How to Choose a Pillow: A Buyers Guide

Did you know that your pillow is just as important for your sleep as your mattress choice? To get a good night’s rest you need to get the proper support, and part of doing so is ensuring your head and neck are in alignment with the rest of your body. Just as you choose a mattress to help alleviate pressure points and stabilize your sleep position, you need to choose a pillow that that does the same for your upper body. If you have been asking yourself what kind of pillow do I need, then this article can help you find that answer.

First, Understand the Importance of Spinal Alignment

You may be now wondering exactly how to find the right pillow for you. It isn’t uncommon to ask yourself what kind of pillow do I need once you discover that your poor rest or regularly interrupted sleep may be caused by something as simple as what you place your head upon. But the answer is clear; your pillow supports the most important part of your spine: the gateway between your brain and central nervous system. And this area of the spine works overtime to keep you aligned and functioning. You need to allow those soft tissues to relax, which in turn provide a deeper, more restful sleep to recharge and refresh.

Take into account the following guide to help you get started in understanding your sleep position needs and how they relate to your pillow choices. Pillows come in an amazing array of shapes and sizes for specific needs. Plus many different types of fill and materials need to be considered as well. These details should be considered in reference to both what you want personally based on your own preferences, as well as what needs you feel should be addressed.


Support Your Sleep Position Needs

A common mistake people make is that a pillow is a pillow and that you can make do with whatever you find in the shelves at the store. Not to say that there aren’t quality pillows in the stores- because there are, but pillows need to be first chosen on the premise of sleep position, rather than personal preference.


– Back Sleepers

Back sleepers are already beginning to fall into a natural spinal alignment, and so a pillow needs to properly hold the head level with the shoulders with support under the neck to allow the soft tissues to properly relax. Thinner and more contouring pillows best support back sleepers.

A pillow that is too thin or soft may allow the head to fall back to far, while one that is to thick or lofty may lift the head forward, creating airway obstructions and pressure points along the back of the head. This poor posture can create stress through the shoulders and into the lower back.



– Side Sleepers

Side sleepers have a very healthy position to sleep in, but care should be taken to keep the curves and weight of the body well supported for spinal alignment. A pillow is highly influential to a side sleeping position and thicker, gusseted, and more supportive pillows are often worth considering in order to keep the head lifted and level between the shoulders, and well as the neck supported due to the gap left between the shoulders and head.


– Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers do not always technically need a pillow as they have already elongated their spine through the length of their body. The problem with stomach sleeping is that no matter how the body is supported, spinal alignment is always compromised due to the turn of the head and neck, or even the end of the knee and hip to the side (which is common).

Many people need the comfort of a pillow, however, and so very thin and soft, contouring pillow choices are the best options for stomach sleepers to help support the head and neck without lifting it too far. Many stomach sleepers also support their shoulders and upper body or may sleep in a lightly hybridized stomach and side position to alleviate stress on the lower back. Again thin, soft pillows can help the body in this as well.


Second, Consider Your Pillow Comfort Options

Although understanding your sleep position needs is incredibly important, personal preference is almost equally so. Types of fill and materials influence sleep almost as much as your comfort. You have to be comfortable with your pillow choices, and luckily there are MANY options available if you know where to look. The Sleep Judge Review Team, for example, has reviewed dozens of pillows and brands and recommended dozens of others. These can be easily found through a search on their website.


Materials Used in Pillow Construction

There are many types of pillow fillings you can consider to help make your sleep as comforting as possible. Many are used to belay softness, while others are designed for a more firm hold. These fillings can work with your needs to support your head and neck, and help keep your spine supported through the night.


– Polyfill

The synthetic polyester fiber that defines a polyfill has many uses and can be utilized as both soft, and firm pillow surfaces depending on the amount used. These thin, durable threads do not crush easily and are almost always machine washable and dryable- making them a great choice for long-lasting use. Polyfill is also a popular choice to mix with other choices for comfort preferences and is sometimes considered a down alternative.


– Foams

Polyfoam, latex foam, and memory foam is also a regularly used fill. It is very versatile overall, and can be used in thin sheets for comfort and stability with other materials, or shredded for a softer, but malleable feel. Regular foams provide a good foundation and are often mixed with other materials, while memory and latex foams are often found as a stand-alone in order for the contouring it is known for can be taken advantage of. It also is commonly used in adjustable pillows as a shredded mix. It is not often recommended to wash foam, however.



– Down & Feather Blends

Down and feather choices and blends are a traditional pillow filling and are still a popular go-to for those who prefer a softer feel. They provide decent underlying support but are usually highly malleable, breathable, and long-lasting. Plus, most are easy to machine wash and dry.


– Kapok

Kapok is a naturally derived fiber from the Kapok tree. It looks and grow similar to cotton as a seed bole, and is extremely soft and breathable- yet durable in strength. It is commonly found mixed with shredded memory foams and poly fibers to soften the overall feel of the fill.


– Buckwheat

Buckwheat hulls are a popular fill-in buckwheat pillows to provide a firm, yet surprisingly contouring sleep surface. Best used for back and side sleepers, the gentle give of the hulls provide both support and pressure point comfort. Originally from Asia, it has garnered attention for those seeking neck pain relief. Microbeads often mimic this feel as well.



– Cooling Gel

Cooling gel layers and infusions are popular with polyfills and foams to help draw heat from the body and help dissipate it for a cooler night’s sleep. This conductive heat property allows the surface of your pillow to feel cooler and is helpful to those who sleep warm.


Common Casing Materials

Although you should always use your own pillowcase, pillows are often designed with an included protective casing that can aid in cooling properties as well as comfort. Thread counts of the material used can be highly influential to how well air flows through the pillow as well- with lower counts creating better breathability.


– Cotton

Cotton is by far the most widely used material with pillow construction. It is all natural, breathable, and provides both affordability and quality. It can also be used in blends to help create air flow and softness.


– Poly-Threads

Polyfibers are durable, long-lasting, and strong. Although synthetic in nature, they can mimic the feel of many other materials and are often found blended with natural fibers to add strength and durability.


– Wool

Wool is a natural insulator and aides in both cooling and warmth. Generally, it is seen used in more specialized blends for its comfort properties.


– Bamboo

Bamboo is highly sustainable, and the fibers from the plant make a very soft, durable, and naturally hypoallergenic material to help with allergen reduction. Found in many blends, it lends a soft, cushion-like feel to the pillow surface and is highly breathable.


– Eucalyptus Fiber

Eucalyptus fibers are similar in nature to bamboo and create moisture-wicking, soft comfort surfaces when blended with other materials.


– Copper and Silver Infusions

Copper and silver are supposed to help release positive ions. This can be beneficial to blood flow and promote body healing and recovery. Infusions of these metals are woven into threads and blended into other materials in order for sleepers to feel these positive benefits. Much of this is still under study, although some reviews have had positive experiences.


Third, Understand the Differences in Pillow Design, Size, and Loft

There is actually quite a bit to consider pertaining to pillow sizes and design. The size of a pillow should work well with your body type, sleep position, and preferences. The design of the pillow may also be specific to supporting pain issues, snoring, or simply shaped for better head and neck support. If you are trying to address a specific pain issue in particular, this information can be very helpful.


– Pillow Sizes

Pillow sizes generally range from toddler to king and body sized pillows. Most common are standard and standard/queen sizes, with king or body-sized pillow specific for larger bodies, specific body support, or simply looks to fit the size bed you have.


– Loft Explained

Loft can also be a deceiving term as it applies to the height of the pillow when laid upon a flat surface. Many people incorrectly assume that a high loft equals a thick, firm choice- however loft is very deceiving as soft, airy materials (such as down and feathers) may showcase a high profile, but when weight is applied proves to be soft and thin. Rather than apply a firmer feel to a thicker pillow, consider loft as the ability of the material within to recover after compression- which is a quality to consider.


Finally, Review Pillow Care


Pillow care is probably the least considered detail when choosing a pillow, but it may be important for many people- especially if allergies are a problem, or the home is accident prone (such as with children or pets). Pillows are well labeled as to their care, with polyfills and feather and down choices being amongst the easiest to toss in a washer and dryer. Just be sure to check for care labels before making any assumptions as certain materials may not wear well, or even break down when saturated in the wash (such as certain foams).



Hopefully, this guide has helped to break down and explain the details of a pillow to help lead you towards the most comfortable, supportive pillow for your needs. If you have any questions about how to buy a pillow, the many links throughout the article highlight some of our personalized top reviews, with many more to be found through The Sleep Judge website. If you have any questions or comments, please let us know below!