Our pillow may be our closest bedding buddy. Most of us spend eight hours each day face-to-face, as it were, with our fluffy friend. We share our dreams, whispering our deepest secrets … Ok, that’s getting a bit creepy, but Americans do love their pillows. In fact, 91 percent of us think our pillow affects the quality of our sleep.
But the humble pillow has had a mixed history. The Greeks, for example, enjoyed owning lavishly embroidered pillows for resting their heads. The Egyptians spared no expense shuttling their dead to the afterlife with the finest of head supports. Though not every culture haS taken to virtues of soft head slumber. The ancient Chinese believed soft pillows stole a person’s physical vitality, opting instead to rest their noggins on “pillows” made of wood, leather, and ceramic.
Still, most of us honor our pillows. They make the difference between a restless night and one of pure slumber. But with all of the different pillow styles, fillings, and coverings available, thinking about the perfect pillow can keep you up all night. Here’s a roadmap to finding the best pillow for you.
What Is Pillow Loft?
The Best Pillow for Your Sleep Position
Are you a side sleeper? Maybe you prefer back or stomach sleeping positions. Your dominant sleeping position will help what makes a great pillow for you. Here’s are some of the best pillows for your specific needs:
Best Pillow for Neck Pain
Are you suffering from neck pain during your night’s sleep? Finding the perfect cervical pillow may be the solution.
Look at your pillow filling; it’s more important than you think for pain relief. Going for a memory foam or feather pillow should help with neck pain, even chronic neck pain. However, you don’t want the foam to be too hard or that won’t lead to neck pain relief. Latex is another material that is in many of the best neck support pillows. Just like memory foam, latex pillows are supportive without being too hard, so they contour perfectly to your head and neck. Also, our Purple Grid is actually one of the best materials to reduce neck pain. You might want to check out The Purple Pillow!
Opting for a firm pillow can also help you alleviate neck pain, depending on your sleeping position. Soft pillows are recommended for the people who enjoy sleeping on their stomach, but if you prefer sleeping on your side or your back, the most comfortable choice for cervical support is a firm pillow.
Neck support is one of the most important things when it comes to finding the best pillow. Here’s why. Your pillow and mattress work together to support your spine, from top to bottom. Your pillow’s job is to support the upper part of your spine or, in less technical terms, your neck. This is an essential part of the best spinal alignment.Over time, inadequate neck support can lead to headaches and loss of a good night’s sleep.
Without good cervical support, your neck muscles, ligaments, and tendons become fatigued throughout the night. When these structures relax during sleep, our neck and shoulders fall into curves and unnatural positions, if they aren’t being supported. What we wake up to is a real pain in the neck. No, not your snoring sleep partner — a literal pain in the neck. Our sleep positions determine our neck support needs.
Back and Stomach Sleeper Pillows
In a back sleeping position, your pillow needs to support the gap created by the arch of your neck, keeping it in a naturally curved position. Too much stuffing strains your neck, too little leaves no support. As a result, the muscles and vertebrae become strained. Stomach sleepers have the same problem, but in the opposite direction. People who love back sleeping will generally want to go for a firm pillow, while those who love stomach sleeping should opt for a soft pillow.
Both sleep positions need a pillow that is easily adjustable or one made from materials that automatically conform to neck and head pressure.
Best Pillow for Side Sleepers
Side sleepers need a pillow to fill the space between their head and the mattress. The natural arched curve of a side sleeper’s neck doesn’t need support. Instead, they need spine and neck alignment with proper side support.
High loft pillows will crank the neck sideways, pushing the ear to the shoulders. Low loft pillows strain the neck, which has to work to support the weight of the head. Going for a support pillow, made of some of the most supportive materials like memory foam or latex, may help you find the best side sleeping pillow for neck pain and help you get a great night’s sleep.
Side sleepers also have problems with shoulder pain caused by too much pressure to the rotator cuff. For good shoulder posture, your forearm should be below your head but above your waist. If you tuck your forearm under your body, you’re straining your shoulders. You cause the same problem if you tuck your forearm under your pillow — which is also a sign that your pillow is too thin.
Picking the Best Pillow Stuffing
Pillows are like people — it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Pillow stuffing (or “batting”) has big implications for your overall comfort level and sleep quality.
Support vs. Comfort
For maximum support, you need a material that gives way to pressure and stays put for support. Pillow material for back sleepers, for example, should surrender to the back of the head, but rise to support neck arch. More support doesn’t always equal more comfort, but in finding a comfortable pillow support is often very important. Additionally, when looking for the best pillow for neck support, it’s very important to pick the right materials to fit your sleep needs.
Bed pillows with batting made from memory foam or hyper-elastic polymer materials aren’t “stuffed” with anything. They’re molded from space-aged materials into a solid structure. As such, they resist shifting within the pillow, like feathers, beads or other loose materials.
Every type of pillow material can be cleaned in some way. The methods for washing a pillow are quite different depending on the material. Some are machine washable (down or feather), whereas others have to be hand-washed (memory foam).
Buy a pillow that’s easily washable. Cleaning your pillow removes allergens like dust mites, bacteria, mold, and fungi, as well as the good old gross stuff that accumulate — head oil, sweat, and drool! Removing these yucky substances can help decrease your allergy symptoms. For most of us, washing a couple of times a year is good enough.
4 Steps for Washing Down/Feather Pillows:
- Throw your pillows into the washer. Add detergent and fabric softener.
- Set your washer to the hottest wash cycle. This will help kill any bacteria or dust mites that may be hiding deep inside the pillow.
- Add an extra spin cycle to get as much water out as possible. Nobody wants to sleep on a mildewy pillow.
- Throw pillows into the dryer. Add a clean bath towel for extra speedy (and fluffy) drying. Once again, use the highest heat setting possible to kill off bacteria and dust mites.
You should wash your down/feather pillows every three to four weeks to keep them smelling fresh and dust mite/bacteria free.
4 Steps for Deep Cleaning Memory Foam Pillows:
- Fill your sink or bathtub with warm water and add a small amount of laundry detergent.
- Submerge your memory foam pillow into the water. Use your hands to squeeze it repeatedly. Wring the water out. Repeat two to three more times.
- Drain your sink/bathtub and refill it with clean water. Submerge and squeeze the pillow to wash away soap and any remaining dirt.
- Gently hand wring water out of pillow. Leave to air dry under a sunny window or ceiling fan.
We recommend deep cleaning memory foam pillows every two to three months. To keep them fresh between deep hand washes, vacuum your pillow’s surface once a week and spot treat any stains or discoloration with hydrogen peroxide.
Solid pillow materials generally harbor less of these irritants than those made from loose materials. The reason is simple. Loose materials like feathers, beads, and husks offer much more surface area for microbes and bacterial to inhabit. It’s tough for a dust mite to burrow its way to the center of a solid memory foam pillow, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t throwing a dust mite party on the surface of your pillow.
Much of our body heat escapes from our heads, and if our pillows can’t dissipate that heat away while we’re in la-la land, we’ll wake up a hot mess. Some pillow materials are better at dissipating heat than others. The trade off is usually in adjustability and support.
For example, memory foam pillows are good at support, but bad at providing air flow to keep your head cool. Feather pillow stuffing can shift and sink, so they’re bad for supporting the neck. But they don’t get you too sweaty at night.
In an effort to find the perfect balance of comfortable and supportive, today’s egornomic pillows are stuffed with everything from polystyrene beads to millet seed husks. Few pillow brands achieve the perfect balance, but some do. So, if you find yourself regularly working your pillow into shapes that would impress Picasso, then you probably need a pillow stuffing upgrade.
Here are a few of the most common pillow materials.
Memory foam was first developed in 1966 by NASA to improve the safety of their aircraft cushions. The foam is made by feeding gas into a polymer matrix creating a solid structure that can “remember” and return to its original shape.
Memory foam pillows are good for people with neck pain because they conform to the pressure of the head, while springing back to support the neck. Ever since NASA released the patent to the public domain in the 1980’s, memory foam has become a popular pillow choice.
- Traps heat
- Heavy and dense
- Can have an off-putting odor
To get around some of the downsides of a traditional memory foam pillows, pillow scientists have developed the shredded memory foam pillow. The stuffing is exactly what it sounds like — chunks of memory foam.
Shredded foam pillows are more breathable than traditional ones. However, they’re less supportive and don’t conform to your head and neck as well. This means it’s also less likely to give you neck pain relief. While solid memory foam has a single thickness, shredded comes in a variety of lofts.
Both down and feather pillows are stuffed with the feathers of ducks or geese, specifically from the birds’ chest, back and wings.
Softness is the crucial difference between down and feathers. Feathers are the waterproof covering of a duck or goose. Down lies underneath — typically around the belly — and is much softer and lighter.
Unsurprisingly, everyone loves down, but it’s expensive. That’s why most down pillows are a mixture of feathers and down. As a general rule, the more down a pillow contains, the more expensive it is. So cost can come into play, unless you can afford to pay over a $1,000 for the most luxurious down pillow in the world. That’s a heck of a “down” payment on comfort.
Anyone who’s ever received a nighttime poke to the eye via a rogue feather, they know the limitations of this fowlish stuffing. Still, down is still a popular pillow stuffing.
- Easy to wash
- Good airflow
- Softness can lead to less support
- Feathers to the eye!
- Loses shape quickly — needs to be fluffed
- Can be noisy
- Collects allergens
- Not vegan friendly or cruelty free
Polyester is more than just a man-made magical substance that transforms your fashion style. It makes a pretty good head rest too. Polyester fiberfill pillows have been around for a while, and are popular for their practical qualities, like washability and cost.
You can buy polyester pillows in varying degrees of loft, firmness, and fluffiness. Suffice it to say, there’s a polyester pillow for everyone. But not everyone loves polyester. Here are the ups and downs of this simple synthetic substance.
- Many levels of firmness available
- Easy to wash
- Low odor
- Low airflow
- Not so durable
- Support degrades
- Dust mites love polyester
- Not environmentally friendly
When it comes to design and stuffing, some pillows push the boundaries of what’s possible. Here are some specialty pillows with unorthodox stuffings that, for some, make the best pillow.
You’re probably thinking The Little Rascals, but, no, a buckwheat pillow is actually filled with the grain (fagopyrum esculentum). To be more specific, it’s filled with thousands of buckwheat hulls — the small, hard husks that protect the buckwheat kernel. Before you jump to the tempting conclusion that buckwheat pillows are only a hipster trend for “organic sleeping,” check out the legit benefits they offer.
- Promotes good airflow
- Inexpensive. Buckwheat hulls are cheap!
- Can be too firm
- Noisy. You’re sleeping on hulls!
- Hard to clean
- Difficult to adjust firmness (add/remove hulls)
- Some people have buckwheat allergies
- Can be fairly pricey
Water pillows are basically small waterbeds for your head. They are usually one layer of polyester fiberfill sitting on top of an adjustable water sack. All of this is encased in a pillow cover. Waterbeds and polyester — you’re basically laying your head on the 1970’s. Here’s the good, the bad, and the bubbly of a waterbase pillow.
- Supportive. Comparable to memory foam.
- Adjustable loft (add/subtract water)
- Stays cool
- Stays in place
- Polyester not so durable
- Hard to adjust
- Can make sloshing noise
Thought you were done after choosing the ideal pillow? Nope, there’s still pillow covers, an important ingredient to the perfect sleeper pillow. You can get a pillow cover for any type of pillow, from a body pillow cover, covers for wedge pillows, a cover for a neck roll, or a cover for normal pillows for neck. There are both natural and synthetic materials used in pillow covers. A bamboo cover, cotton cover, or silk cover may be the best choice to go with your supportive pillow. You’ll want to make sure you have the best pairing of pillow cover and pillow material. You may want a different cover if you have a foam pillow, a gel pillow, or a special contour pillow. Make sure you spend some time thinking about the best pillow covers to improve your night’s rest.
How Often Should I Replace My Pillow?
How often do you buy a new pillow? We’re betting it’s not nearly as often as you’re supposed to. But how often should you replace your pillow?
It depends on your pillow stuffing preferences, but a good rule of thumb is to replace feather and polyester pillows every six months and a memory foam pillow/structural pillow every 18 to 36 months.
It’s important to replace your pillows regularly. Not only because they lose their structural integrity and neck support (especially if they’re foam) over time, but also because they start to build up with body oils, dead skin and bacteria (even despite your best washing efforts).
So, if you start to notice that your neck is more stiff when you wake up in the mornings (or if your pillow is discolored/losing its loft) it might be a sign that that it’s time for a replacement. Trust us, investing in a new, good pillow regularly is a small price to pay for a good night’s sleep.
The Final Questions For Your Pillow Search
When choosing the best pillow for you, don’t just think about your sleep position and stuffing preference. Make sure your pillow matches your lifestyle and sleep environment. Ask yourself questions like these:
- What temperature do you keep your bedroom? Maybe your head needs cooling pillow.
- Do you like to travel with your pillow? Then avoid a heavy one.
- Are you a light sleeper? Get a quiet pillow.
- Are your bedroom aesthetics important? Maybe the smooth lines of a comfortable memory foam are for you.
- Do you and your pillow have a long-term relationship or do you switch to a new one every year?
After considering all of these factors, you can rest easy knowing you’ve picked the best pillow for you — one that will never reveal your deepest secrets whispered in the night.