The Best Pillows for Back Sleepers Are Definitely Not Down
The name of the game? Support, support, support.
Published Jun 16, 2022 9:36 PM
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Depending on your sleep position, you might not be using the right pillow for the proper support and alignment. People who sleep on their backs, in particular, can put a lot of pressure on their spines without a supportive pillow. So first and foremost, Alex Savy, certified sleep science coach and founder of SleepingOcean.com, says that “putting a pillow underneath the head and neck, not on the shoulders, will help keep the spine straight.”
But what kind of pillow, you ask? Well, given that back sleeping requires more support for the spine, you’ll want a pillow that’s relatively firm and low loft, meaning thinner than the average fluffy pillow. Pillows filled with down or feathers are a no-go for back sleepers, as they don’t provide adequate spinal support, since your head will sink down into the mattress. A firmer, thinner pillow will keep the head elevated enough (without a severe arch in the neck) to encourage a neutral position. It’s kind of like the Goldilocks of sleep positions—and for that, you need to find a pillow that’s just right.
Luckily we did the scouring for you. We’ve gathered six of the best pillows for back sleepers that will cradle your head, keep your spine aligned, and—best of all—promote a soothing night’s sleep.
- Best Firm: Coyuchi Turiya Organic Latex Pillow
- Best Overall: Marlow Pillow
- Best Budget: Original Casper Pillow – Low Loft
- Best for skin and hair: The Cushion Lab Deep Sleep Pillow
- Best Breathable Foam: Saatva Latex Pillow
- Best Elevated: Helix Wedge Pillow
Best Overall: Marlow Pillow
Outer: 100% cotton | Fill: Chopped memory foam | Loft: Adjustable | Sizes: Standard and king
What we like:
- Filled with super-responsive chopped memory foam
- Adjustable loft and firmness with simple side zipper
- Gel-infused foam keeps the pillow cool
- Will feel firm to someone accustomed to a down pillow
- Memory foam tends to run warmer than down or synthetic fluff
Why we chose it: There are lots of adjustable pillows on the market, but this one is easily changed through its side zippers, making it our pick for overall best back-sleeper pillow.
Made by cult-favorite bedding company Brooklinen, the Marlow is different from your ordinary adjustable pillow because it doesn’t require adding or removing loose stuffing or shoving in extra layers. The zippers on both sides of the pillow adjust its height, so when they’re completely zipped, it’s firm and low loft (perfect for back sleepers). It can also be unzipped on one side (for a medium loft) or on both sides (for a fluffy, high loft) should you change sleep positions or want to sit up in bed to read.
If you’re used to an extra-fluffy feather pillow, the feel of a memory foam one will be an adjustment; it’s definitely firmer, but that is actually ideal for a back sleeper who needs targeted support. The pillow is filled with chopped memory foam, which allows air to circulate through the individual pieces and makes for a cushier feel under your head than solid memory foam. Bear in mind that memory foam, in general, runs warmer than a standard down or synthetic fill pillow, but luckily the foam in the Marlow is gel infused for extra cooling properties.
Best Value: Original Casper Pillow – Low Loft
Outer: 100% cotton | Fill: Polyester down alternative | Loft: Low | Sizes: Standard and king
What we like:
- Down alternative is airy and soft while also supportive
- Machine washable for easy cleaning
- Hypoallergenic fill
- Not as supportive as a memory foam pillow
- Might require fluffing from time to time
Why we chose it: If you’re looking for support that mimics the feel of your favorite down pillow, this low-loft option is the best of both worlds at a great price.
Memory foam isn’t for everyone, and we get it. This option blends the support needed for a back sleeper (thanks to its firm inner pillow) with airy softness (due to a down alternative–filled cover), so you don’t have to sacrifice your ideal fluff to keep your spine aligned. And since the filling is synthetic, it’s hypoallergenic—great for people who love squishy down but wake up sneezing from the animal feathers.
You’ll likely need to give this pillow a fluff from time to time, but rest assured, it will bounce right back to its original shape. Plus it’s machine washable for easy cleaning, unlike most memory foam pillows that specify spot cleaning only.
Best Structured Support: Coyuchi Turiya Organic Latex Pillow
Outer: 100% organic cotton | Fill: Organic latex | Loft: Low | Sizes: 1
What we like:
- Designed specifically for spinal support, with a hollow for your head
- Comes with 2 covers for pillow protection and a soft outer feel
- GOLS- + GOTS-certified materials
- On the pricier end of our picks
- May require an adjustment period for a realigned sleep position
Why we chose it: This pillow cradles your head as you sleep to relieve pressure on your neck and back.
This hyper-specific pillow was designed just for back sleepers, and the unique construction actually includes a hollowed middle to cradle your head throughout the night. This is, of course, a much different sleep experience than using a traditional filled pillow, so the brand recommends trying it out for a full 30 days to see if your sleep and alignment improve.
The pillow is made with organic latex that meets the Global Organic Latex Standard, and Coyuchi also supports farmers in Sri Lanka who harvest natural rubber sap. The cover for the pillow meets the Global Organic Textile Standard and consists of an organic cotton protective inner cover and a soft, sateen outer cover. These sustainably harvested materials add up to a higher price tag than some other pillows on our list, but we think it’s worth it for the superior quality.
Best for Skin and Hair: The Cushion Lab Deep Sleep Pillow
Outer: Cooling nylon and spandex | Fill: Memory foam | Loft: Medium | Sizes: 1
What we like:
- Sculpted side boosters cradle your neck for support
- Outer cover is designed to reduce hair frizz and skin creasing
- Memory foam is firm and supportive
- Memory foam construction can run warm
- Sculpted shape will be a different look than other pillows on your bed
Why we chose it: This pillow cradles your neck, while the outer cover prevents hair frizz and skin creasing, similar to a silk pillowcase.
In the past few years, silk pillowcases have enjoyed increasing popularity thanks to their ability to decrease hair frizz and skin creasing (when compared to a cotton or linen pillowcase). But if you’re looking for support and skin and hair benefits, this pillow does it all. The 80 percent nylon cover is designed to work much the same as a silk pillowcase, while the inner pillow is shaped specifically for neck and back support for people who sleep mostly on their back (with some side sleeping). It also has a second inner cover, which protects the pillow from a buildup of skin cells, germs, and sweat.
If you’re someone who likes their pillows to match perfectly, you might want to place this pillow behind a more decorative one when you make your bed, since the shape is quite different from a standard pillow.
Best Breathable Foam: Saatva Latex Pillow
Outer: 100% cotton | Fill: Shredded natural latex | Loft: Medium | Sizes: Queen and king
What we like:
- Hypoallergenic materials
- Shredded latex inner provides stellar neck and back support
- Machine washable 100 percent cotton pillow cover
- On the higher end of loft recommended for back sleepers
Why we chose it: This pillow is the closest thing to hotel-like luxury, with a soft sateen outer and a supportive, responsive latex inner.
Similar to shredded memory foam, shredded latex provides tons of support for spine alignment while staying breathable, thanks to the air that passes between the individual pieces of material. And since this pillow is also covered in a luxurious (and fully machine washable) 100 percent cotton sateen cover, air won’t get trapped in or out of the pillow the way it might with a synthetic cover.
All the materials used in this pillow are hypoallergenic, and the latex goes through a washing process to remove all allergy-causing proteins, ensuring that no one will wake up sneezing. This one is a bit higher in loft than some of the others on our list; luckily Saatva’s 45-day return policy allows you to fully try out the pillow before making a decision.
Best for Elevated Support: Helix Wedge Pillow
Outer: Rayon-and-polyester blend | Fill: Memory foam | Loft: 12-inch slope | Sizes: 1
What we like:
- Can be used either under your head or to elevate your legs
- Great for propping yourself up to read or watch TV in bed
- Can help reduce certain sleep issues like acid reflux
- Unique shape may be difficult to style on your bed
- Won’t fit in standard pillowcases
Why we chose it: While a wedge pillow might look more like a kiddie slide than an adult bed pillow, this specific shape is extra comfortable for lounging—and can help with certain sleep issues, too.
If you’re a back sleeper who also suffers from unpleasant conditions that make sleep difficult, you might want to try out a wedge-shaped pillow. “Certain medical issues can be positively aided using a specially designed wedge pillow,” says Savy; conditions like asthma, acid reflux, and post-nasal drip can be helped by sleeping with the head elevated, she adds. (Still, we’d recommend consulting with your physician.)
Aside from possible medical benefits, wedge pillows do double duty by either supporting your head and neck or elevating your legs while you sleep, contributing to proper spinal alignment and general comfort. They’re also particularly great if you like to prop yourself up in bed while reading or watching TV. Since they are oddly shaped, though, they’re difficult to style on a bed (or put in a standard pillowcase, for that matter), and might be best stashed under the bed or in a closet while not in use.
How We Chose These Products
When looking for the best pillows for back sleepers, we reached out to Savy, who said that finding lower-loft pillows filled with supportive materials is most important when choosing a pillow for a back sleeper, so all the pillows on our list fit that criteria. As for brands, we turned to reputable (and fan favorite) companies with glowing customer reviews, quality materials like 100 percent cotton and organic latex, and either 30-plus-night trials or return policies that ensure that buyers have plenty of time to test any pillow purchase. We did not include any pillows made from down or with feather filling, as these are specifically not recommended for people who sleep on their backs.
Our Shopping Checklist
Loft and Support
According to Casper, “Loft is the compressed height of the pillow when your head is resting on it.” And while there are low-, medium-, and high-loft pillows, we chose low- and medium-loft pillows for back sleepers, as higher lofts cause an uncomfortable arch in the neck and less-than-ideal spinal alignment. Plus extra support for the head and neck comes from a material that won’t lose its shape throughout the night.
Casper points out that “firmness refers to how much a pillow maintains its shape when weight is applied,” which is different from loft, which refers to height, not shape. Most of the pillows we chose are relatively firm, since back sleepers need consistent support throughout the night, unlike side sleepers, who may be totally fine with a fluffy, squishy pillow.
The fill materials that are pretty much off-limits for back sleepers? Down and feathers. They’re simply not firm or supportive enough to maintain spinal alignment. Instead, look for memory foam, latex, or a firm synthetic filling. These materials tend to run warmer than down, though, so they’re often covered with a breathable cotton cover or shredded (memory foam and latex in particular) to increase airflow throughout the night.
Q: How common is back sleeping? And how can my pillow help?
“Sleeping on one’s back is relatively common, especially among men,” says Savy, and the right pillow is essential in maintaining proper spinal alignment, which will keep you comfy all night long. Several of the pillows on our list are structured to cradle your head as you sleep, which helps keep you still throughout the night (read: less tossing and turning) for a deep and restful sleep.
Q: What is the worst type of pillow for back sleepers?
A down or feather-filled one. “This is because the firmness level isn’t enough to provide adequate stability to keep the neck, shoulders, and back in a neutral position,” Savy points out. But if you’re looking for a feathery-soft feel with additional support, we’d recommend a synthetic-fill pillow like the Casper Original Pillow.
Q: Will my pillow last longer than a year?
“There’s no exact answer to whether pillows will last longer than a year,” says Savy. “However, when the comfort of the pillow begins to deteriorate, this is a warning sign that the pillow is out of date.” According to Saatva, even high-quality pillows lose their shape after a few years of daily use, and most experts recommend replacing your pillow every two years to be safe. Some additional warning signs that it’s time to replace your pillow include: neck pain in the morning, a change in preferred sleep position, the pillow has an odor or is discolored or gotten lumpy.
The Last Word
The best pillows for back sleepers are ones that offer substantial support with firmer materials like memory foam, synthetic fill, or latex and have a lower loft to promote proper spinal alignment. Our top pick is the Marlow Pillow, which is made of breathable, responsive chopped memory foam and can be easily adjusted for specific loft preference.