As important as a good mattress, the right pillow is a key factor to a good night’s sleep. Choosing the right one is a personal and often difficult decision, with many variables to consider. But no need to worry. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to make an informed decision about the size, type, and style of pillow that is best suited to you, your specific sleep position, and your personal preferences.

We will go over the various pillow sizes, pillow lofts, and types of pillows that are available, explaining exactly what each of these terms mean and how to decide what options will be best for you. Then we’ll give you our own recommendations for the best pillows, both by material type and sleep position.

Pillow Sizes

Pillow Type Standard Super Standard Queen King Body Toddler
Size 20” x 26” 20” x 28” 20” x 30” 20” x 36” 54” x 20” 14” x 20”
Description The most common size pillow, one standard fits nicely on a twin mattress. Not as common, a super standard provides slightly more width. Two queen pillows fill a queen mattress. Two king pillows fit well on a king mattress. Providing total-body support, body pillows are popular with pregnant women and those with aches and pains. A toddler pillow is a good first pillow for young sleepers.

Pillow Loft – What It Is and What You Need

A pillow’s primary purpose is to keep your head, neck, and spine aligned while you sleep. Sleeping out of alignment can result in discomfort, pain, breathing difficulties, snoring, and generally poor sleep.

To ensure proper alignment, you need the correct pillow loft. Loft refers to a pillow’s height or thickness as it lies flat. How much loft you need depends on several factors.

Sleep Position

Sleep position is an important consideration when determining what pillow loft is best for you. A stomach sleeper typically needs a very low loft. When you sleep on your stomach, your body is lying basically flat on top of the mattress. So you need minimal pillow loft to elevate your head and neck into proper alignment with the rest of your body.

Similar to the stomach sleeper, a back sleeper lies mostly flat on the mattress. So again, not much pillow loft is necessary to properly align the head, neck, and spine in this position.

A side sleeper tends to need a higher loft, as your shoulder is elevating your head and neck. A pillow with higher loft properly lifts your head and neck to bring the rest of the body into alignment. Without the proper loft, side sleepers often resort to bunching pillows or sleeping with an arm propping up their head. A side sleeper might also benefit from a pillow with adjustable or multiple lofts.

Body Size

In addition to sleeping position, it is necessary to consider your own size. The weight of your head will impact what loft you need. In general, a larger head needs a higher pillow loft. A heavier head causes a pillow to sink or collapse more, necessitating a higher loft to begin with in order to keep proper head, neck, and spine alignment. In comparison, a lighter heads needs a lower loft.

Your shoulder width can also affect which pillow loft best suits your needs. This is especially true for side sleepers. If you have wide or broad shoulders and sleep on your side, the space between your head and mattress that is created by your shoulders will be larger. That means you’ll need a higher pillow loft to be in proper alignment. If your shoulders are more narrow, the space between your head and mattress will be less and your pillow loft should be lower.

Overall body weight will play a role in determining your proper pillow loft as well. A heavier sleeper often does well with a lower loft. Remember, the key here is keeping everything in line. Considering that a heavier body presses more deeply into a mattress, you’ll want a lower loft to keep your head lower as well and therefore in the correct alignment. By contrast, a lighter person will not exert as much pressure on a mattress and will therefore sleep higher on top of it. You’ll do well with a higher loft pillow.

Your Mattress

Your mattress itself also plays a part in this equation. The best pillow-mattress combinations are created with both components in mind. A firmer mattress will hold a body up higher. That means you’ll want a higher pillow loft, so that your head and neck will also be held higher. If you sleep on a softer mattress, your body will inevitably sink deeper into the mattress. You will therefore want a pillow with a lower loft, allowing your head and neck to also rest in a lower position to match your body’s.

Pillow Position

The final factor to consider when determining your pillow loft is your usual pillow position. Where you tend to place your pillow – whether under the top of your head, the middle of your head or behind your neck and shoulders – will affect which loft is best for you. If you are most comfortable sleeping with your head only partially on a pillow, you would do well with a higher loft. If you tend to sleep with more of your neck and shoulders on the pillow, less loft is required to be properly aligned.

Pillow Types and Materials

Now that you have an idea of which loft will work best for you, we move on to what type of pillow you need. There are a wide variety of options to choose from and each type of pillow material has its own unique set of properties. The best pillow type for you will depend on your sleep habits as well as your personal preferences. We’ll break down each type here and give you our recommendations for the best pillow in each category.

Down Pillow

Down pillows are filled with the light and fluffy down plumage found on the belly of a goose or a duck. While typical feathers repel water and have a sharp quill, these soft down feathers provide birds with insulation to stay warm.

Down pillows are very soft and typically have a higher loft. A down pillow will allow a sleeper’s head to sink and flatten the pillow to some extent. Oftentimes the down is mixed with a small amount of feather to add firmness.

These pillows are considered expensive. Prices range from $50-$200, depending on the type of down used (goose is typically more expensive than duck) and the percentage of feather added to the down.

Pros: Down pillows are super soft, lightweight and moldable.

Cons: They are more expensive and require dry-cleaning. Odor may be an issue and there is an allergy risk. They may lack the support necessary for a larger sleeper.

Our Favorite Down Pillow: Luxuredown Goose Down Pillow

Feather Pillows

Feather pillows use those typical goose and duck feathers that add firmness to down pillows. The feathers are denser then the down plumage.

Feather pillows are very comparable to down. They also have a high loft and can be flattened and shaped. While they are still very soft, feather pillows do provide a firmer feel then most down pillows. A small amount of down is sometimes added for extra softness.

These pillows range in price from $24-$95, depending on the type of feather used and the percentage of down that is added.

Pros: Feather pillows are soft, lightweight and moldable. They are less expensive than down pillows.

Cons: Quills can poke through the casing. Like down pillows, odor may be an issue and there is an allergy risk. They may lack the support necessary for a larger sleeper.

Our Favorite Feather Pillow: Luxury Goose Feather

Synthetic (Down Alternative) Pillow

Synthetic – or down alternative – pillows provide an experience similar to down and feather pillows without the allergy or odor potential. These pillows are filled with cotton, gel, or polyester fibers that mimic the feel of natural feathers.

These fibers have the same softness as the natural feathers, but are more durable and consistent. This results in a more supportive pillow.

Down alterative pillows are more affordable than the natural options, ranging in price from $10-$45.

Pros: Down alternative pillows are hypoallergenic and less expensive than down and feather options. They are soft with good support.

Cons: These pillows sometimes get lumpy and the loft can wear down over time.

Our Favorite Down Alternative Pillow: Sleep Restoration Gel Pillow

Memory Foam Pillows

Memory foam pillows have a dense filling of polyurethane foam. The classic memory foam pillow featured a single piece of rigid molded foam.  

This memory foam insert allows your neck and head to slowly sink down as it conforms to your specific shape and weight. This customized support and pressure relief is unique to memory foam. The molded memory foam pillows often have a contour shape to account for different preferences and sleeping positions.

These pillows range in price from $30-$90. The foam filling is made with a variety of chemicals. It is important to read labels and confirm that your pillow uses only safe and approved materials.

Pros: Memory foam pillows are soft while still providing excellent support and pressure relief.

Cons: These pillows are heavy and retain heat. They are too firm for some sleepers.

Our Favorite Memory Foam Pillow: Classic Brands Conforma Cushion Pillow

Shredded Memory Foam Pillow

Whereas the classic memory foam pillow has a single piece of molded foam, shredded memory foam pillows are filled with – you guessed it! – shredded bits of the same foam.

These pillows use the same material and offer the same benefits as the classic memory foam pillow. But by using shredded foam pieces, a sleeper can customize their pillow by adding or removing the shredded foam pieces as necessary. Shredded memory foam pillows offer more breathability than the molded foam pillows as well.

Our Favorite Shredded Foam Pillow: Coop Home Goods Adjustable Loft Memory Foam Pillow

Latex Pillows

Latex pillows are filled with a foam that is somewhat comparable to memory foam. The latex foam filling can be made of natural latex, synthetic latex or a blend of both. And like memory foam, latex pillows can be found filled with both shredded pieces or a single molded insert.

Latex has become a popular choice for pillows because it offers both softness and durability, while also providing significant support and pressure relief. It holds its shape well and clumping isn’t usually a problem, even with shredded filling.

Latex pillows range in price from $30-$80. The price will depend on the filling used. Natural latex is generally more expensive then the synthetic alternatives.

Pros: Latex pillows are soft and supportive. They do not retain heat.

Cons: Some sleepers find latex pillows to be too bouncy. They are somewhat heavy.

Our Favorite Latex Pillow: Brooklyn Bedding #BestPillowEver

Adjustable Pillows

Adjustable pillows provide the most flexibility for sleepers who want to experiment with their pillow loft or who often change sleeping positions.

These come in a wide variety of fillings. Many of the pillows mentioned above – from down to shredded latex – can be somewhat adjusted by removing filling. (Bear in mind that could get messy.) Specific components such as support, durability and softness will be determined by the chosen filling.

Pros: Adjustable pillows allow sleepers to find their ideal loft and comfortably use one pillow in a variety of sleeping positions.

Cons: Removing these fillings can be messy and experimenting can be time consuming.

Our Favorite Adjustable Pillow: Nest Bedding Easy Breather

Buckwheat Pillows

Buckwheat pillows are a popular type of adjustable pillow. They are filled with the hard, brown husks that protect buckwheat kernels.

These buckwheat husks are very dense. They provide an extremely firm and supportive feel. The large amount of very small husks makes this pillow breathable, as well as adjustable and moldable. The husks are quite loud, so repositioning during sleep does result in significant noise.

Buckwheat pillows range in price from $25-$125. The price will vary depending on the size of the pillow and quantity of buckwheat hulls included.

Pros: Buckwheat pillows offer good support and plenty of adjustability. They do not retain heat.

Cons: These pillows are heavy and too firm for some. They are quite loud.

Our Favorite Buckwheat Pillow: Beans72 Buckwheat Pillow

Best Pillows by Sleep Position

As we have mentioned throughout this guide, your sleep position plays a big part in your pillow choice. When deciding what is the best pillow for you, it’s important to consider how you most often sleep. Remember, a pillow’s primary purpose is to keep your head, neck, and spine in proper alignment. Keeping your head perpendicular to your shoulders and your neck not bent will help ensure a more comfortable and restful sleep. Because different sleep positions put your body at different angles, different pillows work best for different sleepers. Here are our recommendations for the best pillow for each sleep position.

Best pillow for side sleepers

When you sleep on your side, your shoulder creates a large space between your head and your mattress. In order to keep your head and neck in alignment, it is important that a side sleeper uses a firmer pillow with a higher loft. Without the proper support, a side sleeper often resorts to bunching up a pillow or sleeping with an arm propping up the head.

For side sleepers, we recommend: Nest Bedding Easy Breather

The Next Bedding Easy Breather pillow is an adjustable pillow that allows you to easily experiment with loft height. That makes it a great fit for a wide variety of side sleepers, no matter your shoulder width or body weight. It softly holds the neck and face while also providing proper support.

Best pillow for back sleepers

A back sleeper lies flat on a mattress. The body sinks slightly into the mattress – exactly how much depends on the weight of the body and the firmness of the sleeping surface. This sleeping position requires less loft, only enough to slightly elevate the head. Firmness is often more a matter of a personal preference.

For back sleepers, we recommend: Bear Pillow

The Bear Pillow features a single molded piece of a unique polyurethane foam that blends the properties of latex and memory foam. It offers significant contour and support, yet is also soft and responsive. The lower loft makes it ideal for back sleepers.

Best pillow for stomach sleepers

Similar to a back sleeper, a stomach sleeper is for the most part lying flat on a mattress. Very little pillow loft is necessary, but softness and support are still important to achieve a comfortable sleep. For stomach sleepers especially, it is necessary to note where you typically position your pillow. If you tend to sleep with your body further up on the pillow, you will be most comfortable with slightly more loft. If you sleep with only your head on the pillow, less loft is needed.

For stomach sleepers, we recommend: Coop Home Goods Adjustable Loft Memory Foam Pillow

The Coop Home Goods pillow is filled with shredded memory foam, making it easily adjustable to your specific preferences. This is especially helpful for a sleeper who hasn’t determined exactly how much loft is comfortable for them or someone who might want to experiment with different pillow positions. This pillow uses high-quality foam, which is easily cared for and very durable.

by: Eric Seger