Different Types Of Pillows You Should Know About

Written by
Purple Staff
Last Updated
December 1, 2022
min read

Like mattresses, different pillow types support different preferred sleeping positions, serve different purposes, and come in different firmness options. There are many to choose from, such as soft pillows, body pillows, and alternative pillows.

It can be challenging to know how to choose a pillow, considering that there are so many kinds of pillows available. Keep reading to learn more about the different pillow types and figure out which one best suits your needs and preferences.

What Are The Different Types Of Pillows?

There are so many ways to differentiate pillows. You can categorize them according to material, purpose, size, pillow shapes, and preferred sleep position.

Pillows are also available on a scale of very soft to very firm, with soft firmness being most appropriate for side sleepers, medium firmness for back sleepers, and hard firmness for stomach sleepers. 

Pillows By Material

The easiest way to differentiate pillows is according to materials. Below are common pillow materials you’re likely to find in stores.

Down Alternative

Down alternative is a hypoallergenic option to down pillows. Down alternative pillows tend to be more affordable. Read our guide to understand key differences in down vs alternative.


Best for: Back and side sleepers who don’t have allergies

If you’re looking for a pillow more affordable than down, a feather pillow is the way to go. Feather pillows are comfortable, soft, and hold their shape for a long time.

However, feather pillows retain body heat and require regular fluffing to keep their shape. In addition, feather pillows contain some down, which can cause allergies.

Memory Foam

Best for: Side, back, and stomach sleepers who require pain relief

Regardless of the type of sleeper you are, a memory foam pillow can provide pain relief in the neck area. These pillows are body-contouring and don’t clump.

There are two primary types of memory foam pillows:

  • Shredded memory foam: Contain shredded pieces of polyurethane with a polyfill blend, moldable and soft
  • Block memory foam: One solid piece of polyurethane, non-clumping, and highly supportive

While very popular, memory foam pillows retain a lot of body heat, with some densities inhibiting breathability.


Best for: All sleeper types and people with allergies

Cotton pillows are trendy because they are light, breathable, and hypoallergenic. They also enhance comfort and are easy to maintain.

The downside of cotton-filled pillows is how quickly they become flat. Cotton pillows also lack head contouring and tend to become lumpy.


Best for: Side and back sleepers who require high levels of support

Latex pillows are known for their pressure point relief and resistance to dust, mites, mold, and mildew. They are also breathable and cooling because they retain very little body heat.

When shopping for a latex pillow, opt for natural latex – synthetic latex is often combined with polyurethane foam, which can be toxic.


Best for: Sleepers who require ergonomic correction

Like innerspring mattresses, innerspring pillows are bouncy and provide extra head and neck support. Innerspring pillows contain a steel spring core and memory foam outer layer. This spring core keeps the pillow breathable and airy, but its expensive materials drive its price up significantly. 


Best for: Hot sleepers who prefer something soft

Wool pillows are very fluffy and are more eco-friendly than synthetic pillows. If you don’t have a wool allergy, wool is naturally hypoallergenic and boasts other antimicrobial properties.

However, wool pillows can be more expensive in the long run because they require dry cleaning.


Best for: Stomach and back sleepers who require firmer pillows for pain relief

Gel pillows usually combine gel with other materials like foam or latex. These pillows are cool to the touch and offer neck relief. Because gel pillows are firm, they hold their shape for long and don’t require regular fluffing.

Still, the gel can be too firm for some sleepers. These pillows are also costly.


Best for: Back sleepers who require a firm pillow for posture correction

Microbead pillows contain uniform Hyper-Elastic Polymer particles that are squishy, contouring, and breathable. However, they lose their shape relatively fast and are not eco-friendly.

Recycling microbead pillows is also tricky, as polystyrene takes over 500 years to biodegrade.


Best for: Back and stomach sleepers who require firm and breathable pillows

A buckwheat pillow contains buckwheat shells for better breathability, cooling, and malleability. 

While soft and conforming, buckwheat can be noisy if you toss and turn in your sleep. These pillows are also heavy and may be too firm for some sleepers.


Best for: Consistent pressure relief

While uncommon, a water pillow is an excellent choice for sleepers who want something that isn’t vulnerable to lumps and sagging. Water pillows keep their shape consistently and can conform to the head and neck without needing regular fluffing. 

Still, a water pillow poses the risk of leaking or bursting and can potentially ruin your sheets. 

Pillows By Sizes

Depending on your mattress size, some pillow sizes may be more appropriate for your needs than others.


Dimensions: 20 x26 in

Standard pillows best suit twin and full-size mattresses. However, twin-size beds will only fit one standard-size pillow. On the other hand, a queen-size bed will fit two standard pillows, while a king-size bed will fit three standard pillows.

Super Standard

Dimensions: 20 x 28 in

While a super standard pillow is the same width as a standard-size pillow, it is two inches longer, which keeps sleepers from rolling off their pillow at night. Two super standard pillows will fit perfectly on a queen bed. 


Dimensions: 20 x 30 in

Queen pillows best suit queen beds, though you can use a single queen pillow on a twin-size bed. You can use a standard-size pillowcase and a queen-size pillowcase on a queen pillow. Using a standard pillowcase can make your pillow feel firmer.


Dimensions: 20 x 36 in

King pillows are most appropriate for king beds or California king mattresses. While you can use it on a twin bed, that will leave only one inch of space on each side. King pillows can also double as small body pillows.


Dimensions: 26 x 26 in

While meant to be a decorative pillow, European pillows can prop your back up when sitting upright. You can also get extra lumbar support by placing a European pillow under your knees. 


Dimensions: 12 x 16 inches

As their name suggests, travel pillows are an excellent choice for traveling by plane or vehicle. They also make good pillows for toddlers or younger children. 

Pillows By Shapes

Most pillows are rectangular, though there are longer and curved pillows that serve various purposes.


Most body pillows measure 20 x 54 inches and are rectangular, but you will find variations that are U-, J-, L-, and C-shaped.

Rounded body pillows provide back and front support, holding you in place if you toss and turn at night. On the other hand, placing a rectangular body pillow between your knees can provide additional spinal support.

Because body pillows are large, they are best for queen and king-size mattresses. Finding a matching pillow cover can be challenging, depending on the shape of your body pillow. 


Horseshoe pillows, otherwise known as neck pillows, wrap around your neck. They are ideal for sleeping when sitting upright.

Pillows For Different Sleeping Positions

Some people choose pillows according to their preferred sleep position. Below is a quick guide to choosing pillows according to your sleeper type.

Side Sleepers

Because side sleepers lie with their heads away from the surface of their bed, they require a tall pillow to fill the gap. Consider a thick cotton pillow to hold your head in place and provide additional neck support. A body pillow might also be more comfortable.

Choose a pillow with a medium firmness to keep your head correctly cushioned while aligning your spine.

Back Sleepers

While back sleeping is ideal for spinal alignment, you still need support for your neck and head. Choose a thin, medium-firm pillow to prevent strain.

Stomach Sleepers

Compared to back sleeping, sleeping on your stomach can cause aches. You can avoid soreness in the morning by using a firm, thin pillow that doesn’t add too much height. Thin memory foam pillows are an excellent choice for people who sleep face down.

Combo Sleepers

If you aren’t sure what your personal preferences are when sleeping, you’re likely a combination sleeper who tosses and turns at night. Standard cotton pillows are a safe choice because they are moldable and versatile, though you might also benefit from shredded memory foam pillows.

Pillows For Sleeping Conditions

Your choice of pillow also depends on whether you have specific medical conditions that require special care. While it’s always best to consult your primary healthcare provider first, the following pillow types may relieve pain and make you feel more comfortable.


If you require upper body elevation, a wedge pillow can support your back, provide additional lumbar support, and increase blood flow. Wedge pillows can provide adequate relief for pregnant women and are also known to ease symptoms of GERD, acid reflux, and sleep apnea.


If you have neck and shoulder pain, a round cervical pillow can hold your neck in place while you sleep. Cervical pillows can reduce stiffness over time by preventing you from turning over.


Wavy in shape, contour pillows have an arch under the neck and above the head. Most chiropractors recommend a contour pillow for people who sleep on their back or side, as they provide extra neck support.


While commonly used as decorative pillows because of their rolled shape, bolster pillows can offer neck and leg support. Place a bolster pillow under your neck or knees to improve your spinal alignment.

Sleep Apnea

Many people with sleep apnea require a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to sleep, but tubes and cords can get in the way. Fortunately, sleep apnea pillows with cut-outs can accommodate your machinery. 

Which Pillow Is Right For You?

What type of pillow suits you best will ultimately depend on your sleeper type, preferences, and any health condition requiring a specific set-up. When choosing a pillow, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • How big is my mattress?
  • What kind of sleeper am I?
  • Do I have neck pain? What about back pain?
  • What medical conditions do I have that might influence my choice?
  • Do I have allergies? Do I need an organic pillow with natural fibers?

Try The Purple Pillow 

Are you looking for a pillow that ticks all your boxes? Do you want something breathable, comfortable, and supportive? Purple’s GelFlex Grid pillows support all sleeper types and provide high-quality ergonomic relief you won’t get with any other pillow.

All our pillows are hypoallergenic, and we also have options for kids. If you’re unsure which Purple pillow suits you best, you can get a free 100-night trial with a 10-year warranty on each product.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pillow Sizes

Which pillow type is best for sleeping?

What pillow suits you best will depend on several factors, such as your firmness preferences, sleeper type, bed size, and whether you have allergies. 

For instance, allergy sufferers might want to stray from down pillows or ones with synthetic materials and instead use a pillow made with organic cotton. On the other hand, someone without allergies who requires additional support might benefit from a natural latex pillow.

Which pillow is best for sleeping hard or soft?

If you prefer to sleep with a softer pillow, look for material like down or cotton. Higher firmness options include latex, water, or memory foam. How hard or soft your pillow should be depends on what kind of support you need.

How often should I replace a pillow?

You should replace your pillow once every two years, even with regular washing and fluffing. However, you may want to replace your pillow immediately if:

  • Your pillow no longer holds its shape well
  • You’re developing constant allergies
  • You notice a strange or foul odor
  • Your pillow has mold or mildew
  • Your pillow has too many stains or discoloration

Keeping your pillows for too long can cause discomfort and exacerbate health problems. Watch out for dirty sheets or mattress protectors that are staining your pillows.