Can the Right Pillow Help You Sleep Better?
Sleep specialists weigh in.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:12 AM
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For such an easy activity, sleep can be a lot of work. Whether you toss and turn, struggle to calm your thoughts, or constantly shift positions, getting a good night’s rest can actually be pretty complicated. That’s why, when it comes to figuring out your ideal pillow configuration, a lot of trial and error might just be necessary.
Pillow preferences are highly personal. You might favor resting on a throne of four or more pillows, while another person prefers sleeping without any pillow at all. Ultimately, when comfort is concerned, a lot comes down to preference, but there are still plenty of scientifically driven recommendations that can not only guarantee you to sleep better but also to rest in the best position for your body.
Depending on how you sleep, the pillow that works best for you can vary. “Individuals who are primarily side sleepers usually need more height due to the distance between the shoulders and the neck, while back sleepers may not need that much height in the pillows since they are closer to the mattress,” explains Dr. Robert Koser, DC. “The key thing is to be in a neutral neck position when sleeping on your back and side, so if you notice your head is flexed or dipped down too much, it is time to invest in a different pillow.”
Whether you prefer a traditional down fill or a plusher memory foam, the right pillow for your sleep style will ensure that you wake up feeling refreshed. “Keeping proper cervical spine posture as we sleep will keep the joints healthy in your neck, and you should be waking up with fewer aches and pains,” Koser adds. Here are the expert-recommended picks that will keep your spine in perfect alignment while you sleep.
If You Can’t Quite Define Your Style
If you’ve found yourself in a Goldilocks-style loop picking out your perfect pillow, there’s a startup for that: Pluto is a customized pillow that is best suited for your sleep style, using an online quiz to prescribe the perfect cushion for you. “Our proprietary model and pillow designs take a more scientific approach in which we create and personalize pillows to you based on your body stats, how you sleep, and your preferences,” explains founder Susana Saeliu. “This algorithm continues to improve with more orders and customer feedback.”
If You’re a Hot Sleeper
Many chiropractors recommend memory foam pillows because of their ability to perfectly cradle your head. “This pillow is filled with shredded memory foam infused with gel, microfiber, and crosscut,” explains Caleb Backe, sleep specialist and certified health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. “It removes body heat, leaving you feeling cool all night long. You’ll never need to fluff it up in the middle of the night because of its gusseted edge.”
If You Switch From Back to Side
A weightier pillow than you may be used to could be the trick to maintaining better alignment through the night. “Back sleepers need a medium-thick pillow to keep the head, neck, and spine nicely aligned,” says Saatva sleep expert Terry Cralle, RN. “The perfect pillow for side sleepers—the majority of us—is a slightly thicker, firmer pillow for optimal alignment.”
If You Consider Yourself a Generally Typical Sleeper
Don’t feel pressured to overthink things. Chances are that a firm pillow could be your ideal match. Dr. Paul Capulong, DC, the clinical director of Active Therapy Center in Santa Monica, advocates that back and side sleepers alike opt for firm pillows. Just be mindful of your sleeping position: “A common mistake people make is that they tend to sleep on the edge of the pillow rather than placing the pillow at the base of the neck.”
If You Want Support With Some Flexibility
Height and weight can also affect what kind of pillow you need. “I’m a huge fan of the Proper Pillow, a pillow designed by a chiropractor that accommodates a wide range of body sizes by including an extra flat piece of foam that could be inserted into the pillow for larger people and left out for smaller ones,” says Dr. Adam Lamb, DC. “It also adds some very comfortable quilted fabric in its hypoallergenic case, which makes the pillow look and feel like a more traditional but ultra-luxury pillow. This is the pillow I currently use and recommend most for my patients.”
If You’re Looking for a Total Cradle
Don’t be afraid to go for an untraditional pillow shape, as it could offer the best support for you. “In my 31 years of practice and treating well over 6,000 patients, I see the Tri-Core pillow as the best and most versatile pillow for the majority of people,” says Dr. Eugene Charles, director of The Applied Kinesiology Center of New York. “It cradles the head and supports the cervical spine. It has different variations and depths on the pillow itself—one side is thicker and another thinner to give more support to each individual depending on your size and specific needs.”
If You Need Something a Bit More Breathable
Tired of fluffing flattened down pillows? Dr. Rick Swartzburg, DC, recommends a versatile alternative: the Snuggle-Pedic. It “conforms to your neck and head for proper orthopedic support,” and with the help of a foam core and a bamboo cover, stays nice and cool throughout the night.