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Tired of waking up with neck and back pain? A new pillow might help — 12 to shop

Sleep experts fill us in on the best pillows for pain relief and comfortable snoozing.
Sound Asleep: Overhead Waist Up Shot of a Pretty Blonde Woman in Blue Pyjamas Sleeping on a King Size Bed
Rest up! These pillows were designed for every type of sleeper.Getty
/ Source: Today

Whenever we have trouble sleeping, we're likely to immediately point fingers at our mattresses and our sheets. While those both play a role in quality of sleep, there's one other part of your bed that could be the culprit: pillows.

“Your bedshould be something just shy of decadent,” said Dr. W. Christopher Winter, owner of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Virginia and author of "The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It." Along with a comfortable mattress and soft bedsheets, he said a quality pillow is key.

But, most people don’t give a second thought to their pillow — and may be using one that’s decades old. That’s a problem.

“Choosing the right kind of pillow and a supportive mattress helps relax the spine and rejuvenates the body for the next day,” said Sridhar Yalamanchili, a physical therapist at the Atlantic Spine Center in New York.

The perfect pillow depends on the type of sleeper you are. (Back? Side? Allergy-prone?)

Regardless of snoozing position, a pillow should keep your head, neck and shoulders aligned with your spine, advised Dr. Michael J. Breus clinical psychologist and sleep medicine expert from Los Angeles. In order to achieve the perfect alignment, though, different types of sleepers require different types of pillows.

Here’s how to find the perfect pillow for a better night's sleep.

Pillows for back sleepers

If you sleep soundly on your back, look for a pillow that nestles the head at an intermediate height.

Sleep Number PlushComfort Pillow

With over 5,000 five-star ratings, this pillow will quickly become a must-have for your most comfortable sleep at night. It comes in three styles — classic, curved and ultimate — each providing support for different types of sleepers. If you're a back sleeper, you're in luck. Each of these styles is recommended for sleepers like you, according to the brand. The ultimate style of this pillow comes with three removable inserts and the website suggests using two to three of them if you sleep on your back.

Parachute Down Pillow

With almost 1,000 five-star reviews, this Parachute pillow is the luxurious splurge your bed needs. The key to its comfort? Its "supportive-yet-airy quality" that comes from its premium down and feather fibers. While you may gawk at the price tag, one reviewer notes that "like most things in life, you get what you pay for and this pillow is no exception."

Pillows for side sleepers

This position is often recommended by experts. “Side sleeping in a fetal position opens up the spine and relaxes the muscles,” said Yalamanchili.

Side sleepers should choose a firmer, contoured pillow with a wave shape to cradle the head. “These help to maintain the natural distance between your shoulder and head to keep your posture better aligned,” Winter said.

Kohl's The Big One Gel Memory Foam Side Sleeper Pillow

This contoured pillow from Kohl's in-house brand The Big One meets both of Winter's recommendations for side sleepers. It comes with a removable pillow cover that can be washed and the pillow itself is ventilated and made out of gel memory foam that provides "cooling comfort," according to its description.

Anvo Memory Foam Pillow

Yalamanchili also recommended sliding a medium-firm pillow between the knees to ease pressure on the lower back. This Anvo contoured pillow on Amazon provides support through a CertiPUR-certified memory foam interior that caves a bit under pressure.

Pillows for propped-up sleepers

Fall asleep in a chair or stack two or three pillows in order to stop yourself from snoring? Consider a wedge pillow, said Winter. These raise the head and upper body more reliably than stacked pillows, helping to keep airways open and snores at bay. Your sleeping partner, kids, friends, family and neighbors will thank you.

InteVision Foam Wedge Pillow

Prop up with this adjustable wedge pillow from InteVision. With over 6,000 verified five-star ratings on Amazon, its firm memory foam layer gives you enough support while remaining "cushiony and soft." Beyond curbing your snoring habit, it's also designed to help those dealing with acid reflux, post nasal drip, migraines, poor circulation and post-surgery aches.

Healthex Cooling Gel Memory Foam Wedge Pillow

With a 30° inclination and advanced cooling gel memory foam technology, this pillow with an average rating over four stars from Healthex guarantees a soothing, sound snooze. As an added bonus for those concerned about their beauty sleep, this pillow is also crafted to tackle puffy eyes!

Pillows for stomach sleepers

Yalamanchili recommends avoiding this position, if possible. “It causes the natural curvature in the neck and lower back to flatten, putting excessive stress on your neck,” he said.

Yet, there are some pillows that can help reduce this strain. Choose a compressible pillow, which squeezes down into a flatter shape and reduces stress on the neck, Winter advised. You should also be sure to stay away from memory foam, he added. Most people don’t find it appealing when their face sinks into these.

The Belly Sleeper Pillow

Designed specifically with stomach sleepers in mind, this pillow is pre-flattened and sits at just 2.5 inches thick. It's also infused with a temperature regulating cooling gel to keep you and your pillow from overheating throughout the night.

Layla Memory Foam Pillow

Another adjustable option good for stomach sleepers is this premium model from Layla. Its premium blend of open cell memory foam and a breathable poly fiber fill can be stuffed or removed at your own convenience for an optimal thickness and feel.

Pillows for the 'every which way' sleeper

For those who flop around at night — from back to side to stomach — a shredded latex pillow might be best, said Winter.

DreamyBlue Premium Pillow

The DreamyBlue Premium Pillow is fully customizable — just add or remove as much fill as you need until it feels right for your sleeping patterns.

Juvea Talalay Latex Sleeping Bed Pillow

When ordering, you can indicate size, profile and material preferences for this pillow to take home something that will feel comfortable and work for you.

Pillows for the allergy sufferer

When allergies kick in and sinuses start dripping, finding a comfortable sleep position might seem impossible. Changing out your pillow can help. “There are certain materials that tend to accumulate more allergens, like dust mites, in them. Down tends to be the worst,” said Winter. Swap it for a latex pillow, which resists allergen build up.

From Talalay to Dunlop materials, latex pillows can come in varying densities. So, if you find that one is too hard or soft, try another version, Winter advised.

Digital Decor Hypoallergenic Pillows

Made with down alternative fibers, this set of hypoallergenic pillows comes in three different firmness levels for every type of sleeper. It has an average rating of more than four stars from over 11,000 reviewers. One verified five-star reviewer called it "one of the nicest pillows they have ever used."

Coop Home Goods Adjustable Loft Pillow

This pillow from Coop Home Goods is not only hypoallergenic and dust mite-resistant, it's also good for the environment! Made with super soft materials like bamboo-derived viscose rayon and polyester, it's CertiPUR-US and GREENGUARD Gold certified to ensure the safest sleep possible.

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This story was originally published on April 2, 2018.