We spend a third of our lives in bed (and how we sleep certainly affects the other two-thirds), so the humble pillow is actually quite the important purchase. "Patients come to me in pain, and I know their pillow isn't keeping their neck aligned with their spine," says Dr. Darren Pollack, chiropractor and medical director of DASHA Wellness & Spa. "Over time, this wear-and-tear can cause muscle stiffness, tendonitis, nerve pain, herniated discs, and more."The Good Housekeeping Institute helps you find not only the best pillows to buy, but also gives you the tips you need to pillow shop with confidence. We test pillows in our Textiles Lab to make sure they retain their shape by placing weights to mimic real use. We also check for shrinkage and changes in appearance after washing each pillow according to its care label.
Real consumer testers then sleep on pillows that match their preferences (sleeping position and desired fill) at home. These testers try each pillow for a minimum of two weeks before giving us feedback on comfort, support, and more. In our last test, we tested 67 pillows and had over 3,000 data points to analyze before making our recommendations.
Just as with mattresses, when shopping for pillows, think about how you sleep. The best pillow that will reduce neck pain and keep you sound asleep all night long has to keep your spine aligned in a neutral position, while also being a comfy material you enjoy resting on. An easy fit test: When you’re lying down, your neck shouldn’t tilt in any direction.
need a thick, firm pillow to “keep their ears in line with their
shoulders” to prevent their neck from extending in either direction when
sleeping on their side, according to Dr. Jaspal R. Singh M.D., co-director of the Center for Comprehensive Spine Care at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Stomach sleepers should choose a soft, thinner pillow, so their neck stays in a neutral position. Some experts recommend placing a pillow under your shoulder for proper spine alignment too.
Back sleepers should opt for a medium thickness in between that keeps their neck aligned without arching their head forward.
If you switch positions throughout the night, look for a plush pillow where the fill can be moved around. This way, you will be able to find the best position as you toss and turn.
Time to think about what the pillow is filled with. Whether you want a fluffy pillow or a flat pillow, each type of pillow fill will have different characteristics that are important to know before purchasing. While some pillows are entirely machine washable, some styles have only a machine washable cover or cannot be cleaned whatsoever. Typically, down and down alternative pillows are machine washable, but some will require using a front loading commercial sized machine. To avoid any surprises, always check the care label before purchasing.
Down pillows are the fluffiest, but a down-and-feather combo will be firmer and less expensive.
Down alternatives feel soft and, since they’re made with synthetic fill, are even more affordable. They are great if you have a down allergy.
Memory foam pillows are available in two different styles: solid or shredded. Solid memory foam pillows are designed to give you that super supportive feel as your head sinks into the pillow, but the fill cannot move. Shredded memory foam pillows still give you the supportive feel, but the fill can be moved around for a plusher feel.
Latex pillows have a squishy feel similar to memory foam, but it bounces back much quicker. Like memory foam, latex pillows can either feature solid or shredded materials.