How to Choose a Pillow

Do you ever have problems getting comfortable at night or do you wake up in the morning with a stiff neck or sore back? Then your pillow may be to blame! Most people focus primarily on their mattress, but pillows are just as important in getting a good night’s sleep.

Have you had a look at your pillow recently? If it’s flat, stained and looking a bit lifeless, it’s high time to start looking for a new one. Experts say we should change our pillows approximately every 18 months. This may not seem that long, but a pillow gets used about 7-8 hours a night – and that’s over 2,500 hours a year! By investing in a high-quality pillow tailored to your needs, you’re investing in a good night’s sleep that will pay dividends throughout the day, too.

When it comes to pillows, there are so many options and variations on the market that starting the hunt for a new one can be a bit daunting. What factors do you need to consider? As with selecting a mattress, comfort and support are both important in choosing the right pillow. However, there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to picking a pillow, because most of us change sleeping position several times during the night and personal preferences are also important. However, your dream pillow is out there – and I’m here to help you find it.

Why Your Pillow is Important

Good posture is essential to getting a good night’s sleep and to waking up pain-free. So, what is good posture? Your body needs to be in alignment when you sleep – from your knees and hips through to your head and should. Your neck needs to be supported but without craning or twisting. In addition to discomfort, bad posture can also cause long-term aches and pains.

So, there are several factors that you need to consider when choosing a pillow. Let’s take a closer look.

Sleeping Position

When choosing a pillow, the position you sleep in is one of the most important factors. Although many of us switch positions several times during the night, a good tip for determining your primary sleeping position is to consider which position you typically wake up in in the morning. 

Generally speaking, side sleepers need a high loft, firm support, and the pillow should be fluffy and shapeable, while back sleepers should look for a medium loft, medium firmness, and a filling made of conformable materials (e.g. memory foam). As for stomach sleepers: some say this position is best avoided, but if it’s your go-to position, you need a low loft, soft support, a compressible fill (feather or down) and the pillow should be very shapeable. Last but not least, combination sleepers tend to need the most versatile pillow and are best advised to look for a pillow with an adjustable fill.

What is Pillow Loft?

Loft is a term that is often misinterpreted. It applies to the height of the pillow when laid on a flat surface. Many people assume – incorrectly – that a high loft equates to a thick, firm choice. However, soft and airy materials such as down and feathers may have a high profile, but when weight is applied they prove to be soft and thin. Loft is more about a material’s ability to recover after compression

Different lofts are suitable for different people. Your preferred sleeping position, head size, weight, and mattress firmness are all factors that influence which pillow loft you should choose:

Sleeping position: Stomach sleepers generally require low loft pillows, back sleepers often prefer low or medium loft pillows, while side sleepers tend to need high loft pillows.

Head size:  Bigger heads tend to sink more deeply into pillows, which means people with bigger heads tend to choose high loft pillows, while people with smaller heads often opt for lower loft pillows.

Weight: Weight also influences the ideal pillow loft. Generally, the more you weigh, the higher the loft you need, but other factors should also be taken into consideration.

Pillow Fill

It can be a bit overwhelming to choose a pillow just from a quick glance and a squeeze. And honestly, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The pillow you choose will depend on your sleep position, needs and preferences. Here’s a list of the fillings available today:

Down/feather: perhaps the most traditional pillow fill, down is the fine feathers found under the outer, harder feathers of many birds. Most down pillows contain goose down, and some contain down mixed with feathers. Down is known for its durability, but it may not be suitable for people with allergies or asthma. Feather pillows are similar to down but are not quite as soft as they contain quills and don’t have the same clustering properties.

Down alternative: down alternative fill is synthetic and made of polyester microfibers. The fill doesn’t compress or shift as much as a down or feather pillow.

Polyfoam: this filling varies widely in terms of quality and firmness, but it generally costs less than memory foam. When used as a pillow fill, polyfoam is often shredded or cut into smaller pieces.

Memory foam: memory foam is quite dense and the height is relatively fixed so pillows made of this material can’t be adjusted to different height requirements. The material is also quite warm as it doesn’t offer much air-flow. Memory foam isn’t for everyone, but some people swear by it and it is becoming one of the best-selling pillow fills on the market.

Polyfill: polyfill is short for polyester-filled pillows. They are usually hypoallergenic, easy to wash, and typically resist flattening over the duration of their life.

Latex: latex pillows are pressure relieving and extremely hard-wearing. Made of either a block of latex or shredded latex fill, they mold to the shape of your head and provide custom neck support.

Buckwheat: buckwheat pillows are filled with husks from buckwheat seeds. They offer hard support.

Kapok: Kapok is the fiber found in the mature pods of the Kapok tree. Softer and loftier than cotton and more durable than wool, Kapok is often used in a blend to provide first-rate softness and comfort.

Gel: gel-infused fibers and gel layers are very popular in pillows to help draw heat away from the body. They also tend to hold their shape and offer excellent all-night support.

Wool: A more costly alternative, most wool pillows are hypo-allergenic and resistant to mold and dust mites. Wool is naturally temperature neutral and offers a pretty firm filling.

Cotton: Similar in many ways to wool, cotton pillows are also naturally hypo-allergenic and resistant to dust mites and mold. They tend to be somewhat flat and firm. A cotton fill may be a good choice for people with allergies.

Pillow Covers

Pillow covers (as opposed to the pillow cases you pull over separately yourself) are a part of the pillow and come in a variety of materials and material blends and can affect everything from comfort to cost:

Cotton: The most widely used material for pillow covers, cotton is natural, breathable and cost-effective.

Poly-threads: A synthetic product known for its strength and durability combined with softness.

Bamboo: Increasing popular thanks to the sustainable production process, bamboo fibers are often blended with other materials to create opulent, moisture-wicking fabrics.

Eucalyptus fibers: Blended with other natural or synthetic fibers to form a soft, moisture-wicking surface.

Wool: A more specialised material with excellent insulation properties for both cooling and warming.

Pillow Size

Pillows come in a number of shapes and sizes. These are the most common:

Standard: 20 x 26 inches.

Super Standard: slightly longer than a standard at 20 x 28 inches.

Queen: 20 x 30 inches. They provide extra room if you tend to toss and turn at night or find yourself slipping off a smaller pillow.

King: 20 x 36 inches long, these pillows are much larger than other pillows and often only used for larger body types or to fill the width of a king size bed.

Body: most body pillows measure 20 x 54 inches in length and are used to provide a variety of support to soothe joint pain and achieve a more comfortable sleeping position.

Pillow Care

Pillow care may be important if you have allergies or live in a home with children and pets where accidents are more likely to happen. Pillows made of polyfill and feather or down are usually the easiest to clean in a washing machine and dryer. Be sure to check the care labels as certain materials may not wear well or may even break down when saturated in the wash (e.g. some foams).

So, there you have it: there’s a lot to consider when choosing your perfect pillow and so many options to choose from! It can be a bit daunting at first, but I hope my guide has given you a good idea of what to look for. Most important of all is a healthy sleeping posture. Once you’ve nailed this, you’re a big step closer to a great night’s sleep. And then it’s mainly down to your personal preferences and requirements. If you are interested, you can read my 
in-depth review of the CBD pillow here. More pillow reviews will follow soon. Don’t hesitate to subscribe to my website (bottom of this page) to get notified when I post new articles. You can also follow me on social channels.