If you ask most doctors, chiropractors, or sleep experts about the best sleeping position, most will recommend sleeping on your side. Side sleeping can be great for keeping your body in alignment and preventing excess pressure on your spine. However, without the proper support, side-sleeping can have the opposite effect, contorting the body in ways that may lead to regular aches and pains.
In this guide, we’ll cover what you need to know about side-sleeping, the different types of pillows that are available on the market, and they key characteristics that side-sleepers should be looking for when buying a new pillow.
You can find all this information in the sections below, or you can click here to jump straight to our recommendations for the best pillows for side sleepers.
Why the Right Pillow is Important for Side Sleepers
About Side Sleeping
Side-sleeping is both the most common and the most well-regarded sleeping position with some distinct benefits and downsides.
It promotes alignment of the body. Side sleeping can help keep the pelvis and shoulders in concordance with one another in a way that keeps the spine straight and free of abnormal or exaggerated curvature.
It reduces snoring: other sleeping positions tend to put pressure on the airway in the back of the throat, and if this airways starts to close, it can cause snoring. Because side-sleeping reduces obstruction of the airway, it can mitigate against chronic snoring.
Alignment can get badly thrown off. While the tendency is for side-sleeping to keep the body in a smooth, straight line, unfortunately, this can get easily thrown out of whack. If the shoulders start to roll in one direction or another, it can torque the lower back. If the key pressure points (hips, shoulders, and neck) are not given adequate support, it can also create misalignment and pressure on the spine. Additionally, some side sleepers struggle with where they can place their arms so that they can maintain circulation.
It can increase wrinkles. By putting more pressure on the side of the face, people who sleep on their side may have a higher propensity for wrinkles.
Spinal Alignment for Side Sleepers
Even though most specialists recommend side sleeping, it’s clear that just being in this position alone is far from enough to make sure that you will wake up rested and ache-free. In order to reap the benefits of side-sleeping, it’s critical that the body have the necessary amount of support. The combination of the right mattress and the right pillow(s) can play an integral role in making sure that the body’s pressure points are accommodated in a way that keeps the body both comfortable and well-aligned. The use of additional support pillows for other parts of the body can also help limit the risk of the body twisting into pain-inducing positions.
Pillow Considerations for Side Sleepers
When you’re shopping for a new pillow, there are a number of different elements to take into account. Some of these are general and apply for sleepers of all types while others are specific to side-sleepers. In this section, we’ll explore both of these categories of pillow considerations.
Considerations Specifically for Side Sleepers
Some of the specific considerations for side-sleepers who are choosing a new pillow include:
Whether to use additional pillows for support of other parts of the body: Beyond just the pillow under your head and neck, extra pillows can help give side sleepers the support that they need. These pillows may include:
- A pillow between the knees: for side sleepers who have issues with lower-back pain, placing a pillow between the knees, especially when curled into the fetal position, can help to reduce pressure on the back.
- A body pillow: a body pillow is a very long pillow that is usually placed parallel to the body. It can be used to help bolster the body, preventing rolling one’s shoulders too far forward or back. Some body pillows are also long enough to be able to provide cushioning between the knees as well. Many people also like using body pillows for the comfort they provide as a pillow to snuggle with and as a way to assist with comfortable arm placement.
Whether you turn over from side to side: Some side sleepers remain on one side through the night while others toss and turn and change sides. If you’re in the latter category, it may be more important to you to have a pillow that is longer — giving you more space to rest your head when you change positions — and quieter when you change positions on it.
Adjustability and moldability: More than sleepers in other positions, side sleepers tend to need more flexibility when it comes to the shape of their pillow. They may need to make minor adjustments to the height or feeling of firmness to make sure that their neck is staying in a straight line with the rest of the spine. As a result, pillow that have a more malleable design tend to be a better fit for side sleepers.
General Considerations for Buying a Pillow
In addition to the specific elements that side sleepers want to consider, there are some broader considerations to take into account as you begin your shopping for a new pillow.
Loft is a way of referring to the height of a pillow. Some pillows are designed so that the loft level changes significantly when you rest your head on it or when you mold the shape of the pillow. For example, down pillows can appear to be thick but don’t maintain this loft when weight is applied to them. On the other hand, some pillows, like a one-piece latex pillow, are likely to maintain most of their loft even when in use.
Side sleepers typically benefit the most from pillows of medium loft because they can help keep the head relatively straight and in-line with the spine. If the pillow is too short or too tall, the neck has to bend, creating more pressure on the neck and spine.
Firmness is a way of describing the comfort feel of the pillow. A more plush or soft pillow is generally less likely to maintain loft, although this not always the case. Some materials, like buckwheat, are naturally more firm than others, like down.
Comfort preferences are inherently subjective, but the majority of side sleepers do best with a pillow of medium firmness as this can provide enough softness and comfort but without causing their head to sink too deeply into the pillow.
A supportive pillow is one that contours to your head and neck in a way that provides appropriate cushioning to keep them from bending or contorting in ways that can cause pain or discomfort.
Side sleepers normally are best-suited for highly-responsive and supportive pillows. These can contour to both the head and neck, which may need different amounts of support.
Pillows don’t usually last as long as mattresses, but it’s still completely reasonable to expect your pillow to last at least a couple of years. During this time, you want your pillow to continue to meet high expectations when it comes to performance and support. Pillows made with quality materials and workmanship, such as in the stitching, tend to hold up better over time.
Durability in a pillow is of particular importance to side sleepers because of their need for a supportive pillow to keep their body aligned. If the pillow starts to give out and fails to support the neck, it can have major repercussions when it comes to aches and pains.
An essential consideration in selecting a pillow is deciding which type of material that you want in your pillow. There are benefits and downsides to each, and there is no one single “best” pillow type.
For side sleepers, almost any pillow type can be used effectively. The two types that typically are usually not the best fit for side sleepers are one-piece latex and one-piece memory foam pillows. Because these pillows are not adjustable, they may not have the right loft or support level that can be offered by other pillow types, including shredded memory foam and latex.
What Types of Pillows Are Available for Side Sleepers?
The choice of material in a pillow can have a tremendous impact on the performance of that pillow. The most common materials that you’ll find include:
These pillows are made with the extremely soft interior feathers from ducks or geese. Some down pillows are 100% down while others have between 75% and 100% down feathers. These pillows are generally durable, lightweight, plush, and highly-moldable.
Because they can be re-shaped to give additional loft without sacrificing softness, down pillows are preferred by many people who sleep on their side. The biggest downsides to down pillows are that they are expensive and in some cases may be so easily compressed that they cannot offer enough support.
Feather pillows also use plumage from ducks and geese, but in these pillows, a much higher percentage of this material comes from the exterior feathers, which are not as soft and airy. The performance of a feather pillow is in many ways similar to down with a high level of malleability and significant softness.
While feather pillows are less expensive than down pillows, they are usually not quite as durable or plush. For side sleepers who want a pillow with a high level of adjustability, feather pillows, like down, can be an excellent option.
Because down is expensive and because it also causes allergy issues for some people, synthetic textiles have been developed to try to mimic the feeling of down. These pillows are generally made with polyester or cotton or a blend of the two. They tend to be very moldable but may have more of a tendency to lumpiness than traditional down. At a more affordable price point than down, though, these can be a good choice for side sleepers.
This material, also known as viscoelastic foam, was initially developed by NASA and is best known for its high level of contouring. This means that as weight is applied to the foam, it responds to provide an enhanced level of cushioning and support. This support, along with a general feeling of comfort, tends to be the biggest selling point for memory foam pillows. The main downsides for memory foam are that the material can retain heat and may not last as long as other types of pillows. These pillows can be made with just one piece of foam or with many smaller pieces (known as shredded memory foam pillows). The shredded models tend to offer the kind of combination of loft, support, and moldability that is often excellent for side sleepers.
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 responsiveness 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 can be expensive, heavy, and more limited in selection of brands and models. Side sleepers who want a pillow that can contour to their head and neck without too much sink or compression may be well-suited to a latex pillow.
These pillows are made with many small buckwheat husks (the part that surrounds the kernel). These pillows are normally easy to adjust and mold and can offer support without being too firm. The biggest downside to buckwheat pillows is that they are noisy, which can be disruptive in the night if you need to reposition the pillow. Side sleepers who don’t move a lot in the night or who are very sound sleepers may appreciate the adjustability and loft of a buckwheat pillow.
If you’re a side sleeper and don’t have the time or desire to pore over the specifications of the dozens of pillows on the market, this section, which lists our top 5 best pillows for side sleepers, will make finding a new pillow easy. First, you can compare these five options in the table below with each category ranked from 1 (worst) to 5 (best):
|Pillow||Affordability||Durability||Support||Noise||Lightweight||Odor||Ease of Cleaning||Firmness||Adjustable Height|
|Continental Bedding Down Pillow||2/5 ($85)||4/5||3/5||4/5||4/5||3/5||2/5||2/5||4/5|
|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|
|Beans72 Buckwheat Pillow||3/5 ($45)||3/5||3/5||2/5||2/5||4/5||3/5||4/5||3/5|
|Savvy Rest Shredded Latex Pillow||1/5 ($99)||4/5||4/5||4/5||2/5||2/5||3/5||4/5||4/5|
|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|
Keep reading below for more information about each of these pillows, including their benefits and downsides.
This down pillow from Continental Bedding has a history of solid reviews and offers 100% down at a competitive price.
Why?: Down pillows work well for many side sleepers because they can easily be molded, allowing them to be reshaped to support the head and neck. This pillow is offered in two different firmness levels, which helps cater to each individual’s preferences. A 100% down pillow like this one can also be expected to have a long useful life.
Why Not?: A 100% down pillow will struggle to maintain a significant loft because of its propensity to compress. This may require a lot of regular reshaping and fluffing of the pillow, which some people find tiresome. In addition, while this pillow is reasonably priced for 100% down, it is more expensive than most of our other top picks.
The Bottom Line: the Continental Bedding down pillow is a great value for people who want the softness and adjustability of down without having to break the bank.
This shredded memory foam pillow helps provide both loft and adjustability and comes with a 6-year warranty, which helps alleviate some common concerns about durability of memory foam pillows.
Why?: This pillow has a history of strong reviews, and with shredded memory foam, side sleepers can get the kind of neck support that they need. You can also open the zippered cover and remove foam to home in on a loft level that works best for you.
Why Not?: You have to regularly fluff this pillow to keep it from becoming lumpy and from having those lumps feel uncomfortable and stiff.
The Bottom Line: Memory foam is among the most responsive materials available, and this pillow includes a significant amount of this foam at a reasonable price.
The buckwheat pillow from Beans72 gets excellent reviews from verified customers and provides a quality medium-height pillow filled with organic buckwheat husks.
Why?: For side sleepers, buckwheat can offer a unique blend of responsiveness, firmness, and loft. It doesn’t compress as much as other materials, which makes it especially well-suited for people who like a firmer pillow.
Why Not?: Buckwheat is noisy when you move on it or adjust it, and that can prove to be a serious distraction for many people.
The Bottom Line: If you’re not likely to have issues with noise and are worried about sinking too deeply into a foam or down pillow, this buckwheat pillow could be a great choice for you.
This pillow from Savvy Rest uses both Dunlop and Talalay latex, giving it both bounce and responsiveness to help support your head and neck.
Why?: This pillow comes overstuffed with latex, and through its zippered cover, you can remove latex pieces to help set your perfect level of firmness and loft. Shredded latex and its ability to contour without bottoming out can work quite well for side sleepers.
Why Not?: The Savvy Rest pillow is expensive and outside of the budget for many people. In addition, many side sleepers find that they have to remove a great deal of the filling. As a result, they are basically paying for latex that they aren’t using at all.
The Bottom Line: Though it is on the more expensive side, the properties of latex combined with the ability to add or remove latex from the pillow make this product from Savvy Rest one that offers a number of benefits for side sleepers.
This is a pillow filled with a gel-filled fiber that is intended to mimic the feeling of down. It is available at a price point that is accessible to the majority of shoppers and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Why?: A down-alternative pillow like this one can provide a lot of the same benefits of softness and moldability that side sleepers need but without the premium price.
Why Not?: Polyester pillows usually do not have as much durability as other pillow types. They may also not provide enough consistent loft for some side sleepers. Some customers have reported shipping issues with this pillow, notably the pillow arriving with mold spots. However, these reports are rare and would be covered with the 30-day return policy.
The Bottom Line: Though not perfect, this pillow can provide a good mixture of support and comfort at an entry-level price point.