Types of pillows

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A pillow can be as important as your mattress for proper sleep. If you get a great mattress with a terrible pillow, you’re likely to sleep poorly at night. There are a lot of different types of pillows at a variety of price points. Here is a rundown of the types of pillows you can expect to find out there along with some pros and cons of each.

Fiber fill pillows

These are the “basic” type of pillows that use no fancy or expensive materials. It’s just polyester fiber fill. They can be filled to different amounts and the quality of fiber can vary. The quality ranges from the super cheap Target pillows for under 10 dollars up to the Bedgear Position Pillows at about $70. These can also be made to be “down alternative” pillows, which generally means the fibers are shorter and shaped a little differently, which makes the pillow a little more “scrunchable.”

Pros: Inexpensive and breathable.

Cons: Not very durable, and most aren’t as supportive. Side sleepers may need to stack two pillows to get proper neck support.

Down and Feather pillows

These are two related types of pillows I’m combining here. Both down and feathers come from ducks and geese. Down tends to be softer and feathers tend to be sturdier and more supportive. Some pillows will use both. These tend to be a bit more expensive than the fiber fill pillows, but also last a bit longer. Old school feather pillows used to have an issue in which the feathers would come through the sides of the pillows. I still remember being poked in the face by feathers as a kid when I slept at my grandma’s house. Many feather pillows don’t have this issue. They tend to use a “double pillow” construction in which the feathers or down are surrounded by a thicker layer with another material. Pacific Coast Feather Company is one of the big names in these types of pillows.

Pros: Usually soft and “scrunchable” and fairly durable

Cons: Some people may have allergy issues, may need to be “fluffed” to keep its shape, and the cheaper feather pillows might have quills poking you in the face. The ones that won’t do that tend to be more expensive.

Memory Foam pillows

Memory foam pillows are extremely popular and are often good quality as long as you don’t mind paying a little more for them. Some are contoured, some are shaped like regular pillows. Some even have “shredded” memory foam to make it feel a little more like a traditional pillow. Sometimes the memory foam will be infused with gel which tends to keep a slightly more neutral temperature (but don’t be oversold on this point, the effect is usually slight).

Pros: Can come in a variety of firmnesses but are generally very supportive and yet contouring.

Cons: Tend to be expensive, they can’t usually be “scrunched up,” and they tend to sleep a little hotter than some other types of pillows. Sometimes there will be an odor for a couple days.

Latex pillows

Latex pillows are a personal favorite of mine since I have slept on a latex pillow since 2008 and I have four latex pillows in my house. But, what’s right for me might not be right for you. Latex pillows are made of a type of rubber processed to be comfortable and supportive. They can be made to feel either soft or firm and are extremely durable, but they tend to feel a bit “bouncy” which takes some getting used to. If you’re interested in one of these, the Z pillow by Malouf gets good reviews on Amazon. It’s not the brand I sleep on, but I can’t find that one anywhere since it’s 6 years old. The Z pillow seems the closest.

Pros: Can be soft or firm, are extremely durable, hypoallergenic. Tends to keep a much more neutral temperature than memory foam

Cons: Expensive (these tend to be some of the most expensive pillows). The “bouncy” feel is a turn-off for some people. There can be a slight “rubbery” smell for a few days.

Buckwheat pillows

Buckwheat pillows are filled with buckwheat hulls for support. They tend to be quite heavy and have a firmer, supportive feel. They can generally be unzipped and filled with the buckwheat manually, so you can fill the pillow to your desired loft. This one of the only “adjustable” pillows you’ll find.

Pros: Supportive and adjustable. Add or remove height and firmness by adding or removing buckwheat hulls. They also tend to be more temperature neutral.

Cons: May take some experimentation to find the correct firmness, and they just feel quite different than what most people are used to. They tend to be heavy and are the noisiest pillows you’ll find.

How to select the right pillow

Regardless of type, you’ll find hard pillows, soft pillows, thick high loft pillows and thin low profile pillows. Which is best for you? Ideally you’d try out your pillow on the mattress that you have and check for neck alignment, but that isn’t often possible. So, here is a very rough guide to which pillows are best for which people.

In general, side sleepers need the thickest, firmest pillows.

Side sleepers have a larger gap between their head and the mattress to fill to keep their neck in proper alignment. This is particularly true if you have a firm mattress. If you have a very soft mattress such that your shoulder sinks into it, a low profile pillow might work better.

Back sleepers tend to need a thinner, slightly softer pillow. Contoured “neck” pillows are often great for back sleepers because they will fill in the cervical curve in your neck.

Stomach sleepers can sometimes get away with no pillow at all. If a pillow is used, it should usually be a thin, soft pillow. If a stomach sleeper has a pillow too thick or hard, the neck can be pushed backwards at an awkward angle.

I hope this has helped you select the best pillow for you. Please share this with your friends so they can get a better night’s sleep as well.

Disclosure: This site receives a payment from Amazon, 1800 Mattress, or Overstock when you purchase a product using any links to that company in this article.

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Pros and Cons of Latex

What to look for in a set of sheets

Additional resources

 

Questions & Comments

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MattressNerd Says

February 10, 2017 at 5:42 pm

I'd recommend a thicker pillow, especially if you have a firmer mattress or broad shoulders. Memory foam is generally pretty good at contouring to the right thickness. If you don't have broad shoulders and you have a very soft mattress, a medium-thickness soft pillow would be good. Otherwise, a thicker pillow that roughly matches the firmness of your mattress is good.

Yee Says

February 9, 2017 at 9:38 pm

any suggestions for side sleepers?

MattressNerd Says

September 15, 2015 at 8:05 pm

I've never heard of that one. A water pillow is a new concept to me, but I guess it makes sense since waterbeds are a thing. It seems pretty high maintenance for a pillow, though. On the other hand, if it works for you, that's great. Here's my Amazon affiliate link to the product if anybody wants to try it out. (An affiliate link means I'd get a small commission from Amazon if you buy it).

Pam Says

September 15, 2015 at 3:41 pm

I have degenerative disc disease in my cervical spine and had tried dozens of different pillows. I heard about the Mediflow water pillow and tried it and it was great. I bought my first one - and replacements - from amazon.com for about $40. The only con is the weight of the pillow, but the comfort and support is wonderful. I highly recommend for anyone with neck pain that cannot find the right support.

MattressNerd Says

May 4, 2015 at 12:22 am

The right pillow can help. There can sometimes be other medical issues which cause snoring, but for some people, the right pillow does the trick.

Evan Says

May 3, 2015 at 11:51 pm

can a pillow help with snoring?

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