When you’re on the hunt for the perfect pillow, the first thing to consider is your sleep style. Side sleepers, in particular, need a pillow with a higher loft and firmer feel in order to maintain neutral spine alignment, and relieve pressure in the shoulder and lower back. But once you’ve found a pillow that does that, there’s much more to think about!
For example, some side sleepers need help keeping cool, while others prefer a pillow that’s warm and cozy. Some need a pillow designed to alleviate neck pain, while others need more pressure relief in their shoulders. Essentially, every side sleeper finds their comfort zone differently and there are many aspects to consider. So keep reading and I’ll fill you in on my personal pillow-shopping tips, and give you a close look at my top six picks for the best side sleeper pillows on the web.
Best Memory Foam Pillow
Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow
This pillow features a very soft velour cover fabric made from a blend of cotton and polyester. Its memory foam fill and contoured shape is specifically crafted to help back and side sleepers maintain healthy posture throughout the night.
- The memory foam in this pillow offers a very slow response to pressure, and tightly conforms to your body’s shape. Additionally, its contoured support kept my spine in healthy neutral alignment when I slept on my back and side.
- Sleepers can choose between the higher contour and the lower contour until they find which side suits them best. Personally, I found the higher contour to offer better pressure relief in my shoulder when I slept on my side.
- Not only is the cover fabric super soft and fuzzy, but it’s machine washable too!
- The memory foam inside this pillow is not machine washable. In fact, you should avoid getting it wet as much as possible. If it gets dirty, spot clean with a damp cloth and mild detergent.
- As is often the case with memory foam, I found this pillow to trap my body’s heat and warm me up throughout the night.
With a soft velour cover fabric made from a blend of cotton and polyester the Sleep INovations Contour's memory foam fill is designed to help back and side sleepers
Best for Travel
Malouf Z Memory Foam Contour Dough Pillow
This pillow features a luxuriously plush velour cover made from bamboo rayon and polyester. Its small size and contoured shape makes it perfect for folks who want to make sure they keep healthy sleeping posture, even when they travel.
- The cover feels so soft and soothing on the skin; I couldn’t stop rubbing my hands all over the fabric.
- Aptly named “contour dough,” the memory foam in this pillow is very doughy and moldable. It offers a slow response to pressure and adapts to your unique shape.
- Its small size makes it easy to throw in a carry-on bag, perfect for sleepers on the go!
- Remember: this is a small, travel-sized pillow and is not large enough to be used as a bed pillow, in my opinion.
- Sleepers looking for a fluffable, feathery feel should look elsewhere. The memory foam in this pillow is rather dense, and offers a slow response to pressure.
The Malouf's small size and contoured shape make it perfect for folks who want to make sure they keep healthy sleeping posture while on the road.
Best for Back & Side Sleepers
The Casper pillow features a dual-layer design wherein an inner pillow is zipped inside an outer pillow, offering even pressure relief and a balance between plush and supportive. With a profile of about 4 inches, it combines the lofty build that side sleepers need with the fluffy softness that’s great for back sleeping.
- The cover fabric is made from 100% Pima cotton, which is widely regarded as a superior type of cotton. It’s super soft, durable, and features a percale weave for extra breathability.
- The low-friction silky fibers that fill this pillow offer a down-like, feathery feel that’s fluffable and huggable! I found the Casper pillow to provides a classic cloud-like feel.
- Its lofty build helps side sleepers maintain neutral spine alignment, but If you want to decrease the loft, just remove the middle insert.
- With the price point ranging from about $70-$90, the Casper pillow might be more than some sleepers are looking to spend.
- Although you can reduce the loft by removing the middle insert, there is no other way to adjust this pillow.
Sleepers can enjoy Casper's pillow-in-a-pillow design in order to customize the loft and feel!
Best for Broad Shoulders
Amply stuffed full of shredded memory foam and Kapok, the Layla pillow has a lofty build perfect for broad-shouldered side sleepers. Additionally, copper is woven into the cover fabric in order to dissipate body heat and make for a cooler sleep experience.
- The Layla pillow has a very lofty build of about 6 inches, and can be fluffed up to about 8 inches. Side sleepers who need a little extra pressure relief in the shoulder are likely to be most compatible with this pillow.
- This pillow features an adjustable fill wherein sleepers can unzip, reach in, and manipulate the loft to their liking.
- Copper is discreetly woven into the fabric which serves to draw heat away from your sleepy head. I found this special feature to prevent the pillow from warming up despite all my rolling around!
- Side sleepers who occasionally sleep on their stomachs should remove a considerable amount of fill before settling into the prone position. Remember: stomach sleepers need a low lofted pillow.
- The cover fabric is machine washable, but I recommend removing all the internal fill before washing this pillow as water can damage memory foam.
A copper infusion in the cover helps to make the Layla pillow ultra cool and comfortable
Best for Ear Pain
Allstar Side Sleeper Pro Pillow
Covered in cotton and filled with polyester fibers, this pillow offers a classically cushy feel. However, it’s ergonomic J-shaped construction makes it uniquely designed for side sleepers who need a little extra help maintaining neutral spine alignment.
- This pillow features a circular “ear well” for added comfort. This way, side sleepers don’t have to worry about their ears being pressed into the fabric, as it rests snugly inside the little pocket.
- Its unique J-shape and lofty profile helps side sleepers maintain neutral spine alignment, while offering pressure relief in the shoulder.
- The cover is removable and easy to wash and dry by machine. Just unzip the cover and throw it in the wash with the rest of your bedding!
- This is nitpicky, but the brand’s name is not at all visible on the packaging, so I wasn’t entirely sure if I was testing the right product. Eventually, I found “Allstar” in tiny font at the very bottom of the box.
- This pillow seemed to trap my body heat pretty quickly. Granted, I run hot, but if you need a pillow that sleeps cool, I can’t promise this will do the trick.
Covered in cotton and filled with polyester fibers the Allstar Side Sleeper Pro offers a classically cushy feel!
How We Picked
When it comes to picking the pillow that’s best suited to your sleeping position, spine alignment is the name of the game. For side sleepers, it’s typically best to use a pillow that’s firmly supportive with a lofty build. This way, when you’re on your side, your shoulder is getting pressure relief and your head is held in neutral alignment with your spine. And once you’ve found a side sleeper pillow that does all that, you can dive deeper into the details.
As I said, the first thing you want to pay attention to is the loft, or height, of the pillow. In general, side sleepers should aim for a pillow with a loft of 4 inches or taller. If you’re taking a side sleeper pillow for a test run, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this pillow lofty enough to keep my head, neck, and spine in neutral alignment?
- Is this pillow so lofty that it cranes my neck upwards, out of alignment with my spine?
- Is this pillow’s loft relieving pressure in my shoulder?
When it comes to a pillow’s loft, there’s a bit of a Goldilocks situation going on, and it’s important to find the height that’s just right. The pillow should be lofty enough to support the natural C-curve of your spine, but not so lofty that your neck is too elevated. Conversely, a pillow that does not relieve pressure in your shoulder, or lets your head sink down past your shoulder is not lofty enough.
Once you’ve landed on the loft that’s right for you, it’s time to examine the firmness. Though it can be tempting to just pick the pillow that feels the fluffiest, side sleepers should stick with pillows that advertise a medium-firm or firm rating. A pillow that’s too soft is much more likely to compress over the course of the night, causing your head to sink down, out of alignment with your spine.
Though a firmer pillow can take some time to get used to, it’s going to do a better job of holding your head in line with your neck and spine (which alleviates neck pain!). Not to mention, it’s important to remember that side sleepers rest with one shoulder pressed into the mattress. Using a lofty, firm pillow goes a long way in relieving pressure in that shoulder, and makes sure it’s not bearing the brunt of your body’s weight.
Okay, you’ve got the loft and firmness squared away… Now what? Well, in my opinion, diving into the internal fill is the fun part! Take some time to consider what materials and fabrics you’re most compatible with. For example, sleepers who prefer a moldable pillow with a slow response to pressure are well-suited to memory foam, while those who prefer light, springy support are better off with latex. Here are some key things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about a pillow’s internal fill:
- Memory Foam – Memory foam is known for its slow response to pressure, but can come in many different forms. When you see the words “traditional memory foam,” you’re working with one solid piece of foam.Meanwhile, shredded memory foam pillows are filled with popcorn-sized pieces of foam. Personally, I opt for shredded foam because it tends to do a better job of dissipating body heat.Lastly, some pillows feature a blend of shredded memory foam and other materials, which can be great for sleepers looking to experiment with different types of support.
- Latex – Pillows that are filled with Dunlop or Talalay latex tend to be lighter in weight as compared to memory foam, and typically offer a much quicker response to pressure. Sleepers who prefer to rest on top of the pillow rather than deeply sink into it will likely be more compatible with the buoyant support of latex.
- Down & Down-Alternative – Sleepers who prefer a feathery, fluffy feel will be best suited to pillows filled with down, or down-alternative. However, these materials tend to provide a softer level of firmness, so if you do opt for down or down-alternative, make sure it’s got a very lofty build. The more feathery a pillow feels, the more likely it is to compress overnight.That said, side sleepers who like to fold their pillow or tuck an arm underneath might find that pillows filled with down or down-alternative are easier to manipulate!
Because the cover fabric is the first thing you feel when your head hits the pillow, it’s important to consider what you want your cover fabric to feel like. Hot sleepers, in particular, should aim for cover fabrics that are naturally moisture-wicking and breathable. Polyester, lightweight cotton, Tencel, and anything bamboo-based are ideal for wicking sweat and dissipating body heat.
Additionally, some bedding brands (like Layla Sleep) weave copper and/or graphite into the fabric to boost cooling properties. If you’ve got allergies or sensitive skin, I suggest digging through a pillow’s “product description” to find out whether the cover fabric is hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, or made from organic materials.
While side sleepers should look for a pillow with lofty profile, an adjustable fill allows you to customize the loft and firmness to your liking. If you purchase a very lofty pillow and find that you want to decrease the height a bit, all you have to do is unzip, reach in, and fine-tune the stuffing until you reach the loft that’s best for you.
An adjustable pillow is particularly beneficial for combination sleepers who usually sleep on their sides, but dabble in back and stomach sleeping as well. Additionally, adjustable contour pillows (also known as cervical spine pillows) allow sleepers to manipulate the fill within the pillow. Essentially, this lets you experiment with the loft and firmness until it’s perfectly suited to your unique shape.
When you’re shopping for the perfect side sleeper pillow, you’ll notice that there are two main shapes from which to choose: traditional and contoured. A traditional shape is what most of us are familiar with, and features a standard, rectangular design.
A contour pillow, on the other hand, features a curved design meant to adapt to the shape of your head, neck, and shoulders. Contour pillows are also referred to as cervical spine pillows, as they are intended to support neutral spine alignment in back and side sleepers, specifically. Some contour pillows are built strictly for side sleepers, and typically feature a long, J-shape, or have two taller sides with a lower lofted center. Again, the idea behind a contour pillow is to keep your ears in line with your shoulders, and your chin in line with your sternum.
Meanwhile, contour pillows that are shaped more like a boomerang are great for back and side sleepers. Typically, these pillows feature two sides with higher loft (which is ideal for side sleeping), and a low-lofted middle area for back sleepers. If you opt for a contour pillow, I suggest taking some time to consider which shape is best for your body and your sleep style.
Finding a great value is worth the effort, but remember — a pillow that’s suspiciously inexpensive can be a warning sign of low-quality materials. Of course, your sleep accessories shouldn’t break the bank either, so I suggest looking for pillows that offer a trial period.
A generous trial period and warranty inspires confidence in the shopper, and lets you know that brand proudly stands by its product. Not to mention, being able to try before you buy gives you some time to determine whether or not it’s really worth the dough!
Sleepopolis Pro Tips
Not everyone has the means or the time to dedicate to complicated wash care, so I suggest checking a pillow’s care instructions before you make your purchase.
Be on the lookout for materials that are antimicrobial and/or hypoallergenic. Dustmites, mold and mildew are very attracted to pillows and bedding (and can live there for a while), so I like to aim for fabrics like organic cotton, Tencel, and anything bamboo-based. These materials can serve to keep those icky allergens at bay, but you should still wash your pillow’s cover every couple weeks.
If you’re a hot sleeper shopping for a memory foam pillow, remember that a shredded fill typically does a better job of keeping you cool than a solid piece of foam does.
Well, we’ve reached the end of my guide, and you’re that much closer to finding the perfect side sleeper pillow. Just remember: every body is unique, and our slumber habits evolve over time. So, take your time in finding the sleep accessories that match your unique needs. After all, a great night’s sleep is always worth the effort. Happy shopping!