Not all pillows are created equal. This fact isn’t surprising to anyone who has awakened with neck pain, or who had to fold their pillow in half to get comfortable, or whose pillow mysteriously disappears in the night, only to reappear under their partner’s head in the morning.
If you’ve been following The Manual’s Sleep content (and you have been religiously following, right?), you know there is a perfect pillow out there for sleepers of all shapes, sizes, and positions. In this post, we’ll break down the best pillows from previous features, proving that even the most temperamental sleeper can find a pillow on which they will sleep soundly.
However, if you haven’t been following The Manual (we’re not mad, since we’re pretty sure you’ll start now), we’re here to lay everything out. But first, you should know what pillow you’re looking for in general. Finding the right pillow depends largely on your sleeping position.
If you’re a stomach sleeper, you’re looking for the flattest, softest pillow out there to ensure you’re not straining your neck backward. Stomach sleepers not only sleep flat, but their head is turned to the side, creating a twisting motion in the spine. Choose a pillow that makes this easier on your body. Back sleepers should find very soft and airy pillows that conform to the back of their head and neck, to ensure the head is slightly elevated, with the spine in alignment. Finally, side sleepers should look for the pillows with the highest loft, or height, as the head needs to be much more elevated to keep the spine aligned and reduce strain on the neck.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the pillows.
This pillow is king for side sleepers because it provides a greater level of support than pillows made with down, fiber, or shredded foam. Side sleepers will still get the softness they want without having to double up the pillow, fluff it every couple hours or readjust the inner lumpiness that can happen with shredded foam pillows. Plus, buying this pillow is an investment: Tuft and Needle estimates this pillow will last for 25 years, and offers a three-year limited warranty.
Who It’s For
- Side sleepers
- Sleepers who constantly find themselves readjusting, fluffing, or folding their pillows
- Sleepers who want a firmer, more supportive pillow – no sinking here
Though stomach sleepers should avoid most memory foam pillows, this one is perfect – once you get past the weird shape. On one side, the pillow looks normal, with a higher loft in the middle that tapers off on the sides. On the other, the pillow is completely flat, perfect for stomach sleepers who need the flattest pillow around. With just a 2.5-inch loft, you don’t get much flatter than this.
Who It’s For
- Stomach sleepers who wake up with neck pain and headaches
- Sleepers who need the flattest pillow
- Sleepers who shift from their stomach to their back
The Purple Pillow’s appearance is even weirder than Elite Rest’s, but this pillow has been highly rated ever since it was introduced on Kickstarter in 2016. Made with a unique gridded polymer, this pillow is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. However, it boasts unmatched benefits for back sleepers: softness to prevent the neck from straining, but firmness to keep the head in line with the spine. However, weighing in above 10 pounds, this pillow is definitely not for traveling.
Who It’s For
- Back sleepers who often wake up with neck and back pain
- Back sleepers who want a softer pillow
- Sleepers looking for something unique
Coop Home Goods has knocked it out of the park with a memory foam pillow made for sleepers of all types. The Eden Memory Foam pillow has an inner cover that zips open and shut, allowing you to remove some of the shredded memory foam inside and adjust the loft. This is particularly useful if you don’t have a preference for back, side, or stomach.
Who It’s For
- Sleepers who have no preference over back, side, or stomach
- Sleepers of any weight
- Lovers of a cloud-like pillow
The Malouf Z Latex Pillow has a high loft, so stomach sleepers should look elsewhere. However, this latex pillow is perfect for side sleepers with broad shoulders. Latex pillows sleep cool, but this pillow takes coolness to the next level with holes punched through it. If you sleep very hot, this is a great choice.
Who It’s For
- Broad-shouldered side sleepers
- Sleepers who prefer a thick pillow
- Sleepers who get hot at night
OK, this pillow is expensive, but what price would you put on a good night’s rest and a long-lasting pillow? East Coast Bedding has mastered the art of down pillows, and with its white goose down pillow, you’ll feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud. The only problem is you won’t want to get out of bed. This pillow comes in a set of two, so you can gift the second one to your partner, treat your pet to the most luxurious pillow out there, or just save it for emergencies. We won’t judge. Just remember: down pillows are cloudy and soft, so they’re great for back and stomach sleepers, but typically don’t offer the firmness and support needed for side sleepers.
Who It’s For
- Back and stomach sleepers
- Sleepers who want the softest pillow out there
- Sleepers looking for a high-quality luxury option
How to Choose the Right Pillow for You
Now that you’ve checked out some standout pillows, it’s time for a deep dive into what you should be looking for to make sure you’re choosing the right pillow. After all, some side sleepers do want a soft, plushy pillow, and some stomach sleepers want something lofty and firm. We can’t say it’s great for your back or spine but, as they say, whatever helps you sleep at night.
The loft of a pillow is the measure of a pillow’s height. However, keep in mind that a higher loft doesn’t always mean a firmer pillow. Down pillows are soft and squishy, and will totally conform to your back and neck, but they typically have a very high loft. On the other hand, memory foam pillows are great for side sleepers and are firm, but don’t have as high a loft. No matter what kind of sleeper you are, and no matter what material you choose, pay close attention to the loft. You don’t want to be surprised when you finally get your new pillow and still have neck pain from incorrect spine alignment.
Size is pretty straightforward. Just match your pillow to your mattress size; king-size pillows go with king size mattresses. If you’re not sure what size your mattress is, break out a tape measure. Standard pillows are typically 20-by-26 inches, queens 20-by-30 inches, and kings 20-by-36 inches. If your mattress is around 76 inches wide, you need two king-size pillows.
However, some people – even if they don’t have a king-size bed – prefer a wider pillow. If you’re broad-shouldered or just prefer to sleep with wider pillows, keep doing what you’re doing. After all, everyone sleeps differently, and you’re the only one who knows how you like to sleep.
Pros and Cons of Pillow Materials
You’ve got the six best pillows out there, you understand the needs of side, back, and stomach sleepers, and you know what to look for when you start shopping around. But why are there so many pillow materials, and which one should you look out for? We’ve covered what makes the three most common materials great and not so great.
- Environmentally friendly. Pro tip: Look out for pillows that boast 100% natural latex, or you may get a synthetic blend of something you weren’t looking for.
- Sleeps cool. Both sides of latex pillows are the cool side of the pillow.
- Reduce back pain and neck stiffness.
- Retains shape well. Latex is springy, and will retain its shape for even the heaviest sleeper.
- They’re firm. For some people, too firm.
- Latex is smelly. Your pillow may need to air out for a few days before you attempt to sleep on it.
- Adjustment period required. Latex pillows feel much different than other pillows, so you may need to tough it out for a few days before you really get comfortable sleeping with it.
- Common allergen. If you’re allergic to latex, save yourself the trip to the ER and don’t try a latex pillow.
- Highly supportive. Memory foam is firm and springy, so side sleepers and back sleepers will love this material.
- Retains shape well.
- Can curb snoring. Because memory foam elevates the head and contours to it, your chin won’t tip upward and you’ll be less likely to snore.
- Sleeps hot. Memory foam isn’t very breathable, so sleepers who wake up hot in the middle of the night may want to pass on memory foam.
- Too firm for stomach sleepers. Most memory foam pillows have too high a loft and not enough softness to be a good choice for stomach sleepers.
- Off-gas. Because of the chemicals used to make memory foam, they sometimes smell funky fresh out of the box. The smell will fade, however.
- Pricey. Memory foam is pricier than other pillow options.
- Cloudlike softness. When you think of the hotel pillow, the one that feels like your head is floating on air, you’re thinking of down pillows.
- Long-lasting. If you invest in your down pillow and treat it well, it can last for years.
- Down comes from where? Down is made from the soft inner layer of a bird’s feathers, so this is not a vegan choice.
- Hard to clean. Down lasts a long time if you treat it right, sure, but it is harder to treat right than other pillows. Don’t think about throwing this pillow in your home washing machine.
- Pricey. Down feels luxurious, and its price reflects that.