We tend to assume that most people have one set sleeping position — on their side, stomach, or back — that they keep throughout the night, but the truth is that some people change up how they sleep. We use the term “combination sleeper” to describe people who switch between sleeping positions at least once during the night.
Because their requirements for comfort and support can be different in each position, combination sleepers have unique needs when it comes to selecting a pillow.
In this guide, we’ll cover what you should know about combination sleeping, the types of pillows that you’ll find for sale, and the key considerations to have in mind when buying a new pillow. You can find all this in the sections below, or you can click here to jump straight to our recommendations for the best pillows for combination sleepers.
Why the Right Pillow is Important for Combination Sleepers
About Combination Sleeping
Every combination sleeper has a somewhat different profile in terms of the sleeping positions that they use. Some people fall asleep in one position and simply wake up in another. Other people find that they are changing positions regularly through the night and readjusting their body and pillow to get comfortable.
Most combination sleepers have a main or primary sleeping position, and normally this is the same position that they initially fall asleep in.
The benefits and downsides of combination sleeping depend in large part on which sleeping positions are utilized and for how long. The table below gives a brief overview of the pros and cons of the three main sleeping positions.
|Side Sleeping||*Tends to keep pelvis, spine, and neck aligned
*Reduces pressure on airway that can cause chronic snoring
|*May increase risk of facial wrinkles
*Creates pronounced pressure points that require support
|Back Sleeping||*Decreases twisting or contorting of body and spine
*Does not contribute to facial wrinkles
|*Narrows the airway in the throat, which can create issues with chronic snoring
*Airway issues can contribute to sleep apnea
*May create problems with proper neck alignment
|Stomach Sleeping||*Does not obstruct airway or contribute to snoring||*Often causes arching or hyperextension of spine
*Twisting of neck can lead to discomfort and stiffness
*Pressure on face can increase facial wrinkles
Spinal Alignment for Combination Sleepers
In some cases, combination sleepers may be able to get the best of all worlds. By changing positions, they can regularly reposition the body in a way that brings comfort and support and without the stiffness that can come about from being in the same position the entire night.
On the other hand, shifting in the night can create risks for combination sleepers that they will lose proper support and alignment as they transition from one position to another. Having a pillow that works to cushion the neck and align the spine in multiple positions is thus a critical component of promoting high-quality sleep for combination sleepers.
Pillow Considerations for Combination Sleepers
Combination sleepers need to take various factors into account when looking to buy a new pillow. Some of these are unique to combination sleeping while others are more universal and apply to anyone shopping for a new pillow.
Considerations Specifically for Combination Sleepers
A few of the important questions and considerations for combination sleepers include:
- Which sleeping position do you spend the most time in? As a starting point, it can be helpful to determine if you have a preferred or primary sleeping position. If you know that you are going to spend the bulk of the night sleeping in a certain way or that you’re going to try to fall asleep in a specific position, it typically makes sense to prioritize finding a pillow that works best for that position.
- How often do you change positions through the night? If you find that you’re often waking up to adjust your sleeping position and pillow, you likely will want to select a pillow that is more easily re-shaped or molded. You also may prefer a quieter pillow that won’t be noisy to readjust in the middle of the night.
- Do you use additional support pillows? In many sleeping positions, it can be helpful to add an extra pillow or two to cushion the body. For example, side sleepers may place a pillow between their knees to reduce pressure on the lower back, or stomach sleepers may place a pillow under the abdomen or pelvis to improve alignment. Combination sleepers will want to consider any extra pillows that they may want to have on the bed.
General Considerations for Buying a Pillow
Beyond those specific considerations for combination sleepers, there are also general factors that relate to pillow selection in general.
We use the term loft to describe the height of a pillow. Loft can be consistent or variable. A pillow with consistent loft won’t change its shape much when your head is on the pillow. A pillow with variable loft will respond more and shrink when pressure is applied to it. Materials like down and shredded foams tend to be much more variable than materials like buckwheat or one-piece foams.
Most combination sleepers will benefit from a pillow with more variable loft. When sleeping in any position, but especially on your side or stomach, too much loft can misalign the neck from the rest of the spine. More responsive pillows with variable loft can generally be reshaped to provide the right amount of height regardless of your sleeping position.
Firmness describes how hard or soft a pillow feels from a comfort perspective. The type and amount of material used in the pillow has a major impact on the firmness of the pillow, and pillows that are very plush typically also have less loft.
Comfort is extremely subjective, so it isn’t possible to say that there is one ideal firmness for all combination sleepers. However, a more medium-firm feel typically has the widest applicability for sleepers in all positions. As a result, this firmness level tends to be best for combination sleepers. Combination sleepers may also benefit from pillows that are available in different firmness options or with the ability to modify the firmness feel after purchasing.
Support describes the extent to which the pillow promotes the proper alignment of the spine and neck. A supportive pillow will offer the proper amount cushioning to keep the head and neck from contorting in ways that could lead to aches or pains. Materials that are responsive — meaning that they react to the amount of pressure applied — usually are more supportive.
Responsive pillows usually work well for combination sleepers because they can easily adjust to the different ways that the head may be placed on the pillow in different sleeping positions. This can help keep the neck in line with the spine and avoid exaggerating the angle of the neck.
Pillows that are made with high-end materials and a focus on quality craftsmanship are more likely to last and to continue offering support and comfort. Though even high-quality pillows won’t last as long as a mattress, you can still expect to get 2-4 years of use out of most good pillows.
When a pillow starts to break down, it won’t maintain the same level of loft, support, or comfort. For combination sleepers, this can spell trouble as their body may fall out of alignment after shifting during the night. In addition, durability is important for anyone buying a new pillow because it helps to make sure that you get the most value out of your purchase.
The construction of a pillow, specifically the material used to fill it, is one of the single most important factors that affects how a pillow will feel and how it will support your head and neck. Because of this, pillow type is an absolutely critical consideration for anyone looking at buying a new pillow.
We can’t say that there is one best type for all combination sleepers, but in general, pillow types that offer more flexibility and moldability — such as shredded memory foam, down, feather, down alternative, and buckwheat — are most likely to be the best fit. These pillows typically have low-to-medium levels of loft, significant responsiveness, and the ability to be adjusted during the night to accommodate the most appropriate head position.
What Types of Pillows Are Available for Combination Sleepers?
For a quick overview of the types of pillows that are available, check out the table below.
These pillows are made with the extremely soft interior feathers from geese or ducks. Some down pillows are 100% down feathers while others are made with between 75% and 100% down. These pillows are durable, lightweight, plush, and are easily molded into different positions.
Downsides include their high price and their tendency to become lumpy.
Down pillows can be a good choice for combination sleepers because their adjustable loft provides more options for shaping the pillow through the night to suit different sleeping positions.
Feather pillows also use plumage from ducks and geese, but in these pillows, most of the material is from the exterior feathers, which are not as soft and light. The performance of a feather pillow is similar to down with lots of malleability and softness.
While feather pillows are less expensive than down, they are usually not quite as durable. These also tend to have issues with lumpiness and regular need for fluffing.
Given their adjustability and flexible loft, feather pillows can often be viable for combination sleepers.
Because down is expensive and since it can cause allergy issues for some people, synthetic materials have been developed to try to capture a similar feeling and performance. These pillows are generally made with polyester or cotton (or a blend). They are moldable but may have more of a tendency to lumpiness than true down. They also do not normally last as long as down or feather pillows.
Because the feel of a down alternative pillow is very similar to a down with regard to adjustability and moldability, it also can be a good choice for many combination sleepers.
This material, also known as viscoelastic foam, was initially developed by NASA and is best known for its high level of contouring. As weight is applied to the foam, it responds with an enhanced level of cushioning and support. This support, along with a general feeling of comfort, tends to be the biggest benefits of memory foam pillows. The main downsides are that the material can retain heat and may not last as long as other types of pillows. Memory foam pillows can be made with just one piece of foam or with many smaller pieces (known as shredded memory foam pillows).
One-piece memory foam tends to have a lot more loft than shredded memory foam, so it is usually not a good fit for combination sleepers. But shredded memory foam, which is both responsive and moldable, can be an excellent choice.
Latex is a rubber product that can be produced either naturally or synthetically. As with memory foam, latex can be either in one piece or shredded to create a pillow. The properties of latex, which include both contouring and bounce, make these pillows supportive enough for many sleepers while maintaining relatively high levels of loft and firmness. The downsides to latex pillows are that they are often expensive, heavy, and usually there are far fewer models to choose from.
Shredded latex may be viable for combination sleepers but tends to be much pricier than comparable shredded memory foam options. One-piece latex can be an excellent choice for combination sleepers who spend a lot of time on their back as the more consistent loft can be beneficial.
These pillows are made using hundreds of buckwheat husks (the small part that surrounds the kernel). These pillows are easy to adjust and shape and provide support without being extremely firm. The biggest downside to buckwheat pillows is that they are noisy, which can be disruptive in the night if you need to move the pillow.
For combination sleepers who want a bit more loft and who are not likely to be disturbed by the noise of a buckwheat pillow, these can be very comfortable and supportive.
Our Top 5 Pillows for Combination Sleepers
If you’re looking to quickly find a new pillow without having to wade through hundreds of different products, you can start with the table below. It compares our top 5 best pillows for combination sleepers (with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best).
|Pillow||Affordability||Durability||Support||Noise||Lightweight||Odor||Ease of Cleaning||Firmness||Adjustable Height|
|Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow||3/5 ($50)||3/5||4/5||4/5||3/5||2/5||4/5||4/5||4/5|
|Continental Bedding Down Pillow||2/5 ($85)||4/5||3/5||4/5||4/5||3/5||2/5||2/5||4/5|
|Beans72 Buckwheat Pillow||3/5 ($45)||3/5||3/5||2/5||2/5||4/5||3/5||4/5||3/5|
|Sleep Restoration Gel / Down Alternative Pillow||5/5 ($17.50)||3/5||4/5||3/5||3/5||4/5||4/5||3/5||4/5|
|Beautyrest Latex Pillow||3/5 ($48)||4/5||4/5||4/5||2/5||2/5||2/5||4/5||2/5|
Keep reading for more detailed information about each of these best bets for a new pillow for combination sleepers.
This pillow is stuffed with small pieces of memory foam and has a zippered cover that lets you take out foam pieces to adjust the pillow’s loft level.
Why?: Adjustability is a great feature for combination sleepers, and this pillow offers it in two ways. First, the fact that foam can be removed or added allows the height of the pillow to be modified easily. Second, memory foam is a very responsive material, which allows this pillow to be molded in different ways to offer support.
Why Not?: Memory foam can have heat retention issues, and molding this pillow regularly can cause it to feel lumpy if it is not regularly fluffed.
The Bottom Line: For combination sleepers who need responsiveness and support in multiple positions, shredded memory foam fits the bill, and the adjustability of this particular pillow is an added bonus.
This pillow is 100% down, which is the highest quality type of feather material and offers a great deal of moldability and softness.
Why?: Despite being pure down, this pillow can still be purchased for less than $100, making it a value compared to many other down pillows. It is offered in both a firm and regular model, and its ability to be reshaped in real time makes it useful for most combination sleepers, especially those who spend time on their side and stomach.
Why Not?: This pillow may not offer enough loft for people who spend significant time sleeping on their back. Even though it is a good value for a pure down pillow, it may also still be too expensive for many people.
The Bottom Line: Because of its softness, modifiable loft level, and overall durability and quality, a pure down pillow like this offering from Continental Bedding can be an excellent choice for many combination sleepers.
With a history of strong reviews from verified customers, this pillow works well for combination sleepers who want more consistent loft along with responsiveness.
Why?: Combination sleepers who spend more time on their back may like this pillow filled with buckwheat husks as it offers a more stable loft level while still being responsive enough to offer support in other sleeping positions.
Why Not?: Buckwheat makes a good deal of noise when you move on it, which may be disruptive for combination sleepers who change positions a lot during the night. This pillow may also have too much loft for people who spend a lot of time sleeping on their stomach.
The Bottom Line: If you’re unlikely to have issues with noise and want a more consistent, mid-loft pillow, this buckwheat pillow could be a solid choice.
This pillow is made with a gel-filled fiber that shares many similarities to the feeling of down. It is available at an entry-level price and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Why?: A down-alternative pillow like this one is both soft and moldable, which permits combination sleepers to reposition it depending on which sleeping position they are in. The low price also makes this pillow accessible to almost anyone shopping for a new pillow.
Why Not?: A synthetic pillow probably won’t last as long as a down pillow and may not have quite the same super-luxe feel. Some customers have reported receiving finding mold on this pillow when it first arrives in the mail, though this appears to be rare and would be covered by the 30-day return policy.
The Bottom Line: While this isn’t the most luxurious pillow, it provides a softness and adjustability at a price that is accessible to the vast majority of combination sleepers.
For customers who want more stable loft, this one-piece latex pillow from Beautyrest is worth considering, especially because it also maintains responsiveness through the properties of latex.
Why?: This pillow is made with a single piece of aerated latex inside a 300 thread-count cotton cover. Latex is a responsive material, which allows this to still provide support when someone is sleeping on their side. Its more stable loft level also works well for most combination sleepers who spend time on their back.
Why Not?: Consistent loft from this type of pillow is likely to be problematic for combination sleepers who spend time on their stomach. Some customers have also noted odor issues with one-piece latex pillows like this one.
The Bottom Line: This pillow is a no-frills option that can offer comfort and support with more consistent loft that may be preferred by some combination sleepers.