What's the Right Pillow for You? The Sleep Doctor’s Recommendations and Tips

Written by
Dr. Michael Breus
Last Updated
February 24, 2022
|
8
min read

 

The pillow you use can make a big difference in your overall quality of sleep. I call the pillow a “bed for your head” since it plays such an important role. The type of pillow you choose can either help you wake up feeling refreshed and energized or stiff and sore. With so many options to choose from, pillow shopping may feel like an overwhelming task.

The ideal pillow is out there, and with the Sleep Doctor tips and recommendations below, you can find a supportive pillow for restful sleep. Purple has partnered with renowned Sleep Doctor, Michael Breus PhD, to provide advice and education on how to improve your sleep, and picking the perfect pillow for you!

Why the Right Pillow Matters

Sleeping with the right pillow will help keep your head and neck in alignment with your sternum, which places your head in a neutral position to allow the muscles in your neck to relax and can prevent any neck stiffness or soreness. On the other hand, the wrong pillow may prevent you from falling asleep or sleeping through the night due to discomfort, misalignment, and pain and can leave you with upper back and neck soreness in the morning.

The type of pillow plays an important role in good sleep and we can help find the perfect pillow for you.

How Do I Pick the Perfect Pillow?

The right pillow should keep your neck, head and spine in alignment.

What's inside a pillow will dictate how it performs. From a softer pillow to a firmer pillow, a feather pillow to a cotton pillow, there are many options to choose from, so it's important to pick a proper pillow for your specific needs and sleeping position.

The fill material of your pillow (what’s inside) can also help with temperature regulation while you sleep. If you get hot regularly, look for a material with better airflow, like a feather pillow, shredded latex, or something that allows for airflow. The pillow material plays a big role in overall comfort.

Pay attention to different pillow sizes, as well. The wrong pillow size can lead to neck pain, while the right pillow size can keep your head and neck in proper alignment with your spine.

You should 100% consider your sleeping position while shopping for a pillow. There are pillows specifically designed for stomach sleepers, side sleepers, back sleepers, and even combination or what we call multi-positional sleepers. Your sleep posture can easily determine which pillow you choose.

Don't neglect your preferences either so choose a pillow that works for you.

How to Choose the Right Pillow for a Side Sleeper?

man sleeping on side info graphic

As the most popular of all sleeping positions, side sleepers benefit from a high-loft pillow (thicker pillow) to support their head and neck while sleeping. A firmer pillow may also help provide added support and comfort. Memory foam pillows or even an extra pillow can offer the support you need. Test out different firmness levels to find the perfect fit for you.

Some side sleepers are more combination sleepers—they begin by sleeping on their side and end up on their stomach or back. If this is the case, take into consideration how you sleep and search for a pillow that comfortably accommodates your sleep positions.

It may also help to sleep with a body pillow to prevent you from rolling onto your stomach. A body pillow in front of you or another pillow behind you can stop your hips from twisting and keep your back and hips facing the same direction.

The Purple Harmony Pillow offers various height options to help you sleep comfortably. It's a great option for side and combination sleepers.

Shop Harmony Pillow

How to Choose the Right Pillow for Back Sleepers?

man sleeping on back info graphic

People who sleep on their backs benefit from pillows with just enough head and neck support to sleep comfortably. Look for a medium to a medium-firm pillow with a medium loft or thickness. This will provide the proper support for your head while keeping your spine and neck in a neutral position. Most fill materials will work for your pillow as long as it provides the support and height you need.

To support the natural curvature of your spine, you can also try placing a small pillow underneath your knees to relieve any pressure your lower back might receive from lying on your back.

If you tend to sleep hot, look for a cooling pillow that allows for better airflow. The Purple Harmony Pillow uses the same FlexGrid technology found in our high-quality mattresses and combines it with ventilated latex for optimal comfort and cooling while you sleep.

How to Choose the Right Pillow for Stomach Sleepers?

man sleeping on stomach info graphic

Stomach sleepers should take special care in choosing the right pillow. Since sleeping on your stomach comes with a few drawbacks, including a greater risk of back and neck pain, you want to find a pillow that will provide the right amount of support and comfort without causing any extra strain on your neck.

Most stomach sleepers benefit from a flat pillow or one with only a small amount of fill material. A flatter pillow will help keep your neck and spine in better alignment and may prevent extra strain on your neck as you sleep.

The original Purple Pillow is a great choice for stomach sleepers due to its adjustable inserts. We recommend removing any insert for a thin pillow to help you maintain a neutral spine and neck, while still supporting your head. One of the biggest complaints of stomach sleepers is neck pain, and the Original Purple Pillow can be just the comfort and support you need.

Your Mattress Impacts Your Pillow Choice

man sleeping with proper and incorrect alignment info graphic

The mattress you sleep on plays an important role in what type of pillow you use. The size, firmness level, and type of mattress you own, as well as its condition, can all make a difference in how your pillow feels and how it supports your head and neck.

If you have a softer mattress, your body will tend to sink in more, which means you may need a slightly flatter pillow than normal. On the other hand, a more firm mattress may require a thicker pillow to properly support your head and neck.

Don't neglect the condition of your mattress when it comes to what type of pillow you get either. An older mattress may provide less support, which means you'll have to make up for that missing support with a high-loft pillow. A new mattress will provide better support, and combined with a comfortable pillow, you can get better sleep each night.

Consider Your Comfort Preferences

The best way to find the perfect pillow is to choose one that feels most comfortable to you. You should take into consideration firmness level, material, and size preferences while looking to buy the right pillow. Tips and recommendations can help, but what feels best matters most.

Think about any neck pain you experience with your current pillow. Does the pain stem from your neck getting pushed too far forward by your pillow? Too far to one side? Or do you not have enough neck support? If your head rests too far forward or too far to one side, you may need a thinner pillow. If you do not have enough support, consider either a firmer pillow or a thicker pillow.

man sleeping on mattress with proper and incorrect alignment info graphic

With all the different types of pillows available, you can choose one that fits your sleeping position and comfort preferences.

When Should You Replace Your Pillow?

We recommend you replace your pillow every one to two years (18 months for most pillows and 36 if its memory foam). You should also clean your pillow regularly, every three to four months to avoid build up of dirt, dead skin, and potential allergens. Replacing your pillow every one to two years will assure you have a pillow that will properly support your head and neck and provide you with the comfort you need while you sleep.

You may find that you need to replace your pillow more often than once a year or every other year. Check for signs, such as failure to maintain its shape, unpleasant odors or stains that don't go away after cleaning, or a sudden and steady decrease in sleep quality.

Purple Pillows

Purple pillows are specifically designed to provide the perfect amount of comfort and support. We have several pillow styles to choose from to assure you get the one that's right for you. Our GelFlex Grid pillows offer the same comfort technology found in our mattresses and provide you with a comfortable, cool night's rest.

We also offer a down-alternative pillow for that classic and comfortable feel many of us have grown up sleeping with.

Purple pillows also come with a one-year warranty to make sure you get the most out of your pillow, as well as to help you get quality sleep from day one through day 365.

With six different Purple pillows to choose from, you can find the right fit for your needs, and sleep well knowing you have a pillow from a company you can trust.

Shop Pillows

Frequently Asked Questions About Choosing the Right Pillow

How can I be sure I am choosing the right pillow for me?

To make sure you choose the right pillow, consider these six sleeping factors:

  1. Your sleeping position
  2. The size of your pillow
  3. Any pain points while sleeping
  4. Prioritize neck support
  5. Filling material
  6. Breathability and airflow

By determining your specific needs for each of these six factors, you can feel confident in picking the right pillow to help improve your sleep quality. You can also speak with a local mattress store employee for extra advice on finding the perfect pillow.

What firmness should my pillow be?

The firmness of your pillow depends on two factors: your sleep position and your personal preference. Most stomach and back sleepers prefer a soft to a medium-firm pillow, while most side sleepers benefit from a medium-firm to a firm pillow. Your personal preference should also be considered in picking the right pillow.

How do you determine pillow height?

The pillow height you choose depends on your sleeping position and your personal preference. Stomach sleepers may benefit from a low-loft or thinner pillow. Back sleepers may benefit from a medium-loft pillow. And side sleepers may benefit from a high-loft or thicker pillow. Ultimately, what pillow height you prefer will play the biggest role in which height of pillow you should purchase.

Should your head be elevated when sleeping?

Your head should be slightly elevated enough to keep your neck and spine in alignment while sleeping. A good guideline is to elevate your head two to four inches while sleeping on your back. And for side sleepers, a thicker pillow to fill in the space between your neck and shoulder should keep your head correctly elevated.