep. These pillows are excellent to use to prop yourself up in bed for reading or watching TV, as they can be thrown behind your pillow for sleep to offer an extra cushion.
Lumbar pillows are similar to standard pillows with their rectangular shape; however, their differences lie in their height. A lumbar pillow is only about as tall as the small of your back, so it can fit snugly between your spine and the mattress without causing discomfort. If your mattress does not mold to your spine, it can cause a gap between your lower back and the bed, causing chronic back pain over time. Sliding a lumbar pillow underneath your lower back closes that gap and eliminates discomfort.
Contoured pillows are considered to be orthopedic pillows. They support the muscles in your neck and allow your neck to rest naturally without pressure or strain. These pillows are characterized by two slopes, one higher than the other. The two-slope design of these pillows allows you to choose which side fits most comfortably under your neck. In the center of these pillows, between the two slopes, there is a shallow plateau where your head lies. As we mentioned, contoured pillows are always a good idea for side sleepers and back sleepers to relieve neck pain, but should be avoided entirely by stomach sleepers. Because stomach sleepers require a low-loft pillow, the slopes of this pillow could lead to knots in your neck if you use it while sleeping on your stomach.
Neck pillows fit snugly around your neck, supporting your neck muscles and keeping your head in a natural position. The standard “U” shaped neck pillow is most often used by people traveling for long hours who want to get some sleep; however, they can be used every day to help alleviate chronic neck pains.
As the name suggests, body pillows are about the same size as your body. These long, slim pillows are great for both decoration and pain relief. It’s recommended that side sleepers with joint or hip pain sleep with a body pillow between their knees and legs to reduce pressure points and promote a healthy spine.
Pregnancy pillows are similar to body pillows regarding their ability to relieve pain and discomfort. These pillows resemble an upside-down letter “U” and are almost double the size of a body pillow, as this pillow wraps around your entire body. To properly use a pregnancy pillow, Sleep Specialists recommend you place this pillow between your knees and rest your stomach atop of it. Your head will rest within the curve of the “U,” while your back is cushioned with the other side of the pregnancy pillow. Pregnancy pillows help women find a comfortable sleep position and prevent tossing and turning, promoting undisturbed sleep.
In this section, we’ll break down the dimensions of the most common pillow sizes used for sleeping.
- Standard Pillows: 20” x 26”
- Super Standard: 20” x 28”
- Queen Size: 20” x 30”
- King Size: 20” x 36”
- Body: 54” x 20” or 48” x 20”
- Toddler or Crib-Sized: 14” x 20”
- European: 26” x 26”, 24” x 24”, 22” x 22”, 20” x 20”, 18” x 18”, or 16” x 16”
Standard, Super Standard, and Queen pillows fit on most mattresses sizes, up to a Queen. King beds require a wider pillow to cover the entire surface of the mattress. European pillows can be used on your bed or in other rooms of the house as decoration.
After deciding on the shape and size of your next pillow, it’s time to look at what pillows are filled with and choose which material best aligns with your sleep needs.
First invented by NASA to use as seat cushions, memory foam is known for its ability to mold to your body’s shape and relieve pressure. For those with neck pain, a cushioning but pressure-relieving memory foam pillow could be your key to a better, more comfortable night’s sleep. You can find memory foam pillows in a variety of thicknesses, so they’re an option regardless of how you sleep.
Shredded Memory Foam
These differ from traditional memory foam pillows because instead of containing one solid block of memory foam, the memory foam is shredded up– as the name suggests. Some people prefer shredded memory foam over a standard memory foam pillow because this option is more malleable; because the shreds of memory foam can be moved around, you can adjust the foam inside to feel softer or firmer where you want more support or more comfort.
Down is one of the most popular pillow fillings and is known for its plushness. Down feathers are plucked from the underbellies of waterfowl, mostly geese, and differ from their other feathers because they’re lighter, fluffier, and free from quills. You can buy feather pillows, too, but down pillows are known to hold their loft and resist sags for much longer. Because these pillows can be quite soft, they may not always be the best option for side sleepers.
Feather pillows feel a little firmer than down pillows and are made with the feathers of waterfowl, too. A feather pillow is a budget-friendly alternative to a down pillow; they’re light and fluffy, but don’t usually hold their shape as long. Plus, the quills on these feathers can poke through the pillow cover, causing discomfort.
Polyester Fiberfill, or Poly-Fil, is one of the most inexpensive pillow fillings you can buy. These pillows are soft, lightweight, and moldable, but often develop lumps. You can find numerous Poly-Fil pillows at most Walmarts, Targets, and other big brand name stores’ bedding sections because they’re one of the most affordable options. Not that Poly-Fil is necessarily unhealthy, but the harsh chemicals used to make this material pose more risks to your health than say a feather pillow or wool pillow. When buying a pillow for a small child, we recommend investing in something all-natural.
All-natural latex and synthetic latex are becoming popular filling options for pillows. You can find latex in a solid foam, or shredded, similar to how memory foam filling can differ. Latex is cushioning but more responsive than memory foam, so it offers a more lifting feeling rather than cradling. The production of synthetic latex requires various harsh chemicals, so as always, we recommend choosing an organic latex pillow made with 100% natural latex. Latex is a bit more expensive than memory foam, but it’s also a more durable material, so it’s less likely to sag with use.
Buckwheat is a seed. When you break a buckwheat shell open and remove the seed inside, you’re left with the outer shell, otherwise known as the buckwheat hull. This organic material is similar to memory foam in the regard that it’s excellent at molding and contouring to your body’s curves. When you lay on a pillow with Buckwheat hull filling, it should cradle your neck and head. These pillows are quite malleable, so you can easily fluff them up to feel softer or firmer in certain places. Unlike memory foam, buckwheat hulls are all-natural and breathable, reducing the chance of the pillow trapping body heat. The only downfall to using this material is that it can be noisy as you change positions during the night.
Microbeads are a synthetic alternative to buckwheat hulls. They’re comfortable, breathable, contouring, and moldable; however, because several chemicals are needed to make this material, often have an unpleasant stench. Microbeads don’t have the lifespan of buckwheat hulls, either, and usually, flatten out rather quickly. If you’re shopping on a budget and not looking to buy a long-lasting pillow, a microbead pillow will likely meet your needs but is not the best option when investing in better sleep.
Kapok is another all-natural, popular pillow filling. The Kapok tree, found in Mexico, produces hard pods and inside, lies fluffy fibers that feel similar to cotton— but softer. The fibers inside of these pods are often referred to as Silk Cotton or Java Cotton. Harvesting and breaking open Kapok pods is the only way to source this filling. Kapok is a cruelty-free, all-natural alternative to using down or other feathers in a pillow, but offers a very similar sleep experience. Additionally, these pillows are free from harmful chemicals used to make different fillings such as Poly-Fil or Microbeads.
Wool, sourced from sheep, has been used as a filling for pillows, mattresses, blankets, and other sleep accessories for thousands of years. In fact, some of the first mattresses contained segments of wool to create cushioning comfort. Wool is an all-natural material free from harsh chemicals but can clump up after a while, creating inconsistent support in your pillow.
Cotton is similar to wool in the aspect that it’s all natural, free from harsh chemicals, but can clump up with use. Cotton is a traditional textile that has been used in pillows for years; the advantages to using this material include breathability and no off-gassing. However, these pillows aren’t always long-lasting because of their tendency to lose their loft and flatten out.
Like a mini water bed, a water pillow is filled with, you guessed it, water. These pillows are incredibly customizable because you can add as much water as you want until you find what’s most comfortable for you. When you sleep with a water pillow, it should cushion your head and neck and alleviate tension in those muscles.
Combating Discomfort with a Good Pillow
Whether you suffer from a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or you’re plagued with aches and pains in the morning, you can find a high-quality pillow to help eliminate your discomfort. Below, we’ll break down different medical conditions and how their symptoms can be alleviated with the proper pillow.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where your breathing repeatedly stops and restarts during the night. There are three different types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and complex. Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is the most common form of sleep apnea and occurs when your throat muscles relax and block your airway. Central sleep apnea, or CSA, is when your brain fails to transmit signals to the proper muscles allowing you to breathe. Complex sleep apnea is a mix of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. OSA can be helped with a pillow that elevates your head and prevents your airways from closing; for example, a wedge pillow. If your sleep apnea is severe enough and you’re required to use a CPAP machine to keep your airways open, they also make pillows designed to help keep your CPAP facemask on all night without discomfort.
If you suffer from chronic neck pain, it’s crucial to find a pillow that will relieve pressure; look for the best memory foam or latex option.
If you frequently experience headaches, it could be caused by the misalignment of your neck as a result of sleeping in an incorrect or unhealthy position. Buying a pillow that will promote the proper alignment of your spine can release tension in your spine and neck, reducing headaches and migraines.
Allergies affect many people, and your pillow could be contributing to allergic reactions. Some materials, such as latex, people are directly allergic to; while other pillows, such as feather pillows, can collect dust mites over time, causing an allergic reaction. Finding a hypoallergenic pillow is the best way to ensure your allergies won’t be bothering you when you sleep.
Though mostly a nuisance, snoring is an actual condition where your breathing is impeded when you sleep. Blocked nasal and air passages create a loud snoring sound, that can cause disturbed sleep when you share a bed with a partner. To eliminate snoring, find a pillow that’ll prop your shoulders, neck, and head up to open your airways. Many adjustable beds have a “Snore” feature that elevates your head to a certain angle to open the airways; but if you do not want to invest in a whole new bed frame, you can find a simple solution by modifying your pillow.
What’s the Best Pillow of 2019?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different pillows sold today. A simple search on Google will bring pages and pages of pillows to browse. To simplify your search, we’ll be breaking down five of our favorite pillows on the market right now.
Amerisleep Comfort Classic
The Amerisleep’s Comfort Classic is the best pillow you can buy. A memory foam pillow, the Comfort Classic is excellent at alleviating aches and pains in your neck. Amerisleep conveniently designs their products for types of sleepers, and they state on their website who their products are meant for; their Comfort Classic pillow has a 6-inch loft and is catered towards back and side sleepers, specifically. While most pillows are either hard and heavy or soft as a cloud, Amerisleep designs their pillow to be a perfect mix of comfort and neck support. When you lay on this pillow, it’ll cushion and mold to your neck to alleviate pressure points and pain while still being supportive enough to hold your head in line with the rest of your body.
In this pillow, Amerisleep uses its proprietary Bio-Pur® foam, plant-based memory foam. Their foams are certified eco-friendly by CertiPUR-US®, meaning they’re free from ozone depleters, PBDE flame retardants, formaldehyde, mercury, lead, harsh chemicals, and low in VOCs. Because they use plant-based foam, their Comfort Classic is five times more breathable than other solid memory foam pillows. To reinforce their pillows’ breathability, Amerisleep also includes cooling channels in their design that allows hot air to escape out of the pillow and away from you while you sleep. The combination of their advanced open cell structure and cooling channels helps keep you cool all night long.
If you’re wanting to shop “green” or are sensitive to chemicals, the Comfort Classic is a good selection for you. Plus, the cover of this pillow is easily unzipped and machine washable.
Amerisleep offers a 100-night sleep trial with each of their pillows, so you have the opportunity to try it at home and decide if it’s the most comfortable option. If you decide against it, they’ll return it for free and issue you a full refund— allowing you to shop in confidence. A Queen Comfort Classic costs $84.99 and can be bought on Amerisleep’s website or in one of their select showroom locations across the nation.
Coop HomeGoods Premium Adjustable Loft Shredded Memory Foam Pillow
Like the Comfort Classic, this bed is a memory foam option; unlike the Comfort Classic, the memory foam in this pillow is shredded instead of a solid block. The Coop Home Goods Premium Adjustable Memory Foam Pillow is the number-one best-selling pillow on Amazon, so it was an easy addition to our list.
The memory foam of this pillow allows your head to sink into the pillow as it contours to your neck. People love this pillow because it’s adjustable, so you’re able to add or remove foam until the pillow is at your preferred comfort level. Because the filling of the pillow can be adjusted, the loft of the pillow can be customized too, so this pillow can work for side, back, and stomach sleepers alike.
The Coop Home Goods Pillow is hypoallergenic, dust mite resistant, CertiPUR-US® certified, and comes with a washable cover. You can buy this pillow in Queen-size on Amazon for $59.99.
The term hybrid refers to the combination of different materials to create one product. For example, hybrid beds usually contain both foam layers and an innerspring coil system; and a hybrid pillow contains more than one type of filling. Leesa combines the benefits of both gel-foam and down-like filling, called polyester microfibers, in their innovative, alternative pillow.
Let’s take a look at the construction of this pillow, as it’s a bit different than the pillows we’ve discussed already.
The cover of this pillow is quilted with polyester microfibers, a material designed to feel similar to down feathers in regards to comfort and coziness. This side of the pillow is quite thick, so it’s not the best for stomach sleepers.
The other side of the pillow is flat and contains a layer of gel-infused poly-foam. Because this side is flat, it has a lower profile and a more even loft, which could be comfortable for back and stomach sleepers. When you sleep on this side of the pillow, the foam will contour to your neck and the cooling gel included will keep you cool. The poly-microfiber side will feel more plush and cloud-like than contouring.
Within this pillow is another smaller pillow. The Leesa Hybrid has a zipper on the side of it that allows you to remove the smaller pillow insert inside if you like. The smaller pillow inside only reinforces this beds cushioning feel; however, it can contribute to the height of the pillow, too, so removing it could make this pillow a more comfortable thickness.
We like this pillow because it’s quite customizable. You can sleep on the gel-foam side with the insert, or without it, and you can try the down-like side with and without the insert, too. Our only hesitation with this pillow is its thickness; because it’s on the taller side, it could be uncomfortable for back and stomach sleepers. However, with the right customization, this pillow could be a fit for any type of sleeper— it’s just up to the consumer to customize it properly to get the best sleep.
A Queen Leesa Hybrid pillow runs for $125 and can be bought on Leesa’s website. It also comes with a 3-year warranty, as a bonus.
Zen Chi Buckwheat Hull Pillow
Next up on our list is the eco-friendly Zen Chi Buckwheat Hull pillow. We like this brand because they use 100% organically grown buckwheat and organic cotton to make their pillow. For people who tend to sleep hot, this pillow is a dream come true. The buckwheat hull fill of this bed allows for optimal breathability, ensuring heat won’t be trapped within the pillow.
This bed is also an adjustable one, as you can remove as many of the buckwheat hulls as you want to make the pillow your desired firmness. Ultimately, that means this pillow is an option for you regardless of your sleeping position. If you’re wondering how a buckwheat fill would feel, it’s similar to that of a beanbag— the fill can be easily shifted to be more supportive or softer, depending on what you prefer, and it molds to your neck because the buckwheats are small enough to adapt to your body’s movements. Unfortunately, like a beanbag, the filling inside of these pillows can be quite noisy when you pick your pillow up to fluff it or flip it over to the “cool side.”
You can purchase this pillow on Amazon for $69.95; however, Amazon frequently discounts this pillow, and prices have been as low as $39.95.
The last pillow on our list is made by the well-known Saatva brand. Known for their high-end mattresses, it’s safe to assume their bedding, specifically their pillow does not fall short of luxurious. Saatva designs this pillow to have a medium firm feel, so it’s excellent for back sleepers, and because it has a higher loft, is also suitable for side sleepers. As you can expect, a luxurious pillow comes with a hefty price tag, but many customer reviews of this bed mention it’s been a worthy investment in their sleep; a Queen Saatva pillow will run you $145. A perk to buying with this brand is they do offer a 45-day sleep trial with their pillows, so you have the opportunity to try it out and decide if you like it before committing to it.
Let’s talk about what’s inside this pillow. Similar to the Leesa, Saatva uses two different types of fill in this pillow, 100% natural Talalay latex and down-like micro denier fiber fill. The cover of the pillow is 100% cotton; it feels soft on your skin but is also moisture-wicking and breathable, keeping your temperature regulated.
Did You Find Your Next Pillow?
Choosing the perfect pillow comes down to a science. Understanding what you need from a pillow and how pillows are constructed can help you pinpoint exactly how thick your pillow should be and what filling is right for you. We hope our guide has helped simplify the pillow-picking process. Always remember to use customer reviews to your advantage, and when shopping online, look for sales to make sure you’re getting the best pillow for your money.