From carved stone pillows in 5000 BC, pillow tech has taken huge leaps forwards, giving us the best sleep of any generation. Even better sleep than the emperors of old enjoyed.
The rapid advancement and the drive over the centuries to create the “perfect” pillow, is fueled in part by the importance we ascribe to our comfort buddies. From time immemorial, pillows have always played a vital physical, spiritual, or psychological role.
In ancient Egypt, pillows (though made of stone, yeah, stone pillows) were an essential status symbol. The number of pillows you had signified your wealth or position in society. Pillows were also a necessary tool in Egyptian tombs as they helped keep the head held high and comfortable through the passage.
The Greeks took a different route. To them, a pillow was a thing of premier comfort — a contraption from the gods that eased the body and soothe the mind. Hence, like with everything else, the Greeks laid the groundwork for the modern pillow. They considered it an act of self-care to craft and use luxurious embroidered pillows to improve their comfort during sleep and rest significantly.
The ancient Chinese went the opposite route. Culturally, the Chinese rejected the idea of soft, comfy pillows. To them, such velvety comfort for your head stole a person’s life force and gradually decimated one’s health and spirit. They opted instead for wooden and ceramic pillows. Knowing how comforting a great cushion can be, though, it’s no surprise that felt something was amiss.
Ceramic pillows? Whew! It’s a good thing we went the way of the Greeks, or this article would have been a pottery lesson.
The spirit that drives modern pillow making is the drive to find the perfect pillow. This fanatic push has resulted in multiple experiments, several innovations in the field, and a massive array of available pillows that makes choosing a pillow one Herculean task.
A quick look at any online store or your neighborhood bed-and-bath shop will reveal the wealth of options available to you. The fact that we spend eight hours every day on our pillows and banking on their comfort does little to help our choice paralysis. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we also share some of our most intimate moments with our pillows. A mind-bending 3 a.m. pillow talk, muttering you dreams and aspirations, and that good old’ rumble in the sack.
Ultimately, there is no one size fits all when it comes to pillows. There is no single choice that is “best” for everyone.
Factors like your sleeping pattern, your health needs, and your personal preferences play a crucial role in determining the best pillow to match your style. In this report, we’ve researched a zillion pillows and compiled specific recommendations to give you the ultimate roadmap to selecting your new best pillow.
Should you get memory foam, down, standard, contour, or bolster pillows? Here is a guide to selecting the best pillow for you.
Why Good Pillows are Important
Most people, except the night owls and “pillow abstainers,” spend up to a third of their lives resting on a pillow. Using a cushion in bed serves three critical functions — improves your comfort in bed, the quality of your sleep, and provides support for your neck and upper back.
As you get older, it’s often easier to feel the impact of a pillow that is bad for us. We’ve all had that night. You check into some random hotel or stop for a sleepover at grandmas and spend half the night adjusting the pillow the get a decent, restful position. If you are not in the know, it can be surprising how one small piece of bedding can ultimately put your sleep in jeopardy. It may be enough to make you give up precious room in your suitcase to bring your comfy pillow with you.
According to Martin Simon from Pillow Sciences, “A good pillow is critical. If you’re sleeping on the wrong pillow, your whole body is out of alignment. You’ll wake up in the morning feeling sore and out of sorts because your neck is out of kilter.”
Pillows play an essential role in giving you quality sleep. They have a considerable impact on your quality of rest, your physiology, and your overall state of mind when you are awake. Here are a few reasons why you should consider discarding your old pillows and investing in quality options.
Bad Pillows Disrupt Sleep
You need to spend a night on a perfect pillow to appreciate how much sleep disruption you are suffering from low-quality offerings. The difference is night and day. Inferior products make you uncomfortable at random times during the night, and this can affect portions of REM sleep that you need for a full rest.
Your body requires adequate and fully restful sleep to function efficiently. Failure to achieve your needed quota can leave you feeling moody, dizzy, and in a low-energy mode throughout the day. Lousy sleep will also have negative impacts on your health in the long run. A lousy pillow causes regular disruptions and affects your day-to-day performance.
Lousy Pillows Put Your Spine and Joints at Risk
Our bodies consist of many intricate parts that meet at multiple joints and connection points spread out across the torso. These joints need to stay in proper alignment for us to stay healthy — helping us achieve this alignment, even while sleeping is a primary reason why sleeping pillows exist.
When you sleep without a pillow, or with a lousy one, your head can fall lower than your trunk. Consequently, you need the right choice to support your head and keep it in alignment with your spine. Using one that does not excel at this stresses your joints and helps your chiropractor send his children to college.
Poor Support Aggravates Health Conditions
The problems that result from getting your spine out of alignment every night do not end at neck pain. Poor pillows can aggravate numerous health conditions like sleep apnea, headaches, snoring, and acne breakouts.
Old Pillows are a Health Hazard
After extended use, pillows accumulate dirt, skin cells, and oils as well as health risks like mites, bacteria, and fungal spores. Dust mites are a common trigger of allergies and asthma, while bacteria and fungi can cause more severe infections like gastritis or a fungal skin infection.
For both hygiene reasons and improved health support, you must replace your pillow regularly.
Also, to protect against allergy triggers, The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends opting for zippered pillow protectors that can block dust mites from reaching the surface.
Choosing the Right Pillow
Amidst the plethora of options available today, figuring out the right pillow for you can quickly become a hassle. We all have different bodies, and as a result, sleep is something that we all do differently.
Essential factors to consider when picking the right one to provide you needed support include your sleeping style, the material, and the size of the pillow.
Throughout the night, we all shift and turn, changing positions, and sometimes ending up very differently from how we started. However, we all fall into three major groups based on the sleeping orientation we favor the most: side sleepers, back sleepers, and stomach sleepers.
Congratulations if you are one of the people that have managed to crack the code to the doctor-recommended side sleeping position. We’ve not had any luck here.
Based on studies by sleeping researchers, sleeping on your side is the most neutral position for your neck and spine. This position is recommended because all you need is a pillow with excellent loft to keep your spine alignment so that it matches its arrangement when you are upright. Side sleeping is also the most common sleeping position.
If you are a side sleeper, the loft is all that matters. You should look into getting a firmer pillow with excellent loft that offers reliable support to your neck. The right pillow for you must be lofty enough to match the space between the bed and hold the neck straight. A firmer level of support ensures your head does not sink in during the night and throw your spine out of alignment.
On your back, you need less loft to match the natural alignment of your neck and spine. As a result, you can make do with a medium loft pillow that supports your head without pushing it forward. The pillow firmness should be medium to a medium-firm to prevent your head from sinking in during the night.
Good medium density fills for back sleepers include buckwheat hulls, shredded memory foam, and polyester.
While this is undeniably one of comfiest sleeping positions, it is, unfortunately, one of the hardest on your spine and neck. The situation is particularly tough because it forces your neck to twist sharply to the side.
Since your neck is already almost inline with your spine, you must use a low loft pillow. A pillow with no loft or going pillowless is also a viable choice for stomach sleepers. If you decide to use a pillow, ensure it has a very low loft. We also recommend a soft pillow, like a down pillow, to let your head rest in its natural neck-spine alignment.
Choosing the Right Pillow Fill
Like with most things in life, it is what is on the inside that makes or mars a pillow. The fill material and density go a long way in determining the level of comfort and the quality of sleep you will get from your new pillow.
When choosing pillow filling, you should consider the support to comfort ratio, how much airflow the material allows, and the washability of the fill and cover. Popular pillow fills include memory foam, polyester, down, and buckwheat hulls.
Memory foam was originally created by NASA in 1966 to provide astronauts with extra cushioning during the rough reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Since NASA released the patent to the public domain in the 80s, memory foam beds and pillows have become pretty commonplace.
The material’s ingenuity is its ability to conform to your head and neck, offering maximum support. Memory foam’s main ingredient is a “freeze-dried” gas that can “remember” the shape of your head.
Memory foam pillows are super effective at easing pain and stress. These pillows are especially powerful for people with neck, shoulder, or upper body stiffness.
Offers superior neck and head support
Relatively quiet, no ruffling sounds
Poor airflow traps heat
More durable than most
Typically heavier than other fill types
Suitable for most side- and back-sleepers
Unappealing chemical odor when brand new
Shredded Memory Foam
Shredded memory foam solves the airflow problem of standard memory foam fills by dividing a block of foam into smaller chunks. With shredded memory foam, you get a more moldable fill that easily adjusts to match your sleeping position.
More malleable than standard memory foam
Still retains some heat
Fully supportive in multiple sleeping positions
Less durable than memory fill
Lower price than memory fills
Head may sink in if the fill is not tightly packed
In most basic and budget pillows, polyester is what you get. Soft, lightweight, and easy to care for, polyester fill pillows are ubiquitous. These pillows make up the bulk of the offerings on the pillow market today.
Polyester fiberfill pillows are mainly ubiquitous because of their practicality. The cushions are lightweight, easy to maintain, and machine-washable. Furthermore, they cost far less to make and retail at much lower prices than their memory foam or downs fill counterparts.
Polyester pillows come with varying amounts of loft and firmness.
More affordable than most
Relatively low durability
Easy to maintain, machine-washable
Support and loft degrades quickly
Many options available for firmness, loft, and fluffiness
Not environmentally friendly
A common breeding ground for dust mites
Down and Feather
Are you down for some real pampering? Then you can’t go wrong with a down or feather pillow. These pillows bring luxurious soft fluffiness thanks to being stuffed with duck or geese feathers. Feather pillows contain feathers from the back and the wings of birds while the more expensive down pillows contain soft under feathers from the chest.
Down and feather pillows are super lightweight and easy to mold. However, they do not offer any neck support. Hence they work best with stomach sleepers.
Down pillows are a dream to be on as they give you an impression of sleeping on a cloud. However, price-wise they are unsurprisingly at the higher end of the spectrum. If you want all-over comfort, combine a feather pillow with a down comforter.
Malleable and adjustable
No neck support
Easy to wash
They are an allergen risk
Noisier than most
Loses shape quickly and needs to be readjusted
The odd poke to the eye by a rogue feather can happen
Buckwheat hull pillows use hulls of buckwheat grain as a fill to create a pillow that feels very much like a bean bag. Buckwheat pillows are a hit in Asia, and they also have a decent user base here in the states.
These pillows let you manipulate their shape, firmness, and loft thanks to the hulls that move freely inside the case.
Fully adjustable and malleable
One of the noisy ones
Can be too firm
Buckwheat hulls may trigger some allergies
The typical latex pillow fill comes solely from tree sap extract, making them one of the few genuinely eco-friendly pillow options. Furthermore, they are naturally hypoallergenic. However, they are relatively on the higher end of the price spectrum.
Also, these pillows provide superior airflow and cooling and are also some of the most durable options on the market.
Natural and eco-friendly
Less contouring than most
Durable material with an extended lifespan
Too firm for some people
Our Recommendations (Top 7 Picks)
Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow
From first glance, the name of this brand promises a lot. Thankfully, the premier offering does well to stand up to its name. With reams of positive customer reviews and a number one spot ranking on multiple review sites, the Xtreme Comforts pillow gets a lot of love for its superior feel and reliable support.
One area where this pillow excels is the adjustability options. The Xtreme Comforts pillow comes intentionally overpacked to allow for manual adjustment. You also get an openable cover that lets you remove as much of the shredded memory foam bits as you want. You can take out or add in shredded foam, adjusting the foam distribution till you get a perfect fit.
The pillow comes compressed and flattened out of the box, and will need a few seconds to fluff it up to its standard size (popping it in a dryer will speed up this process.)
Thanks to its shredded memory foam fill, Xtreme Comforts pillow offers decent support without being too firm. The pillow is very malleable so you won’t have problems shaping it to match your sleeping style. Xtreme Comforts pillow is especially perfect for side and back sleepers.
The pillowcase is a Kool-Flow Micro-Vented Bamboo Cover that offers better airflow than most covers on the market. The pillowcase helps keep the pillow cool through the night, a feature that hot sleepers will appreciate.
Also, the bamboo pillow cover is hypoallergenic and dust-mite resistant, so no allergy worries here.
The pillowcase and stuffing is machine washable. Xtreme Comforts offers a 30-day return policy that lets you try out the pillow to ensure it matches your needs.
For: Side sleepers and back sleepers, extra neck support. Also for pregnancy and under knee support
Hypoallergenic and dust-mite resistant bamboo cover. Breathable pillowcase, adjustable fill, and superior comfort
For side sleepers, the Layla brings a lofty build and a medium-firmness to give you the support you need to stay comfy all night.
Thanks to its 7-inch tall frame, this one is just the right height to keep your head and spine in alignment. It is exceptionally efficient at relieving pressure off your neck and shoulders to significantly improve the restfulness of your sleep.
Need more loft? The fill on this product consists of shredded memory foam and Kapok fibers (from seed pods of Kapok trees) that let you fluff the pillow for even more height. Tall people with broad shoulders will find the loftiness on this pillow particularly comforting.
However, no worries if you have a smaller frame. It has a zipper on one side that lets you adjust the loft. You can take out as much memory foam as you need to get the perfect loft and firmness for your build.
Layla’s cover fabric is a ThermoGel infused stretch-knit cotton that has a comfy velvety feel. The case is also infused with copper threads for improved thermal conductivity. The copper threads help the pillow dissipate heat faster, keeping it fresh and dry through the night.
The copper threads make the pillow hypoallergenic, and the company offers a full 5-year warranty on all materials and quality.
For: Side sleepers and back sleepers, taller people, hot sleepers, people who need extra fluff and loft
Extra lofty, efficient temperature regulation, hypoallergenic, adjustable fill, superior comfort
The Coop Home Goods memory foam pillow is an excellent contender for best-shredded memory foam pillow. The lofty pillow provides excellent value for the money.
This one comes with a plush removable cover that is washable and fully adjustable. The cover’s material is viscose rayon, which is quite breathable and velvety smooth to your touch. The rayon cover features a proprietary blend of 60% polyester and 40% bamboo that helps regulate temperature and keep the surface of the pillow fresh. You also get a light Interlock fabric inside the case that house the shredded memory foam fill.
Thanks to the internal case, you barely feel the individual memory foam pieces. It feels like one solid unit. And against the skin, it feels more like classic memory foam fill than a shredded memory foam fill.
The shredded memory foam construction provides improved airflow over classic memory foam. Plus you gain the ability to adjust the filling to match your required loft and firmness.
Like standard memory foam offerings, you can restore fluff to this unit by sticking it in the dryer for 10 minutes. The manufacturer even recommends you do this monthly to maintain the best performance.
For: Side and back sleepers, lovers of the classic contoured memory foam feel, between the legs and underhand support
Improved airflow and breathability over block memory foam options. contoured memory foam feel, highly customizable, hypoallergenic bamboo cover
Contoured memory foam feel, off-gassing memory foam smell for the first few days
According to a study on sleep and circadian rhythms, The thermal environment is one of the most critical factors that can affect human sleep. Anyone who has tried to crash in a warm room can agree that colder climates are way better for sleeping. That’s why all Bear products feature a proprietary design complete with multiple hacks that help promote a more relaxed sleep.
The Bear Pillow contains a unique blend of polyfoam called Loft-X. Loft-X is slightly body-conforming mimicking memory foam but with a more bouncy resilience.
This ultra-breathable fill combines with a cover fabric made from cool yarn and polyester to create the ultimate cool pillow. Thanks to the polyester infusion, the cover fabric is naturally moisture-wicking and helps to keep you cool and dry all night long.
Furthermore, you get two mesh panels on both ends of the pillow that further enhances breathability. The mesh panels also help wick moisture out and allow air in to keep the cushion to touch. Press into the pillow and you can feel the air flowing through the mesh panels on both sides.
It has a zipper on one side that lets you remove the washable cover. However, the fill is not adjustable as it is one solid block.
Thanks to its soft feel and medium firmness, the Bear works well in multiple sleep positions. It is especially perfect for side and back sleepers. The pad works well with stomach sleepers too. However, stomach sleepers should be wary of the loft of the pillow. At 5 inches, it may be too lofty for those with smaller frames as the pillow fill is not adjustable.
The Bear’s design helps to promote a more relaxed sleep, especially for hot sleepers and people with very active lifestyles. With this pillow’s cooling efforts, you can get the rest and recovery your body needs.
For: Side sleepers, back sleepers, and larger framed stomach sleepers, people with active lifestyles, and hot sleepers.
Soft and cool to the touch, superior moisture-wicking properties, better breathability than most of the competition, hypoallergenic cover, 100-night return policy
Fill is not adjustable, fill is not machine washable, slippery cover, might be too high for smaller framed stomach sleepers
Plushbeds Organic pillow is a luxurious pillow that contains shredded breathable latex foam. The shreded latex form a comfy support structure that stays cool all night long.
Natural latex is ultra-breathable, so the pillow manages heat efficiently. Latex is also naturally hypoallergenic and fully resistant to mold.
Thanks to its dense shredded latex foam interior, the pillow is easily moldable. Its malleability lets you customize its shape and loft to match your build and sleeping style. The foam quickly adjusts when you change positions, offering you full support and adequate loft even without fluffing. Hence, the pillow is suitable for all sleep types and is a dream pillow for combination sleepers.
No matter how much you mold or fluff it, the latex pieces won’t clump or shift as latex bounces back quickly when you ease the pressure.
Plushbeds Organic Shredded Latex Pillow is an excellent choice for most sleepers as its high-quality build feels very luxurious and comfy. However, the pillow may not match the requirements of side sleepers that need a firmer pillow for proper spine alignment.
Plushbeds ships their products direct to the consumer so the price is relatively affordable, especially given its quality and durability. The company maintains a 100-day return policy.
For: Side sleepers, back sleepers, and stomach sleepers, latex lovers, people with joint conditions
Shredded latex provides excellent support and airflow, fully organic with no harsh chemicals or dyes, eco-friendly, hypoallergenic, excellent price to quality ratio
The Nolah AirFoam is a squishy rectangular pillow made to provide gentle support for sleepers in all positions. The pillow’s uniquely eye-catching design is a hit among its fans everywhere.
The pillow features a 100% PolyFoam interior that stays cool and is ultra-soft, so it provides superior pressure relief, even better than what you get with memory foams.
The cover fabric is 300-thread cotton infused with a cooling phase-change fabric that keeps the pillow breathable. The material also helps regulate temperature and keep the pillow cool all night.
For easy access to the fill, the pillow has a zipper that spans both sides of the pillow. The squishy PolyFoam fill has a medium-firm feel that allows your head to gently sink into the pillow. The sinking also provides support for your shoulders and leaves your head supported and secure. The slightly contoured center helps improve breathability under your head and keeps the pillow cool through the night.
The mild support of the Nolah AirFoam makes it an excellent choice for most stomach sleepers and back sleepers. However, its squishy nature and low loft will not be high enough to match the needs of most side sleepers.
For: stomach sleepers and back sleepers, people who want intense pampering
Excellent for stomach sleepers and others who need a flatter pillow to achieve a healthy sleep posture, soft squishy feel is comfy, the contoured center is excellent for back sleepers, fluffy and huggable, machine-washable, 120-night trial period
Lower loft than most, squishy feel does not provide firm support
The Nectar pillow is a shredded memory foam pillow that offers moderate support and gentle contour at a bargain price.
The Nectar is adjustable with a pillow-in-pillow design. There is a sub-pillow inside the unit that is surrounded by extra memory foam fill to give you the perfect fluffiness for maximum comfort. Furthermore, you can adjust the fluff and firmness by removing some of the memory foam bits on the outside of the internal pillow.
The pillow uses a Tencel cover for better moisture-wicking and temperature control. Tencel is gentle on the skin and more breathable than cotton, so it helps to keep the pillow’s surface fresh throughout the night.
The Nectar pillow comes with a loft that is too high for most users. However, you can easily adjust the loft and firmness by removing some of the memory foam.
The Nectar pillow is affordable and offers decent comfort for most sleepers. Hence, it is an excellent option for a bargain memory foam pillow
For: all types of sleepers
Cool to touch, better temperature control, adjustable loft, and firmness, breathable Tencel cover
Inside cushion reduces adjustability, a lower quality than premium offerings
Contrary to the widely held misconception, your pillows are not eternal. You should wash your pillows monthly. This washing schedule includes pillowcases, protectors, and the cushions themselves if they are washable.
Always check the label for the exact instructions for your specific brand. In general, down/feather and polyester can be machine-washed and dried. Most pillows require a mild liquid detergent on the delicate cycle with cold water. Memory foam, on the other hand, is not usually machine-washable and should be deep-cleaned in a sink with soap and water.
Proper care will prevent the accumulation of dust mites, bacteria, and dead skin cells. These irritants can cause discomfort or more severe health issues in the long run. Keeping them clean will also help them last longer.
One of the best ways to keep your pillow clean is by using an antimicrobial cover.
How Often should You Replace Your Pillow
Your pillows can’t last forever. Thanks to the weight of our heads beating down the pillow each night, it will eventually flatten in spots and lose its structural integrity. A malformed pad provides poor support and can lead to more severe spine alignment issues.
Depending on your pillow type, you should be replacing them at least once every two years. Some experts recommend replacing your pillow every six months. If you use a cover, they will last longer without building up dust mites. If you keep them covered, a good rule of thumb is to replace polyester and feather pillows every 1-2 years. Memory foam pillows can maintain their structure for much longer. They can last for over three years before needing replacement. Latex pillows are the most durable.
However, if your immune system is compromised, replacing your pillow frequently could save your life according to research that found dangerous fungi and bacteria in pillows that were six months or older. For someone with a healthy immune system, the microbial organisms would not pose a risk. So if you or a guest is immune-compromised due to organ transplant, HIV, or chemotherapy, pay extra attention to the cleanliness of all the bedding.
Changing your pillows is essential not just because of their loss of structural integrity. Over time, your pads begin to accumulate a build-up of dead skin cells and body oils even with an ideal maintenance schedule.
As a general rule, if you start waking up with extra neck stiffness, day after day, your pillow is likely due for replacement. Same applies for pillows losing their loft, becoming discolored or losing their shape and structure.
To get the best lifetime usage, you want to use clean pillowcases and good pillow protectors at all times.