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Finding that perfect pillow is kind of like finding your perfect partner. The right one will support you, share the bed with you every night, and even go with you on vacation.
There are plenty of things that can make or break a pillow’s fit for you. One of the most important factors is the pillow’s thickness, also called pillow loft. We’re breaking down the most common pillow loft options and how to choose the right one for you.
What does pillow loft mean?
Pillow loft is a measure of the pillow’s height when your head is resting on it. Some pillows may be tall but allow you to sink deeply into them. Others may be shorter but very supportive. Understanding a pillow’s loft is a helpful way to gauge where your head will fall when sleeping on that pillow.
Why does it matter where your head lands? Loft is important when choosing a pillow because it impacts your spinal alignment and comfort level while you snooze.
Ideally, your pillow should maintain the natural alignment of your cervical spine or neck.
Common types of pillow lofts
Pillow loft is typically categorized by these terms:
- Low loft: 3″ thick or less
- Mid loft: between 3″ and 5″ thick
- High loft: more than 5″ thick
How to choose the right pillow loft for you
The right pillow loft will be just the right height to keep your spine aligned. That means the right loft varies from person to person. You may go through some trial and error with different heights and pillow types.
In general, four factors are helpful in determining the best pillow loft for you:
- sleep position
- body type
- mattress firmness
- pillow firmness
Depending on the way you sleep, your head will need different levels of support.
Here are common sleep positions and how they affect your ideal pillow loft:
- Side sleepers: thicker pillows may fill the space under the head and neck
- Back sleepers: a mid loft pillow is recommended to keep your neck from arching back
- Stomach sleepers: low loft pillows won’t provide enough support, opt for mid or high loft pillows
- Combination sleepers: mid-height lofts are a good neutral option when you bounce around between positions
The width of your shoulders is also a factor with pillow loft if you’re a side sleeper. You’ll want to consider a higher pillow lost if you have a broader shoulder width. The greater distance between your spine and the bed, the thicker the pillow loft you should look for.
Also, if you have a heavier body weight, you’ll sink into your mattress more. That means you may want to aim for a lower loft pillow. The opposite is also true.
Your mattress’s firmness also matters when it comes to pillow loft. For example, a firm mattress will likely be the most comfortable with a higher pillow loft.
A softer mattress, on the other hand, might feel better with a thinner or lower pillow loft.
The mattress and pillow should work together to support your neck and spine.
The material inside your pillow is another key factor.
The following pillow materials are more likely to compress down:
- down (feathers)
- down alternative (synthetic polyester)
- polyester (polyester fibers)
So, even if these types of pillows look thick, they may not stay high enough to keep your spine aligned once you lay down your head.
A firmer option is latex or memory foam.
Tips for picking the right pillow
Pillow loft is important, but it isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to finding the perfect pillow for you. Keep these elements in mind before you buy.
- Narrow by pillow material. Do you need a pillow that’s hypoallergenic? Would you like one that stays cool all night long? Understanding the type of material you’d prefer can help point you in the right direction.
- Consider an adjustable pillow. Many brands make pillows that you can customize at home by adding or removing material.
- Look for a trial period. It’s tough to spot the right pillow for you without trying it first. Some brands allow a risk-free trial period so you can make sure it’s a good fit.
Pillow loft is an important factor in finding the right pillow for you. With these tips, and some trial and error, you’ll be on your way to finding your snoozing soulmate in no time.
Desouzart G, et al. (2016). Effects of sleeping position on back pain in physically active seniors: A controlled pilot study. https://content.iospress.com/articles/work/wor2243
Kim HC, et al. (2015). The Effect of Different Pillow Heights on the Parameters of Cervicothoracic Spine Segments. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4623167/
Is your pillow hurting your health? (2021). https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/is-your-pillow-hurting-your-health
Pillow height: How high should yours be? (2022). https://casper.com/blog/pillow-height/
Singh, A. (2022). A guide to healthy sleep positions. https://www.news-medical.net/health/A-Guide-to-Healthy-Sleep-Positions.aspx
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