Sleeping on a pillow that doesn’t provide proper support can lead to recurring neck and back pain, and affect your general well-being on a daily basis. Even if you don’t deal with chronic neck pain, picking the pillow that perfectly suits your unique body and sleep habits is crucial to a good night’s rest. But how are you supposed to know which pillow is the right one, and which will leave you with a crick in your neck?
Well, when it comes to alleviating neck pain, neutral spine alignment is the name of the game. Essentially, this means that your head and neck are supporting the natural C-curve of your spine, and are not strained in any way. Of course, everyone’s slumber habits are different, and the kind of pillow you need to maintain healthy posture largely depends upon your go-to sleeping position. So keep reading to learn about my top four pillow picks (all of which I’ve personally tested!).
I’ll note again that this review is intended to be an informational guide for those looking to maintain healthy sleeping posture, and should not take the place of medical advice. If you experience chronic pain, soreness, or discomfort while sleeping, consult a medical professional.
Best for Stomach Sleepers
Pillow Guy Stomach Sleeper Pillow
The cover fabric of this pillow is made from 100% long-staple cotton, and spun into a breathable percale weave. Stuffed with the brand’s proprietary poly-gel fiber, this down-alternative pillow offers a very low loft and soft support, ideal for stomach sleepers.
- The cover fabric is woven from long-staple cotton which makes it extra durable and resistant to pilling. Additionally, it features a cool percale weave which helps dissipate the sleeper’s body heat.
- The poly-gel fiber fill is soft, foldable, and compresses into a very low loft. This is ideal for stomach sleepers, as a low lofted pillow helps to alleviate neck pain when in the prone position.
- The internal fill is hypoallergenic, which might particularly appeal to those with allergies or sensitive skin. Additionally, the entire pillow is machine washable and dryable!
- This pillow provides a soft feel and a very low loft, which I found to be only suitable for stomach sleeping.
- The folks at Pillow Guy describe this pillow as “soft and smushy,” and I can’t disagree! Sleepers looking for a firm feel might want to look elsewhere.
Stuffed with Pillow Guy's proprietary poly-gel fiber, this down-alternative pillow offers a very low loft and soft support, ideal for stomach sleepers.
Best for Side Sleepers
The Layla is a very lofty pillow that’s amply stuffed with shredded memory foam and a natural tree fiber called Kapok. It’s fluffable feel and high profile make it perfect for side sleepers looking to alleviate neck pain, and relieve shoulder pressure as well.
- The cover fabric of the Layla pillow is super soft to the touch, and has copper woven into the material in order to draw heat away from the sleeper’s head.
- The Kapok in this pillow offers a light, fluffable quality, while the shredded memory foam feels more dense and resilient. I found this combination of materials to strike a cozy balance between plush and supportive.
- This pillow features an adjustable fill, which allows you to customize the loft and firmness to your liking. I found this to be particularly useful for side sleeping, as I was able to manipulate the stuffing until I reached perfect spine alignment.
- If you choose to adjust the internal fill, keep the stuffing securely stored in a separate bag (or things might get messy!).
- This pillow has a very lofty build of about 5.5 inches tall, which is too high for stomach sleepers. You would need to remove quite a bit of internal fill before settling into the prone position.
The Layla’s fluffable feel and high profile make it perfect for side sleepers looking to alleviate neck pain, and relieve shoulder pressure as well.
Best for Combination Sleepers
Coop Home Goods Memory Foam Pillow
The Coop Home Goods pillow is covered in a blend of polyester and bamboo rayon, both of which are naturally moisture-wicking materials. It’s stuffed full of shredded memory foam, features an adjustable fill, and comes with an additional bag of foam for those who want a very lofty pillow.
- The polyester and bamboo in the cover fabric both work to wick sweat and keep the sleeper feeling cool and fresh. Bamboo, in particular, is naturally hypoallergenic and antimicrobial as well.
- This pillow features an adjustable fill, and comes with an extra bag of stuffing so that sleepers can customize the firmness and feel exactly to their liking. I found this versatility to lend itself particularly well to combo sleeping, as I was able to experiment with a wide range of lofts.
- This entire pillow is machine washable and dryable, which is uncommon for memory foam pillows, in my experience. Combination sleepers who prioritize easy wash care might be especially compatible with this pillow.
- The shredded memory foam in this pillow provides a deep sink into the material that not everybody is going to enjoy. If you prefer a quick response to pressure, aim for pillows filled with latex or down-alternative.
- Stomach sleepers should not add the extra bag of stuffing, as it’ll increase the loft too much. In fact, stomach sleepers should remove a considerable amount of fill before hitting the hay.
The Coop Home Goods pillow is covered in a blend of polyester and bamboo rayon, both of which are naturally moisture-wicking materials.
Best for Back and Side Sleepers
UTTU Sandwich Pillow
The UTTU pillow features a contoured shape that’s designed for back and side sleepers who need a little extra help keeping a neutral spine. It’s covered in bamboo-based fabric, filled with a thick piece of memory foam, and comes with a removable middle insert that allows you to adjust the loft.
- Hot sleepers (or those prone to night sweats) might be particularly compatible with the cover fabric of this pillow. It’s made from a blend of bamboo and polyester, both of which are great for wicking moisture.
- The contoured shape of this pillow is specifically crafted to help back and side sleepers relieve pressure at the neck and shoulders, while also keeping neutral spine alignment.
- I found the removable middle insert to be particularly beneficial for those who need a lower loft in order to maintain healthy sleeping posture. To relieve shoulder pressure, I suggest leaving the insert in for side sleeping, and removing it for back sleeping.
- Stomach sleepers need a pillow with a traditional shape and an even loft. That said, I found this pillow to be beneficial for back and side sleepers, exclusively.
- If the foam in this pillow gets dirty, it can only be spot cleaned with a damp cloth and mild detergent.
The UTTU pillow features a contoured shape that’s designed for back and side sleepers who need a little extra help keeping a neutral spine.
How We Picked
The key to alleviating neck pain is keeping neutral spine alignment, and every pillow I’ve listed in this roundup is designed to promote healthy posture. Of course, what works for a stomach sleeper won’t necessarily work for a back or side sleeper, which is why your sleeping position is the first thing to consider when shopping for a pillow. With that in mind, let’s dive into the methodology behind my picks, and talk more about neutral spine alignment.
I want to point out that the advice in this guide is meant to help shoppers find the sleep accessories that suit them best, and should not replace advice from a medical professional. If you experience ongoing neck or back pain or discomfort, it’s best to seek council from your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
- Sleeping Position – Your pillow and sleeping position should always work together to support a neutral spine. An easy way to determine if your spine is in neutral alignment is by making sure that your ears are in line with your shoulders, and your chin is in line with your sternum.
- Stomach Sleeping – Back and side-lying positions are most conducive to healthy spine alignment. Stomach sleeping has the potential to position the upper cervical spine at end-range rotation or extension, which can result in a strain on the neck, abdomen, and lumbar region. However, if you do sleep on your stomach, aim for a pillow with a low loft and a soft firmness rating.
- Neck Pain – Every body is different, and the causes of neck pain vary from person to person. For example, the sleeper who suffers from joint-related neck pain might not need the same pillow as the sleeper looking to alleviate nerve irritation. Take some time to pinpoint exactly where your neck pain is coming from before you begin pillow-shopping.
- Pillow Maintenance – Though many sleep accessories are designed to last for a year or more, sleepers should check up on their pillows every 6-8 months. If you find that your pillow has lost its shape, or is no longer providing proper support, replace it as soon as possible.
Okay, we know that neutral spine alignment plays a key role in alleviating neck pain, but there’s more to consider when you’re on the hunt for the perfect pillow! Let’s take a closer look.
The loft (or height) of a pillow is one of the most important factors when you’re pillow shopping. Unfortunately, there is no one-loft-fits-all rule, and each sleeping position requires a different loft in order to maintain a neutral spine. Let’s take a look at the best loft for each sleeping position, one by one.
- Side Sleeping – The important thing to remember about side sleeping is that when you’re on your side, your shoulder is propping your body up. That said, side sleepers need a pillow with a taller profile in order to lift the head and neck in line with the spine. Additionally, a pillow with a higher loft serves to relieve pressure in the shoulder, and make sure that it’s not bearing the brunt of your body’s weight.If, when you’re lying in the lateral position, you feel like your shoulder is digging into the mattress or that your head is sinking downward, your pillow is probably not lofty enough. In general, side sleepers should aim for a pillow with a profile of 4 inches or higher. Of course, our bodies are all shaped differently and those with broader shoulders might need a higher lofted pillow than those who are more petite. Just remember — neutral spine alignment is the most important thing!
- Stomach Sleeping – When it comes to pillows, stomach sleepers need the opposite of what side sleepers need. Finding the perfect stomach sleeper pillow can be a little tricky as this position puts you at greater risk of straining your neck, and putting pressure on your lower back or abdomen. That’s why choosing a pillow with a very low loft is particularly important for stomach sleepers.If a pillow is even slightly too lofty, your head will be craned upwards, out of alignment with your spine. When you’re in the prone position, it’s best to look for pillows with a loft of 2 inches or lower. Some stomach sleepers may find that they are more comfortable without using a pillow at all, but finding a thin, compressible pillow will provide a cushy buffer between you and the mattress.
- Back Sleeping – Although back sleepers have a little more room to experiment as compared to side and stomach sleepers, it’s best to aim for a pillow with a medium loft. A medium lofted pillow helps to relieve pressure at the neck and shoulders while also holding the head in neutral alignment with the spine. And when I say “medium,” I mean a loft of about 3 inches high.A pillow that’s too lofty will crane your head upwards, which will likely result in neck and shoulder pain. Meanwhile, a pillow that’s not lofty enough will leave you lying flat on your mattress and, well, that’s not very comfortable is it? It may take a little trial and error, but finding the perfect loft is essential to alleviating neck pain.
Once you’ve found the loft that perfectly matches your sleeping position, the next thing to think about is firmness. Again, the best firmness rating typically depends upon your preferred sleeping position, so let’s take a look at each one.
- Side Sleeping – If you primarily sleep on your side, go with a pillow that’s medium-firm to firm. A firmer pillow will do a better job of holding your head in line with your neck and spine, and prevent it from sinking down over the course of the night. Firm pillows can take a little more time to get used to, but a soft pillow doesn’t provide enough support for the side-lying position.
- Stomach Sleeping – If the prone position is your go-to sleep style, aim for a pillow that advertises a soft to soft-medium firmness rating. A pillow that’s too firm can prevent your head from falling in line with your spine (especially if the loft isn’t low enough). A soft, compressible pillow allows your head and neck to support the natural C-curve of your spine.
- Back Sleeping – Like with a pillow’s loft, back sleepers can play around with different levels of firmness until they find what’s most comfortable, keeping in mind that neutral spine alignment is the most important thing. Additionally, back sleepers may find that materials that tightly conform to pressure (like memory foam) are ideal for keeping the head securely cradled.
Speaking of materials, let’s talk about some of the most popular internal fills, and which sleepers might be most compatible with which.
The world of pillows is vast, and the types of materials used ranges quite a bit! However, there are some pillows that tend to do a better job of maintaining shape over time, so let’s take a look at what those pillows are made of.
Here are some key factors to keep in mind when you’re deciding on a pillow’s internal fill:
- Memory Foam – Memory foam is one of the most popular pillow fills on the market, and was originally created to ease NASA astronauts’ journeys into space! It’s known for its slow response to pressure, and does a great job of conforming to your body’s shape.That said, memory foam tends to be a bit more dense as compared to other materials, so it’s going to be particularly compatible with back and side sleepers who need a firmer feel. Stomach sleepers can sleep on memory foam, but should make sure that the pillow has a very low loft of 2 inches or fewer.
- Latex – Latex pillows are typically lighter in weight as compared to memory foam pillows, and are known for a bouncy-quick response to pressure. This buoyant resilience helps the pillow to maintain its shape over time, which lends itself well to all sleeping positions.However, sleepers who prefer a deep sink into the pillow might not be as compatible with latex. Remember: latex is ideal for those who prefer to rest on top of the pillow.
- Down & Down-Alternative – Down and down-alternative pillows are ideal for stomach sleepers because they offer a feathery feel that’s compressible into a very low loft. They also tend to be fluffy with a soft firmness rating which, again, is better for stomach sleeping. Back and side sleepers can enjoy them too, but side sleepers should make sure that the pillow is amply stuffed and provides a loft of 5 inches or higher.Additionally, down and down-alternative pillows are easier to fold and shape, which might come in handy for sleepers who like to tuck their arms beneath their pillow!
When you’re shopping for pillows, you’ll notice that there are two main shapes from which to choose: traditional and contoured. A traditional shape is what you’re probably most familiar with, and features a rectangular design with an even loft on both sides.
A contour pillow, also known as a cervical spine pillow, features an ergonomic design meant to tightly conform to the shape of your head, neck, and shoulders. Back and side sleepers who need a little extra help maintaining neutral spine alignment might be most compatible with contour pillows as they are intended to adapt to your shape, and hold the head in line with the neck.
Some contour pillows are built specifically for side sleepers, and usually look like a long letter “J.” Meanwhile, some contour pillows are shaped like a boomerang with two high-lofted sides, and one lower-lofted center. These are great for both back and side sleepers, and frequently come with adjustable fills so folks can adjust the firmness. If you do opt for a contour pillow, take some time to carefully consider which shape is best for your body and sleeping position.
Stomach sleepers must only sleep on a traditional pillow with an even loft, as a contoured shape could easily throw the spine out of neutral alignment. Remember: stomach sleepers need a soft, thin pillow with an even loft on both sides.
Your sleep accessories should never break the bank, and it’s ideal to find a pillow at a great price point. However, I find that a pillow that’s very inexpensive can be a warning sign of low-quality materials, so it’s always best to research a bedding brand before financially committing. For example, sometimes what companies market as memory foam is actually only 5% memory foam and 95% some other material. Yes, the perfect pillow is a worthy investment, but you should always make sure you’re getting exactly what you wanted.
Personally, I prioritize bedding brands that offer a good trial period, warranty, and return policy. This inspires confidence and lets me know that brand proudly stands by its product. Not to mention, having the chance to test a pillow before you buy it gives you some time to really determine whether or not it’s worth the money.
Sleepopolis Pro Tips
- If you’re still experimenting with which sleep position works best for you, get a pillow with an adjustable fill. Being able to customize the internal fill allows sleepers to adjust the loft and firmness until it meets their unique needs.
- If you’re a memory foam fan, keep in mind that this material is often not machine washable. It’s not always the case, but if you’re looking for a low maintenance pillow, be sure to check the wash care instructions before you make your purchase.
- Sleepers who run hot or are prone to night sweats should aim for pillows that are naturally moisture-wicking and/or breathable. For example, shredded memory foam is more breathable than a solid piece of foam, and bamboo-based fabric is typically more moisture-wicking than cotton.
Now that we’ve reached the end of my guide, you’re that much closer to finding the pillow that’s perfect for you. Just remember to take your time and carefully consider all your options. Afterall, the right pillow can dramatically improve the quality of your sleep, and a good night’s sleep is always worth the effort!