The first thing to consider when buying new a pillow for your bed is your primary sleep position. Are you a back, side, stomach, or combination sleeper?
Your answer will guide your selection of pillows and their fillings. Here, learn how to choose the best pillow for your sleep position.
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The best pillow for your sleep position
Regardless of your preferred sleeping position, the ideal pillow is one that keeps your head, neck, and spine in neutral alignment.
Back sleepers need a thinner to medium-thick pillow to keep the head, neck, and spine properly aligned.
A thinner pillow with extra loft (the pillow’s “lift”) at the bottom will provide the support you need to cradle your neck.
A contour pillow is ideal for back and side sleepers, as it curves down to provide good support for your head and neck.
By keeping your airways open, a contour pillow can also help alleviate snoring. (Learn how to protect your back while you sleep.)
Side sleepers, the majority of people, need a slightly thicker, firmer pillow for optimal alignment.
An extra-wide gusset-the band of fabric joining the top and bottom panels together can be helpful by adding to the pillow’s overall thickness.
Placing a pillow between your knees can be useful as well to help maintain the natural curvature of your spine.
Stomach sleepers may not need a pillow at all. If you do want a pillow, use the thinnest one you can find because elevating your head can exacerbate the strain that stomach sleeping already puts on your lower back.
In fact, the best place for a stomach sleeper to position a pillow is under the belly and pelvis, to help keep the spine from bowing unnaturally.
Combination sleepers, who move from back to side to side, will want a medium-thick but softer pillow that can be used comfortably in multiple positions.
Must-haves for any pillow
All pillows should provide consistent support for your neck and head while you snooze in your particular sleeping position. They also should be:
- Able to fill the “gap” between your neck, shoulders, and head even when you move in your sleep, to keep your neck in a neutral position.
- Durable, with a cover that has a thread count of 400 or less. According to the National Sleep Recommendation, anything higher than 400 traps body heat and could cause you to sleep hot.
- The right “fill” for you, whether it’s down, feathers, fibers, foam, or any other filler.
- A home trial period, so you have time to decide whether the pillow is right for you. You don’t know how a pillow will really feel until you use it for a few days or even weeks, so look for one that comes with a generous return policy.
A word on pillow fillings
Today’s pillow shopper has a variety of filling options. The most common ones are down and feather combinations, foam, or polyester fiberfill. People looking for additional neck support often find it in memory foam and latex pillows. That’s because they both conform well to your head and neck, providing contouring support.
Here are the basics of the most popular types of pillow fillings:
- Down and down-feather combinations are not only highly popular, but many sleep experts recommend them as one of the best pillows for a good night’s rest. A 50% down and 50% feather combination works well. Studies have shown that down or feathers pose no greater risk for those with allergies or asthma than a synthetic pillow. If you don’t want to spring for the higher cost of a good-quality down or blend pillow, then you consider polyester fibers, such as PrimaLoft, that feel and function much like down. Micro denier, made of polyester and nylon fibers, is another good alternative.
- Memory foam pillows mold to your head and neck and provide excellent support. They reduce pressure points by adjusting to the shape of your body as you move through the night making them excellent choices for mixed-style sleepers. A contoured S-shape pillow offers good neck support. Keep in mind that memory foam does tend to trap heat and is on the expensive side relative to other pillow materials.
- Wool and cotton pillows are comfortable, hypoallergenic, and resist dust mites. They tend to be firm and rather heavy, though, so they are not for soft-and-squishy pillow lovers.
- Rice, flax seed, and buckwheat hulls are natural pillow fillings that easily adjust to the shape of your body. They are rather heavy. The rustling sound as the filling shifts from your moving about can be a soothing benefit of this filling.
- Water pillows contour around your head and neck but maybe rather noisy when you change position. These pillows are not good options for stomach sleepers.
- Latex is the firmest type of pillow filling, and heaviest. It resists mold and dust mites, and pillows made with it are frequently contoured for neck support.
When to replace your pillow
Once you’ve found the perfect pillow, don’t expect to hang onto it forever. Pillows typically last 1-2 years, after which they should be replaced.
There are a few ways to tell if your pillow is past its prime. Try folding it in half if it stays that way, it’s time for a new one.
If the foam is lumpy or you have to keep fluffing up your pillow to support your head, then it’s also time for a new one.