Goose feathers, memory foam, soft, extra firm — the types of pillows at your disposal are virtually endless. But not all pillows are designed for everyone in mind. When you’re just trying to find ways to get a good night’s rest, sifting through all of the options can be overwhelming.
“You can make yourself crazy trying to sort out the nuance of all these pillows, but really it’s pretty simple: a pillow should be a soft, supportive thing,” says Dr. Dr. Andrew Hecht, chief of spine surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Finding the perfect pillow for you won’t be the cure for more serious issues like herniated discs or neurological issues that require surgery, according to Hecht. But if you’re waking up with stiffness or feeling unrested, it’s worth it to check out your current set-up and see if a better pillow would ease your pain.
Which type of sleeper are you?
According to Dr. Steven Shoshany, a chiropractor based in New York City, there are three main types of sleepers: back sleepers, side sleepers, and stomach sleepers. Each comes with a unique set of needs so that there is proper support to the cervical spine (the vertebrae in the neck).
If you want to have restful sleep and avoid waking up with stiffness and soreness, it’s important to first figure out which type of sleeper you are. While people naturally tend to move around a lot in their sleep, it’s likely you know which position you typically fall asleep and wake up in the most.
Best pillows for side sleepers
Despite the fact that most adults curl up in the fetal position to sleep, side sleepers tend to experience a lot of aches and pains in their neck and shoulders when they’re not properly supported. Side sleepers may frequently experience a stiff neck due to their head being kinked one way or the other at night.
Body positioning is important. “If you’re sleeping on your side, your nose should be level with your sternum,” says Shoshany.
Not all side sleepers will want a side sleeper pillow, especially not those who are petite or move around a lot in bed. The Original pillow from Coop Home Goods can work wonders for those people as it is extremely adjustable — it even comes with a secondary bag of filling if you want to add more.
Environmentally conscious side sleepers can also rest easy knowing that this pillow is eco-friendly: the company boasts that the product is made without ozone depleters, heavy metals, and more.
Luckily, pillows have gotten very 21st century nowadays, and there are great options tailored specifically to side sleepers, like the Zoey Side Sleeper Pillow. The uniquely crescent-shaped curve is designed to correlate with the side sleeper’s head, neck and shoulder positions while they sleep.
“With side sleeper pillows, the cutout keeps the neck neutral and takes the pressure off of it while not impinging on the person’s shoulder,” says Shoshany.
Plus, the internal mix of shredded memory foam and down alternative is easily removable with this model, making it possible to contort your pillow to your specific shoulder width.
Best pillow for back sleepers
“Back sleepers often use too many pillows, which forces their chin down to their chest,” says Shoshany.
When a person’s chin touches their chest, it can close off air passages and cause their breathing to start and stop; this is known as sleep apnea and can lead to serious complications if it isn’t addressed. Even if the consequences aren’t as serious for you, sleeping without good support under your neck can just be plain old uncomfortable.
People who primarily sleep on their backs should look for a pillow that offers support to the cervical spine. One of the best designs out there for this is the Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Neck Pillow.
“I’m a big fan of Tempur-Pedic memory foam pillows that have a cervical roll in them. That’s there specifically for the back sleeper,” says Shoshany.
The extra contours of this pillow provide the support that back sleepers need, and the thick memory foam helps your neck stay in position all night. The pillow also comes in three different sizes to support people with smaller or larger frames.
For back sleepers who prefer something more lightweight, the Parachute Down Pillow has become a fan favorite in recent years due to its plush-yet-airy qualities that make it feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud, according to multiple reviewers. While this pillow comes in three different densities (soft, medium, and firm), back sleepers will likely want to choose between the latter two.
“If you sleep on your side or back, you want something thicker to support the neck and keep the head and neck in alignment,” says Hecht.
Best pillows for stomach sleepers
Sleeping on your stomach can alleviate certain problems like sleep apnea and snoring, but the position can put more strain on your back and neck. This is because sleeping with your stomach down often leads to your head and neck being tilted back and out of alignment during the night.
“People need their neck to be neutral when they sleep otherwise it can impinge the nerves, limit your range of motion, and lead to poor posture,” says Shoshany.
Some might say sleeping with a whole body pillow is over the top, but you shouldn’t listen to the haters, especially if you tend to sleep on your stomach. You can use the Coop Home Goods Body Pillow alone or with a pillow under your head, whichever is most comfortable to you. What’s most important is ensuring that your neck, back, and hips are all in alignment with each other, which is easy to do with this pillow as it is completely adjustable.
You can contort this pillow to your liking until it sort of mimics the sensation of being on a massage table, with your forehead and the side of your head fully supported. This way you can breathe easily if you’re one of those true face-down stomach sleepers, or provide a sensation of weightlessness on your neck for those who rotate their head to the side.
A thin pillow may seem counterintuitive to the idea that pillows should be soft and supportive, but if you sleep primarily on your stomach, it might be necessary.
“For stomach sleepers, a thick pillow can be really uncomfortable,” says Hecht.
The Elite Rest Ultra Slim Sleeper addresses the thickness problem by combining the support of firm memory foam with the perfect profile (just 2.5 inches) for stomach sleepers to avoid straining their necks while they sleep. The pillow has a flat bottom and a rounded top for extra stability — although this might be bad news for people who love to flip their pillow in the middle of the night to get to the cold side.
If a super-soft hotel-style pillow is more to your liking, then consider the Brooklinen Down Alternative Pillow in Plush or Mid-Plush. Soft, breathable, and easily moldable, this is a great choice for stomach sleepers because of how flexible yet supportive it is, without being too thick or too flat.
Best pillow for hot sleepers
Although sleeping "hot" isn’t posture-specific, it can still lead to poor sleep quality, especially during the warmer months. The WEEKENDER Ventilated Gel Memory Foam Pillow is great not just for its price point, but also because its temperature-regulating gel and ventilated memory foam work to keep you cool during the night, while still offering all of the supportive benefits of a memory foam pillow. Although it has a 5-inch loft, and reviewers say it is not overly firm, so it can still work for people with smaller frames.
Best travel pillow
Business and vacation travelers alike can make the most out of the Huzi Infinity Pillow. The ways you can use this travel pillow are, well, infinite. This travel pillow is great because it can suit the needs of every type of sleeper. You can comfortably prop up your back, curl up against the window, or even plank face-down on the tray table. Plus, it’s made of breathable bamboo and microfiber, so you’re unlikely to overheat while using it.