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Side sleeping has a great reputation. It’s often recommended for spine and snoring relief. However, if you’ve ever had your arm fall asleep before you do, or if you’ve woken up with searing shoulder pain, you know it’s time to replace your mattress with a properly supportive one.
And now you’ve got the mattress, but the pain in your neck won’t go away. You wake up with it every morning. It may be time to turn your eyes to your pillow instead. A good pillow for sides sleepers fills in around your neck and keeps your spine in the correct position.
We’ve put together a list of our favorite pillows for side sleepers. Plus, we’ve answered a few questions you may have about how to choose the right pillow. Let’s take a look.
What Do I Need For Side Sleeping?
Side position is an excellent way to sleep. Side sleepers generally need the highest loft possible. When you sleep on your side, there’s a lot of space between where your shoulder hits the mattress and where your head hits it. A pillow should raise your head up so that your spine is level and doesn’t overextend.
When you don’t have the right loft or support, your head gradually falls towards the mattress during the night. The area around your shoulder compresses while the opposite side overextends. You wake up with persistent pain from the lack of support.
What Is Loft?
The loft of the pillow is how deep and how supportive it actually is. A high loft pillow is usually over five inches tall and has adequate support so that it doesn’t compress when you lay on it. It’s best if there’s no compression at all except where your head lays.
The pillow should also be medium firm, which may affect how moldable the pillow is. However, support is much more important than molding the pillow if you sleep exclusively on your side because you’ll want the support to be consistent all night.
Low loft pillows are usually under three inches, which isn’t nearly deep enough to support your head. If you’re a combination sleeper, you may want to go for a medium loft, which is between three and five inches so that regardless of position, you don’t lose support.
What Kind Of Fill Materials Should I Use?
There are lots of different fill materials you can use, but one of our favorites for side sleepers is memory foam or latex. Both of these materials mold to your head and fill in the gap between your neck and your shoulders so that it’s completely supported.
Latex tends to be a bit more firm than memory foam. If you have unusually broad shoulders, you might want to consider latex because it will hold its shape even better than the memory foam will. There’s no chance of over compressing the pillow as you sleep.
Other common fill materials for side sleepers include things as out there as buckwheat (which may be too firm for some) and bamboo, which holds its fill really well. Make sure you look for some type of certification to tell you that the pillow won’t off-gas or produce any noxious odors (especially if you’re shipping your pillow instead of purchasing in person).
What If I Have Allergies?
Allergies can really be a problem with the wrong type of pillow. Some pillows use synthetic materials made from petroleum or that use formaldehyde, both of which cause some serious off-gassing to occur. It can irritate your nasal passages and make allergies worse.
Memory foam and latex are naturally dust mite and bed bug resistant, as well as antimicrobial. You should look for CertiPur-US labels on your pillow at the very minimum so that you know it won’t produce enough VOC to irritate your allergies.
You should also look for pillows with organic cotton or other non-toxic materials. Cotton, for example, is often grown with large amounts of pesticides, which can cause allergic reactions in your respiratory system or your skin. Looking for organic certification can help alleviate your allergies by reducing contact with toxic chemicals.
A Word About Price
It might seem like a lot to ask to spend money on a pillow, but the truth is you’re going to need this final piece of your bed to keep you from experiencing the same pain you have night after night.
Your pillow should last at least three to five years without losing any loft or support. Cheap pillows with cheap fillers lose their loft much sooner. You’re faced with replacing your pillow a lot more often or being stuck with a pillow that isn’t going to support you fully.
Investing in a pillow is the final step. If you’ve recently upgraded your mattress, you should consider if your pillow is producing allergic reactions because of harboring dust, skin, and dust mites and if it’s capable of enhancing what your mattress is doing for your spine.
And now, our picks for the best pillow for side sleepers.
Muse – Our Top Pick
Muse makes mattresses in three different firmness levels so that you can choose what’s more comfortable for you. They bring that same idea to their pillows. You have a variety of lofts to choose from depending on your sleep position.
Muse uses cool wire fabric for cover material. It actively moves heat away from your head and neck, returning the pillow to ambient room temperature very quickly. The interior is a layer of shredded foam for cushion and underneath, Muse uses dense foam for support. You get the soft comfort of a lofty pillow, but it doesn’t allow your head to sink all the way to the mattress. It tucks in well between the area of your neck and shoulders, so your spine stays straight all night.
We like the medium and high versions of this pillow for different reasons. The medium loft is good for those who have narrower shoulders and don’t need quite as much support. It’s a bit adaptable, so if you sometimes switch to your back, this will also work for that position.
The high loft is useful if you have unusually broad shoulders and need something very supportive. It’s six inches deep, and it might be too much loft if you don’t have broad shoulders so consider accordingly.
Your pillow comes wrapped in plastic, but not compressed. You have 120 nights to try it out before deciding if it’s the right pillow for you. Give it a few weeks before determining officially because you’ll need time for your body to adjust to the pillow and for old pain to disappear.
You’re covered by a three-year warranty against mattress defects. Be sure that you’re only using your pillow for its intended purpose. Nothing crazy. You don’t want to void the warranty accidentally.
Puffy – Runner-Up
Puffy is another mattress company designing mattress for excellent support and sleep restoration. They have a pillow that uses a lot of the same materials as the mattress. The foam filling provides loft and support without allowing your head to sink too far into the mattress.
Puffy uses bamboo and rayon blended cover materials. They’re cool to the touch and don’t have a strong odor. The cover is washable and zips entirely off to clean. You can also add or remove layers inside to customize your loft precisely to your specifications. Your pillow can fit neatly in the space between your neck and shoulders so those muscles can decompress.
The inner materials are CertiPur-US certified. They don’t use any formaldehyde, phthalates, mercury, or lead. It produces very low amounts of VOCs, so if you’re sensitive to odors, this pillow shouldn’t give you any trouble.
You can try out your Puffy pillow for 101 nights before deciding if it’s the right one for you. Your pillow comes wrapped in plastic, but not compressed, so you don’t have to wait for it to inflate after unpacking. Give it a few weeks before you decide officially so your body has time to adjust and old pain can disappear.
Puffy covers the pillow with a three-year warranty against mattress defects. Again, make sure you aren’t’ using your pillow for anything other than its intended use, so you don’t void the warranty.
If you fall into one of the following categories, you may want to consider one of these pillows instead.
Casper – Best Non-Foam Pillow
We talk a lot about foam, but the foam isn’t right for everyone. If you sleep very hot, if you’re sensitive to odors, or if you’re allergic to latex, the foam may not be the right material for you.
Casper uses a polyester microfiber fill that’s blown into the pillow for better fill and loft. They react to each other and reduce compression, so you get a lot of bounce back as you move. The cover is a soft, cotton material that helps encourage air flow. In fact, the entire pillow is highly breathable.
It’s basically a pillow inside of a pillow. The microfiber sits around what’s called the spine. The spine of the pillow helps distribute the filling so that it doesn’t clump all in one area. It is moldable, so if you sleep on your stomach, you can tuck it underneath your neck where it needs to go.
When you need to wash the pillow, just unzip the outer layer and throw it in the machine. It protects the inner layer from dust and other allergens.
It’s covered by a three-year warranty against mattress defects. Make sure that you use the pillow for its intended purpose, of course, because you don’t want a nasty surprise if you try to take advantage of the warranty.
Casper gives you 100 nights to try the pillow out. Give it a few weeks so that you can adjust and allow old pain to disappear. If it doesn’t, you can return the pillow any time before the trial period is over for a full refund.
Bear – Best For Combination Sleepers
If you toss and turn all night, or you don’t like to stay in one position, you should try Bear. Bear’s cooling pillow uses medium loft fill to create a cushioning but highly moldable pillow. This gives you the flexibility to move it around as you change positions.
It uses a layered fabric that remains cool to the touch, quickly returning the pillow to the ambient temperature of the room. Mesh side panels encourage air flow so that as you move around, you’re forcing cool air throughout the pillow.
You can remove the top cover, and machine wash it, which should reduce the amount of allergens on the surface of the pillow. Loft-X foam is dust mite resistant and antimicrobial. The hypoallergenic materials shouldn’t give you any respiratory issues.
The makeup of the pillow should give you flexibility if you don’t sleep exclusively on your side. Stomach and back sleepers should be able to mold the pillow around the curves of the neck and shoulders to give just the right amount of support. If you sleep exclusively in one position, you’re likely to lose that support throughout the night.
It arrives at your door wrapped in plastic but not compressed. It’s low odor and low VOC emission. You have 100 nights to try the pillow out to decide if it’s the right one for you. If you’ve recently upgraded your mattress (and even if you haven’t), it’s essential that you give the pillow at least 30 days before deciding. Your body has plenty of time to adjust, and you can gauge if your pain has improved.
You’re covered by a two-year warranty against mattress defects. Make sure you aren’t using the pillow for anything other than its intended purpose so that you don’t accidentally void the warranty, of course.
Purple – Best For Shoulder Pain
If you have intense shoulder pain, your mattress and pillow should work together to reduce the amount of pressure on that common pressure point. The Purple pillow uses the same unique grid layer to redistribute weight across the entire surface.
It can take some getting used to because it doesn’t use any of the typical pillow filler materials. It uses Purple’s patented hyperelastic polymer grid layer instead. It makes the pillow a little heavy (ten pounds) and a little flippy. Kind of like jello.
What you get is a pillow that cradles your neck and head, and perfectly aligns the spine, especially if you’re a side sleeper. It never loses edge support, so it fills in around the gaps between your neck and shoulders.
The material sleeps neutral, and hundreds of triangles encourage airflow throughout the pillow. You never have to fluff it, and you never have to turn it into a cool spot. It’s firm around the edges and soft in the middle
You have 100 nights to try your new pillow out before deciding if it’s the right one for you. It’s crucial that you sleep on the pillow for at least 30 nights, so you’ll know if it’s the right one. This gives your body time to adjust to such a strange pillow and allows you to decide if the decompression is happening.
You have a one year warranty for the Purple pillow, and it covers cracks in the material, unusual dips, and loss of structural integrity. It also includes the cover materials. Make sure you only use your pillow for its intended purpose, so you don’t accidentally void the warranty of course.
Your pillow comes in plastic but isn’t compressed. You don’t have to wait for it to inflate before using it, but it may have a small initial odor because of the plastic wrap. Leave it where it can air out if it bothers you and it should disappear soon.
Shoulder sleepers must support their head and neck properly with a pillow that won’t lose support. The pillow can be medium to high loft depending on how broad your shoulders are and how much depth it takes to keep your head in the right position. You may enjoy the out-there constructions of some of the pillows, such as the purple, but our favorite pillow is still the customizable Muse.
Memory foam is excellent for getting your head into the right position because the foam is good at giving way where you need it and staying in a position where you need support. As long as the pillow maintains support around the edges and keeps your head from collapsing to the mattress, you should see some relief from your shoulder pain provided there aren’t any outstanding issues.
Pillows are the final step in getting your sleep life in order. Once again, we encourage you not to bargain shop your pillow because you’ll see a reduction in the benefits of your new mattress. No matter how amazing your bed is, it’s only as good as the pillow that supports your head and neck.