Sleep is a top priority for us here at Reviewed, so we go to great lengths to help you find products that make it easier to doze off at night. From the best mattresses, to amazing bed sheets, we’ve tried it all.
Sleep position is a key consideration when you choose a pillow, so we specifically tested a slate of pillows for back sleepers, and separately tested pillows for side sleepers and stomach sleepers.
After a month of intensive home sleep tests and lab testing on back-sleeper pillows, we found that the best pillow for this position is the Leesa Pillow(available at Leesa). It offers a great balance of give and support to keep the head and neck cradled and spine aligned night after night.
These are the best pillows for back sleepers we tested ranked, in order:
Coop Home Goods Original Pillow
Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow
Original Casper Pillow
Brooklinen Mid-Plush Down Pillow
MyPillow Giza Elegance
Amazon Basics Down Alternative Pillow Soft Density
Leesa Premium Foam Pillow
I prefer a firm, supportive pillow that has a little give to it. You know, you lie down at night and your head sinks in just enough to signal it’s time to relax for the next several hours, but not so much that your alignment is all out of whack. And Leesa’s Premium Foam Pillow hits all the marks for me.
I like the fact that the 5-inch-thick, solid memory foam pillow is lightweight, more so than pillows made of similar materials that we tested. And, as you’d expect from the material, it holds its shape. There’s no fluffing in the middle of the night, and when I opened my eyes in the morning, I felt as though I was in the same exact neutral position that I had first settled into. Lab tests confirmed this, too: Our scientist left 25 pounds on the Leesa pillow overnight, and once removed, it sprung back to its original shape nearly instantly.
For me, the Leesa scored additional points for its cashmere-soft cover that’s machine-washable—though you’ll have to stick to spot-cleaning the actual foam. Like most solid-foam pillows, it can’t go in the laundry. I also thought the ventilation channels to prevent overheating did the trick. Typical of foam pillows, the foam smelled a bit upon arrival and needed to air out for a day, but the odor was nowhere near as strong as that of some other foam pillows we tested.
Something to consider: This pillow is smaller in size than many, particularly pillows made of other fills, so with a standard-size pillowcase, there will be a little room to spare. I find this somewhat annoying, but not enough for me to write it off. For me, it's truly the perfect pillow. If you (and your pillowcases) want to see if the Leesa Pillow is a good fit, the company offers a 30-day return period, no questions asked.
This pillow looks and pretty much feels like a traditional down or down-alternative pillow, except it’s filled with shredded memory foam. And before you keep scrolling because you’re iffy about the material, I’d encourage you to give it a serious look.
The real benefit to this fill type and this pillow is its adjustability. Before you even click 'buy," there’s a handy online quiz on the Coop Home Goods site that’ll point you in the right direction. It recommended I opt for the Original model as someone who prefers a medium-firm feel and complains of aches and pains after waking up. Coop sends another half-pound bag of extra fill so you can stuff the pillow to your heart’s content (of course, you can also remove some from the generously filled case), and the packaging offers tips to find your personal sweet spot. For back sleepers, the recommendation is to remove a quarter of the foam as a starting point, and using a mirror or front-facing smartphone camera to take a look at your alignment.
When you first open the package, brace yourself for that distinct off-gassing odor, though be aware that it won't take long to disperse. And if you’re looking for a pillow that’ll be the perfect fit right out of the box—fair warning—this isn’t for you. Be prepared for a bit of experimenting, and if it takes you a few tries to get it just right—know you’ll get there eventually.
Mostly, the Coop Home Goods Original pillow earns high marks because it’s cushy but also provides enough support and cradles my neck. And perhaps the best news, at least for this neat freak: It’s machine-washable, and that goes for the sleek bamboo cover, the stretchy liner that wrangles all of the stuffing, and the fill itself, which Coop says you can wash once a year. While experts recommend cleaning your pillows at least twice per year, these happen to be more dust mite-resistant, likely attributable to the microfiber cover, which has an inherently tight weave due to the thread’s size that creates a solid barrier against the buggers. Yup, if you didn’t know, your pillows are full of dead bugs.
Hi! I’m Sarah Hagman, a Reviewed editor and a reformed side sleeper. After a shoulder injury, I began sleeping on my back out of necessity, but making the switch did not come easy. That is, until I borrowed my mom’s Therapedic solid foam pillow one evening. After a blissful seven hours, I was finally converted, and my mom never saw that pillow again. (She’s the best.)
Long since my shoulder could bear the brunt of my body weight again, I’m still happily sleeping on my back every night. I attribute that to having a pillow that’s got great support—though my Headspace subscription doesn’t hurt either. I’ve replaced that original Therapedic pillow a few times now, but I’ve recently grown a bit tired of it, so I was more than happy to take a bunch of new pillows for a test drive to see if I could fall in love all over again.
Lindsey Vickers, the sleep writer for Reviewed, isn’t a back sleeper, so she selected and arranged a lineup of pillows for me to test. She also provided the basic info on pillows and fills for this article.
Over the course of a month I rotated through nine pillows designed for one type of sleeper: back sleepers. I slept on each one for at least two nights, in order to consider fundamental aspects, including the pillow’s overall comfort; if it provided sufficient support from the moment my head hit the hay to the minute my alarm went off; how customizable it was (and if removing or adding the fill was easy); if it got hot overnight; how well the pillow’s performance matched company claims; the practicality of any special features; whether the fill was lumpy and if the lumps could be smoothed away ... the list goes on.
Afterwards, we sent the pillows to our lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts where senior scientist Julia MacDougall put them through another battery of tests. She measured if they were trapping heat with temperature sensors and a heated blanket; weighted them down overnight to check how well the fill material sprung back the next day; and washed them, per label instructions, to ensure pillows didn’t lose their shape or loft, shrink, or develop clumps in their filling.
What You Should Know About Pillows for Back Sleepers
Pillows are arguably the second most important piece of bedding after your mattress, even though you should get new pillows far more frequently. In fact, you should replace your pillow every one to two years, says John McKeon, CEO of Allergy Standards Limited and spokesperson for The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
When shopping for a pillow, it’s important to consider the materials, shape, and construction. The first attribute is to look for pillows labeled mid-plush or mid-density, or that fall in the middle of a line’s offerings (with “plush” or "soft" reserved for stomach sleepers and “firm” for side sleepers). Here’s what else you need to know.
Pillow Fill, Material, and Construction
Different pillow fills have unique and distinct benefits, and create different sensations when they cradle your head as you rest.
Down fill has long dominated the pillow industry and it can lend a more plush surface that is responsive to pressure. It may be less durable over time because the delicate feathers can be permanently compressed generally after a year or so of use. Down pillows can also be pricier than other materials. Feather fills are less structured than foams, and may not provide back sleepers’ head and neck with enough support. Down pillows often come in varying thicknesses and densities, but back sleepers looking for this type of pillow will be best served by something that’s middle-ground in density and depth.
Down-alternative fill is most often made from polyester, or a rayon-polyester blend. Pillows with down-alternative filling aim to replicate the feel of a down pillow, often at a lower price. While down-alternative products were considered better for people with allergies, research has shown that they may actually trap more allergens than down bedding, McKeon says, though additional studies are needed. One reason these pillows may be prone to accumulating allergens is the manufacturers’ use of looser weave encasements, as compared to traditional down pillows which are often wrapped in tightly woven fabric to prevent feathers from poking out.
Solid foam pillows are just what they sound like—one thick piece of foam (or several layers of it fused together). Sometimes they’re molded into a contoured shape other times they’re just a glorified sponge shape. In our testing, foam pillows often emitted a strong smell for at least a day after being opened, which is probably due to a process called “off-gassing.” That aside, foam can be a great material for back sleepers, as it offers a balance of support and give—just be mindful that you don’t get a super-thick pillow. Foam pillows likely have better longevity than down and down alternative, as they shouldn’t permanently compress over time.
Shredded foam feels more like a down or down-alternative pillow, as opposed to pillows made of solid foam. These pillows often come super filled and even with extra stuffing, with the idea that you can add or take away fill to find your perfect loft and feel. For that reason, they appeal to a large audience. The pillows often arrive so stuffed they’d support a broad-shouldered, side-sleeping football player. Therefore, back sleepers will want to take out some of the fill initially, then add or remove as needed, until they find their fit.
Adjustable-fill pillows, which offer you the option to remove the shredded foam stuffing, layers of padding, or other types of fill, are a great way to ensure you can get just the right fit.
Temperature and Pillows
Temperature plays a major role in your sleep quality. In fact, there’s more substantial evidence supporting hot temperatures’ sleep-disrupting tendencies than avoiding blue light before bed. Having a pillow that keeps your head cool—or at a minimum doesn’t make you feel hotter—can make a tremendous difference in your sleep. Researchers found that cooling caps can even help insomniacs doze off, so if you run hot, consider buying a pillow you can chill with.
Many of the pillows we tested claimed to have cooling features, but these didn’t show through in our home or lab testing. All the pillows we tested, aside from two, kept a stable temperature in lab testing (meaning they didn’t heat up but they also didn't dissipate heat in a way that we'd consider "cooling"). The Purple Pillow was the hottest of the bunch, and the Tempur-Cloud also retained some heat, an issue memory foam material is known for. We’d suggest hot sleepers avoid these two—the rest that we tested won’t make you sleep hotter.
Caring for and Cleaning Your Pillow
Experts recommend getting a new pillow every one to two years, depending on the material and a handful of other factors. However, there’s plenty you should do in the year or so that you have your pillow to keep it at its best.
Regularly washing your pillows can help prevent the build-up of dust and allergens, and may prolong a pillow’s lifespan. People with allergies should wash their pillow frequently—every four weeks, McKeon says. (Don’t feel bad if your pillow hygiene is lacking—even our sleep writer doesn’t wash her pillow frequently enough!)
Cleanability is another place where material comes into play. Solid foam and down can be great fills for sleeping, but they’re often more difficult to wash than down-alternative and shredded-foam pillows. Still, many pillows come with a washable cover, which helps matters some, but in general it’s best practice to keep all pillows encased in zippered protective covers (in addition to your regular pillowcase) and clean the covers frequently.
Consider purchasing a protector made with a tightly woven fabric to prevent dust mite and dust build up in pillows. Microfiber is one option, because the weave is inherently tight given the tiny circumference of the yarn and high-quality microfiber weaves can block allergens. You can also shop for products that advertise allergy and dust mite control qualities. The American Allergy and Asthma Foundation certifies products and can be a good resource for pillow protectors to keep sneezes at bay.
Other Pillows For Back Sleepers We Tested
Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Cloud Pillow
This is the most-reviewed pillow on the beloved mattress company’s site, and it’s a similar type and close runner-up to our top pick. The company’s proprietary memory foam is wrapped in slick quilting that’s reminiscent of a mattress (and can easily be removed to toss in the washer), which makes for a supportive-on-the-inside and dreamy-on-the-outside pillow.
If you’re familiar with Tempur-Pedic, you may understand the company’s description—an ”extra soft” feel—but if not, you could be in for a surprise. To be clear, this is a firm pillow that has some give to it. While it’s not the densest pillow you'll come across, don’t expect a quicksand-feel either. Description aside, it had the right mix of features for my tastes. Unfortunately, it’s a bit bulkier than the Leesa, and pushed my head forward ever so slightly, and there’s no way to adjust the loft.
In our lab tests, the Tempur-Cloud retained a bit of heat. If you’re considering taking the plunge, you should note that there’s no trial period, unlike every other pillow we evaluated. You buy it, you use it, it’s yours.
On paper, this pillow closely resembles the Coop Home Goods Original Pillow, and it was previously our top pick in our last round of testing. Like our new favorite pick, this pillow features adjustable shredded memory foam, so sleepers can fiddle with the fill level to land on their own Goldilocks fit. As far as experimenting, however, it can be arduous grabbing and removing the much tinier pieces. No matter how careful you are, there will be bits everywhere.
On the plus side, the bamboo cover is quite sleek, and the pillow itself provides enough support while remaining plush. However, it smells. Like, really smells. We received multiple shipments, and when each tester opened the packaging, there was some off-gassing, which is typical. But weeks later, the odor remains quite noticeable. Every morning I was greeted by a chemical-y smell, and that’s not how I like to start my day.
According to its website, you can return Xtreme Comforts' products, though it doesn’t specify a time frame, and we never heard back from customer service.
Smelly for days after opening
Tiny fill shreds were difficult to remove
Original Casper Pillow
This is a down-alternative pillow wrapped in crisp cotton that’s silky-to-the-touch and extremely huggable. My initial impression was it’s something you’d find in a luxury hotel when you climb under the top-notch sheets. And that’s partly why it ranks highly as a down-alternative pillow for side sleepers. But as a back sleeper, I was disappointed.
There are two parts to Casper’s original pillow, a supportive inner layer that’s tucked inside that plush exterior. Though you can separate the pieces and toss both in the laundry, there’s no way to adjust the loft—it's not designed to be used without the inner core in place, and I found it too flat without it in place anyway—which is a bummer for me because there’s far too much fill for comfortable back sleeping. My neck was craned, and the sides of the pillow folded up around either side of my face. I really wanted to love this pillow, but it just wasn’t for me.
Casper products have a substantial trial period of 100 nights, though, so you can try and see if it works better for you.
You’ve probably never encountered a pillow quite like this. The Purple Pillow is made of a hypoallergenic polymer that looks and feels like it’s straight from the future (and, yes, it’s purple in color). But before I even called it a night for my first time sleeping on this pillow, I had to consult Google to figure out which way was up and which was down.
The Purple Pillow is 3 inches thick, with half-inch and 1-inch “boosters”—thin layers of foam that you can swap in and out to reach your ideal height, plus you can buy extras if you need more than the two that are included. I found it quite dense when I first laid down, though the pillow is supportive and my head relaxed into the squishy honeycomb grid throughout the evening. But—and this is a big but—this thing is heavy. It weighs in at a whopping 11.7 pounds and is quite cumbersome when making the bed and changing the sheets on a regular basis. If you tote around your pillow on trips, it’s not something you can easily travel with.
That said, we have a few staff members who swear by it. If your interest is piqued, Purple offers a 100-night trial period.
This down pillow started out fluffier than what I’m used to, so I was surprised every night when my head sunk through to the mattress a few hours before I wanted a wake-up call. And this lack of loft held true in our lab: The pillow didn’t spring back to its natural shape as fast as some others we tested. Superhumans who can exist on four hours of sleep, maybe this one will work for you.
Another strike: The cotton sateen cover isn’t removable. When it comes to laundering, spot-cleaning or dry cleaning are the only options, and if you hand it over to the professionals, Brooklinen warns that it’ll remove the natural oils in the down. That said, the pillows are treated with “antimicrobials” to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Down is also characterized by rogue feathers occasionally breaking free, but the fluff in Brooklinen pillow’s is encased in a 400 thread-count cotton sateen fabric. A rep says they’re rarely contacted by customers about feathers poking out (but if the issue arose, it would be covered under the warranty, anyway).
On the plus side, customers have a full year to return products, no matter what shape they’re in.
For a pillow that gets talked about an awful lot, MyPillow’s website is surprisingly short on details. With not much to go on other than the “most comfortable pillow you’ll ever own” slogan, I was curious what would show up in the mail. In short, I was not impressed by the chunky-foam filled sack. Some side sleepers gush about MyPillow because you can scrunch it up however you’d like, but that feature doesn’t help out us back sleepers in any way, shape, or form. (For what it’s worth, our side sleeper wasn’t a huge fan herself.)
The pillow had nowhere near sufficient fill. Not only was this pillow extremely lumpy, you can’t smooth the clumps away, and it required constant maneuvering to cushion my head. I’ll admit that at first it was more pleasant than I was expecting, but I couldn’t get through the night without waking up, as it just doesn’t offer the proper support.
MyPillow has a 60-day window for returns, though unsatisfied customers are stuck with a $10 shipping fee.
You get what you pay for, as they say, and compared to the more expensive products we tested, this lower-cost pillow just doesn’t stack up. It’s on the softer side as advertised, but it completely collapsed under my head. The down-alternative filling reminds me of the batting I bought as an enthusiastic tween quilter, and not in a good, nostalgic sort of way. I woke up sweating more than once in the middle of the night—something that didn’t happen with any other pillow I tested, though our lab tests didn’t back this up. That said, it performed better with our stomach sleeper, as that sleep position doesn’t require as much support as back sleeping.
This product can be returned within 30 days, even if the package is open and/or the pillow has been used.
Lindsey writes about sleep, lifestyle, and more for Reviewed. In her waking hours, she likes to spend time outside, read, cook, and bake. She holds a master’s in journalism from Boston University and bachelors' degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from the University of Utah.
Sarah Hagman covers personal finance for Reviewed. She was previously the managing editor of The Improper Bostonian, where she chatted with Mikhail Baryshnikov, ate gelato in a Turkish bath, and hung out with Master Sommeliers.
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