How To Choose Your Next Pillow

Key Points

  • A good pillow is essential for a restful night's sleep

  • Consider factors such as sleep position, personal preferences, and health concerns when choosing a pillow.

  • Different pillow types, such as memory foam, down, latex, and hybrid, offer unique benefits and considerations.

A good pillow is essential for achieving a restful night's sleep. The ideal pillow should provide support and comfort for your head and neck, helping to maintain proper spinal alignment. A low-quality pillow often leads to discomfort and pain and even contributes to sleep issues like snoring and sleep apnea. Investing in a good pillow makes a significant difference in the quality of your sleep.

When selecting a pillow, consider factors such as your sleep position, personal preferences, and any specific health concerns you may have. The best pillows have the right level of support and align with your individual sleep needs.

girl laying her head on a pillow

How To Choose a Pillow

Choosing the right pillow is a bit of a Goldilocks situation — you don't want something too firm or too soft, too thick or too thin. You want something that's just right.

Comfort is king. TMJ and sleep specialist Dr. Michael Gelb says, "If you cannot get comfortable in any position, it might be time to get a new pillow." Here are some key factors to consider when selecting a pillow.


Determine your budget for a pillow and look for options within that range. Keep in mind that higher-quality pillows tend to be more durable and offer better support, but they may also come with a higher price tag. On the other hand, just because a pillow is more expensive doesn't necessarily mean it's better for you. However, setting a budget is a good place to start.

Sleeping Position

Your preferred sleeping position plays a significant role in choosing the right pillow. Different sleep positions require different levels of support.

  • Side sleepers: Look for a pillow with medium to high loft (thickness) to fill the gap between your shoulder and head, providing proper spinal alignment.

  • Back sleepers: Opt for a medium-loft pillow that supports the natural curvature of your neck and keeps your head in line with your spine.

  • Stomach sleepers: Choose a low-loft pillow to prevent excessive bending of your neck, though some stomach sleepers don't use any pillows at all.


The loft refers to the height or thickness of the pillow. Consider your body size, sleeping position, and personal preferences when selecting the loft. Some pillows come with adjustable loft options, allowing you to customize them to your desired height.


Pillow firmness is a matter of personal preference. Some individuals prefer a soft, plush pillow, while others prefer a firmer, more supportive one. Consider factors such as your body weight, sleep position, and any specific neck or back issues you may have when selecting the level of firmness.

Pillow Size

Consider the size of the pillow you choose. Standard-size pillows are the most common, while queen and king-size pillows provide extra room for your head and support. Pick the size that suits your preferences and fits your bed and pillowcases well.

Memory Foam Pillows

Memory foam pillows have revolutionized the sleep industry with their ability to contour to your body shape, providing personalized support and pressure relief. Made from viscoelastic foam, these pillows respond to heat and pressure, molding themselves to the unique curves of your head and neck. Memory foam pillows are often a single block of foam or made of shredded memory foam.

If you suffer from neck pain or backaches or simply prefer a pillow that adapts to your body, a memory foam pillow might be ideal for you. Look for pillows with a medium-to-high density to ensure sufficient support, and consider options with cooling technology if you tend to sleep hot. However, foam pillows, like foam beds, sleep hotter than other options regardless of manufacturer claims.


  • Contour to your head and neck for personalized support

  • Excellent pressure relief for those with neck and shoulder pain

  • Retain their shape and provide consistent support throughout the night

  • Available in various shapes and sizes for different sleep styles


  • Can retain heat, leading to potential discomfort for hot sleepers

  • Some memory foam pillows have an initial odor that requires airing out

  • May feel too firm or dense for individuals who prefer a softer pillow

  • Limited bounce and fluffability compared to traditional pillows

Down Pillows

When you think of pillows, soft, fluffy, luxurious down pillows probably come to mind. Filled with the fine, insulating feathers found beneath the tough exterior feathers of ducks or geese, down pillows provide exceptional comfort and breathability.

When selecting a down pillow, consider the fill power, which measures the loft and quality of the down. Higher fill power indicates better quality and superior insulation. Additionally, while down allergies are sometimes overstated, down can harbor dust mites which aggravate allergies.


  • Lightweight and fluffy, providing a cozy sleeping experience

  • Good breathability, keeping you cool during sleep

  • Durable and long-lasting when properly cared for

  • Can be easily fluffed and reshaped for desired loft


  • Expensive compared to other pillow options

  • Feathers may poke through the cover, causing discomfort

  • Requires regular fluffing to maintain optimal loft

  • May lack the support needed for some sleep positions

Latex Pillows

For those seeking natural materials and excellent support, latex pillows offer a unique combination of comfort and sustainability. Made from the sap of rubber trees, latex pillows provide resilient support and exceptional durability. Latex pillows can either be a single block of latex or made of shredded latex fill.

Look for latex pillows derived from 100 percent natural latex without any synthetic additives. Talalay latex and Dunlop latex are two different manufacturing processes for creating latex foam. Talalay latex has a lighter and more consistent feel, while Dunlop latex is denser and firmer. These pillows are particularly suitable for sleepers with allergies, as latex naturally resists mold, dust mites, and other common allergens.


  • Natural and eco-friendly material

  • Resistant to mold, dust mites, and other allergens

  • Durable and retains shape over time

  • Good breathability, keeping you cool and comfortable


  • Can be heavy and less malleable compared to other pillows

  • May have a slight rubbery odor initially

  • Limited options available compared to other pillow types

  • Not suitable for individuals with latex allergies

Hybrid Pillows

Hybrid pillows offer a unique combination of materials to provide the best of both worlds when it comes to comfort and support. These innovative pillows often feature a blend of different fillings or layers, such as memory foam, microfiber, or natural fibers, to cater to individual sleep preferences.

The design of hybrid pillows aims to provide the benefits of various materials in a single pillow. For example, a hybrid pillow may have a memory foam layer for contouring and pressure relief, combined with a microfiber or down alternative layer for added plushness. This combination allows sleepers to enjoy personalized support and comfort tailored to their specific needs.

Hybrid pillows address a range of sleep concerns. They offer the support and alignment needed for those with neck and shoulder pain, while also providing a soft and cozy surface for enhanced moldability. The versatility of hybrid pillows makes them suitable for various sleep positions.


  • Combination of different materials for personalized support and comfort

  • Can address a range of sleep concerns, such as neck and shoulder pain

  • Versatile design suitable for various sleep positions

  • Often provide a balance between contouring and plushness


  • May have a different feel compared to pillows made of singular fillings

  • Individual preference for specific materials may vary

  • Availability of hybrid pillows may be limited compared to other options

Buckwheat Pillows

Buckwheat pillows have become popular for their unique combination of natural, sustainable materials and customizable support. The eco-friendly buckwheat hull filling contours to your head and neck, providing tailored alignment.

These pillows offer benefits like adjustable loft and firmness, making them suitable for all types of sleepers. Buckwheat hulls also have natural air pockets that encourage breathability and cooling, aiding those prone to overheating at night. The durability of the hulls ensures buckwheat pillows last longer than synthetic alternatives, reducing the need for frequent replacements.

However, they may not suit everyone. Their initial firmness can be discomforting, they can be noisy, and they may have a distinct, though typically temporary, earthy odor.


  • Customizable support and firmness by adding or removing buckwheat hulls

  • Suitable for various sleep positions, accommodating back, side, and stomach sleepers

  • Natural air pockets promote excellent airflow, keeping the pillow cool and breathable

  • Eco-friendly and sustainable, as buckwheat hulls are a renewable resource

  • Durable and long-lasting, reducing the need for frequent replacements


  • Initial firmness may require an adjustment period for some users

  • Can be noisy as the hulls shift, which may disturb light sleepers

  • May have a distinct earthy odor, especially when new, though it dissipates over time

Specialty Pillows

Specialty pillows, unlike traditional ones, are designed for targeted support and comfort, aiming to alleviate pain and enhance sleep quality. These versatile pillows, available in various shapes and designs, cater to distinct sleep needs.

Key types include cervical pillows for neck and spine support, reducing pain and sleep-related spinal issues. Pregnancy pillows offer expectant mothers comfort by alleviating lower back and hip pressure. Wedge pillows, benefiting those with acid reflux or respiratory concerns, elevate the upper body. Lumbar pillows aid those with lower back pain while cooling pillows provide a regulated temperature for hot sleepers.

Selecting the ideal specialty pillow involves assessing your individual sleep needs and considering the pillow's unique features, materials, and support levels.

  • Targeted support for specific sleep concerns and comfort needs

  • Alleviates pain and discomfort associated with certain sleep positions

  • Provides relief for specific conditions, such as acid reflux and pregnancy discomfort

  • Innovative designs and materials cater to different sleep preferences

  • Enhances sleep quality and overall well-being with customized comfort


  • Some pillows may require an adjustment period to get used to their unique shape and support

  • Limited availability and options for certain specialty pillows

  • Specialty pillows may not be suitable for individuals with varying sleep preferences

  • Finding the right specialty pillow that fits individual needs may require research and testing

The Importance of a Pillowcase

Pillowcases play a vital role in protecting your pillow while adding a touch of style to your bedding ensemble. These covers offer a protective barrier, keeping your pillow clean and hygienic. Additionally, pillowcases provide a soft and comfortable surface for your face and head, enhancing your sleep experience. They also contribute to the overall aesthetics of your bed, allowing for personalization and coordination with your bedroom decor.

However, it's important to consider certain factors when selecting a pillowcase. Some pillowcases may shrink or wrinkle after washing, affecting their fit and appearance. Lower-quality options are prone to tearing or pilling, diminishing their durability. Additionally, certain fabrics may cause friction and lead to hair tangles during sleep. It's crucial to choose the right size to ensure a proper fit for your pillow, as ill-fitting pillowcases can be uncomfortable and disrupt your sleep. Keep in mind that silk or satin pillowcases may slide around on the bed, requiring occasional adjustments.

How To Take Care of Your Pillow

Proper maintenance and care are essential for extending the lifespan of your pillow and ensuring optimal performance and comfort. Regular cleaning maintains a fresh and hygienic sleep environment by preventing the buildup of allergens, dust mites, and bacteria. Different pillow types have specific cleaning requirements, so it's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions for washing and drying. While some pillows can be machine-washed and dried, others may require spot cleaning or professional laundering.

Make sure you know how to properly wash your pillow, and avoid following any TikTok cleaning "hacks." As reported by Yahoo on July 26, 2023, a recent TikTok video recommends soaking your pillow in hot water mixed with other ingredients like detergent, baking soda, and lemons, but experts say this isn't effective. It's always best to follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions.

In addition to cleaning, regular fluffing and reshaping are necessary to retain the pillow's loft and support. This prevents the pillow from becoming flat or lumpy over time. Pillows made with natural materials, such as down or feathers, may benefit from occasional sun exposure to help freshen and revitalize the fill.

However, even with proper care, pillows eventually wear out and lose their supportive qualities. As a general guideline, it's recommended to replace pillows every one to two years or as needed, considering factors such as hygiene or changes in sleep preferences.

pillow on a grey background

Your Pillow Matters

Choosing the right pillow is crucial for a restful night's sleep. Consider factors such as sleep position, personal preferences, and health concerns when selecting a pillow. Whether you opt for memory foam, down, latex, hybrid, or specialty pillows, prioritize your unique sleep needs. Invest in a high-quality pillow, and wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day.

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