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Getting a good night’s sleep starts with the basics, like the right mattress, sheets, blankets, pillowcases and, yes, pillow for you. There are a lot of options out there, from established brands you can find on the big sites to startups you see advertising the latest in pillow innovation on Instagram and Facebook, and it can get overwhelming.
“Sleep is when the body restores itself,” says Dr. Blake Dircksen, doctor of physical therapy at Bespoke Treatments. “Our circadian rhythms coordinate a symphony of hormones, brain waves and bodily processes that facilitate growth, learning and repair. If the quality of sleep is impaired, so too is that restorative process.”
“Chronic back and neck pain can develop simply by sleeping in a position that doesn’t support our natural spinal curves,” adds Derrell Blackburn, senior manager of chiropractic relations and training for The Joint Chiropractic. “Although we all have our own preferences when it comes to firm or soft pillows, it is important to keep in mind how that pillow will affect a great night’s sleep and the long-term health effects.”
Of course, Blackburn emphasizes, “The quality of your sleep is always more important than the type of pillow you are using.”
Thankfully, if you’re not sure where or how to rest your head tonight, we’ve got some answers from experts for all types of sleepers, including different sleeping positions, hot sleepers, pregnant sleepers and many more.
Keeping your head up and your spine straight is key here, says Blackburn. “For side sleepers, to protect your spine, the most important consideration is the width of your shoulder,” he says. “You want a pillow that is the same width of your shoulder so your spine remains neutral throughout the night.”
With three choices — plush, mid-plush and firm — you’ll be sure to find the right plushness to keep your spine straight, and it’s available in two sizes. The firm level is recommended specifically for side sleepers since it ensures your head doesn’t dip and your spine is straight, while the plush is recommended for stomach sleepers (whose section is below).
With an “overstuffed” option that’s ideal firm-seeking side sleepers, you can adjust the amount of filling in each one of these pillows too. Plus it comes with a removable zipper cover for hot sleepers.
“For stomach sleepers, the pillow considerations will be similar to the back sleepers because you don’t want your head elevated, so a flatter pillow is ideal,” explains Blackburn. “A key consideration for stomach sleepers is which side your head is turned to. Although 90 degrees rotation is natural, you do not want your head turned one way for an extended period of time, so switching which side your head is turned is important.”
At just 2.75 inches in height, this pillow is one of the slimmest pillows on the market. As one reviewer raves, “If you are like me and as a back and stomach sleeper prefer to have your spine stay in alignment rather than your neck being bent all night, this pillow is amazing.”
These ultra-slim pillows start at just 2.25 inches in height and are made of memory foam, which offers medium-firm support without being too high for stomach sleepers. The foam is infused with gel meant to cool down hot sleepers as well.
Blackburn says back sleepers should stick to the most natural position possible. “When sleeping on your back, it can help to keep the head, neck and spine aligned and in a neutral position, with one pillow that is practically flat so our head isn’t elevated for an extended period of time,” he says.
“Finally, the perfect soft pillow,” raves one reviewer of this super-soft pillow, which is filled with European white down that can be flattened down for back sleepers.
From $85 at Tuft & Needle
For back sleepers, flatness is key. This flatter-model foam pillow is just as supportive and soft, and is designed to sleep cool.
Both soft and firm, the first pillow from the original direct-to-consumer sleep brand is ultra soft as well, meaning your head is cradled inside with the pillow flat underneath you.
“As the pregnancy progresses, there are biomechanical or structural changes to support the changes in posture and in preparation for labor,” says Blackburn. “Therefore, along with a pillow for the neck to keep the spine neutral, you want to have a pillow between the knees while side sleeping that keeps the pelvis as neutral as possible, reducing any prolonged strain or tension on the sacroiliac joints.”
One of our all-time favorite body pillows (just check out our glowing review here), Yana is a great pregnancy, body and just everyday pillow, largely because it’s one of the only pillows out there that hugs you back. A necessity for us now, to be honest. Use our code CNNSLEEP to get 20% off sitewide through March.
With squishy support and a breathable cover, this body pillow’s shape can change according to the owner’s sleeping style, with reviewers even noting that it’s squishy enough to make sure you have just the right amount of support along your neck, knees and belly.
“Best sleep ever,” raves one reviewer. “I highly recommend this pillow and think I would still enjoy it even if I wasn’t pregnant.”
The shape of this pillow, which has one end thinner than the other, makes it so you can choose between a flatter, softer pillow up top or a larger, firmer one, just depending on your sleep style.
This super-long body pillow (a whopping 58 inches) offers support for both pregnancy and breastfeeding, with one reviewer writing, “It instantly made me feel comfortable, like I didn’t have to haul my whole body around 17 times to try to get comfortable enough to sleep.”
The length makes it great for taller people, and people who want extra support around their heads, legs or both.
Ever arrived at a relative’s house or rental cabin and found that your trip was nearly ruined by a poor night’s sleep due to terrible pillows? Pack one of these travel pillows and sleep comfortably all night long.
Our pick for the best travel pillow of the year, the Cabeau Evolution S3 is the Goldilocks of travel pillows: We found it firm enough to support our head and neck, soft enough to fall asleep on and perfectly portable, thanks to its being made of springy memory foam that enables you to compress it to half its size.
Perfect for trips where you’ll be stopping in multiple locations, this high-rated pillow with more than 4,000 5-star reviews gives you the place to lay your head, and it’s a cinch to pack with its own carrying case that creates a mini pillow too.
In need of extra lumbar support on those long trips? This inflatable number — that shrinks to the size of a deck of cards — will do just that, and its ultra-tiny size compared to lots of other travel pillows is such a plus.
You don’t have to give up comfort when you’re roughing it with this top-rated camping pillow that packs as “small as a potato,” according to one reviewer, which is truly exceptional compared to lots of other travel pillows.
There’s nothing worse than falling asleep in on a plane or in a passenger seat without neck support. If you’ve suffered from these aches and pains, try a neck-supporting travel pillow for your next road trip.
Beloved by frequent fliers, this is more of a supportive wrap that has an adjustable neck support, and this highly rated version features a breathable mesh wrap that makes it so you don’t get too hot or sweaty.
This odd-looking neck pillow attaches to your seat belt, holding it in place for an extremely comfortable nap. An editor here tried it on a long car ride, and as someone who can barely sleep in cars, it was a game changer. Bonus? The top-rated sleep aid rolls up for easy packing.
Packing light? This travel puffer packs away into a traditional horseshoe-style travel neck pillow and comes in three colors.
Cooling pillows for hot sleepers come in a variety of materials like shredded foam, gels and cotton. Look for one that holds in coolness and wicks away moisture.
This well-priced, high-rated foam pillow is infused with a temperature-regulating gel for a cool night’s sleep. You’ll find gel in a lot of these pillows, but we made sure to comb through reviews and make sure that the gel was actually effective in all of these, according to reviewers too.
From the experts at Tempur-Pedic comes this cooling pillow with gel on both sides to keep you cool all night long. What that means is there’s no need to keep turning your pillow through the night, or try to sleep on the one side of the pillow where the gel may be.
The bamboo cover and shredded memory foam make this pillow super breathable, with one happy reviewer writing, “I normally toss and turn all night. I don’t think I’ve moved much since I started using the pillow; it’s absolutely wonderful.”
Down pillows are loved by many for their softness, support and versatility. Whether you like them overstuffed or almost flat (which is great for back and stomach sleepers), unless you’re an allergy sufferer, there’s a down pillow for almost every sleep style.
This top-rated set contains four pillows, meaning they come out to about $16 each in this sale. Reviewers love how the feathers actually stay inside (which is hard to find, if you can believe) and how ultra flat and cool these pillows get.
This luxurious set will make every night’s rest feel like you’re at a hotel. Comprised of mostly goose feathers, you’ll sink right in for a deep night’s sleep.
For allergy sufferers, and those who love a firm pillow, memory foam is a great alternative to down. They come shredded or solid, and there’s definitely one for every type of sleeper since you can often adjust the size of them.
This pillow from Nest is one of the top-rated pillows online, with reviewers raving about the “moldable” shredded foam and “amazingly firm” support, making it particularly great for side sleepers.
Designed to form to the contours of your head for comfort, this pillow is ultra plush, according to reviewers, and elevates your head just enough to keep your spine straight.
Best body pillows
Some of us need extra hip, stomach and knee support to get through the night, and some people just like a big huggable pillow. No matter why you want one, we found some of the most top rated on the market.
This well-priced body pillow, available in multiple colors, receives high marks from shoppers who say it’s squishy, bendable and doesn’t go too flat too quickly. Check the dimensions, though; some taller people have issues with it being a little too short for them.
This snuggly pillow is an Amazon shopper favorite, with one shopper writing, “I gave this pillow to my husband for Christmas, as he needed more comfort when he slept due to some alignment issues with his knee. He LOVES the pillow.”
Best pillows for neck and back pain
Dircksen suggests avoiding softer pillows if you’ve got neck or back pain, explaining, “Sometimes neck and back pain can be mechanical, meaning that the position you’re in can determine the degree of discomfort you’re feeling. As a general rule, it’s important to keep the spine (neck and back) in as neutral a position as possible.
“This may be why foam and latex pillows outperform the feather pillows in research studies when measuring sleep quality,” he continues. “A feather pillow generally loses its shape as you put your head on it, which will result in a slight bend of the neck and subsequent compression.”
Achieve your perfect pillow by adding or removing the shredded memory foam. For people with back problems, the more foam and firmer the better so they can ensure their head doesn’t dip down or bend at an odd angle while they sleep.
Shaped to fit the natural curve of your neck, this allows for ideal back and neck support while you snooze.
When you’re sleeping, your airways can relax and the walls of your throat can vibrate, which can cause snoring. A pillow that puts your head in a better position can really help reduce snoring, according to our experts. Be sure to check with your doctor to make sure you don’t have sleep apnea or another condition.
This pillow raises your head and keeps it in place, preventing your neck and airways from relaxing.
This hypoallergenic wedge pillow provides a gentle inclination that reduces acid reflux, gerd, heartburn, snoring and respiratory issues.