While your mattress is arguably the most important component of your bedtime routine, your pillow comes in at a close second.
And depending on your sleep position, the pillow you rest your weary head on can either make or break your night.
Unlike back sleepers, who need a thin and softer pillow, side sleepers need a pillow with more thickness and support, since they’ll want to keep their heads and necks elevated and aligned. A firm pillow may cause even more neck pain, so understanding firmness levels will help as well.
Research & Resources:
In writing this article, we:
- Read 10+ articles
- Scoured dozens of customer reviews
- Spent 15+ hours writing and editing to make sure we provided the best information available
What should side sleepers look for in a pillow?
Today, pillow options go far beyond a basic stuffed cotton pillowcase – now you can choose from a wide variety of styles, materials, lofts – there’s even scented pillows if that sounds appealing to you! The most important thing to look for in any pillow, no matter your sleeping position, is proper support. A pillow that’s too flat, too soft, or too firm can cause neck pain and restlessness all night.
After looking at dozens of the most popular pillows on the market, we put together this list of the main pillow brands to consider.
|Brand||Pillow||Features||Loft Level||Price for Standard|
|Editors' Choice: Amerisleep Comfort Classic Pillow||Medium-firm||$75|
|Best for Shoulder Pain: Layla Pillow||Medium||$99|
|Best for Neck Pain: Nest Bedding Easy Breather||Adjustable||$99|
|Best Cooling: Brooklyn Bedding Shredded Memory Foam||Adjustable||$44|
|Best Contouring: Avocado Pillow||Unknown (but you can buy refill packages to adjust and add volume)||$79|
|Best Gel: Leesa Hybrid||Adjustable||$125|
|Best Value: Casper Pillow||Medium-Soft||$65|
|Best for Pregnancy: Queen Rose Full Pregnancy Body Pillow||Unknown||$50|
1. Amerisleep Comfort Classic – Our Editors’ Choice
Sleeping on your side is typically recommended for better health because it can relieve pain and pressure on your back and it naturally aligns your spine. When it comes to choosing pillows, side sleepers usually want something that won’t sink in too far and will also have a hefty loft, or thickness, to support their necks.
The Amerisleep Comfort Classic Pillow pillow is our choice for overall best pillow for side sleepers because it’s the perfect medium loft. The pillow is filled with Amerisleep’s classic Bio-Pur® foam, engineered with an open-cell structure ensuring that you won’t sleep hot. Many reviews point to this pillow being great especially for side sleepers because it’s quite thick (6” in height), so you won’t have to constantly fluff it or fold it to keep your head in a comfy spot.Buy Now!
|Stuffed with eco-friendly and pressure-relieving foam||Some reviews said pillow lost its shape|
|Designed especially for back and side sleepers||Some reviews said it was too soft|
|Cooling and breathable because of ventilated airways in the foam|
2. Layla Pillow – Best for Shoulder Pain
According to a paper published in the Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology Journal, 18-26% of adults experience shoulder pain, “making it one of the most common regional pain syndromes.” Chronic pain can be discouraging, especially when it starts to affect your everyday life. Our hope is that your pillow doesn’t make that pain worse, so we’ve looked at a few different models to find the most comfortable option for those of you suffering from shoulder pain.
Our choice for those suffering from shoulder pain is the Layla Pillow.
|Copper-infused to wick away heat||Some reviews complained of off-gassing smell|
|Filled with memory foam and Kapok fiber||Some reviews said pillow was not supportive enough|
|No fluffing needed||Some reviews said pillow went flat after normal use|
3. Nest Bedding Easy Breather Pillow – Best for Neck Pain
Your neck supports your head, so a sore neck can lead to headaches, muscle stiffness, and just a plain ol’ bad night of sleep, which leads to a host of other issues. Bottom line: a pillow that helps alleviates your neck pain is invaluable.
Our recommendation for side sleepers experiencing neck pain is the Nest Bedding Easy Breather Pillow.
|3 sizes available (standard, queen, and king)||Some reviews said the pillow expanded, even after removing some of the foam|
|Removable foam makes it adjustable||Some reviews said pillow slept too warm|
|Uses a Tencel fabric cover, making it breathable and cool||Some reviews said pillow was too firm|
4. Brooklyn Bedding Shredded Foam Pillow – Best Cooling
Many sleep accessories tout “cooling” technology, but what exactly does that mean? It’s important to understand what actually makes a pillow cool, since some of these features are nothing more than a marketing tactic. Naturally, when your body heat gets trapped in something like a pillow, it has nowhere to escape, so it warms up even more, and then you flip the pillow all night in frustration trying to find the coolest side.
Now, this might make you leery of memory foam pillows, simply because memory foam hasn’t always had the best reputation for being cool. However, companies are solving this problem with new innovations and technologies, like grid-shaped foam, gels, copper-infused fabrics, and more.
Our recommendation for Best Cooling pillow is the Brooklyn Bedding Shredded Foam Pillow.
|Adjustable loft, so you can pull out foam as needed||Some reviews said the pillow “expanded” due to the inner material|
|Cooling gel foam infusion in deconstructed foam draws heat out and away from the head and neck||Some reviews said the pillow was heavy|
|Hypoallergenic to keep away dust mites and allergens||Some reviews complained of off-gassing smell|
5. Avocado Pillow – Best Contouring
A pillow that contours to the shape of your head and neck is ideal, as it’s hard to find a one-size-fits-all pillow. Many side sleepers are combo sleepers, and they change positions often in the night. This means they need a pillow that springs back and doesn’t go flat as they switch sides. If this describes your sleeping style, try to choose a pillow stuffed with memory foam or latex, since they are more springy than cotton or polyester filling.
Our choice for the best contouring pillow is the Avocado Pillow. It’s made with GOLS organic certified latex and GOTS organic certified Kapok fill. Kapok is a fiber sustainably harvested from the seeds of a kapok tree. It is sometimes referred to as “cotton silk” because of its light texture.
|All-natural, eco-friendly, and non-toxic||Some reviews said pillows needed to be fluffed to maintain their loft|
|Medium-firm, adjustable||Some reviews said the pillow compressed too much and went flat|
|100-night trial + 1-year warranty||Some reviews complained of an odor|
6. Leesa Hybrid – Best Gel
Pillows with gel components often tout cooling ability, a welcome feature for those who hate waking up with a sweaty head or neck. Side sleepers will benefit from gel pillows because they can also help relieve pressure points and they contour nicely to the neck.
Our choice for best gel pillow is the Leesa Hybrid pillow.
|Reversible with a down-like quilted pocketed side and a cooling gel side||Some reviews said pillow was too firm|
|Pillow insert and cooling gel layers can be removed, so you can adjust the pillow to your needs||Some reviews said the gel side was not cool enough for them|
|100-night trial||Some reviews said pillow was heavy|
7. Casper Pillow – Best Value
Much like mattresses, pillows can come in a wide range of prices–usually these prices correspond with the materials used to make the pillow. Of course, you can buy a pillow for $10 and probably sleep comfortably on it for a few nights, but it will most likely flatten very quickly and offer little to no support.
A longer-lasting pillow will cost anywhere from $25-$100. Those that cost even more usually offer additional features like aromatherapy, advanced ventilation, hybrid construction, or a sleep trial (sleep trials are not as common with pillows as they are with mattresses, but a pillow with a sleep trial is one worth considering).
Our choice for best value pillow is the Casper Pillow. The Casper Pillow boasts a 2-inch gusset (the extra fabric sewn into the sides) for proper neck and spinal alignment and a 100% cotton cover that allows air to flow through the pillow easily, helping you sleep cool.
|2” gusset||Some reviews complained they woke up with neck pain after sleeping on the pillow|
|100% cotton cover||Some reviews complained pillow lost its shape|
|3-year limited warranty||Some reviews said pillow was too soft|
|Short-coated fibers make up the filling|
8. Queen Rose Full Pregnancy Body Pillow – Best for Pregnancy
The American Pregnancy Association recommends pregnant women try to sleep on their sides (often referred to as the “SOS” position). Pregnant women typically experience loads of discomfort during pregnancy, including a growing belly, back pain, heartburn and indigestion, and insomnia – all of these things combine to create a poor night of sleep.
Pregnancy pillows are specially designed to address these issues. Most models are full body pillows, u-shaped, and are meant to cradle the abdomen. Some women find it hard to adjust to side-sleeping when pregnant if they were previously back or stomach sleepers. A pregnancy pillow ensures a smooth and comfortable transition.
Our choice for best pregnancy pillow is the Queen Rose Full Pregnancy Body Pillow.
|Eliminates tossing and turning||No cooling features|
|Offers support for those suffering from fibromyalgia, sciatica, gastric reflux, congestion, carpal tunnel, and back pain||Some reviews said it wasn’t firm enough|
|Four different size options||Some reviews said it flattened quickly|
|Filled with bionic polyethylene and cotton||Some reviews said cover was a little flimsy|
|Pillow is not machine washable (especially tricky if you use it for nursing)|
Possible Problems for Side Sleepers
Side sleepers get all the praise, since the majority of the population sleeps this way and it’s also the healthiest sleep position. However, side sleepers can experience some drawbacks from lying laterally.
- Paresthesia, or that uncomfortable “pins and needles” sensation you get when circulation is cut off to a limb, is a common issue when you sleep on your side. If you’re sleeping on a bad pillow or mattress, this problem can be aggravated because your pressure points aren’t properly supported. Look for pillows with a generous loft and filling that won’t break down or flatten after normal use.
- Shoulder pain can develop if you sleep on your side, especially if you sleep with one arm under the pillow, supporting your head and upper body on this arm. A supportive pillow can help take that pressure off your arm and give you a better night of sleep.
- A side sleeper may be more likely to suffer from wrinkles, simply because their face is squished up against their pillow all night. Side sleepers can try out different pillowcase fabrics to help with this issue, such as silk.
- Jaw pain can get worse if you sleep on your side, so be sure the pillow you’re using has a generous comfort layer along with ample support.
Understanding different pillow sizes can help you choose the right one for your sleep position. Here we outline the basic pillow sizes and who they work best for.
|Pillow Size||Works best for…||Probably not best for…|
|Standard: 20” x 26”||Those who are average-sized, those who sleep still||Those with broad shoulders, those who toss and turn|
|Super Standard: 20” x 28”||Combination sleepers, those sleeping in bunk beds, single, or twin size beds||Larger sleepers|
|Queen: 20” x 30”||Those who toss and turn, combo sleepers||Those needing a smaller sleep surface|
|King: 20” x 36”||Sleepers with broad shoulders||Smaller sleepers who don’t need as much material|
|Euro: size varies, but they are always square-shaped||People who want a headrest or backrest in bed; small sleepers, like children||Those needing a longer pillow, those with broad shoulders, combo sleepers|
|Body: 20” x 54”||Pregnant women, side and stomach sleepers||Back sleepers who want a flatter surface to sleep on|
More pillow options
We mentioned memory foam, gel, down, latex, and hybrid pillows in our article, but there are quite a few other options you can explore:
|PILLOW TYPE||FEATURES||CONS||MATTRESS BRANDS TO CONSIDER|
|Buckwheat||Sleeps cool, contours to head/neck, durable||Can be extra firm and noisy||Hullo, Beans72, Nature’s Pillow|
|Down pillow alternatives||Softness and support, moldable||Not enough support for some, may need extra fluffing||Sleep Restoration, Langria, Brooklinen|
|Down||Very soft, moldable, and quiet||Lose their shape quickly, pricier||Royal Hotel, Luxuredown, Downlite|
|Feather||Sleeps cooler than most, soft, moldable||Feathers can poke through fabric, need to be fluffed often||Luxury Goose Feather, Classic Feather Pillow, ECB|
|Latex||Supportive and soft, durable||Possible odor, very bouncy which can bother some||Simmons Beautyrest, Malouf, PlushBeds|
|Memory foam||Supportive and soft, not noisy, often adjustable||Possible odor, can retain heat||Coop Home Goods, Weekender, Snuggle-Pedic|
|Water||Pain relief, contouring, no odor||Heavy, risk of water damage/leakage||Mediflow, Chiroflow, The Duck and Goose|
While pillow-shopping can quickly get overwhelming, we hope this article has targeted a few of your needs, especially if you’re a side sleeper. The perfect pillow may not exist for everyone, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find the most comfortable and affordable option for a good night of sleep.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.
The Conversation (0)
Start a discussion, our content team tries our best to respond to comments. However replies should not be a substitute for medical advice from your doctor.*