Pillows are just as important as your mattress or mattress alternative is when it comes to sleep quality and health. However, a lot of sleepers can overlook your pillow’s value and choose a generic type of pillow. While rectangular, standard types of pillows are more then supportive enough, innovative pillow shapes like the body or cervical pillow can help ease sleep conditions, chronic pain, and help you sleep much more comfortably. Also, the fill in your pillow impacts the conformity, breathability, and the durability of your pillows, as well as the overall cost.
The best type of pillow should relieve pressure, promote a healthy spine, and support your neck and head to allow you to sleep comfortably. The huge range of pillows on the market can make it daunting to make a clear decision, but we’ll lay out your options so you can pick a higher-quality type of pillow and get a great night’s sleep.
1. Body Pillows
Body types of pillows are usually 54-inches long. So, they’re twice as long as a standard-sized pillow. The pillows can have a curved shape to conform to your body. It’s one pillow that is extremely popular with women who are in the end-stage of their pregnancy. This is because your pillow will conform well to the ongoing changes in your body during this part of the woman’s life. Body pillows will usually stay in place and not slip easily off your bed. So, they’re a comfortable and stable pillow to use.
2. Bolster Pillows
You may have heard of chairs with bolstered arms, but what about this type of pillow? It’s a rolled pillow that you may see used for decoration, but it also gives you great leg and neck support, depending on where you place it. You can use it under or between your knees or under your neck, and both positions help aid in getting a healthy spinal alignment and relieve pressure and pain from your lumbar spine and neck.
3. Buckwheat Hull Pillows
When you add buckwheat hulls to your pillow, it takes on the feel and look of a traditional beanbag. The material that you use for this type of pillow gets designed to accommodate virtually any sleeping position. You can fluff or smooth the material according to your preferences. Because the hulls won’t retain any heat, the pillow won’t rise around your face as pillows filled with down tend to. The hulls will break over time, and this will cause this type of pillow to lose a little support.
4. Cervical Pillows
Also called rounded pillows, these pillows get specifically designed for shoulder and neck pain. They have a divot around the neck area that holds your head and neck in place while you sleep to stop your head from turning over. By helping to hold your head still, this pillow type helps to minimize strained shoulder and neck muscles or general stiffness.
5. Contour Pillows
As the name suggests, contour pillows come with a wavy shape. This type of pillow has one arch under the neck area and a second arch above the head. Chiropractors recommend the use of this pillow type for side and back sleepers since they create excellent neck support, reduce shoulder and neck stiffness, and promote a neutral spinal alignment.
6. Cooling Pillows
One of the nicer features that make today’s type of pillows must-have accessories for your bedroom is the cooling feature that they provide. For example, these pillow fills get designed to give enough ventilation so that you’re not bothered by heat retention as you try to sleep. Instead, any type of pillow that is made out of buckwheat hulls, memory foam, latex, or water makes it possible for you to relax your head on the pillow without getting too warm. So, it’s a nice pillow choice for anyone who wants to get a better and cooler night’s sleep.
Additionally, having a cooling sleep can be better for your health and overall well-being, just like some plants can help you sleep better. A cooling type of pillow can give you relief from insomnia and sleeplessness because it can boost your metabolism and mood. When you feel cooler, you will usually also feel more peaceful and calm.
When you get enough sleep every night, you produce more melatonin. When these levels start to rise, it can reduce the risk of cancer. If you want to sweat less as you sleep, you should consider a cooling pillow type, like one that has memory foam or a down-filled one. You can get the same benefits from using a water pillow.
7. Cradling Pillows
People really like to feel secure as they sleep. When your pillow is comfortable and soft, even when it’s softly firm, you feel more cradled and secure. The correct type of pillow will not shift around as you sleep, and this will make it more stable. This is especially true if you have a longer body pillow you’re sleeping with. This pillow in particular will cradle you as you sleep.
This is exactly why pregnant women like using this pillow, and it tends to adapt to the body’s changes during this time. This type of adaptability is important for anyone who wants to monitor their health or someone who is suffering from a condition like heart disease because you can really benefit from this cradling effect as you sleep.
8. Down Pillows
Down pillows feature an undercoating that is fluffy and underneath the goose’s feather. So, the filler is very soft and light. In turn, you’ll get a type of pillow that is very comfortable and breathable, and this can help you sleep better. However, despite these very desirable features, down pillows require that you do a lot of general fluffing to help them maintain their shape.
Down types of pillows can be difficult to maintain and clean too. The down in these pillows tends to clump up when you expose it to additional moisture. People with allergies may also be allergic to the down that gets used in this pillow. The pillows come in a larger range of prices from $10.00 up to over $200. The final price point will depend on the quality of the pillow and the brand you choose.
9. Down-Alternative Pillows
As the name suggests, this type of pillow replicates the look of a traditional down pillow but they’re made out of synthetic materials like polyester. People who have allergies like to use these pillows, as do people who want to choose from different firmness options. Some users who have this pillow say that these pillows aren’t as comfortable as an originally down pillow. However, they can be easier to clean and maintain.
10. Feather Pillows
Feather pillows, just like down types of pillows, get their fill from geese. They’re very similar to down pillows because they’re breathable and comfortable. They also have roughly the same price range at 10.00 to $200 each. However, in some instances, you may notice that the feathers have an unpleasant smell to them.
Also, the quills from the feathers can poke through and irritate any sleepers. Because these types of pillows are known to flatten, they require a lot of fluffing or recurrent molding to keep them comfortable. Just like the down pillow counterparts, these pillows can be tricky to maintain and clean because they’ll clump up when you expose them to moisture. So, you can’t just pop it into the washer to clean it.
11. Goose Down and Goose Feather Pillows
Goose down is the softer undercoating under a goose’s feathers. Thai material is one that is very lightweight and soft, and you can use it to adjust to different sleeping conditions. Goose feathers are very popular in sleeping pillows, and just like goose down, they are lightweight and soft. However, the feather’s quills in this type of pillow can be distracting as they can poke through. Goose feathers as your pillow fill material can also potentially set off some allergies.
12. Innerspring Pillows
As you may get from the name, these types of pillows have a core steel spring that gets covered with a layer of memory foam. In some instances, the steel spring core in this pillow can get enveloped by a layer of polyester. No matter what the manufacturer used for the covering, these pillows or the pillow-top mattress are very comfortable in an ergonomic sense. They usually have ergonomically-endorsed support for your head and neck, and this makes the pillow a great choice for people with neck pain.
The spring core in these pillows allows an airflow that will help to cool the sleeper through the night. The pillow’s configuration is very responsive to any sleeping position type as well. However, these features on these types of pillows come with a higher price tag attached that can easily range from $120 to $160 and up per pillow. On average, you can purchase an innerspring, pillow-top mattress for $500 and up.
13. King Pillows
King pillows measure 20-inches by 36-inches. This makes this type of pillow extra-long, and they give you additional support for your body to help alleviate muscle or joint pains. They’re also highly recommended for anyone who is pregnant. King-stye pillows, like body pillows, offer the maximum comfort level while accommodating the sleeping needs of men and women alike.
You can comfortably put two of these types of pillows on a king-sized bed. If you want to get extra support, you can try covering one of the bigger king-size pillows with a queen-sized one in the same pillow case. The other softer pillows in this category could get placed in a regular king-size pillowcase.
14. Kapok Pillows
This material is the seedpod fluff that comes from the Ceiba tree, and this tree is native to the rainforests. Kapok types of pillows feel very similar to more traditional down, and they’re soft, lofty, and very lightweight. Since this material is made from tree parts, the fill is naturally biodegradable and eco-friendly. It’s also a hypoallergenic choice, so people with allergies can rest without a problem. However, these pillows aren’t hugely popular as they’re flammable and expensive to create.
15. Latex Pillows
A latex foam type of pillow gets made from either natural or synthetic latex. Natural latex comes from the rubber tree, and it gets produced from the white, sticky fluid. Synthetic latex mimics natural latex, and it features various chemicals. Most latex manufacturers use a blend of natural and synthetic latex in the filling in the pillows.
When you consider the softness factor, latex pillows are very soft. They’re softer than any memory foam you can get. They also have a pressure point support system and have more breathability than you’ll get with a traditional memory foam pillow. Some latex pillow users say that adding a pressure point support will make the pillow more firm. Other people say that these are heavier types of pillows over the memory foam ones.
16. Memory Foam Pillows
A large amount of foam gets added to this type of pillow, and each one has different advantages. Memory foam pillows are heavily favored by a lot of sleepers because it works to enhance how well you sleep. THey also give you better support because they mold to the sleeper’s shape, and this gives you a lot more comfort than a traditional pillow. Memory foam comes in the following:
- Cooling Memory Foam – This reduces the heat retention. So, you typically use this type of pillow with a moisture-wicking pillow cover or a cooler pillow case.
- Multi-Foam Memory Foam – As you’d get from the name, several types of foam get used to emphasize the pillow design’s beneficial aspects. The aspects mainly focus on cooling and conformity. At the same time, it also helps to reduce negative aspects like warming or sinking.
- Natural Foam – When it comes to memory foam, natural foam gets used for hypoallergenic products. So, this foam has a larger percentage of natural ingredients. As a direct result, this type of pillow gives you a firmer and sturdy eco-friendly solution. It’s usually much cooler than a traditionally-made pillow in this category.
- Shredded Memory Foam – You’ll get shredded clusters of memory foam in this filling. This filling makes these types of pillows more adaptable and moldable to your comfort needs. As a result, you can easily conform this pillow to your desired sleeping position. The breathability is also much better when you compare it to a solid memory foam.
When you’re trying to decide between the various memory foam types of pillows, you base your selection on the firmness, comfort, and the cooling elements. You also want to see how the pillow conforms to your desired sleeping position. Pillows in this category have a broad price range that starts at $10.00 and goes up to $150 per pillow, depdning on the brand, foam, configuration, and type.
17. Microbead Pillows
Microbeads are also called EPS or unexpanded polystyrene beads. They’re a contouring, squishy pillow fill. A lot of horseshoe neck pillows have microbeads that give you great support when you sleep upright. Microbeads are breathable and cooling, but there’s a risk of your pillow tearing and spilling all of the beads. Microbeads also aren’t an eco-friendly fill because it can take up to 500 years for polystyrene to biodegrade in landfills.
18. Polyester and Poly-cluster Pillows
Polyester is a very common fill in various types of pillows. It’s cuddly and soft, but it doesn’t give you a large deal of support when you sleep. Because this fill gives you a machine-washable and economical pillow, it’s a great material to choose for children and teens. This material usually causes your pillow to go flat. So, most adults usually steer away from this material because it doesn’t give you any firmness. Poly-cluster fills get made with polyester clusters aht have a silicone coating.
19. Polyfill Pillows
When you hear someone say polyfill, it refers to a type of pillow that has polyester for the filling. A lot of people who have allergies usually prefer these pillows because they’re supposed to be hypoallergenic. Polyfill may also be called down-alternative fill or microfiber. This pillow is easy to maintain and clean, and it has a more affordable price tag. While a pillow with polyester fill can pace cotton in terms of softness, it can’t meet the breathability, support, and comfort that a memory foam pillow gives.
20. Queen Pillows
A queen type of pillow usually measures 20-inches by 30-inches. It’ll fit snugly into a standard-sized pillowcase. Picking a standard-sized pillowcase will increase how firm this type of pillow is. Usually, you can put two of these pillows at the head of a queen-sized bed. You may consider purchasing two pillows for each side of your bed and putting two pillows in a single standard-sized pillow case while putting the other two in a queen-sized pillow case.
Doing this will allow both you and your partner to get a pillow type that gives you firmer support and one that is a little softer. The pillow in the standard-size pillowcase can work well as a backrest as you read too.
21. Standard-Sized Pillows
Pillows that are a more standard size are 20-inches by 26-inches, and you can easily put two standard-sized types of pillows across your full-sized bed. This pillow size is very easy to arrange and fluff up as you need. If you want to make your bed neater, you want to pick out a pillow type that won’t sink. To do this, the pillow should be made out of latex or memory foam.
Using this pillow type is helpful if you want a pillow that is easily accessible. You can purchase dual pillows for each side of your bed for added back support when you sit up in your bed. They lean against your headboard.
22. Toddler-Sized Pillows
Pillows that are the perfect size for toddlers are usually 13-inches by 18-inches. This pillow type is made for a smaller child and ensures that they stay comfortable because they’re easier for small hands to move. You can use this type of pillow in a toddler’s bed or when you travel. It will give them ongoing comfort. This is a great size pillow for any toddler who needs a pillow to nap in at daycare.
23. Travel Pillows
Travel types of pillows typically measure 12-inches by 16-inches, and they fit into your travel-sized pillowcases. This size pillow is great for traveling by plane or car. The pillows typically have microbeads, and this makes them a great size for helping provide protection against tiredness and neck strain while you travel on byways or highways. You can use them to relax for a long plane ride. Some people like this pillow because it’s very mobile-friendly.
24. Water Pillows
Water types of pillows are more uncommon, and they’re an adjustable pillow. How well you can adjust it depends on the amount of water you add. Water pillows tend to feel very consistent, and they’re not prone to lumping or sagging. So, you can add more water as you need more support.
Water pillows are more on the firm side, and they won’t contour to the shape of your neck and head. Since they only have water as the filling, these pillows don’t require fluffing and are hypoallergenic. However, they can leak and ruin your mattress if you don’t catch them in time.
25. Wedge Pillows
Wedge types of pillows are an orthopedic pillow for anyone who sleeps on their backs. They come in many different sizes, but they all have the same triangular, angled shape. Sleeping at this includes helps to support your back, reduces pressure on your spine, and improves your blood flow. Wedge pillows primarily work to elevate your upper body, but you can also put the pillows under your legs to prevent blood from pooling.
Utilizing a wedge pillow can ease any symptoms you may have related to GERD, acid reflux, and obstructive sleep apnea. Anyone who is pregnant can tuck this type of pillow under the belly to help elevate it and reduce any discomfort during the second and third trimesters.
26. Wool Pillows
Wool is a very fluffy, breathable, and soft fill. You can get types of pillows that are blended with other fills or 100% wool. 100% wool is the most fluffy option out of the two. Vegan people might not want to buy it since it comes from sheep. Wool pillows aren’t as popular as others on the list because you can only dry-clean them and they’re more expensive.
Best Types of Pillows for Your Sleeping Position
Your sleeping position will determine the pillow height and firmness you need to keep your spine in alignment and sleep comfortably. You don’t want your type of pillow to be tall enough to make your neck curl inward, and it shouldn’t be so thin that your neck and head curve backwards.
Anyone who sleeps on their backs needs a medium-height pillow at four to five inches. It should also be a medium to medium-firm firmness to keep the neck and head in align with the spine.
Since combination sleepers tend to sleep in a few positions, it’s challenging to tell the exact firmness and loft suited for them. Instead, you want to try an adjustable type of pillow, like a latex or shredded memory foam pillow because you can mold their height and firmness.
The side sleepers’ heads are far from the beds and bed frames, so you need a higher pillow at five to seven inches to bridge the gap between the mattress and your head. Medium firmness is a great option for side sleepers since it cushions your head while keeping your spine in alignment.
Stomach sleepers that are less than three inches high and more firm are best for stomach sleepers since you won’t need much height. You can also use a medium height pillow and rest our forehead against the pillow so you can lay face-down and prevent straining your neck.
Types of Pillows – Frequently Asked Questions
Since there are so many types of pillows on the market, it’s common to be confused if you’re sorting through your options. The following questions can help you narrow down your choices. Pillow Pile by Evan Long / CC BY-NC 2.0
1. Is it bad to sleep with your arm arranged under your pillow?
Sleeping with your arm arranged under your pillow will pinch your shoulder and it results in neck and shoulder pain. It can also compress your arm and limit the blood circulation, and this can cause a dead arm in the morning. It won’t cause any large, chronic issues, but you want to try sleeping, hugging a pillow or with your arms at your side to keep a healthier spine alignment and minimal pain.
2. When is a good time to replace the pillow?
Generally, you want to replace your pillow every year or two. Even with regular fluffing and washing, your pillow will get dirty and unsupportive with daily use. You can tell if it’s time to replace your pillow if it has lumps, has discoloration or yellow stains, smells, or folds in half and holds the shape easily.
3. How much do pillows cost?
A lot of high-quality pillows cost anywhere from $25.00 up to $100, depending on the brand, size, and materials. A very cheap pillow that costs $10.00 or less is unlikely to give you the support and comfort you need. They also won’t last long.
4. Is it better to try and sleep with your head elevated or flat?
For a healthy sleeper, laying with your head flat and with your spine aligned is perfectly fine. However, if you have acid reflux, respiratory issues, or pain in your spine, laying flat can worsen your symptoms because your airways collapse. Use an adjustable bed base or a wedge pillow to elevate your upper body and get symptom relief.
Taking the time to look through the various types of pillows and find the perfect fill, size, and shape can help you sleep more comfortably. Also, it reduces stiffness and soreness when you wake up. Mattresses are important for spine health too, but the pillow type has a lot more impact. The type of pillow you choose may come down to personal preference, but your pillow should prevent migraines, headaches, achy shoulder and neck muscles, and improve your sleep quality.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.