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You’ve heard it before. Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health. But it’s not enough to get enough sleep. We need the goooood kind of sleep — the kind where you wake up ready to sing “The Little Mermaid” soundtrack in the shower.
But sometimes you spend the whole night flip-flopping from side to side. And you wake up unable to turn your head because your neck is enraged at you for bunching up your pillow. That’s when you wish you were a mermaid. Surely, they don’t ever suffer the dreaded neck crick.
About two-thirds of us humans will experience neck pain at some point in our lives.
Neck pain can result from trauma such as a sports, work injury, or whiplash from a fender bender. But it most commonly results from postural issues, like how we sit while working or watching the ’flix and — you guessed it — how we sleep.
Although we all need our Zzz’s, those 40 winks can really be obnoxious for the neck, especially if you don’t have a pillow that offers the proper support for your usual sleep position. Yep, it often comes down to what we lay our pretty little heads on.
So let’s do a little pillow talk. Find out which type of pillow is best for you, based on your slumber style, and where to get it.
A lot of factors go into determining what kind of pillow will be a bestie to your neck and allow you to wake up feeling pain-free and rested.
Know your sleeping style. Are you a side snoozer, a back dreamer, or do you tend to doze down on your belly?
You might also be a bit of a combination sleeper. Many of us spend about half the night in the side-sleeping position. If this is you, a pillow that keeps your neck in alignment will help prevent stiffness and kinks.
If you sleep on your back, alignment is also key, but you may prefer a pillow that cradles your head so you don’t position your noggin to one side.
Stomach slumbering is the position that’ll likely wreak the most havoc on your neck, but if it’s the only way you can sleep, opt for an ergonomically designed pillow built for that purpose. Or try tucking a soft, flat pillow under your pelvis rather than your cheek.
Firmness factors. Position and preference will help you decide on loft. Although softer, fluffier pillows might seem cozier, they may lead to more neck pain.
A firmer pillow offers support, especially for side or back sleeping. If you sleep on your stomach though, you may want something with more give.
Pillows also come in medium-soft, medium, and medium-firm if you’re going for that Goldilocks feel. Some even offer the ability to remove or add loft according to your preference.
Pillows come in all shapes and sizes. Standard rectangular pillows that fit your sleep position and firmness preferences are a great option, but an orthopedic pillow (one shaped to your anatomy) will support your neck’s cervical curve and may offer better sleep.
Some ortho pillows have an ergonomic divot in the middle to hold your head — perfect for back sleepers — while others have a contour or wave to offer support in various positions. And cylindrical bolsters can be used under your neck or knees to support good alignment.
Materials matter. If you’re prone to the achoos, you may need a pillow that’s hypoallergenic, impervious to dust mites, and easy to wash. Studies show that polyester fiber-filled pillows are susceptible to mites and fungi, and some of these choices cannot be washed.
If you have chemical sensitivities or are worried about environmental impact, seek a pillow that has GREENGAURD Gold certification, ensuring that it meets safety criteria for off-gassing and indoor air pollution.
Some pillows come with the CertiPUR-US seal to indicate nontoxic foam. And if you’re aiming for a chemical-free, natural-fiber pillow, look for one that’s certified organic by the Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) or the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).
How we chose
After diligent research we rounded up a selection of pillows that offer support for various sleep positions and loft preference. We considered the importance of materials, whether a pillow was washable, and the pillow’s price point — offering a range of options.
Plus, we relied on the number of positive user reviews along with what any naysayers had to report about a specific pillow.
Prices are for a standard size, or the size closest to standard.
- $ = under $40
- $$ = $40 to 70
- $$$ = over $70
Best pillow for soft support
If you’re simply looking for cloud-like comfort in a standard pillow, the Beckham Hotel Collection Gel Pillow gets the job done.
It has more than 17,000 reviews on Amazon, mostly 4- and 5-star ratings for its versatility. One user writes, “At night, I roll around about as much as a pig in mud and this pillow works in every position.”
Pros: The no-shift poly gel fiber fill is soft enough for that plush feel, yet it doesn’t collapse under the weight of your head.
Anyone who sleeps hot will like the gel fiber’s cooling properties, and allergy sufferers will appreciate that the pillow is hypoallergenic, machine washable, and OEKO-TEX certified to be free of harmful substances.
Plus, you get a pack of two with your purchase to share with your bedfellow if you so desire.
Cons: Some users report that the pillow is too high. So if you’re petite in the shoulders, it may not be your neck’s fave.
Best pillow for medium support
The makers of the popular Casper foam mattress have also graced the world with the holy grail of pillows. For those who like their firm mixed with a good amount of floof, the Original Casper Pillow is really a supportive one tucked inside a softer number for that just-right feel.
Pros: A gusset around the pillow’s edges holds the polyester microfiber fill in place without clumping and helps buoy your neck in any position. You can remove the pillow inside a pillow and use either one alone in the cotton percale cover.
Cons: Some users report that the Original Casper is slightly loftier than they prefer, so if you really lean toward the softer side of things, opt for the Casper Down Pillow.
Best pillow for firm support
The trouble with firm pillows is that there’s a fine line between supportive and too stiff, and finding that sweet spot for your neck can be tough — not to mention expensive. Coop Home Goods recognized this pain point and delivered firm pillow lovers an adjustable option.
Basically, you get to decide how firm and high you want your pillow by adding or taking away as much medium density foam and microfiber fill as you’d like. The pillow ships with an extra half pound of the stuff.
Pros: This machine-washable pillow is great for both side and back sleepers and can be altered if your sleeping habits change. And it’s nice to know you’re sleeping on something that’s cruelty free.
Cons: Although the fill is certified by CertiPUR-US and GREENGUARD Gold to ensure low emissions, some users report a chemical smell that takes a while to dissipate after receiving.
Best cervical bolster
A cylindrical bolster tucked under your neck helps support its natural C-curve and even offers light traction for relief of “tech neck.” Or you can slide a bolster underneath the knees for back-sleeping, or between the knees if you curl in the fetal position.
The K Ka Ua Neck Roll Pillow is the one of the most raved-about memory foam options. One reviewer writes, “After buying this pillow I’m finding myself waking up fully refreshed.”
Pros: The K Ka Ua is 4-inches in diameter and comes with a removable and washable bamboo cover. The bolster is small enough to stash in your overnight bag in case you aren’t a fan of hotel pillows or the janky ones your friends and family might have relegated to their guest rooms.
Cons: A cylindrical bolster lacks cushioning for your head, so you may prefer to use it at the base of soft, flat standard pillow.
Best pillow for headache relief
Stiffness, stress, and poor sleep can trigger both migraine or tension headaches. If you battle either of these conditions, the EPABO Contour Memory Foam Pillow can help relax neck muscles by offering ergonomic support.
This pillow has more than 4,000 reviews on Amazon, with one user calling it a “DREAM for anyone who has chronic neck pain.”
Pros: The contoured base of the pillow offers room for your shoulders to tuck under and a divot to cradle your neck in any position.
Cons: Although the outer covering is washable, the memory foam is not. Some users report that the EPABO is just too firm for comfort, but you can remove one section of memory foam for a softer feel.
Best pillow for side sleepers
If you’ve ever coveted a Tempur-Pedic mattress but found the price out of reach, splurge on the TEMPUR-Neck Pillow instead. The wave design bolsters your neck in any position while still providing a cushy spot for your head.
Although the pillow is decidedly firm, side sleepers will appreciate the memory-foam’s give that won’t put pressure on your jaw.
Pros: The pillow comes in three sizes to accommodate your unique anatomy and has a removable and washable hypoallergenic cover. Users cite the pillow’s heavier weight as a plus since it stays put if you frequently switch positions.
Cons: Some users report that the small and medium size versions are narrower than they’d like. And be prepared for a smell out of the bag.
Best pillow for back sleepers
If you’re a back-sleeping convert, you need cervical support, but you also need a pillow that’ll hold your head in place. The triangle divot on the Core Products Tri-Core Cervical Support Pillow cradles the back of your skull so that it doesn’t flop to one side, straining your already-taxed neck muscles.
Pros: The pillow, which comes in three sizes, features two neck bolsters, one thicker than the other, allowing you to choose how much support you want based on your body.
Cons: If you’re also a side sleeper, this pillow may be too firm against sensitive ears or jaw bones.
Best pillow for stomach sleep
Stomach sleeping presents several challenges, including arm placement. If you tuck them under your pillow, the weight of your head can make your limbs fall asleep and put unnecessary pressure on your wrists.
An Amazon Best Seller, the MARNUR Cervical Pillow solves this problem with strategically placed cutout armrests. A slight cavity in the middle of the pillow allows for breathability when turning your face to the side, and the low head height avoids unnecessary torque to your thoracic spine.
Pros: The foam is CertiPUR-US certified. And a removable cover is machine washable.
Cons: The wonky shape won’t make this the prettiest pillow on your bed.
Best organic pillow
If natural is the name of your pillow game, makers of the #1 green mattress, also have a vegan, all-natural, all-organic pillow you can lay your head upon.
The Avocado Green Pillow, handmade in Los Angeles, is both GOTS and GOLS certified. And it carries the GREENGUARD GOLD approval, making it a safe option for those worried about chemical exposure or indoor air pollution.
Pros: The Avocado comes with an extra bag of organic latex and kapok fill so that you can customize loft to your neck’s liking. A cotton-jersey liner encases the fill, and a machine-washable cotton cover protects the whole planet-friendly package.
Speaking of packaging, Avocado pillows are compressed for shipping in compact boxes for less waste.
Cons: The price tag on one of these babies, is a little hefty.
Best buckwheat pillow
One of the most versatile styles to alleviate neck pain is a pillow filled with buckwheat hulls. The Original Hullo Buckwheat Pillow naturally molds to your head and neck without collapsing under the weight. And you can maneuver hulls around to get your desired contour in any position.
Pros: The Hullo comes in three sizes and ships fully stuffed, but you can remove buckwheat hulls if you prefer more malleability or less loft. Buckwheat tends to offer more breathability than other fillings, allowing your head to sleep cool.
Cons: Sleeping on a buckwheat filling can take some getting used to. The hulls can sound a little noisy under your head when getting situated. Also, at more than 8 pounds for the standard size, the Hullo is a heavy contender.
We interrupt our pillow talk to discuss something gross. After just 2 years of use, pillows can become petri dishes, with possibly a third of their weight made up of bugs, dead skin, dust mites, and dust mite poo. Ew.
So what can you do? Wash your sheets, pillowcases, and bed coverings every 7 to 14 days, and toss pillow coverings in the wash when you wash bedding.
Follow the manufacturer’s directions for laundering machine-washable pillows, which should be tossed in every 3 to 6 months. If you have a synthetic pillow that cannot be washed, consider replacing it every 2 years.
Washable pillows can stick around longer unless they lose their shape, which could lead to increasing neck pain.
If you suffer from neck pain, a good pillow is just one way to find relief. Other options include stretching, icing the area for 20 minutes on and off to decrease inflammation, and using ibuprofen or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) on days when you have pain.
If your neck pain persists, check in with your healthcare provider to see if imaging or other tests are necessary.
We spend a third of our lives in bed, either sleeping or trying to. That means many of us are spending quality time with old pillows or pillows that just aren’t suitable for how we sleep.
If you’ve got neck pain, consider investing in a new pillow that helps you drift off to dreamland and gets you waking up crick-free and ready to sing.