How to Choose a Pillow

Three Parts:Finding Your Preferred Sleeping PositionChoosing Your Pillow FillingTesting Out Different Pillows

There are many factors that affect the quality of sleep you get each night. One of these factors is your pillow. Choosing the wrong pillow can exacerbate headaches and neck and shoulder tension.[1] Taking time to determine what the best pillow is for you based on your sleeping habits and personal needs will help ensure that you wake up refreshed and ready for your day.

Part 1
Finding Your Preferred Sleeping Position

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    Think about your most preferred sleeping position. Some people sleep primarily on their back, some sleep primarily on their side and some prefer to sleep on their stomach. Knowing which position you tend to sleep in is important for picking the correct pillow.[2]
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    Spend a few nights discovering your favorite sleeping position. Although you may already have a pretty good idea about your preferred position, it is good to take a few nights to confirm it.
    • When you are getting ready to fall asleep, spend a few minutes on your back, on your side, and on your stomach. See which one feels the most comfortable for you. If you spend half an hour on your stomach and you haven’t fallen asleep, it’s probably not your preferred position.
    • Try to be aware of the position you are in when you wake up in the morning. Write down the position you woke up in so you can compare over a few days.
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    Choose your preferred position. Now that you have spent time thinking about and discovering your preferred sleeping position, it’s time to decide. This is an important decision, as it will guide you to your perfect pillow.
    • If you are a stomach sleeper, you will need a soft, fairly flat pillow, or you may not need any pillow at all. Having a soft pillow will allow your neck to stay more in line with your spine.
    • If you are a back sleeper, look for a medium thick pillow. You don’t want it to be too thick, or it will push your head too far forward. You also don’t want it to be too soft, or your head will simply sink down to the mattress. In this case, you may want a pillow which is thicker and firmer on the bottom, to provide a bit of neck support.
    • Side sleepers will need a thicker, firmer pillow to help support the neck.
    • If you find that you are a mixed sleeper and you find many positions comfortable throughout the night, look for a pillow that is of medium thickness, and a bit softer so that it can be used comfortably in different positions

Part 2
Choosing Your Pillow Filling

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    Learn about the different kinds of fillings that exist. There are many types of pillows, and each type has different things to offer.
    • Consider any medical issues you have. If you have asthma, allergies, or chronic neck pain, you may need a particular filling.
    • Consider the cost. Some pillow fillings tend to be more expensive than others.
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    Consider a down or feather pillow. These pillows are typically made from the inner plumage of geese or ducks, and can be filled according to your preference.
    • More firmness, or loft, suits side sleepers while less loft is better for back or stomach sleepers.
    • They can last up to 10 years and are resilient and breathable because they are made of a natural material.
    • Be aware that there is a difference between a down pillow and a feather pillow. Down is very light and soft, and is usually located underneath the harder, stronger feathers, which protect the bird from the elements.[3] A feather pillow will likely be harder, and there is a chance that some of the feather quills could poke through the fabric, particularly in cheaper feather pillows.
    • Although there is no scientific evidence that down or feather pillows exacerbate allergies or asthma,[4] some people prefer to avoid them.
    • You might wish to avoid down/feather pillows for ethical reasons, or due to asthma or allergies. In this case, there are synthetic versions available.
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    Consider choosing a wool or cotton pillow. A wool or cotton pillow might be particularly suitable for you if you suffer from severe allergies, as these pillows are not susceptible to dust mites or mold.[5]
    • Be aware that these pillows tend to be quite firm, so they may not be the most suitable for stomach sleepers.
    • If you are a stomach sleeper, but you also want a pillow that is hypoallergenic, you may be able to find a very thin wool or cotton pillow.
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    Consider a latex pillow. These pillows are made from the sap of rubber trees, making it elastic and resilient.
    • These pillows are good for allergy sufferers, as they are mold resistant.
    • They tend to be cooler than memory foam, and can form to fit your head and neck.
    • Latex pillows come in all shapes and sizes. Consistencies vary as well, some use shredded material while others are made of solid cores.
    • They do not offer as much ‘give’ as a memory foam pillow and can be quite heavy, and expensive.[6]
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    Consider a memory foam pillow. These pillows are made of polyurethane, which is then mixed with additional chemicals.
    • Memory foam pillows come in all shapes and sizes including an S-shaped version.
    • They provide good support, especially if you have neck, jaw, or shoulder problems.
    • They are long lasting and are good at forming to the contours of your head and neck.
    • High density is best in order to avoid the material breaking down.
    • Be aware that this material can make you hot, as it doesn't "breathe."
    • If you tend to move around a lot, these pillows may be uncomfortable since they take a bit of time to mold into different shapes.[7]
    • A new memory foam pillow may have an unpleasant odor which will go away after a short while.
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    Consider specialty pillows. Certain sleeping habits and health conditions may mean that a "normal" pillow may not be your best choice. However, be aware that while a specialty pillow might be helpful for you, there is not much research to back up claims the manufacturer might make,[8] and they can be quite expensive.
    • A positional pillow is a lower case n-shaped pillow that claims to help those with sleep apnea stay in the ideal position. The pillow also claims to help reduce tossing and turning throughout the night.[9]
    • Cervical pillows provide extra firmness in the lower part of the pillow in order to provide support for the neck.[10] The claim is that these pillows will help reduce neck tension and headaches, however there has not been sufficient research to back up this claim.
    • Anti-snore pillows claim to help position the head so that the airways remain open by lifting the chin away from the chest.[11]
    • Cool pillows are designed to include fillings that absorb head heat in order to keep you feeling cool.[12] Although they can be used by anyone who wishes to keep cool at night, they may be particularly suitable for someone suffering from hot flashes.
    • Oxygen pillows are designed to promote the circulation of air, which is meant to help you breathe more freely and deeply while you sleep.[13] While some claim this has helped relieve pain, doctors are not sure how or whether or not this technology actually works.[14]

Part 3
Testing Out Different Pillows

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    Read reviews online before going shopping. After determining what type of pillow you think might be right for you, look around online. Read reviews for different pillows before going shopping, especially if you are thinking of buying a special pillow, such as an anti-snoring or cooling pillow, which can be expensive, and may not do what it claims to do.
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    Understand that price isn’t everything. The best pillow for you may not be the most expensive one. Try out different pillows in different price ranges.
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    Lie down with the pillow. Many stores that sell pillows also sell mattresses. If you can, take the pillow and lie down with it for a few minutes to try it out. This will give you a more realistic idea of whether the pillow is right for you or not.
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    Stand close to a wall. If you are unable to lie down with a pillow, try standing next to a wall in your favorite sleeping position. Place the pillow against the wall. If the pillow you are testing works with your body, your neck should be aligned with your spine.[15]
    • It may be difficult to tell on your own if your neck is not aligned, so bring a friend along to help you.
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    Ask about trial periods and money back guarantees. Some stores, such as Ikea,[16] offer the opportunity to return your pillow if you are not happy with it. Before purchasing a pillow, ask about the return policy.


  • Consider having more than one kind of pillow. Some days you may feel like you need more support than on other days, so it is nice if you can have different options to choose from.
  • Wash your pillow regularly according to manufacturer's instructions or use a pillow protector to increase its life. Foam pillows cannot be washed, but a pillow protector will help keep it clean.
  • Replace your pillow when it breaks down or no longer holds its shape. Fold your pillow in half lengthwise and hold it that way for 30 seconds. If it doesn't go back to its original shape when released, you need a new pillow.[17]

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Categories: Sleep and Dreams