For something we sleep on every night, how much thought do we put into choosing a new pillow? While you can easily pick up pillows at your local department store, what you find there may not be the best pillow for you. The wrong pillow can leave you groggy and sore the next morning, so it’s crucial to find your perfect match.
We’ve put together this guide to cover the different pillow types, sizes, heights, and fills you can find and what sleepers they might pair best with. We go over the health concerns the right pillow can alleviate, how much to budget for a pillow, and how to take care of your pillow to get the most out of it. All of this information can help you find the right pillow for you.
Our Recommendation: Zoma Pillow
The Zoma Pillow stands at 6 inches tall. A queen-size pillow is 16 inches by 27 inches while a king-size pillow is 16 inches by 34 inches.
Hundreds of MicroCushions™, which are a blend of shredded foam and polyester, fill a Zoma Pillow to promote breathability. The MicroCushions™ also resist germs and dust mites. The pillow’s washable cover is a mesh fabric that’s mostly polyester with a little bit of spandex for stretchiness and added cooling.
Our Zoma Pillow is simple to care for. We recommend washing the pillow core every six months to a year. Use a delicate cycle and mild detergent when washing, then dry it in the dryer on low heat.
The Zoma Pillow is $75 for a queen size and $95 for a king size, and shipping is free. Like the Zoma Mattress, the pillow comes with a risk-free 100-night sleep trial period and a 10-year warranty. If you’re unhappy with the Zoma Pillow, it’s free to return it.
Common Types of Pillows
What image first pops into your mind when you think of pillows? In all likelihood you think of the standard white, rectangular pillow. But there are many more types of pillows available, from bolster pillows to wedge pillows.
This is the everyday, common bed pillow. The super standard is typically two inches longer.
A body pillow is designed to be between 4 to 4 ½ feet long. Holding onto one can keep you from tossing and turning while you sleep.
Many side sleepers find they sleep better with a body pillow placed between their arms and legs.
A neck pillow is shaped like a “U” and wraps around your neck to support your head and neck muscles. Travelers often use it as a carry-on pillow, but it can soothe chronic pain in day-to-day living.
A wedge pillow has a sloped shape with triangles for its sides. It elevates your head while you sleep.
A wedge pillow can help alleviate a few different health issues:
- Wedge pillows can help with acid reflux keep the contents of their stomach down as they snooze.
- A wedge pillow can decrease pressure on the lower back, minimizing pain. Position your legs so they fall on the shorter sides of the pillow, with the crook of your knees resting on the right angle created by the triangle sides.
- A wedge pillow can help with sleep apnea or snoring. By elevating the upper body, a wedge pillow prevents the collapse of soft tissues in the throat, keeping the airway open.
A bolster pillow is a long and narrow pillow, usually cylindrical although it can also be rectangular, half-circular, or bow-shaped.
A bolster pillow is often used as a head pillow or under the knees. Some people hold a bolster pillow while they sleep, use it as a yoga prop, or keep it on the bed as a decorative pillow.
A pregnancy pillow is a U-shaped pillow meant to wrap around the body. The pillow’s design can prevent tossing and turning and relieve pregnancy pains.
To use a pregnancy pillow, place it between the knees so the curve of the “U” cushions your head. Your stomach and back should be resting on opposite sides of the “U.”
A lumbar pillow is thin and rectangular, designed to comfortably fit between your spine and the mattress. If your mattress cannot contour to your spine, then a gap forms between the small of your back and the mattress. A lumbar pillow can provide the support needed to prevent chronic back pain.
A contour pillow is designed to support and relieve pressure in your neck muscles. A contoured pillow has two curves or slopes at each end, with one resting higher than the other.
The shallow curve between the two slopes is where the head rests. A sleeper chooses which slope they find more comfortable for their neck.
While a contoured pillow is a good way for side and back sleepers to alleviate neck pain, stomach sleepers should not use one. The pillow’s design can cause neck pain rather than relieve it if you use it while on your stomach.
A European pillow is square, not rectangular. They are often used as decoration around the home, or as headrests and backrests when you’re on the couch or sitting up in bed.
Common Types of Pillow Fills
There’s a wide variety of materials you can fill a pillow with. The fill of a pillow can determine its feel, durability, and price. Some fills are natural, others synthetic. There is no one “best” pillow fill, and often what’s best for you comes down to personal preference.
Down pillows come from the soft plumage underneath the feather coats on geese or ducks. Down is often preferred as a fill over other feathers because it lacks quills that may poke through a pillowcase. To qualify as a down pillow, the fill must be at least ¾ down.
Down pillows are some of the fluffiest pillows available. Down is a lightweight and moldable fill that can last for quite a few years. Signs a down pillow grows old are an increased softness and down feathers falling out of the pillow.
The main drawback to a down pillow is its price tag. Down pillows can also require more maintenance than other pillow types, as you may have to fluff your pillow often to keep it in shape.
A down alternative pillow contains synthetic material, often polyester fibers, made to mimic the feel of a down pillow. There are many different types of synthetic fibers used as down alternative fills, such as gel fiber and microfiber.
A down alternative pillow is typically cheaper than a down pillow but often comes with the trade-off of not lasting as long as a real down pillow would. It may require frequent fluffing to keep in shape and the material is prone to developing lumps. However, down alternative can be a great substitute for a sleeper with a down allergy.
A feather pillow feels firmer than a down pillow, and the feathers also come from geese and ducks. Feather pillows typically have no more than 10 percent down in their fill for added softness.
A feather pillow is less expensive than a down pillow while still providing softness and malleability, but the fill comes with its own setbacks. The feathers’ quills may poke the sleeper, disturbing sleep. A small percentage of feather pillow owners complain of a lingering smell.
While a feather pillow can last a while, they typically do not last as long as a down pillow would. Like down, feather pillows can require frequent fluffing to keep their shape.
Memory foam is a popular material for sleepers suffering from chronic pain, as the foam molds to the body for pressure and pain relief. If you experience frequent neck pain, a memory foam pillow can be the key to a better night of sleep.
There are two main types of memory foam pillows: a pillow containing one large block of memory foam or a pillow with shredded memory foam.
A one-piece memory foam pillow contours to your neck and head. They’re available in different lofts to suit different types of sleepers.
Traditional memory foam can overheat, disturbing your rest. Many manufacturers counter this by infusing the foam with cooling gels, creating a gel memory foam pillow.
A shredded memory foam pillow allows for more customization; you can remove the shredded fill or add some more for a softer or firmer feel.
Shredded memory foam stays cool more naturally than a solid foam pillow, as the space between the shredded pieces allows for better airflow.
Like memory foam, latex contours to the head and neck for pressure and pain relief. Latex is more durable than memory foam, keeping its shape after extended use. It’s a breathable material unlikely to overheat the sleeper.
However, latex is typically not as adjustable as other foam pillows, thanks to its density and bounciness. Its density also makes latex one of the heavier pillows you’ll find. Some sleepers find latex is a firmer pillow than they thought it would be.
A buckwheat pillow is filled with the hulls from buckwheat seeds. The fill is natural, hypoallergenic, and adjustable.
Like memory foam, the hulls should mold to the head and neck for pressure and pain relief. Buckwheat hulls retain little heat, which makes for a cooling pillow.
The main drawback of a buckwheat pillow is the noise it makes as you move about, so it may not be the fill of a choice for a restless sleeper. Buckwheat is also one of the more expensive pillow types, averaging about $75.
Caring for a buckwheat pillow can be difficult, as buckwheat hulls cannot be washed. To freshen up a buckwheat pillow, you can air out it out in the sun for a few hours.
Microbeads are the synthetic counterpart to buckwheat, mimicking buckwheat’s breathability and malleability. However, the chemicals making up microbeads can emit an unpleasant smell.
Like other synthetic alternatives, microbeads have a shorter expected lifespan than their natural counterparts. Microbeads work as a budget-friendly option, but they aren’t made to last.
Cotton is a natural, breathable material. It’s affordable and keeps you cool while you sleep. However, it is not the most durable of materials, and cotton pillows tend to clump up or flatten with use.
Wool is an all-natural pillow fill. While soft and breathable, wool is not the most responsive of pillows and may be unable to mold to your shape. Much like cotton, wool can clump up or flatten with use, compromising its support.
The material for a Kapok filling comes from the fibers inside the pods of the Kapok tree. It is an all-natural filling with a feel similar to a down or feather pillow. Kapok is free of harmful chemicals, unlike some synthetic fillings such as microbeads or polyester.
Polyester is an inexpensive, lightweight, and shapeable filling. You can find polyester-filled pillows in the bedding section of many department stores, often costing less than $20.
However, these pillows often develop lumps or grow flat quickly after use, leaving them unable to provide good support. Some sleepers may find their bodies irritated by the harsher chemicals typically found in polyester pillows.
Overall, we do not recommend polyester pillows unless you’re looking for a temporary pillow or you’re shopping on an extremely tight budget.
A water pillow operates like a water bed, where you fill it with water. It’s a conforming, customizable pillow and you can add as much or as little water as you want for the perfect loft and firmness. However, it can take some experimentation to find what firmness and loft work best for you.
Common Pillow Sizes
Pillows come in a wide range of sizes to better fit a wide range of beds. We break them down by name and size below.
|Pillow Size||Common Pillow Dimensions|
|Standard||20 inches by 26 inches|
|Super Standard||20 inches by 28 inches|
|Queen||20 inches by 30 inches|
|King||20 inches by 36 inches|
|Body||54 inches by 20 inches or 48 inches by 20 inches|
|European||A square-shaped pillow that can between 16 to 26 inches on all sides|
A standard, super standard, and queen size pillow can comfortably fit on most mattresses.
A pillow’s loft is its height or thickness. There are three different pillow lofts— low, medium, and high.
|Pillow Loft||Pillow Thickness|
|Low loft||Less than 3 inches|
|Medium loft||Between 3 to 5 inches|
|High loft||More than 5 inches|
The best pillow loft for you supports the neck and head, keeping your spine in a healthy alignment. How you sleep determines the correct loft for you.
If you sleep with only part of your head on the pillow, you may need a higher loft for better support, whereas if you sleep with your head entirely on the pillow, a lower loft should suffice.
The type of mattress you have can impact what pillow loft is right for you. If your mattress lets you sink into it, like a latex or memory foam mattress does, then you likely won’t need a high-loft pillow. But if your bed doesn’t sink down much (a common feature of innerspring mattresses), a higher loft is needed to support your neck.
Your preferred sleeping position can play a part in what type of pillow is best for you. Each sleep style works best with a different pillow loft, and some pillows pair better with certain sleep styles. Your pillow must keep your neck in a neutral position, so your spine doesn’t slip out of alignment.
Side sleeping is one of the more common sleep positions and provides quite a few health benefits. Sleeping on your side helps your brain flush out waste proteins more efficiently, which researchers hypothesize halts the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. By sleeping on your right side, you reduce the pressure on your heart.
A firm pillow with a high loft, often around 4 to 6 inches, helps a side sleeper keep their neck in line. We recommend avoiding soft, plush pillows because they might let your neck sink in too deeply, leaving your neck at an uncomfortable angle.
We recommend a pillow with an adjustable loft if you’re a side sleeper so you can customize it to your perfect height. Shredded memory foam or down pillows are often available in adjustable versions. A contoured pillow can also support the neck and head of a side sleeper with two different edge heights the sleeper can choose between.
Side sleepers press their faces into their pillows while they sleep, so we recommend a soft and breathable pillowcase to keep cool while sleeping.
Back sleeping helps keep your spine in a healthy alignment by evenly distributing your body weight.
Back sleepers sleep best on a medium-loft pillow. When lying on your back, you want your neck to reinforce the spine’s natural alignment. A pillow that’s too tall or too thin can upset the spine’s curvature.
The best firmness for a back sleeper’s pillow is often a medium as well, and not a pillow that’s too soft or too firm.
We do not recommend stomach sleeping and advise any stomach sleeper to make the switch to another sleep position as soon as they can. Stomach sleeping can cause health problems such as chronic lower back pain, neck pain, and restless sleeping.
If you wish to remain a stomach sleeper, you should sleep on a soft pillow with a low loft. A flat pillow will prevent your neck from angling upward while you sleep. A stomach sleeper may even benefit from sleeping without a pillow under their heads.
We recommend a second pillow for stomach sleepers to keep under their lower abdomen to better keep the spine in a neutral alignment.
Like side sleepers, stomach sleepers press their faces into their pillow as they sleep and do best with a breathable pillowcase.
A Pillow to Improve Health
If you feel in pain, tired, or sick after you sleep, your pillow might be responsible. A pillow can make or break your health, so we cover some common medical conditions that disrupt sleep and how the right pillow can help.
If you’re waking up with neck pain, you might need a new pillow. To prevent neck pain, stay away from a thick or firm pillow.
Sleeping on your side or back are the best positions for your neck, especially if partnered with a contoured pillow for head and neck support. Sleeping on your stomach can strain your neck, especially if you have to twist it at an unnatural angle to breathe.
A sleeper with chronic neck pain needs a pillow than can mold to their neck for the best pressure relief. A high-quality memory foam or latex pillow can help reduce pain.
There are many reasons you might wake up with a headache, such as insomnia or sleep apnea. But sometimes it’s as simple as sleeping on a bad pillow.
If your neck and head muscles fall outside of the neutral position, the strain can cause headaches. A good pillow should keep your neck and head in healthy alignment.
Sleep Apnea and Snoring
Sleep apnea and snoring are similar conditions with similar treatments, though snoring is far less serious.
Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your airway is blocked. A pillow that elevates your head, such as a wedge pillow, can prevent the collapse of soft tissues in your throat, allowing your airway to remain clear.
Allergies can be difficult enough to handle without having a pillow aggravating your allergic reactions. Pillows absorb and attract irritants such as bacteria and dust mites over time. If you see an uptick in allergy symptoms after you sleep, it may be time for a new pillow.
Using a hypoallergenic pillow with a mite-proof cover is a good strategy to keep your allergies in check while you sleep. You can take steps to extend your pillow’s life by washing and cleaning it on a regular basis.
Acid Reflux (GER and GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux, also known as acid reflux, occurs when your stomach acid rushes back up the esophagus. The stomach acid can irritate your esophagus and cause heartburn. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is when the condition is chronic.
Sleeping with your head and shoulders on a wedge pillow can help mitigate acid reflux. When you lie flat on your back, it’s easier for stomach acid to flow up your esophagus. Sleeping on a slope helps gravity keep your stomach acid where it belongs.
How Much Should A Pillow Cost?
Pillows vary greatly when it comes to prices. Some cost less than $5, while others cost more than $100.
Often when you’re buying a new pillow, how much you’ll pay for it reflects what you’ll get out of it. A $5 pillow saves you money now, but it might fall apart after only a few months.
So how much should you pay? For a queen-size pillow, we recommend a budget between $25 to $100.
The fills inside a pillow may influence how much you can expect to pay for one. A pillow made with natural material such as down or buckwheat will typically be higher priced, between $50 to $100. Durable and conforming materials such as latex and memory foam fall into the middle budget range, averaging around $40 to $60.
How Long Should A Pillow Last?
How long a new pillow will last depends on the materials it’s made out of. Often you can expect a pillow with a synthetic fill to wear out sooner than a pillow with a natural fill. A quality synthetic pillow might last two or three years, while a natural pillow such as down might go for five or more years.
Using a pillow will eventually wear it out. The pillow goes flat and is unable to provide the support your head and neck need. But that’s not the only reason to buy a new pillow every few years.
Replacing your pillow on a regular basis is a matter of good hygiene. Your pillow absorbs a lot of stuff as you sleep, such as dead skin and sweat. This bodily waste not only irritates your skin but can attract dust mites, which can cause allergy symptoms to flare up.
Signs a Pillow Needs Replacing
So how do you know when it’s time to replace your pillow? The age of the pillow can be a clue, and if you can’t remember when you bought your pillow, it’s likely due for replacement.
Here are some other signs it’s time to start shopping for a new pillow:
- Your pillow is stained or yellow
- Your pillow has lumps, sagging, it needs constant fluffing, or has otherwise lost its shape
- You’re waking up tired or with neck or shoulder pain
- You’re waking up with headaches or experiencing more headaches than usual
- You see an increase in allergy symptoms after you’ve slept
- You see an increase in facial acne
Comfort is key— if it isn’t a comfortable pillow to lie on anymore, then it’s time to get rid of it.
Taking Care of Your Pillow
If your pillow does not come with a pillow cover, we recommend investing in a pillow cover or a pillow protector. Covers and protectors can protect your pillow from dust mites, bed bugs, spills, sweat, and everyday wear and tear. A cover is easier to wash and cheaper to replace.
Like other types of bedding, you should wash and change your pillowcase and pillow protector every week if possible, or at least every two weeks.
If you have a pillow filled with a material such as down, feather, or shredded memory foam, fluff your pillow on a regular basis. You can fluff your pillow by hitting it, massaging it, or by holding both ends and pushing them inward.
If your pillow is machine washable, you should wash it about every six months. You can wash it more frequently if you want to. If you’ve been sick or have spilled something on your pillow, you should wash it as soon as you can.
If your pillow isn’t washable, you can still take care of it by spot cleaning and vacuuming it on a regular basis. You can further freshen the pillow up by sprinkling baking soda on it and taking it outside on a clear, sunny day to air out. Leave it be for a few hours, then vacuum off the baking soda.
Much like you would with a mattress, you can rotate and flip your pillow to even out its wear.
Sleep on the Right Mattress
The right pillow can only do so much. For the best night of sleep, it needs to be paired with the best mattress for you.
The goal of a pillow and mattress is to keep you cool, comfortable, and supported. Your spine should stay in a neutral alignment while you sleep.
Sleep Trial, Warranty and Return Policy
A sleep trial, warranty, and return policy may or may not come included with your new pillow. Many do not come with a sleep trial, and some lack a warranty or a return policy. However, we recommend you look for a pillow with all three policies, especially a warranty.
A sleep trial is the attached trial period where you can test your pillow to be sure it’s the right one for you.
Not every pillow comes with a sleep trial. Often, the more expensive pillows come with a trial period. If you’re budgeting $75 or more for a pillow, we recommend looking for one with a sleep trial to help ensure you’re getting the pillow right for you.
Some offered sleep trials are relatively short, about 45 days. Other sleep trials are comparable to a mattress sleep trial, lasting between 90 to 120 days.
A warranty is the mark of a company’s assurance that they’re selling a quality product. A pillow’s warranty covers manufacturing defects such as tears or cracks in the material.
The length of a pillow’s warranty can vary greatly. Some can be as short as a year, while other companies may offer lifetime warranties.
As a quality pillow will need to be replaced about every three to seven years, we recommend you shop for a warranty lasting five or more years.
We strongly advise against the purchase of any pillow that comes without a warranty. As a warranty is the mark of a company’s faith, a pillow without a warranty can mean the company has no faith in its product.
A return policy is another sign of the company’s faith in its product and a mark of its customer service. It’s a good idea to read it through before buying, to make it easy to return an unwanted pillow.
Reading through the return policy should tell you how you can make a return, how long you have to make a return, and under what circumstances you can make a return. Some companies will only take a pillow back if it’s damaged in shipping. Other companies will not refund your original shipping costs.
If you have any lingering questions after reading through the return policy, reach out to customer service.
For pillows, we recommend a return policy that covers a minimum of 30 days.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it better to sleep with one or two pillows?
For a good night’s sleep, it’s best to rest your head on one pillow. More pillows can mean a night spent tossing and turning.
Is sleeping without a pillow better?
The answer to this question depends on your sleep style. Side and back sleepers should sleep with a pillow, but stomach sleepers might benefit from skipping the pillow.
Did We Help?
The right pillow can be just as important as the right mattress when it comes to getting a restful and restorative night of sleep. A pillow that’s too soft, too firm, too high, or too low can cause you to wake up tired and in pain.
While shopping for your perfect pillow, remember it’s better to get a quality one that lasts a long time versus a cheap one that deteriorates quickly. Often, it’s easier to find quality pillows online, but you can still find plenty of good pillows at a furniture store, bedding store, or a department store.