Top 5 Things to Consider When Buying a Pillow

Top 5 Things to Consider When Buying a Pillow

Aside from your mattress, a good pillow is the most important bedding item since it supports your head and neck and promotes proper body alignment while sleeping. At the end of the day, your bedding has one job: to give you a great night's sleep. If you've been waking up with a sore neck and shoulders, it might be time to replace your pillows. Consider your sleeping position, desired pillow firmness, pillow size, and filling type to help you buy the right pillow for maximum comfort.

1. Sleeping Position

Your preferred sleeping position says a lot about the kind of pillow you need. If you sleep on your back, you need a different type of support than someone who sleeps on their side. Neck or back problems will also determine the type of support you need. The right pillow for your sleeping position can help relieve neck and back discomfort. Read more about common sleeping positions and the pillows we recommend for them.

Infographic of a back sleeper lying on a bed with pillows

Back Sleeper

If you sleep on your back, your head and neck need minimal support. A pillow that’s too dense might push your head too far forward and possibly overextend your neck. Opt for a low- or medium-density pillow or a contour pillow that supports the neck while keeping the body aligned.

Infographic of a side sleeper lying on a bed with pillows and a small dog

Side Sleeper

Side sleepers need extra support to keep the neck and head aligned with the body. Improper support for side sleepers can also result in shoulder pain. A medium density pillow supports the neck and takes strain off the shoulder without overextending the neck sideways.

Infographic of a stomach sleeper, lying on a bed with pillows and a small dog at his feet

Stomach Sleeper

A soft, low-density pillow is ideal for stomach sleepers because it’s easy to arrange and keeps the neck from being overextended sideways. Because stomach sleepers lay flat but turn their heads to the side, soft and low-density pillows provide support and take strain off the neck while keeping the body aligned.

2. Pillow Sizes

The size of your pillow will greatly affect your sleep quality. When the pillow complements your bed size, it looks great and provides support no matter how much you move in your sleep. The three most common pillow sizes are standard, queen, and king. Bed pillows are usually made to complement standard bed sizes. For example, a king size pillow measures 20 inches by 36 inches so that two king size pillows will match the 72-inch width of your king bed. Choose a pillow size by first determining your bed size. See the chart below for suggested pillow measurements.

Pillow Size Measurement Shop Pillows
Standard 20 in by 26 in Shop Standard Pillows
Queen 20 in by 30 in Shop Queen Pillows
King 20 in by 36 in Shop King Pillows

3. Pillow Filling

Pillow filling makes a difference in how your pillow holds up over time, how it supports your head and neck, and the type of comfort it adds to your bedding. Types of pillow fill include foam, memory foam, down, feather, and polyester. Each offers their own type of comfort and support. Below are a few types of common pillow fillings to help you decide which material is right for you.

Memory Foam

Memory foam is a type of firm, moldable foam originally developed by NASA. It was initially created for space travel safety and has since become a household favorite in pillows, mattresses, and other cushions. Memory foam molds very precisely to the body, giving custom support to relieve pressure points. Side sleepers benefit the most from memory foam pillows since the material easily adapts to provide the right level of support.


Plush and luxurious, down filling is what’s on everyone’s mind when they think of a comfy pillow. Down filling is made from the soft, fine down feathers of ducks and geese, which are moldable with plenty of give, allowing your head and neck to sink right into the pillow. Down-alternative pillow filling feels just like down and is a hypoallergenic and cost-friendly way to have the same feel of real down.


Polyester filling is the most common and inexpensive type of pillow filling, making polyester pillows easy to replace. While polyester pillows are plush and hold their shape longer than cotton pillows, they become lumpy and less supportive over time, requiring more frequent replacement.


Cotton pillow filling is hypoallergenic, breathable, cool, and easy to care for. However, cotton filling flattens out over time, which means it must be replaced regularly.

4. Pillow Firmness

There are four levels of pillow firmness: soft, medium soft, firm, and very firm. The softest pillow with the most give is a feather pillow, which is flexible and collapsible enough to suit most sleeping styles. The firmest pillow is memory foam, a heavy and moldable option ideal for neck and shoulder support.

Pillow Firmness Description Best For
Soft Fluffy with plenty of give. Allows your head to sink in. Typically made from cotton, polyester, or down. Back and stomach sleepers
Medium Soft Slightly less give than soft pillows. Provide mid-range support for almost every kind of sleeper. Back and side sleepers
Firm Typically made from memory foam or polyester. Balance between soft and firm. Easy to arrange. Good support. Side sleepers
Very Firm Hold their shape with very little give. Typically made from ultra-dense memory foam. Side sleepers with neck pain

5. Specialty Pillows

Specialty pillows are made to relieve particular pressure points caused by medical conditions or to support certain positions while you’re sleeping. If you have neck or back problems, or are pregnant, there are specially designed pillows that provide custom support so you can sleep well despite uncomfortable conditions. Below are a few examples of common specialty pillows and their benefits.

Reading Pillow

A reading pillow is handy for sitting up in bed to read a book or watch a movie. The pillow is styled after an armchair with a supportive back and two armrests that provide stability while you’re sitting upright in bed.

Pregnancy Pillow

A pregnancy pillow wraps around the body to provide support for pregnant women who can’t get comfortable sleeping on their sides. Pregnancy pillows are U-shaped and keep the body aligned and comfortable.

Leg Support Pillow

A leg support pillow is usually a cylinder-shaped or wedge-shaped pillow that may be placed at the bend of the knees when you’re lying down. Leg support pillows are effective at relieving muscle and joint pain in and around the knees, as well as taking pressure off the lower back.

Contour Pillow

Contour pillows are pre-shaped to cradle your head and support the curvature of your neck. Usually made from memory foam, contour pillows hold their shape longer than traditional pillows and are perfect for people who need neck and upper spine support.

Wedge Pillow

A wedge pillow promotes comfortable sleep at a slight upright angle. Usually made of firm foam or memory foam, a bed wedge may be beneficial for those with back problems, acid reflux, or sinus complications. It also helps create a comfortable upright position for reading and watching movies in bed.