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How Do I Choose the Best Pillow for My Sleeping Position?

Do you wake up in the morning with neck pain after a night of sleeping on your pillow?

You’re not alone.

Sleeping on the wrong pillow can cause or worsen neck pain, headaches, shoulder and arm pain and numbness.

Without the best pillow for you, you many not get a good night’s sleep and your allergies can even be aggravated.

The bottom line is, if your pillow isn’t right for you, it’s time to look for a new one.

But don’t just buy any pillow. Consider the best pillow based on how you sleep. Considering we sleep a third of our life and a good night’s sleep will make or break your mental clarity and mood during your day. A poorly fitted pillow will leave you feeling not yourself and a good night’s sleep is the perfect pillow will set you up for success in your day.

There are pillows for side sleepers, stomach sleepers, back sleepers, and combination of all of the above sleepers. These pillows support your neck and spinal alignment, which helps optimize sleeping posture.

We can’t say this enough, good posture is essential for good health, according to the American Chiropractic Association. .

We have pillow suggestions based on research about what are the best pillows based on how you sleep. Here’s the deal when you’re choosing a pillow:

Choosing a Pillow Filling

There are different types of pillows, made with different types of materials. You can choose a pillow that’s malleable or stiff, plump or thin, cool or warm.

What’s the real story? The fillings for pillows matter:

  • Buckwheat: This breathable material enables air to circulate, resulting in a cool, dry pillow that’s good for people who feel hot when they sleep. You can also adjust the thickness of a buckwheat pillow by adding or removing fill. But there’s a catch: They tend to be pricier than other types of pillows.
  • Feather: Feather or down pillows have a malleable consistency that led to consistently poor findings in a study published in the Journal of Pain Research. People found a feather pillow did not give enough support for the curve of their neck.  As a result, we do not recommend feather or down pillows, though they do tend to resist dust mites and are machine washable.
  • Foam: These pillows received mixed reviews in studies. That’s because foam pillows can be too stiff, increasing neck pain. If they are too high, they can keep the neck in a flexed position, worsening stiffness and pain in the cervical spine (neck). Memory foam pillows mold to the shape of your head, reducing pressure points by changing as you move. From our experience, most people find a foam pillow super hard to sleep on and uncomfortable at first but after a month “break in” period, they feel this kind of pillow to be a good fit.
  • Latex: According to research, latex pillows are consistently good at reducing the frequency of waking headache and scapular and arm pain. Latex pillows are firm, which can help align the back and neck. They’re also resistant to mites and mold, thereby reducing and even relieving allergies, and they are machine washable.
  • Polyester: These pillows are a cheaper alternative to memory foam and feathers, but they tend not to last as long. They are washable, but tend to clump up.
  • Rubber: Studies have supported the recommendation of rubber pillows for managing waking cervical pain. They’ve been found to be comfortable and to help improve sleep quality.
  • Water: In a study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, water-based pillows were associated with reduced morning pain intensity, increased cervical pain relief and improved quality of sleep. In fact, their overall sickness impact profile was so good, they have a significant advantage over roll pillows and standard pillows. They’re nice and cool, too, so if your body temperature tends to run hot at night, consider a water pillow.

Pillows that are too thick can lead to discomfort. One study showed that pillows that are 10 cm thick have the most comfortable height, but it depends on how you sleep.

Consider Your Sleeping Position

Don’t just consider cost when you’re shopping for a new pillow. I can’t emphasize this enough: How you sleep—on your side, back, stomach, or a combination—affects the type of pillow that’s best for you. Keep in mind that adults tend to change their body position about a dozen times per night, though most sleep on their side much of the night. Others spend most of their time sleeping on their backs. Any pillow you choose should allow you to freely change positions. How can you actually use this information?

  • Pillows for side sleepers: Taller pillows help fill the space between your head and neck when you sleep on your side. They should be firm enough to cradle the head, neck, and shoulders.  A memory foam or synthetic pillow should supply the right support for you.
  • Pillows for back sleepers: Back sleepers may want to find a medium-support pillow that cradles the neck, rather than forcing your head too far forward. Look should look for pillows with extra material in the bottom third to cradle the neck.
  • Pillows for stomach sleepers: Though we do not recommend sleeping on your stomach, flatter pillows tend to be more supportive for stomach sleepers because they keep your head from being pitched too far back. A down or low-fill synthetic pillow may be right for you.
  • Pillows for combination sleepers: Chances are, you spend most of your time sleeping on your side, followed by your back. Keep that in mind when you settle on the choosing the best pillow for you.

If you have allergies or asthma, avoid feather pillows. Pregnant women may want to consider body pillows that allow you to support your growing belly. There are even pillows to help stop snoring and those that relieve sleep apnea symptoms.

When Should You Replace Your Pillow?

You should replace your pillow every 12 to 18 months, because dust mites and dead skin cells build up in your pillow. Some types of filler break down over time, too, reducing the pillow’s support. If you fold your pillow in half lengthwise and hold it for about 30 seconds, it should return to its original position when you let go. If not, it may be time to replace it. (Note, however, that foam pillows are hard to fold, so this may not apply to them.)

For machine-washable pillows, follow the instructions on the care label before placing them in the washer. Some types of filler tends to clump in the machine.

Remember, you spend upwards of eight hours lying on your pillow, so it’s important that it supports you properly. Test out your pillow in the store before you buy it, or when it first arrives on your doorstep. Don’t settle for a bad pillow!

We recommend certain types of pillows, including a therapeutic pillow that is ergonomically designed to promote the best alignment of your neck and spine during sleep. Check out our recommendations.

According to a study in the Journal of Rheumatology,  a combination of using a neck support pillow and treatment by trained experts achieved the most favorable benefit for addressing chronic neck pain. We can help relieve your neck pain caused by using the wrong pillow.

So if you’re waking up with neck pain or arm and shoulder numbness, or if your pillow keeps you from sleeping well at night, make a change to the best pillow for the way you sleep.

Do you have neck pain from sleeping on the wrong pillow? Contact us today for an assessment at 212-355-0445 or We’re here for you!

Best in health,

Dr. Emily Kiberd