How to Pick the Right Pillow for Sleeping

How to Pick the Right Pillow for Sleeping

Kim R. McCormick
Mar 17, 2011

I used to just use whatever pillow was around, but at some point in the last year, my brother gave me a memory foam pillow. Thank you, Mike.

Using a good pillow will keep your neck and spine healthy and makes sleep that much more enjoyable. My Tempur-pedic pillow works well for me, but comfort is individual, and there are plenty of options. While it's not quite a pillow version of Maxwell's A Year in Bed, here are some things to consider when you're shopping.

1. Think about how you sleep. No one stays in exactly the same position while zzzing, but we all have a position or two that is comforting and feels best. If you sleep on your side, you'll need a pillow with enough loft to fill the space between your shoulder, neck, and head. If you're a back sleeper, a pillow with a lower profile will cradle your neck. If you're like me and sleep on your stomach, you'll want something thin.

2. Think about what you're sleeping on. Your mattress and pillows should work in tandem. I might not find my Tempur-pedic pillow so comfortable if I weren't sleeping on a memory foam mattress topper.

3. Evaluate filling materials. This is where things can get complicated, because your pillows can be filled with anything from buckwheat to down to polyester. Website Sleeplikethedead aggregates reviews from retailers such as and offers a run-down of each type of filling's pros and cons: the latter include things like clumping and off-gassing. Consumer Reports recommends checking for a tightly woven fabric and compressing pillows to determine their firmness and resilience. You'll also want to take into consideration the care needed for each fill type (Whole Living has tailored suggestions.)

Given that this pillow probably will be up in your face for several hours, having a natural or organic filling can be a healthy option. Consider buckwheat (everyone), kapok (back sleepers), natural latex (side or stomach sleepers), or organic cotton (back or stomach sleepers) or wool (side sleepers). Check out Re-Nest for a helpful comparison of six all-natural pillow fill options.

For me, I like the memory foam because it squishes down thinly enough but is also comfortable when I shift to my side or back. In my humble opinion, it feels more supportive than down, cotton, or latex foam. I don't have a problem with it getting too warm, but it can be pretty firm in cold temperatures and takes a little warming up. I also put a tightly-woven, allergen-blocking zippered cover between the pillow and the case.

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Image: Country Living

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