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Choosing the Best Pillow for Sleep

Updated on November 9, 2013

Your pillow choice affects your sleep quality, comfort, and health. Learn more about pillows and how to choose the best one for sleep.

Your pillow affects your sleep and health.
Your pillow affects your sleep and health. | Source

Pillows Make a Difference

Is back pain, neck pain, or insomnia keeping you awake at night? Or do you sleep as sweet as a baby?

Do you wake up tired and sluggish, even after a full night's sleep? Or do you feel rested and refreshed, ready to start the day?

The right sleep pillow can make all the difference.

James Mass, author of Power Sleep, says sleep disorders affect 75 percent of American adults. Sleeping on the right pillow can help. Pillows impact sleep quality, comfort and health, according to Beauty Sleep author Michael Breus.

Physical discomfort and pain keeps many people up at night. Not only do they lack focus and concentration the next day, but their sleep problems put them at risk for heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke. The solution may be as simple as choosing the right pillow to sleep on.

The right pillow can make all the difference.
The right pillow can make all the difference. | Source

Finding the Right Pillow

Your head weighs about ten pounds, and it needs adequate support during sleep. While pillow choice is a personal matter, the wrong support can cause problems like pain, insomnia, stiffness, numbness, and headaches.

Good pillows provides support in all the right places. The best pillow is not too thick and offers comfortable, medium support. It keeps your head in line with your spine, just as when you are standing.

In case you are wondering, pillows do have a shelf life. Good ones may last several years, but most pillows should be replaced sooner. How do you know when it is time to replace your pillow, and how do you choose the best one?

Your sleep position (back, side, or stomach) determines the right pillow for your sleeping needs. Certain health conditions also play a role in pillow selection. Here are some tips for choosing the best pillow for sleep, and a test to determine when it is time to replace your pillow.

1. Back Sleeper Pillows

Do you sleep on your back? Sleeping with a non-supportive pillow, or no pillow at all, places undue pressure on your spine. On the other hand, too much support causes neck pain and tightness.

Medium-to-firm pillows give back sleepers the best support. Chiropractors often recommend memory foam pillows. Water-base pillows are another good option. Both types offer consistent support, even if you move or change positions during sleep.

Sleeping with a wedge or bolster pillow under your knees is also a good idea. This second pillow alleviates pressure on your lower back, so you can rest comfortably.

2. Side Sleeper Pillows

Are you a side sleeper? Feather pillows will not give you the right spine support. Sleeping on a thin pillow leads to compressed nerves, causing numbness in your arms or sciatic pain in your legs.

You need a medium-firm pillow that supports your head and neck. Sleeping with a leg-spacer pillow between your knees is also helpful. This second pillow improves spinal alignment and relieves pressure on your hips, knees, and joints.

3. Stomach Sleeper Pillows

Do you sleep on your stomach? Chiropractors do not recommend this position. Stomach sleeping causes headaches, neck pain, and lower back stress. If you choose to sleep on your stomach, use a flat pillow to reduce neck strain.

You can break your stomach sleeper habit by sleeping on your side with a body pillow in front of you. Body pillows are larger than king size pillows, and they support the front of your body while you sleep.

4. Specialty Pillows

Memory foam and water-base pillows are usually the best type of pillows for sleeping. They reduce headaches, relieve neck pain, and improve sleep quality. Certain health conditions require additional considerations.

Anti-Allergen Pillows

If you have asthma or suffer from allergies, choose synthetic fiber pillows with anti-allergen pillow covers.

Feather pillows worsen asthma and allergy symptoms, while lamb's wool, silk, and down alternatives repel dust mites.

Most memory foam and water-base pillows are hypoallergenic. Anti-allergen covers guard against pollen, dust mites, and pet dander.

Anti-Snoring Pillows

Anti-snoring pillows support the neck and open the airway for better breathing. If you snore at night, these pillows provide a gentle adjustment without unwanted neck pain.

If your snoring results from sleep apnea, see your doctor. Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition that is often linked to serious health problems.

Maternity Pillows

Many pregnant women experience back pain, especially during their last trimester.

If you are expecting a baby, try sleeping with a pillow or two under your head, one between your stomach and the bed, another between your knees,and one behind your back. These extra pillows provide support and minimize pressure.

A maternity pillow is another solution for moms-to-be. Shaped like a giant "U" or "C," maternity pillows provide good support for pregnant women.

Is it time to replace your bed pillows?
Is it time to replace your bed pillows? | Source

Time for New Pillows?

While good pillows have a shelf life of five years or more, most pillows should be replaced every two or three years. How do you know when it is time for a new sleep pillow? Here are some tests.

Synthetic Pillows

Fold your polyester fiber pillow (or other synthetic pillow) in half. Place a book or shoe on top. Release your hold. A supportive pillow will unfold and open up, knocking the book or shoe off the pillow. If your pillow remains folded, it is time to replace it.

Down Pillows

No book or shoe is required for this test. Fold your down or feather pillow in half. Squeeze out as much air as possible. Hold the folded pillow for a few seconds and release. If the pillow remains folded, look for new one. It no longer offers adequate support.

Your Turn

What kind of pillow do you use for sleep? Leave a comment below and join the conversation. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your social networks.

Reference Sources

Medical Disclaimer

The information presented in this article is not intended as medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment by a qualified medical professional.

© 2012 Annette R. Smith


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    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Hello, Glenda! Thank you for reading my sleep pillows hub -- and for sharing your thoughtful comment. I appreciate your input here.

    • profile image

      Glenda 3 years ago

      Annette , your Hub is really the best Hub I found on Sleep Pillows. Very detailed and straight to the point.!

      My point of interest was especially the Pregnancy pillows, since I used them in the past. I also found some info about Comfort U body Pillow,

      In my opinion, the company is doing a good job making such pillows, which are helping to ease the problems of pregnancy mums.

    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Hi, Clara. I'm glad you liked my sleep pillow article. Thank you for joining the discussion!

    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 4 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Thank you, Morry. I will have a look at your blog post.

    • profile image

      Morry 4 years ago

      Anti snoring pillow is the best and reliable treatment for snoring. If you will not use this pillow snoring may ruin your life.

    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 4 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Thank you, Rick. A new pillow made all the difference in my own sleep quality. I hope you find the right bed pillow for your needs. Thank you for the votes across the board. You're awesome!

    • chinared profile image

      Just call me, Rick 4 years ago from Asia, and all over

      Excellent hug! I definitely need a new pillow. You've described my sleep disorders to a tee!! Thanks for improving my health. Fantastic hub!! Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting!!! :)

    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 5 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Hello, Glenn. Thank you for adding to the conversation! I appreciate your share and will follow your link to learn more about the Mediflow Waterbase Pillow.

    • profile image

      Glenn F. Burbage 5 years ago

      Hip pain is a common discomfort people have, it does not let you feel comfortably either when you are awake or when it is time to sleep. Mediflow Waterbase Pillow proves to be right what people who suffer from hip pain need.To get more information.


    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 5 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Hello, Glenn. Glad you stopped by! I'm sorry to hear about your experience with a herniated disc caused by an unsupportive pillow. Thank you for sharing about the experience, as it makes a good point about the importance of choosing the right pillow for sleep. I appreciate your encouragement and the vote up!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

      You did an excellent job with detailing all the important issues about using a proper pillow.

      I had an interesting experience with a misdiagnosed carpel tunnel problem. It turned out it wasn't carpal tunnel, but I had a herniated disc in my cervical spine (the section of spine in the neck) due to using a pillow that didn't give enough support to my head.

      So the point I'm making is that your hub is very important for people to read. I can't think of anything you missed, you covered everything to do with pillows. Voted up. Thanks.

    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 5 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Hi, Aurelio! I need to replace my sleep pillows too, so the research for this hub was very helpful. I'm glad you found it useful, as well. Thank you for the vote up!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I'm just about to replace my pillow so this is a timely hub. I'll be considering your advice for back sleepers. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 5 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Hi, Penlady! Thank you for reading my hub and leaving a comment. I appreciate your Twitter share, too. Have a great day!

    • penlady profile image

      penlady 5 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      Yes, having the right pillow does make a difference in how you sleep.

      Thanks for a great hub.

    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 5 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Hello, AliciaC. Thank you for stopping by. I gathered these facts while searching for new bed pillows for my husband and me. I'm so glad you found the information useful.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the helpful information, Annette. I need to replace my pillows regularly or I get neck and jaw pain, so I find facts about pillow types very useful.