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How Do I Choose the Right Pillow?
Pick the Best Pillow for Your Body and Mattress

Last updated on June 22, 2022

The right pillow fills the space between your head and your mattress, keeping the top of your spine and neck in alignment. This means that your neck should have the same alignment that it does when you're standing up, with your head centered over your shoulders.

Your choice depends on your personal comfort preference, how you sleep, and the mattress you chose. When you replace your mattress, it’s a good time to think about replacing your pillow, too— a firm, thick pillow may have supported your head comfortably on your old mattress, but your new mattress will likely support your body differently and might make your pillow needs different as well.

Here is a good illustration of what you're looking for with a pillow: Something that supports your head enough to keep your spine in a straight line. A too-tall pillow will result in an upward spinal tilt, while an inadequate pillow will introduce a downward tilt. A spinal tilt in either direction can lead to back pain.

TEMPUR-Adapt Hybrid TEMPUR-Adapt Medium Hybrid

Is It Better to Have a Hard or Soft Pillow?

Softness or firmness in a pillow is largely a matter of personal preference, assuming that a pillow has the right height/volume for your needs. Ultimately, you need a pillow that, when laying in your predominant sleep position, keeps you head and spine in a straight line (called neutral spinal alignment). That pillow might be harder or feel softer to you, and as long it helps you achieve correct spinal alignment, feel free to choose whichever is better for you.

What's the Best Material to Stuff a Pillow?

Pillow can be stuffed with a variety of materials which lend themselves to different uses and preferences.

Scrunchable pillows

This kind of pillow has small bits of material as filling, which means they can be squished and bunched up to change their shape. This type of pillow is a good choice for those who change positions during the night.

Down and down-feather blend-filled pillows will feel the softest and most squishy, and may be the most comfortable for back and stomach sleepers. Because you can manually adjust the pillow by scrunching it up or flattening it out, this type of pillow can be a good choice for those who tend to change sleeping positions frequently.

We sorted through down and feather pillows at to find the higher-rated models by users.

Chunks of memory foam-filled pillows can also be squished and scrunched, but have that distinctive 'melting' quality you get from memory foam. They're a good alternative for those allergic to feathers or down.

Below: This Serta Scrunch pillow is filled with small pieces of memory foam.

Serta iComfort TempActiv Scrunch Pillow

Firmer pillows

If you tend to sleep predominately in one position, a pillow that holds its shape will be most supportive for spinal alignment. Here's what you'll see on the market:

Synthetic fiber-filled pillows are soft but a more resistant than down-fill, and may suit back and side-sleepers. While they can be easily compressed, they tend to keep their shape.

Here's a short list of highly rated fiber-filled pillows on that you can research and purchase.

Cotton and wool-filled pillows tend to be firm and may be comfortable for side sleepers, who have the most space to fill between their head and the top of their mattress.

Memory foam and foam pillows are the most firm and resistant to pressure and may suit side sleepers. These are often made with a solid rectangular piece of foam, or with a couple of layers of foam.

We sorted pillows on to find the higher-rated memory foam pillows.

Shaped or molded pillows, made from a single block or layers of foam, are designed to alleviate neck pain or are intended to address other conditions. If you have a specific condition that affects sleep you may want to consider these specialty pillows.

Below: Pillow made of a solid piece of memory foam

Serta iComfort TempActiv Pillow

How do I Pick the Right Pillow?

If you’re purchasing your pillow at the same time as your mattress, choose your mattress first and try out pillows on your chosen mattress in your preferred sleep position. If you’re buying a pillow elsewhere, you can get a sense of how a pillow will support your head by trying it out against a wall in the position you normally sleep. In either case, the pillow should support your head in neutral alignment with your spine (just as if you were standing up straight). Along with your new pillow, consider buying a pillow protector to protect your pillow from moisture and staining.

Pillow returns: Check store policies

Mattresses typically come with generous trial periods of 100 days or even more. But not for pillows. Many retailers consider pillows personal items, and won't take them back as returns. For that reason, try to find a store to test a pillow before you buy, or carefully check the retailer's return policy before buying.

Note: Check out our plain-English jargon-free explanation of the Tempur-Pedic pillow lineup and of the Serta iComfort TempActiv Pillows.

Find the Right Bed

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