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The Best Pillows for Back Sleepers With Neck Pain

Some of us are back sleepers, sometimes even side sleepers. This might be due to all that posing in yoga class, or maybe it’s easier to doze off this way after reading the news and scrolling through Instagram in bed. Very possibly, though, it’s because some of us are most comfortable on our backs. This preference may put you in the minority of sleepers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some pillows that will help you get a better night’s sleep.

Why Sleep on Your Back?

Sleeping on your back has plenty of benefits for your body. It allows your spine to align naturally, doesn’t require a lot of extra cushions, and means your weight is distributed evenly at night, allowing optimal blood flow. This makes you less likely to toss and turn throughout the night, and it can give you higher quality sleep and a better-rested next day than your side-sleeping or stomach-sleeping counterparts. Even more interesting, sleeping on your back may reduce acid reflux and — since your face isn’t pressed into your pillow all night — wrinkles.

Hold on, though: Back sleepers, especially overweight ones, are also prone to sleep apnea and snoring, as their chins are often tilted upward, and jaws pressed backward, closing off the airway. There are things you can do to decrease the harmful effects of sleeping on your back or in the supine position: The first — and perhaps, the easiest method — is to buy a pillow made for back sleepers. Fortunately, we’ve done our homework and brought you a few great pillow options for back sleepers.

Best Overall: Tuft and Needle Pillow

Tuft and Needle Pillow on a bed.

The Tuft and Needle pillow is neither too soft nor too firm but is somewhere between. We got the chance to test it out for ourselves in our hands-on review, and we can confirm from firsthand experience that it’s great for side and back sleepers alike. Unlike most traditional pillows, it manages to retain its shape over time, so it’s great for anyone who exclusively sleeps on their back. If you’re looking for a good balance of comfort, support, and temperature, the Tuft and Needle Adaptive Foam pillow is an option worth considering.

Good For:

  • Small to average size individuals
  • People who sleep hot
  • Side sleepers

Best Value: Sahara Nights Pillow

A white Sahara Nights Pillow.

Do you dream of high-end hotel pillows? If so, you can experience that softness at home every night with the Sahara Nights pillow. Hotel-quality and hypoallergenic, these pillows are filled with a polyester gel fiber that feels surprisingly like down, but without the problem of sinkage. These pillows achieve an excellent combination of firmness and softness, and they retain their shape as they adjust to the shape of your head and neck. Sahara Nights Pillows are highly durable, and they can even help you keep your cool while sleeping. All in all, you can expect maximum plush for a great price.

Good For:

  • Back and stomach sleepers
  • People who need a hypoallergenic pillow
  • People who like their pillows plush but firm

Best Cooling Pillow: Purple Cloud Pillow

Purple Cloud Pillow on pink background.

If you’re looking for a comfortable down pillow alternative, then Purple has you covered. The newly improved Purple Cloud Pillow has silky-soft gel fibers engineered to mimic the best qualities of down feathers. These fibers feature plush and moldable cushioning that supports the head and neck. Yet unlike down, the Purple Cloud Pillow is hypoallergenic, and its fibers won’t clump, flatten, or trap heat over time. Even better — this pillow comes with a 100% cotton cover for an extra premium feel. In addition, the Purple Pillow is easy to care for: The cover is machine washable, and the pillow itself can be cleaned in warm water with a gentle soap. Best of all, the company offers a 100-night sleep trial and a one-year warranty. You can rest easy with this excellent cooling pillow purchase.

Good For:

  • Small-to-average sized sleepers
  • People seeking the benefits of down, but not the sniffles
  • People who sleep hot

Xtreme Comforts Slimp Hypoallergenic Pillow

Xtreme Comforts Slimp Hypoallergenic Pillow on white background.

The Xtreme Comforts bamboo shredded memory foam pillow is great for sleepers of all types. This may be your best option if you find yourself switching to your stomach or side while you sleep. Some shredded foam pillows may get lumpy over time, but you won’t have that problem with this one. This SlimSleeper version has a loft of five inches, so you don’t have to worry about arching your neck backward as you sleep, which cuts down on snoring. Pro tip: This pillow sleeps cool – very cool. If it feels a little too hard when it first arrives, take it apart and throw it in the dryer. You’re welcome.

Good For:

  • Back, side, and stomach sleepers
  • People with neck pain
  • People who sleep hot

Best Adjustable Pillow: Coop Home Goods – Eden

Coop Home Goods on white background.

If your plush preferences are constantly evolving, you might just fall in love with the Eden pillow from Coop Home Goods. The most significant feature this pillow offers is that it’s completely customizable. Don’t like the loft? Zip it open and remove some of the filling, as needed. The benefits don’t end there, though. This pillow is gusseted to prevent the edges from sloping together and the filling from getting pushed to the side, guaranteeing total neck support and helping the pillow to retain its shape.

Additionally, it’s uniquely made with gel-infused memory foam and features a bamboo-rayon cover. The foam helps to draw out heat, while the cover offers breathability, so you’ll stay cool and comfortable. Coop Home Goods is so confident you’ll love this pillow that the company offers a 100-night sleep trial and a five-year warranty.  

Good For:

  • All sizes/weight classes
  • Individuals with neck or shoulder pain
  • Back and side sleepers

Choosing the Best Pillow for Back Sleeping

We get it: You may still want to shop around after checking out this list. Ultimately, you know which pillow is best for you. Here are some pro tips that you’ll want to keep in mind when shopping for your new favorite pillow.

Body Size

Pillows come in a wide range of sizes. Small pillows typically start at 12-by-20 inches, and body pillows are typically 48- to 54-by-20 inches. Generally, a standard pillow is 20-by-26 or 20-by-28 inches, and a queen pillow is 20-by-30 inches. Keep in mind that dimensions will vary by brand. If you’re a bigger person, if you have broad shoulders, or if you tend to toss and turn, you may want to invest in an oversized pillow.

Loft

Referring to a pillow’s thickness, a loft is one of the key elements to consider because your spinal alignment can easily be compromised if there’s too high or low of a loft.

Loft can be broken down into three basic categories: low-loft (less than three inches thick), medium-loft (three to five inches thick), and high-loft (over five inches thick). Many back sleepers opt for medium or high-loft pillows since they tend to elevate the head and neck best. You should consider your head size, shoulder size, and weight when making this decision. A low-loft pillow is best for heavier set individuals and people with smaller heads and narrower shoulders. A high-loft pillow is better for a slim person or someone with a large head or broad shoulders.  

Filling

Pillows can be manufactured with a wide variety of natural and synthetic fillings. Since these determine thickness and firmness, it’s essential to understand your main options:

  • Buckwheat: Typically thick, firm, and adjustable; great for back sleepers.
  • Memory Foam: Adjustable and conforms well; great for back sleepers.
  • Latex: Not adjustable but conforms and supports well; sleeps cool; great for back sleepers.
  • Polyester: Affordable but can quickly flatten; not great for back sleepers.
  • Down and/or Down Alternative: Adjustable loft but fairly soft and flattens easily; will not provide enough support for back sleepers.

Firmness and Malleability

As with most things bed-related, malleability and firmness are crucial to your decision-making, most back sleepers will benefit from a pillow with medium firmness. A pillow that’s too soft will cause your head to sink and could result in a misaligned spine. Conversely, a pillow that’s too firm can easily lead to a stiff neck or shoulders. You also want to select a somewhat malleable pillow that contours to your head and neck, which can help eliminate unnecessary strain.

Surface Shape

Pillows have two main surface types: even or contoured. Even-surfaced pillows are more common, and they can appear full or flat. Contoured pillows (also known as cervical pillows) have a curved surface that’s usually elevated at the neck, then recessed at the head. Contoured options are often recommended for people who have shoulder or neck pain, as they cradle the neck rather than letting it float in space.

Ease of Cleaning

We all want a pillow that’s easy to clean. After all, a clean pillow can reduce skin irritation, and some pillows even claim to help with wrinkles. If hygiene is a significant factor in your pillow – as it should be – make sure you check out how to wash the pillow before you buy it. Some pillows can be thrown in your home washing machine, while others — especially those made with solid memory foam — can not. Make sure you use a removable cover to keep the pillow itself as clean as possible. Pro tip: Pick up a pillow protector for added hygiene.

We’re not being dramatic when we say that a good night’s sleep is critical to your health. No question finding the right pillow is a crucial step toward some solid slumber.

Looking for more great stuff? Find the best pillows for stomach sleepers.

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