How to choose a good bed pillow

Choosing a good bed pillow is key to a good night’s sleep

Every year, millions of people around the globe do not get enough sleep. While there are lots of reasons for this, the right sleeping environment can make a big difference in the quality of our sleep. Maybe because it is a big purchase that will be around a long time, many people spend a great deal of time looking for the perfect mattress. But, when it comes to choosing a pillow, most of us don’t really think a lot about it.

Because it supports your head and neck, the lowly pillow actually plays a big role in the quality of your sleep experience. It’s worth understanding the pillow’s role in getting more and better quality sleep, and how to choose the right pillow for your individual needs.

Red headed girl hugging her pillow after a good night's sleep

There are two things that a pillow is meant to provide, comfort and a correct sleeping posture. When you are uncomfortable, falling asleep can be difficult. Correct sleeping posture ensures that your head and neck remain in a supported and relaxed position, which prevents muscle pain as well as stiffness in the shoulders, head, neck and back. Without proper support, an ill-fitting pillow can cause (or worsen) headaches and numbness in the arms.

Is it time for a new pillow?

The average lifespan of a pillow varies greatly. However, you can determine your pillow’s effectiveness by performing the simple, quick test below.

Pillow test:

  1. Place your pillow flat.
  2. Now, fold it in half.
  3. Let go.

If your pillow does not return to its original position, it is time to start looking for a replacement.

Regardless of its age, if you feel upper body aches and pains when you wake, or wake up with a headache that eases as you walk around, you should look for a new pillow. Maybe you simply can’t get comfortable enough to quickly fall asleep – you may have the wrong pillow. And, because pillows can house dust mites and mold, many people prefer to replace their pillows every few years.

What is your sleep style?

Your pillow needs to keep your head in what is referred to as ‘neutral alignment.’ When your head is neutrally aligned, it does not rest too far forward or too far back; instead, your head rests evenly on your shoulders (just as it does when you practice good posture while standing).

Pillow for Side Sleepers

Sobella pillow for side sleepers
Sobella Pillow

A side sleeper needs a medium or firm pillow and can also benefit from an extra-wide gusset. Whereas some pillows just have a top panel and bottom panel that are sewn together, a gusseted pillow has panels along all four sides to increase its thickness. This increased thickness works well to bridge the distance between your shoulder and your ear. In addition, if you are a side sleeper, consider placing a pillow between your knees to help align your spine. Instead of placing your shoulder at a 90-degree angle, reduce the stress on your trapezius muscle, neck and shoulder blades by positioning your shoulder slightly forward.

Pillow for Back Sleepers

If you prefer to sleep on your back, you should consider a thinner pillow; otherwise, your neck may sit too far forward, which will put excessive pressure on your C2 and C3 vertebrae. Choose a thinner pillow with extra loft to cradle your neck (loft refers to the amount of lift a pillow has). When there is extra loft at the bottom, it will be slightly thicker in this area. Many back-sleepers choose memory foam pillows because they mold to the shape of the head and neck. If you want to alleviate some of the pressure on your lower back, place a pillow beneath your knees.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers should use the thinnest pillow available – or no pillow at all. If you sleep on your stomach, you are placing undue stress on your lower back. Sleeping on your side with a side-sleeping pillow is a better option. If you sleep on your stomach because you prefer to feel something pressing against your abdomen, try hugging a body pillow.

Choosing a Pillow Filling

Dolce Notte II fiber filled pillow
Dolce Notte II

Innovative materials available today have made some manufactured fibers just as comfortable as natural fibers, but more durable and often hypoallergenic. For the best of both worlds, some people choose pillows that contain a combination of natural and synthetic fillers, or they may use a firmer memory-foam pillow placed on top of a feather pillow.

Cotton-filled pillows are comfortable and are ideal if you have allergies to synthetic fillings or down. However, cotton pillows may lose their springiness and loft quicker than other types of fillings; therefore, you may need to replace a cotton-filled pillow more often.

Sahara Nights cotton pillow
Sahara Nights pillow

Down pillows provide good support with a soft and silky feel. Feather pillows contain larger feathers than down pillows do; thus, they may not be as comfortable as their down feather counterparts. A pillow with a combination filler that consists of feathers and down may be a good choice if you want the comfort of down at an affordable price. Some people may experience allergies to feathers and down.

Rice, flax seed and buckwheat hulls are natural pillow fillings that easily conform to the shape of your body. These pillows are rather heavy. When you move, the seeds make a rustling noise, which some people find quite soothing.

Memory foam pillows are made with a material that can retain its shape repeatedly. When you press down on it, the foam conforms to the contour of the weight; once the weight is removed, the foam springs back into its original shape. A memory foam pillow never loses its resilience.

Just like the memory foam, a water pillow contours around your head and neck. However, this pillow may be somewhat noisy when you change position.

Guide to Pillow Fillings and Support Levels

  • Polyester and cotton: medium to soft support
  • Wool medium to soft support: good thermal regulator
  • Down: medium support
  • Feather: firm
  • Memory foam: firm, molds to shape of your head and neck
  • Buckwheat: medium to firm support, noisy
  • Water: adjustable by altering the level of water

Roadmap to Better Sleep

Put your current pillow through the pillow test. Do you know what kind of pillow it is? Now, spend a few nights observing your own sleeping style – do you sleep primarily on your back? Side? Stomach? Pay attention to how you feel in the morning. Are you rested, or still feeling fatigued? Do you notice morning neck, shoulder or other pain? Then, use the guidelines above to help select your next pillow. With the right pillow, you may be surprised at how well you sleep and how refreshed you feel upon waking.

Bellazure Duo down and feather pillow
Bellazure Duo pillow

Quality Bed Pillows for Everyone Who Sleeps

As an experienced provider of luxury bedding for hotels worldwide, Sobel Westex has created a line of luxury pillows that offer something for every sleep style and preference. Our carefully selected and hotel-tested pillows are now available to everyone from our online boutique, Sobel at Home. Choose from a number of styles to find the pillow that provides just the firmness and support you need. Available in 100% cotton, down or advanced synthetic fiber, Sobel’s pillows also feature high thread count and attractive, durable design.  Let Sobel at Home help match your bed pillow to your sleep style and enjoy a good night’s sleep again.