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Here at Reviewed, we cherish our sleep. We cherish it so much, in fact, that we’ve dedicated many hours of our collective lives to discover the ideal ways to catch Zs.
Through our work, we’ve determined that slumber depends on many factors—mattresses, comforters, and the darkness and noise level in one’s home, to name just a few. Equally important? Your pillows. But pillows aren’t always one-size-fits all. We spoke with experts to find out how to find a pillow that works best for you, whether you’re a side sleeper, back sleeper, stomach sleeper, or something in between.
“When your neck is sufficiently supported by a pillow, you are more likely to sleep continuously,” says Dr. Natalie Dautovich, an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and the National Sleep Foundation’s Environmental Scholar. “This enables your body to spend enough time in each stage of sleep including restorative sleep. This is important for mental and physical health.”
It’s also helpful for offsetting neck and back pain, according to Dr. Rebecca Robbins, a post-doctoral research fellow at the New York University School of Medicine. “Your pillow and mattress are the necessary tools and foundation for your sleep,” she says.
The pillow that will help you get your best rest depends on how you like to sleep, plus your general personal preferences when it comes to pillows. For this reason, Robbins recommends giving any pillow a “test drive” if you can (even if that just means laying your head on one in a store). This way, you can be certain that the pillow, no matter how highly recommended it is for your sleep type, works for you.
Side sleepers need thicker pillows to support their head. “A side sleeper likely needs a pillow more ‘full’ or voluminous than other sleeper types to support their head, neck and spinal column,” Robbins says.
For that solid neck support, look for a pillow with a dense filling, like memory foam or tightly-packed down or cotton. This will allow for alignment of the neck and spine, and may prevent painful cramps from developing in your neck overnight. Robbins recommends the Absolute Luxury pillow by Beautyrest, which offers a cooling feel in addition to neck support.
You can also try Reviewed’s overall top pick for pillows, the Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow. It comes overstuffed with bamboo shredded memory foam, which you can remove to make it fit your own height preference.
Back sleepers need pillows with some give, but not too much. “Back sleepers can use a pillow with medium support,” Dautovich says. This means a pillow that has some sinkage, but not so much your head is completely parallel with your back.
You can look for any kind of pillow filling that gives your head some slight elevation, but your best bet may be down, down alternative, polyester, or gel. We’ve tested the Parachute Home Down Alternative pillow, which comes with light, medium, and high support options. The medium option is recommended by Parachute for back sleepers.
Another option is the Sleep Restoration Gel Filled Pillow, which we tested and awarded our “best value” designation. It has a plush-yet-sinkable amount of support, which makes it suitable for people who switch between their sides and back throughout the night. If you’d prefer to try polyester, you can try the Casper pillow, which has a soft outer layer and firm inner core, giving it a solid middle ground of support.
If you sleep on your stomach, you’ll want a pillow that eschews fluff in favor of flatness to protect your spine.
“Stomach sleepers will benefit from a flatter pillow,” Dautovich says. A pillow that’s too high will strain the neck spinal alignment, potentially causing neck and back pain. So, while filling is less important for stomach sleepers than the thickness of the pillow—as long as it’s two or three inches thick and doesn’t feel like it’s causing resistance in the spine, you should be OK—you can try pillows specifically designed for stomach sleepers or ones that allow you to customize the amount of filling.
One Reviewed-tested option is the Nest Easy Breather Natural Latex Pillow, which our testers found had a lot of give compared to other pillows. It also has an option to remove some filling to adjust its height. You can also try the Bluewave Bedding Ultra Slim pillow, which has ventilation holes to maximize air circulation. One stomach-sleeping Amazon reviewer wrote that they were “so in love” with the pillow, they decided to buy another one a few months later.
No matter how you sleep, you need to clean your pillows occasionally and replace them when it's time.
“Unfortunately, hair and skin particles accumulate on the pillow and attract dust mites,” Robbins says. You can offset this by throwing your pillows in the washing machine every now and then (really!) but, no matter what, you can expect a pillow to last about two or three years. Once it starts to feel significantly flatter than it did when you first bought it, has noticeable lumps or sags, or you start waking up with a stiff, sore neck, it’s probably time for a new pillow.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.