You spend about a third of your life asleep, but you may end up paying for it the next day if restless sleep means those hours don’t count. Poor quality sleep can lead to memory issues, weight gain, mood changes, increased blood pressure, and heart disease—not to mention how you feel when waking up after an entire night of restlessness.
If you find yourself struggling to snooze, one of the first steps to improve your sleep quality may be to upgrade your environment. The right kind of pillow helps keep your spine in alignment, leading to more restful nights and better overall health, especially for side sleepers. High-quality pillows often help create high-quality slumber, so check out this list of some of the best pillows for side sleepers.
- BEST OVERALL: Coop Home Goods – Eden Adjustable Pillow
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Wamsutta Extra-Firm Side Sleeper Pillow
- BEST FOR NECK PAIN: OrganicTextiles 100% Latex Contour Pillow
- BEST FOR SHOULDER PAIN: MedCline Shoulder Relief Wedge and Body Pillow System
- BEST MEMORY FOAM: Casper Sleep Foam Pillow
- BEST DOWN: downluxe Goose Feather Down Pillow Set of 2
- BEST DOWN ALTERNATIVE: Emolli Hotel Sleeping Bed Pillows – 2 Pack
- BEST COOLING: Qutool Shredded Memory Foam Cooling Bamboo Pillow
- BEST HYPOALLERGENIC: Beckham Hotel Collection Gel Pillow (2-Pack)
- BEST ADJUSTABLE: Layla Sleep Pillow
Types of Pillow Filling Suited for Side Sleepers
Studies show that most people prefer to sleep on their side, and while many pillows cater to that snooze style, not all are created equal. Different materials provide various levels of support, firmness, and comfort. While preferences differ, knowing the benefits of each will help narrow down your search for the perfect side sleeping pillow.
Read on to learn more about the different kinds of pillows on the market and the advantages of each.
Thanks to its ability to conform to the body, memory foam pillows comprise some of the most popular pillows. Created from viscoelastic polyurethane, this specialty foam is engineered to soften when it comes into contact with heat.
Memory foam pillows are typically on the firmer side, providing solid head and neck support. By distributing the weight of your head, memory foam pillows can relieve some pressure points and align your spine while you sleep.
Polyfoam arrived on the marketplace long before memory foam, and it remains one of the most common types of foam in mattresses and pillows. While it doesn’t provide that deep contour that memory foam does, it’s often more adaptive to the body—making it an excellent option for those looking for a softer, yet still conforming, pillow.
Note that polyfoam often warms up, so it might not be the best option for hot sleepers. But many manufacturers have begun to ventilate their foam to minimize the heating effect.
If budget plays a significant part in your pillow-selection process, polyfoam pillows are usually the least expensive option.
For a firm pillow that provides solid support while you drift off to dreamland, look no further than a traditional Japanese buckwheat pillow. Also known as a Sobakawa, buckwheat kernels’ hard casings compose the filling in these pillows. Most buckwheat pillows are adjustable, offering a customizable loft by adding or removing kernels.
The material is tougher, so buckwheat pillows are often compared to bean bag chairs. Even so, buckwheat’s malleable texture adjusts shape to fit your needs, which leads to one of the buckwheat pillow’s most popular benefits: easing tension and strain through proper spinal alignment.
One of the most durable types of foam available, latex works well for sleepers who need serious support for their upper bodies. Made from the latex of a rubber tree, this responsive material often outlasts most memory foam products.
Not only does latex provide localized support for specific areas of the body, but it also reacts to almost every move the sleeper makes. Plus, it doesn’t sink in deeper the longer you lie on it—an especially attractive feature for side sleepers who experience neck and shoulder pain and move around continuously throughout the night.
Often associated with pricey hotels and expensive bedding, down pillows are filled with soft duck and goose feathers, usually plucked from the back, wing, and chest. This filling makes for a very light and airy pillow. Sleepers who like to cradle a pillow between their legs or arms often choose this type of pillow.
As luxurious as they may be, down feathers also absorb body heat and provide insulation, which is bad news for warm sleepers. Sleepers looking for the cozy, soft feeling of down pillows without the night sweats may be interested in a down alternative.
Typically made from polyester fibers—although some are made from cotton fibers—down alternative pillows mimic the soft, fluffy feeling of down pillows. Some include gel fibers and other types of materials to maximize the cooling effect of the fill material. Also noteworthy: Down alternative pillows use no animal products and usually cost less than the real deal.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Pillow for Side Sleepers
While comfort and durability are two obvious factors, consider a few other characteristics of the top side-sleeper pillows before purchasing your next pillow. The attributes listed here will help you make your decision.
When selecting the best pillow for side sleepers, quality materials should be top of mind. Knowing which material suits your needs is the first step; you can refer to the section on types of filling above.
Once that’s locked down, check the quality of those materials. Latex, for example, typically lasts a lot longer than polyfoam. More durable materials not only keep their shape for years, but they also continue to hold in less heat.
A pillow made with fluffier materials such as down or down alternatives often loses its shape and needs regular fluffing to restore it. An option filled with more solid materials like memory foam and latex, however, usually holds its shape over time.
Rather than the standard rectangle, pillows designed specifically for side sleepers and people with neck or shoulder pain will sport an indentation or crevice to fit the shoulder and head snugly.
Pillows vary in thickness, also called “loft.” While some sleepers report that fully stuffed pillows are the coziest, others prefer a flatter feel. Fortunately, many manufacturers offer a few different thickness levels to help sleepers find their ideal. Generally, pillows between 3 and 6 inches in thickness provide adequate support for back and stomach sleepers; side sleepers would do better with even more support.
In pillows, support generally refers to how well the pillow balances the head and neck to alleviate pressure on the upper body. If the pillow sinks in too much or if the head is too high, that position may impair spinal alignment—a critical consideration for side sleepers. Additionally, if the head is too low or too high, it’s often very uncomfortable. Memory foam and latex pillows usually rank as the most supportive options.
While the ideal firmness level is typically personal preference, pillows that provide mid-level support are generally the best for side sleepers. They often conform and shape to match the body, pillows with mid-level firmness are usually the most comfortable for side sleepers.
Meanwhile, pillows with low firmness levels will sink, which adds additional pressure to the neck, shoulders, and upper body. Sleeping in this position for too long might cause spinal issues. Too firm pillows can elevate the head too much, causing a different, but still uncomfortable, effect on the shoulders and neck.
If pressure or pain occurs in the neck and shoulders overnight, the pillow could be the cause. A pillow that doesn’t provide adequate support keeps the head, neck, and shoulders out of alignment with the rest of your body, causing discomfort. Many side sleepers find relief using a pillow that contours to their body and keeps their spine completely aligned.
To help sleepers find their perfect comfort level, many pillow manufacturers engineer their pillows so that some (or all) of the pillow’s loft can be added to or removed. People who either don’t know what level of loft they need to support their spine or who desire variable thickness levels often prefer an adjustable pillow.
Our Top Picks
The best pillows for side sleepers are designed specifically to provide the right support to align the spine. Even when constructed with different fill materials, top-quality pillows aren’t too soft or too firm. The following recommendations include reputable brands who know how to strike that balance as well as other products engineered with the latest technology to help provide comfortable rest.
While many people sleep on their sides, not all side sleepers are created equal. The Coop Home Goods Eden Shredded Memory Foam Pillow’s adjustable fill accommodates the sleeper’s preferred level of loft. Not only can the material come out, but each purchase also includes an extra 1/2-pound bag of soft, gel-infused fill to add as needed.
In addition to adjustability, the gel-infused memory foam and microfiber fill boasts a cooling effect, which can be helpful for hot sleepers. Plus, the pillow is hypoallergenic, made of cruelty-free products, and created with the brand’s signature fabric derived from sustainable bamboo.
As one of the most affordable side-sleeper pillows on the market, the price tag may represent the Wamsutta pillow’s biggest selling point—but don’t discount its 2-inch gusset. This structure, combined with 100 percent polyester fill, provides extra-firm support. However, since the fill isn’t removable, sleepers who prefer a softer pillow may not like this particular side sleeper pillow. This pillow also features a machine-washable 300-thread count, 100 percent cotton cover.
Wake up to fewer mornings of neck soreness and stiff muscles with the OrganicTextiles’ contour pillow. Created to eliminate the feeling of waking up with a kink in your neck, the ergonomic design cradles the natural curves of the head, neck, and back. Shoppers can choose from one of four firmness levels: low-loft, medium-loft, high-loft (soft), and high-loft (medium-firm) for the exact comfort level that works for you. Each option features a contour height of 4 or 5 inches, based on the sleeper’s position, and cradles your head with 3 inches of breathable foam at its thinnest part.
Not only is the latex ideal for both neck and shoulder pain and hypoallergenic, but it’s also from eco-harvested rubber trees. Finally, the included 100 percent organic cotton covering makes it more durable.
The downside to this pillow is that it comes in one size only: standard. Additionally, those who want a softer, more down-like feel may find it too firm.
Those with general shoulder pain—as well as rotator cuff injuries, arthritis, bursitis, nerve impingement, and in post-surgical recovery—may find the MedCline Shoulder Relief System worth its hefty price tag.
This set includes three components: a bed wedge, a full-length memory foam body pillow, and a smaller insert pillow. The combination is designed to take the pressure off the downside shoulder and help provide a more neutral sleeping position. Thanks to its patented arm pocket system, it works for sleeping on both sides.
While this pillow set can be a game-changer for those dealing with shoulder pain, the price tag might not fit every budget. The Shoulder Relief System comes in only one size—30 inches wide and 45 inches long—and it’s not recommended for lower back or hip injuries.
For fans of memory foam, the Casper Sleep Foam Pillow’s three inner layers of low- and high-density foam may be a dream. It features a 2-inch gusset and contours to the head and neck, making it an ideal option for side sleepers who need personalized support to align their spine.
The tiny channels in the memory foam help circulate air and prevent overheating, allowing it to stay cool throughout the night. The breathable cool jersey knit cover also helps.
While it’s one of the softer memory foam pillows on the market, those looking for a fluffier or firmer texture might not appreciate Casper’s signature squishiness.
Made with goose down and goose feathers that fill a 100 percent, 300-thread count cotton shell, the downluxe Goose Feather Down Pillow may be one of the softest and most breathable products the brand offers.
While soft, sinking pillows are typically not ideal for side sleepers, this pillow boasts enough filling to give it a plush feel that provides enough support for most side sleepers. Its unique, double-layered fabric helps avoid feathers sticking out of the pillow, a common issue in many down versions. It also comes in both queen and king sizes, and it can be machine washed on the gentle cycle with cold water.
Even though this pillow comes in more supportive styles, down pillows are on the softer side. Those who need extra support may prefer latex or memory foam.
With a polyfoam gel-fiber fill, the Emolli Hotel Super Soft Down Microfiber Alternative set provides a luxurious, hotel pillow-like feel without the feathers. Side sleepers who want light support may find these down alternative pillows provide a cozy night’s sleep while keeping their spine aligned.
The Emolli microfiber pillow’s fluffy fill rebounds in only 5 seconds, which means the sleeper’s head never sinks into the mattress—though it might not be the best pillow for side sleepers who like a firmer level of support. Lightweight and airy, this set of two pillows provides a bang for the buck. (For comparison, many top-quality pillows are sold only in singles for a comparable or higher price.)
A heat-trapping pillow can prevent sleepers from getting their well-deserved rest, but the Qutool pillow contains shredded memory foam with cooling gel particles to help sleepers maintain a comfortable temperature overnight. This hypoallergenic bamboo cover promotes breathability.
Its zippered inner cover allows users to add or remove the foam filling to change the height. Sleepers can ensure their adjustable pillows are just firm enough to provide head and neck support while sleeping on their side.
Not only can the Beckham Hotel Gel-Filled Fiber Pillow keep sleepers cool and comfortable, but its hypoallergenic materials are ideal for those who have asthma, allergies, and some skin conditions. The cooling gel fibers provide the loft support that side sleepers need, and the no-shift construction makes the pillow keep its shape throughout the night.
This set comes in one size—king (18 by 13 by 8.5 inches)—and it’s machine washable. Because the gel fibers serve as a down alternative, this plush pillow might not work for those who need substantial support for their head and neck.
Described as soft and supportive at the same time, the Layla pillow makes it easy to achieve your ideal comfort: Simply unzip the cover and remove any additional Kapok fibers and reactive memory foam fill to adjust its loft. The memory foam mix allows this moldable pillow to retain its shape while retaining a lightweight, feathery feel. This overstuffed pillow usually provides enough support to provide for proper spinal alignment but may still be less firm than traditional memory foam options.
On its exterior, Layla Sleep Pillow’s cover is woven with a copper-infused yarn to help reduce odor and replenish dead skin cells. The copper emits a cooling effect to prevent overheating. Plus, it’s anti-bacterial!
FAQ About Pillows for Side Sleepers
Now that you’ve explored some of the best high-quality pillows for side sleepers, it’s time to answer any remaining questions. Below, you should find the answers to any questions you may have about side sleepers and the top pillows to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Q. How common is side sleeping?
Sleeping on your side is very common. Sleep.org reports that more than 40 percent of adults sleep in the fetal position, which is on your side with your knees bent.
Q. Do side sleepers need a firm pillow?
Yes. If a pillow is too soft, your spine will be out of alignment. However, a pillow that’s too firm also can cause neck and shoulder discomfort.
Q. How thick should a side sleeper pillow be?
Most side sleepers need pillows with a medium to high loft to prevent their head and neck from sinking too low.
Q. How many pillows should a side sleeper use?
Side sleepers usually use at least one pillow under their head. However, many side sleepers place a second pillow between their knees to help align their spine.