There’s no disputing that getting a good night’s sleep is crucial. Not only does it affect day-to-day brain performance, mood and health, but not getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis also raises the risk of diseases and disorders, including heart disease, stroke, obesity and dementia, according to the National Institutes of Health.
While having a comfortable mattress and bedding are important, one of the most important things you can do for quality sleep is to have a proper pillow. Sadly, that’s often an afterthought when it comes to putting the bed together (know anyone that’s using a pillow that’s, like, a decade old?).
“Being comfortable, cool, not in pain and breathing well are essential to a good night's sleep,” says Dr. Alex Dimitriu, who's double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and is the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine. “Besides comfort, a pillow plays a significant role in keeping the spine and the airway aligned — and this serves to reduce any discomfort and also ensure optimal airflow for good breathing through the night.”
There are a few factors to consider when it comes to finding the perfect pillow. But for starters, the ideal pillow should keep your head, neck and shoulders in alignment with your spine, advised Dr. Michael J. Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep medicine expert.
“Choosing the right kind of pillow and a supportive mattress helps relax the spine and rejuvenates the body for the next day,” adds Sridhar Yalamanchili, a physical therapist at the Atlantic Spine Center in New York.
Ready to start the journey toward better sleep? Keep scrolling or use the links below to get expert tips on the best pillows for you sleep style.
What to look for | Best budget | Best overall | Best memory foam | Best for side sleepers | Best hotel-style | Best body/pregnancy | Best down | Best down alternative | Best wedge | Best for back sleepers | Best for stomach sleepers | FAQs | Meet our experts
How do I choose what pillow to buy?
When it comes to choosing the best pillow for you, there are a number of important things to consider, including your sleep style, the type of pillow, the pillow fill material and the type of support it offers.
The position you sleep in will dictate the type of pillow that will be best for you, with the overall goal of keeping the spine and neck in alignment.
Side sleepers will want a pillow with a higher loft (height) to avoid straining their neck. Back sleepers should find a pillow that’s supportive without pushing their neck forward. Stomach sleepers will want a medium level of firmness with a lower loft for a comfortable neck angle. The goal is to find the sweet spot of alignment and pressure point reduction.
Pillows come in a range of sizes and shapes, and choosing the best one for you will come down to bed size, sleep positions and personal taste:
- A standard-sized pillow measures 20 by 26 inches and is your basic pillow. It will work for any sleep position depending on the fill. Use one pillow on a twin-sized bed or two on a full- or queen-sized bed.
- A queen pillow measures 20 by 30 inches, and while it still uses a standard pillow case, it will fit tighter. It’s ideal for a queen-sized bed.
- A king pillow is also for any sleeper. and at 20 by 36 inches, it's ideal for a king-sized bed.
- The square 26 by 26-inch European pillow is typically placed in a sham and is decorative.
- A body pillow is typically 20 by 54 inches and is a nice addition for side sleepers to place between their legs for hip alignment. It’s also great for those with joint pain or who are pregnant.
- Pillows may also come in different shapes, like a wedge or cervical, which can be positioned to alleviate pressure points.
The fill material used inside of a pillow will affect the pillow performance significantly:
- Natural fill pillows are filled with feathers and down and are the softest type of pillows.
- Down pillows will conform to the shape of your head, but they’re not the best choice for allergy sufferers. The higher the fill power, the more down is stuffed inside and the firmer the pillow will be — but this option is also one of the priciest.
- A synthetic-fill pillow, by comparison, is usually the cheapest option, with the lowest-priced options only costing a few dollars. They are filled with inexpensive synthetic fill but are machine-washable. They generally don’t conform to the head, however, and wear out fairly quickly.
- Poly-cluster fill pillows use polyester clusters coated in silicone; they feel like down but are hypoallergenic (bonus: they’re cheaper than down pillows, too).
- Memory foam is another popular choice, because the weight of your head will change the shape of the pillow — so no matter what position you’re in, the pillow provides a comfortable position.
- Hot sleepers may want to get a pillow made with cooling fabric, and if the pillow comes with a label that certifies Greenguard Gold and CertiPUR-US, the products will be free of harmful levels of toxic materials.
The goal when searching for a pillow is having your spine in alignment, according to your sleep position. That means stomach sleepers will want to choose a soft pillow; side sleepers will want to choose a medium to firm pillow; and back sleepers will want a soft to medium-firm pillow.
The loft, or height, of a pillow is also a factor. Pillows with either too high or too low a loft will put a strain on the neck, so look for one that allows your neck to be neutral.
Best budget pillow
Sleepers who don’t want down fill or memory foam are in luck with this pillow. It's stuffed with synthetic fill and is both machine-washable and easy on the wallet. If you’re not quite ready to get over the sticker shock and splurge on a Coop Original (or just need a decent-yet-affordable pair for the guest room), this is a great option.
The Amazon Basics pillow won't overheat or leave you sleep-sweaty, and it has loft and support but a good amount of softness and give, so it won't flatten out or crumple up like other cheap pillows sometimes do. For such a low level of commitment, price-wise, this is a great option for any sleeper.
Material: Polyester, microfiber | Filling: Down alternative | Firmness level: Plush | Shape: Rectangular | Care: Machine-washable
Best overall pillow
Don’t let the higher price tag on The Original throw you — thousands of people who've purchased this pillow rave that it is the best pillow they’ve ever owned: The majority of the 54,000 Amazon reviews are five-star.
The Original is fully adjustable and can be customized to your preferred firmness and loft level. It is Greenguard Gold and CertiPUR-US certified and machine washable. It's filled with memory foam that the user can add or remove to their specifications. (It comes with an extra bag of memory foam if you need to add more.)
The pillow case is made with the brand's proprietary Lulltra fabric, a hypoallergenic and dust mite-resistant material that’s soft, breathable and made from bamboo-derived viscose rayon and polyester. Bonus: It comes with a 5-year warranty. The Original is ideal for any type of sleeper, since the pillow can easily be adjusted for optimal spinal alignment.
Material: Bamboo-derived viscose rayon and polyester | Filling: Memory foam, microfiber | Firmness level: Variable (custom fill) | Shape: rectangular | Care: Machine-washable
Best memory foam pillow
The aptly named Casper Foam Pillow is made from three breathable layers of foam with varying densities, each featuring tiny channels to circulate air. The pillow offers a firm level of support with cooling capabilities to ensure sleep without overheating.
Buyers on Casper’s own site benefited from taking a sleep questionnaire before purchasing to find the pillow best suited to their sleep needs. Reviewers say the pillow is life-changing and report they have improved sleep, calling it a must-buy item.
Material: Jersey | Filling: Polyurethane foam | Firmness level: Firm | Shape: Rectangular | Care: Cover is machine-washable
Best pillows for side sleepers
This gel memory foam pillow is designed for side sleepers, who should choose a contoured pillow to cradle the head, maintain the natural distance between the shoulder and head, and keep posture aligned. Made by Kohl’s in-house brand, The Big One, it features a removable cover that is machine-washable, while the pillow itself is made from a ventilated gel memory foam that provides “cooling comfort,” according to its description.
Associate SEO editor and side sleeper Kamari Stewart says this is her favorite — so much so that she says it's the only pillow she's slept on in the past three years. "My neck and shoulders are kept in alignment. After constant use, it's even maintained its firmness, so I'm not worried about having to buy another one any time soon," she adds.
Material: Polyester | Filling: Gel memory foam | Firmness level: Firm | Shape: Contoured rectangle | Care: Machine-washable cover
Best hotel-style pillow
If some of the best nights of sleep you’ve had have been in hotels and you want to recreate that at home, turn to FluffCo. The brand's specialty is hotel bedding, and their down alternative pillow is the same one you’ll find in luxury hotels around the world. One of their bestsellers, this pillow was designed based on their down and feather hotel pillow, but instead using 100% vegan down-alternative microfiber and an organic cotton cover.
Material: Cotton | Filling: Down alternative | Firmness level: Firm | Shape: Rectangle | Care: Machine-washable
Best body and pregnancy pillows
Body pillows are ideal for side sleepers, pregnant women, those who would like extra joint support (and those who snore). That's because these long, often rectangular-shaped pillows can help with spinal alignment and provide support and a more comfortable position.
The Snuggle-Pedic is filled with shredded memory foam that responds to the body, provides a medium-firm density and won’t flatten out under your weight. The pillow and its bamboo-rayon cover are machine-washable, and the pillow has both CertiPUR-US and GreenGuard Gold certifications. Best of all, the pillow won’t break the bank.
Material: Bamboo rayon | Filling: Shredded memory foam | Firmness level: Medium-firm | Shape: Rectangle | Care: Machine-washable
Best down pillow
Down’s giving qualities make it a great choice for back sleepers: The head’s weight will compress the feathers and prevent the pillow from having too high a loft. Having too low or too high a loft will leave the neck out of alignment, but a medium loft — thanks to a down pillow — will help alleviate that.
Though some may balk at the price tag of this Parachute pillow, its more than 1,000 five-star reviews speak louder than words — this pillow is the luxe splurge your bed needs. Filled with supportive yet airy high-quality, premium down, it’s also OEKO-TEX Standard 100 Certified, so it’s been rigorously tested against a list of 350 toxic chemicals.
Material: Cotton sateen | Filling: Down | Firmness level: Soft, medium or firm | Shape: Rectangle | Care: Dry clean or machine-wash cold, dry with dryer balls
Best down alternative pillow
The down alternative pillows made by Digital Decor are made with hypoallergenic down-alternative fibers, so you can have the feel of down without suffering from your allergies. They come in three firmness levels so they can work for any type of sleeper. It has an average rating of over four stars (plus the pillow comes in a set of two and is super affordable, making them the perfect guest room pillow) with one verified five-star reviewer calling it “one of the nicest pillows they have ever used.”
Material: Cotton | Filling: Polyester, down alternative | Firmness level: Soft, medium, firm | Shape: rectangle | Care: Machine-washable
Best wedge pillow
Wedge pillows are ideal for back sleepers who want to elevate themselves to stop or reduce snoring, mucus, back pain or acid reflux. It’s also great for those recovering from surgery.
While there is some risk of rolling off or the wedge causing back pain if too inclined, wedge pillows are usually a great addition to your bedding setup. InteVision’s adjustable wedge pillow has thousands of five-star ratings on Amazon; its foam layer provides support while remaining “cushiony and soft,” according to reviewers.
Material: Bamboo rayon | Filling: Gel memory foam | Firmness level: Firm | Shape: Wedge | Care: Machine-washable cover
Best pillow for back sleepers
Back sleepers, rejoice: Your sleep position is the best for your back and offers the most spine support. Using the same proprietary gel grid technology that have made Purple’s mattresses industry bestsellers and some of the best-quality choices on the market. (See: Our writer's rave full review on her Purple pillow.)
The Purple Harmony may be on the pricey side, but that's because it features a latex layer wrapped in breathable mesh material; that makes the pillow supportive but not too firm, and it prevents overheating. The pillow comes in three different loft choices, but back sleepers will want to choose the lowest loft to keep the spine aligned. It has a one-year warranty and is also Clean Air Gold and CertiPUR-US certified.
Material: Mesh | Filling: Latex | Firmness level: Medium | Shape: Rectangle | Care: Machine-washable cover
Best pillows for stomach sleepers
At just 2.5 inches thick, this pillow was designed specifically with stomach sleepers in mind. It’s pre-flattened, so stomach sleepers won’t have to break in a pillow to get a lower loft. Plus, it’s made from temperature-regulating cooling gel encased in memory foam, which gives you a plush pillow that won’t leave you feeling overheated.
Material: Bamboo and polyester | Filling: Memory foam and gel | Firmness level: Medium-firm | Shape: Rectangle | Care: Removable cover is machine-washable
Questions about pillows, answered by experts
We wanted to get an expert’s take on some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep and how having the right pillow can help, so we picked the brain of Dr. Alex Dimitriu, a doctor who's double-certified in psychiatry and lseep Medicine. He's also the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine. See his answers to your top questions, below.
What factors that most affect sleep quality should people consider when shopping for a pillow?
“Important factors to consider: breathable fabrics that are also on the cool side and do not trap heat (natural fibers). Beyond the material, the size and shape of the pillow are significant factors to consider and will depend on the type of sleeper. The end goal, whether you sleep on your side, back or stomach, is to keep the neck as straight and in line with the spine as possible.
“Back and stomach sleepers fare better with smaller pillows, while side sleepers benefit from a larger pillow. Ideally, have someone look at your spine and neck while in your natural sleeping position, and make sure things are lined up.”
What is the most important benefit a pillow can add to the bedding situation?
“A pillow works well when it compliments both the type of sleeper as well as the firmness of the mattress. If a mattress is soft, the body tends to sink in more, and the pillow can easily become too big or too high up, so a smaller pillow may work better with a soft mattress (remember alignment!).
“With a harder mattress, you sink in less and the head is naturally higher up, so a larger pillow would offer better support.”
How often should a pillow be cleaned? How often should it be replaced?
“Some say as often as every six months, and it may depend on the material composition of the pillow. Allergy sufferers may want to change pillows more often. Some materials may lose shape [or] firmness over time, so this is worth watching and changing the pillow when things feel out of alignment.”
Beyond pillows and bedding, how else can people improve their quality of sleep?
“It's essential to note that besides concentrating solely on pillows and bedding, regular healthy sleep habits can go a long way to improving sleep. Get a great pillow and mattress [and] cool, comfy, breathable sheets, but also make sure to go to bed and wake at roughly the same time each day. Wind down in the evenings before bed, and allow at least an eight-hour opportunity for sleep (most people do fine with seven).”
Meet our experts
- Dr. Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM, FAASM, is a clinical psychologist and sleep medicine expert. He's also a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Breus is based in Manhattan Beach, California.
- Dr. Alex Dimitriu, MD, is double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine, and is the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine. Dimitriu is based in California.
- Sridhar Yalamanchili, PT, MSPT, Cert. MDT, is a physical therapist at the Atlantic Spine Center in New York.