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How to Choose a Pillow – All You Need to Know!

a profile image of TSA author Alex

Written By Alex Petrović

Certified Sleep Consultant

Featured image for How to Choose Pillow - All You Need to Know

9 April 2024 12 min read

Getting the perfect bedding products can transform your sleep in ways you couldn't imagine. However, picking them out can be a tall order if you don't know what to look for. So, we present to you, “how to choose”-pillow edition!

Often, we excuse our poor mood by saying we just didn’t get enough sleep. We’ve all been there and there’s no shame in it. Sleep is key to maintaining a balanced life. People buy countless products that bring their sleeping experience to the next level and one of the essentials is the item where we place our heads – the pillow.

Pillows improve the quality of our sleep, comfort and consistency while we take our most important rest. Additionally, choosing a pillow that doesn’t feel comfortable increases the possibility of having headaches, numbness, discomfort, neck pain and so forth. So, here's all you need to know in order to pick out the perfect pillow!

Do you need a new pillow?

An image of two pillows on a bed

To start things off, we'd like to discuss whether you need a new pillow in the first place. After all, getting the right pillow can often come with a hefty price tag and your sleep is bound to suffer if you're worried about money all night long. But on the other hand, even the best pillows are bound to fall from grace at some point. So, here are the warning signs you need to look out for!

Fold it in half – In case you have a non-foam pillow (Latex, Microfibre or a body pillow) have a go at folding it down the middle. On the off chance that the pillow doesn’t spring back to its standard flat form, it’s probably a good time to make a purchase.

Remove the pillowcase – Take a look at your pillow without its pillowcase. If the colour is starting to turn yellow, it's time to go shopping. Everything our head discards during our sleep gets trapped within the pillow itself. If the colour is followed up by a funky smell, you should seriously consider getting a new pillow.

Lumps and bumps – These are a no-no if you want a pillow in good shape. Lumps within the material are a red flag that signals that the material the pillow is made out of is starting to lose consistency. This affects the quality of comfort while also compromising the head support your pillow offers. Again, a clear sign to get a new pillow.

Expiration date – Some pillows come with these, no joke. Polyester pillows notoriously have expiration dates marked on their tags. This is due to the natural decomposition of the pillow material, but don’t be scared by that. A lot of other factors determine if your pillow is past its prime. The amount of wear and tear, whether you're using a pillowcase and the frequency of sleep are all factors. Still, check the expiration date, especially if your pillow has aged a bit.

Which pillow-filling material works for you?

An image of a woman hugging her pillow

Since we already mentioned how the filling can dictate the longevity of a pillow, it only makes sense to go further in-depth on the different filling options. After all, if you want a good pillow, you need to know what makes it good!

Luckily, if you already know how to find the perfect mattress, some of the things you learned there do carry over to pillows! So, here are the most common types of pillows you're likely to see.

Wool pillows

An image of wool pillow filling

When getting a wool pillow, you should expect a few amazing perks. They tend to have excellent moisture-wicking properties as well as amazing temperature control. This makes it the perfect pillow for hot sleepers or people living in a hot climate.

Wool is also hypoallergenic, so you don't have to worry about allergies (except if you're allergic to the wool itself). Wool pillows tend to also be structurally sound, meaning they bring ample support. However, this also means that they're a bit more difficult to reshape.

And it's also worth pointing out that wool pillows are generally among the more expensive pillows and require extra care when it comes to maintenance. Lastly, the smell of wool takes some getting used to. But if wool sounds like an ideal choice for you, we recommend reading out Woolroom Natural British Wool Pillow review.

Cotton pillows

For the most part, cotton pillows share a lot of the same pros as wool pillows. They're hypoallergenic, have great temperature control and wick away any excess moisture. Plus, (and this is something that also applies to wool pillows) you can control their loft and firmness by taking out some of the filling.

However, make sure that you're getting a pillow that's 100% cotton and not just a mix if you want optimal results. Sure, cotton blends can sometimes make for good pillows, but it's usually better to go all-natural. That being said, they can also get a bit pricey. And if you're looking for a recommendation, give our Gora Pillow review a look.

Memory foam pillows

An image of memory foam in a pillow

Memory foam pillows are among the most popular pillow types and for good reason. Since memory foam can adapt and contour to your body, memory foam pillows offer amazing neck support and are among the go-to options for people looking for a soft pillow. So, it's very popular when looking for the best pillows for neck pain.

They're also very easy to find and come in many different variations and at all price points, so it's easy to find the perfect one that will get you a good night's sleep. The only issue is that low to medium-priced memory foam pillows tend to have issues with overheating.

However, you can always get a memory foam pillow with cooling gel and sort out this problem. Specifically, we recommend looking at the Coolmax Contour Memory Foam pillow.

Latex pillows

an image of a latex pillow

If you loved what we had to say about the memory foam pillow, a latex pillow is probably going to suit you as well. Just like with memory foam, latex offers a lot of support to your head and neck while also keeping you comfortable.

However, latex doesn't have as much give as memory foam, leading to a slightly firmer pillow. You can always take out some of the latex to combat this but generally, if you want a softer pillow, you'll get a better night's sleep with a different filling.

Also, do note that pillows with natural latex tend to be a bit pricey. But if getting high-quality sleep is your main goal, we recommend taking a look at our top five latex pillows list.

Feather and down pillows

We decided to group feather and down pillows in the same category as you'll usually get a mix of the two. They tend to be the softest pillows on the market (especially if there's more down) and are the perfect pick for many.

They're generally very fluffy, easy to find, and while not as cheap as a synthetic pillow, don't break the bank either. Plus, they're made from all-natural materials – which is a big plus to some. That being said, they're not vegan (as birds are necessarily involved in the process) and they can sometimes contribute to the forming of dust mites.

Nevertheless, they present an excellent choice for many sleepers! And if you're looking for the best feather pillows (UK) we suggest starting your search by reading our Snuggledown Goose Feather and Down Pillow review.

Buckwheat pillows

The final natural pillow we want to talk about is the buckwheat pillow. Although it's mostly popular in East Asia, buckwheat can still be the perfect filling for you! And the easiest way to understand what they're all about is to think of a small beanbag.

The filling consists of little clumps that adjust to your head and neck, providing an extremely high level of support and pressure relief. However, the trade-off is that a buckwheat pillow tends to be a bit firmer and is generally a flat pillow (as opposed to fluffy down pillows for example). But if you're looking for the thinnest pillow or are looking for firm pillows (UK), this is more of a positive!

However, they can be a bit noisy, which isn't ideal for light sleepers. So, if you want a pillow that can get rid of neck pain but buckwheat sounds too annoying, it's best to look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you want the best pillow for neck pain UK has on the market, a buckwheat filling could be what you're looking for.

Synthetic pillows

Synthetic pillows come in all shapes and sizes and are generally the easiest to find and the cheapest. The most popular fillings in this category are microfibre and polyester.

Generally, synthetic pillows are a bit firmer than their natural counterparts but they're also a lot easier to maintain – with most of them being machine washable. However, when looking for a good synthetic pillow, make sure to check for the appropriate certifications, as dangerous chemicals can sometimes get mixed into the process.

And while they do tend to be cheap, synthetic pillows can also be very high-brow and of premium quality. So, getting the best pillows (UK) doesn't necessarily have to include natural materials. If you want proof, just read our Emma Premium Microfibre Pillow review.

What's the best pillow for your sleeping position?

Now that we've covered all the different materials, it's time to move on to your sleeping position. After all, how you sleep directly dictates what kind of pillow will suit you the best. Not to mention that different sleeping positions require different types of support.

This might seem complicated or unimportant at first glance but it's actually quite the opposite. Figuring out which pillow you need is easy-peasy once you know what to look out for. However, choosing the wrong pillow can lead to quite a bit of neck and back pain! So, let's go over everything you need to know about choosing the correct pillow for your sleeping position.

An infographic showcasing which loft different sleeping positions are compatible with

Side sleepers

Most people sleep on their side and thus, most pillows are good for side sleepers! The main thing you need to keep in mind is the height of the pillow or its loft. This is because depending on your shoulders, you could need a pillow with a smaller or larger loft.

But generally speaking, most side sleepers will want to opt for a medium-thick pillow, as it's just high enough to keep your spine alignment healthy and support your neck. However, if you have very broad shoulders, you'd want thick pillows, and if you have narrow shoulders, a thin pillow would be ideal – so, take your sleep position into account!

And in terms of firmness, a medium-firm pillow should suit you well – as you don't want your head to completely sink into the pillow but you also want a bit of give in order to be comfortable. And since most pillows are medium-firm pillows, pillow firmness for side sleepers is as easy as it gets. Lastly, if you're looking for recommendations, here's our list of the best pillows for side-sleepers.

Stomach sleepers

As a stomach sleeper, getting a pillow that's easily compressed is essential. Unlike side sleepers, your front half is more or less straight, meaning that a pillow with a high loft will lead to your head bending upwards and causing neck strain.

It can also be useful to take note of the fluffiness of the pillow, especially if you like sleeping with your head in the middle. This is because you don't want to compress the middle part of the pillow while the sides stay up and block your face and mouth. All of that being said, there are fringe cases. For example, if the pillow is incredibly thin. So, when getting the best front sleeper pillow (UK), ideally, you'd want to try out a few different lofts. And in case you were wondering, here's our shortlist of the best pillows for stomach/front sleepers.

Back sleepers

In most cases, back sleepers will do just fine with a medium to low loft pillow. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

For one, if you're suffering from acid reflux, having the pillow be slightly higher can help alleviate a lot of the discomfort during the night. On the other hand, if you have sleep apnea, or just have a habit of snoring, it's best to consult your GP and get an anti-snoring pillow that can help keep your airways free of strain. And, depending on how you sleep, extra firm pillows could also be a good choice. So, we suggest taking a look at our list of the best pillows for back sleepers and finding something that works for you.

Combination sleepers

Being a combination, or mixed sleeper means that you change your sleeping position during the night. And this makes picking the perfect pillow based on your personal preference a bit more difficult. However, as a general rule of thumb, getting a mid-loft, medium-firm pillow should do the trick.

It can also help if you get an adjustable pillow as you can fine-tune them to suit your needs. Or at the very least, get a filling that can adapt to your body – like latex or memory foam. And if you don't know where to start, we suggest reading our OTTY Deluxe Pillow review.

Which pillow shape and pillow size suit you?

An image of three pillows of different shapes and sizes

The next step in choosing the right pillow is to think about the pillow's size and shape. And don't worry, this is a lot easier than the previous two segments.

After all, you can probably tell just by looking at a pillow whether it's the right size and shape for you. Nevertheless, we will discuss how size and shape influence a pillow's performance – just so that we can make sure you choose the perfect pillow in the end!

Pillow size

In terms of the size of the pillow, the only crucial factor is how high the pillow is once it has been compressed. As mentioned previously, this directly impacts your spine alignment and thus should be taken seriously.

As far as the width and length of the pillow go, that just boils down to personal preference. If you like to roll around a lot, getting a larger pillow is sure to put a smile on your face. Plus, getting big pillows for bed makes for the best pillow fights. However, if you like to bring your pillow with you everywhere, a smaller pillow should suit you better. Then again, you could also just get a separate high-quality travel pillow.

Pillow shape

When it comes to the shape of the pillow, a regular, rectangular or square pillow will work for most people. That being said, there are a few other pillow shapes that can be a lot more useful in certain situations. To name just a few:

Which pillow covers should you get?

An image of a pillow with a floral pillow cover

Another important but sometimes overlooked aspect of getting the perfect pillow is getting a proper pillow cover. Yes, most pillows come with removable covers that you can swap around whenever you want, but why not aim for gold from the start?

Plus, since the covers are in direct contact with your face, getting a bad cover can completely undermine even the best pillow UK has to offer! So, keep the following factors in mind:

What's a pillow protector?

On a similar note to pillow covers, we have pillow protectors. Although they're not nearly as popular as regular covers, they can still be useful for certain situations. The uses of pillow protectors include but are not limited to:

How many pillows should you sleep with?

An image of a woman sleeping with a large number of pillows

We've discussed how to find the perfect pillow but do you only need one? Well, this depends on what you're going for. If you want to keep costs down while still giving your body what it needs – one is probably enough.

However, having multiple pillows for bed time comes with its own perks. For example, you could get the best side sleeper pillow UK has to offer to use at night and then gave the best back sleeper pillow in order to take the most comfortable naps this planet has ever seen.

There are also smaller pillows that you can get in order to make your waking life a bit better. For example, pillows for posture (like lumbar pillows) can make sitting at your desk the whole day a lot more comfortable.

Conclusion

As you can see, if you want to choose the right pillow, there are quite a few things you need to consider. But hopefully, you're now fully equipped to make that decision and have the best sleep in your life!

And if you have any more questions about sleep itself or other bedding products, we strongly suggest browsing our website or leaving a comment down below, as we've covered just about everything you'd ever need to know in order to get some proper rest. And let us know whether the how to choose, pillow edition, helped you find your perfect nap companion!

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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