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Picking The Right Pillow For Sleep: A complete guide

Choosing the correct pillow for sleep is important. Afterall, we spend on average one third of our life sleeping.

Research has shown that the more comfortable we feel as we sleep, the better our sleep will be. And the pillow we decide to use plays a huge role in this.

A pillow that is perfectly suited for your needs will help you sleep better and in doing so also help improve your health and well-being.

So, that’s why I decided to create this complete pillow picking guide. In this post, I will walk you through everything you need to know when it comes to picking the right pillow for your needs, so that you can achieve the best sleep possible.

So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Why do we Sleep on Pillows?

The true origin of pillows can’t be found. However, we know that for as long back as when the pre-historic animals ruled the earth, they too seeked something to put their head on as they were sleeping. This was true for the earliest humans as well.

We have learned overtime that there are three main reasons why we sleep on pillows, and they are:

  1. Pillows help us provide a healthy spine alignment as we sleep – Keeping a fairly neutral spine as we sleep is healthy for the spine in and of itself. But not only that, laying down with a neutral spine is also the most comfortable position, this position helps us relax, which then leads to better sleep.
  2. Pillows help us turn, twist and toss around less in the bed – This is tied to number one above, when we aren’t comfortable we’ll easier become restless and that will likely take some hours of sleep away.
  3. Hugging and cuddling a pillow leads to positive feelings similar to hugging another person – These feelings will help most of us fall asleep easier.

Want to learn more? Check out our post explaining more in-depth why we sleep on pillows.

Which Type of Pillow Stuffing/Filling Should I Choose?

Pillow-Stuffing-Types-Pros-and-Cons-of-All-Common-Materials

One of the most important things to consider before getting a new pillow, is which type of stuffing/filling you should go for. Afterall, there are so many options out there, the most common ones including;

  • Memory foam
  • Latex
  • Feather
  • Down
  • Polyester
  • Gel
  • Cotton
  • Hemp
  • Wool
  • Buckwheat
  • Bamboo

All of these materials come with their own advantages and disadvantages. In order for you to find out which material that is going to be best for your needs, we recommend that you read our post: Pillow Stuffing Types: Pros and Cons of All Common Materials. This post will help you pick a pillow that suits you the best.

Should I go With a Soft or Firm Pillow?

Do you need a soft or firm pillow

Related to the pillow stuffing material is the firmness of the pillow. How firm your pillow is going to be is mainly decided by the material it’s made from.

But before you can make the decision between choosing a soft, medium soft, medium, medium firm, or firm pillow, you must learn why you should pick one firmness over another in the first place.

In essence, the level of firmness you should get depends mostly on your main sleeping position. Where in general, back sleepers do best with a medium pillow, side sleepers do best with a firm pillow and stomach sleepers do best with a soft pillow.

Now, there’s more to it than that. For one, the type of material the pillow is made of also affect how soft or hard it should be in order to work propely, and other factors include how much support and loft you need.

To learn more about this, we recommend that you read our post called Do You Need a Soft or Firm Pillow? A physiotherapist weighs in, where we cover this more in-depth.

How High Should my Pillow be?

How-high-should-your-pillow-be

This is an important part of picking a good pillow to sleep on. The perfect pillow height is one that puts your neck in a neutrally aligned position as you lay down on it.

What this means is that the height of your pillow will depend on your sleeping position, since different sleeping positions requires different pillow heights in order to achieve a neutrally aligned neck.

In short, here’s the recommended pillow height for adults, according to each sleeping position:

  • Side sleepers: 5 to 7 inches.
  • Back sleepers: 4 to 5 inches.
  • Stomach sleepers: 4 inches or less.

Now, this doesn’t take into consideration the ideal pillow height for combination sleepers, i.e. people who sleep in various positions throughout the night.

To get the correct pillow height if you are a combination sleeper then I recommend picking some form of adjustable pillow. There are many options, including memory foam pillows that mold to the shape of your head and to specific pressure points. Another great option is a pillow that has different loft heights depending on which side you use.

If you want to learn more about pillow height and different pillow options out there, I recommend you read our post How High Should Your Pillow Be? (Ideal Height For Your Sleeping Position).

What is The Healthiest Pillow to Use?

What is The Healthiest Pillow to Use

Another very important thing to consider when buying a pillow, is of course that it’s healthy to sleep on. Afterall, since we spend so much time with our pillow we want it to be healthy.

There are two main things that makes a pillow healthy, which are:

  1. That the pillow places your spine in a neutral position.
  2. That the pillow is made with non-toxic materials.

Now, there are additional factors that decides if a pillow is healthy on an individual basis, these two mentioned are just the things that signify a healthy pillow for all of us.

To learn more about what makes a pillow healthy on a more individual basis we recommend that you read our post: What is The Healthiest Pillow to Use? Based on science. Near the end of the post we also list the types of pillows we’ve researched to be the healthiest for most people.

When Should I Replace my Pillow?

Pillows don’t last forever. After a while you should replace your pillow as it will lose it’s shape, get dirty and become uncomfortable.

How often you should replace your pillow depends mostly on the type of pillow you have. Here’s a neat list that shows the lifespan of the most common pillow types:

Pillow TypeLifespan
Foam12 to 36 months
PolyesterSix to 24 months
Feather18 to 36 months
Latex24 to 48 months
Bamboo24 to 36 months
Down24 months
Down Alternative18 to 24 months
Buckwheat36 months

So, if you know that your pillow is older than this, it’s likely time to change it out soon.

If you want to learn more about things indicating that it’s time for replacement, check out our post When to Replace Your Pillow? Average lifespan of all pillow types.

How do I Recycle my Pillow?

Okay, so maybe it’s time to replace your old pillow with a new one. But, what do you do with your old one?

Well, you could simply throw it away and if that’s what you want to do, make sure you recycle it by checking which materials it’s made of and then throwing the materials in the correct recycling category.

If you want to make as little impact as possible on our environment, here’s a list of things you could do with your old pillows:

  • Donate them
  • Make floor cushions
  • Make a pet bed
  • Use as packaging material
  • Make throw pillows
  • Seal drafts
  • Make a gardening cushion
  • Use down feathers as fertilizer
  • Stuff another pillow
  • Use as insulation
  • Use as lining in small pet cages
  • Restuff a stuffed animal

If you want to learn more about creative uses of your old pillow(s), you can do so in our post How to Recycle Your Pillow? 12 things you can do with an old pillow

How Much Money Should I Spend on a Pillow?

Stuffing, height, firmness and healthy materials are all very important things to consider when buying a pillow, but another important thing to consider is the cost of the pillow.

The price of a pillow is determined mainly by the type of materials it’s made of and also the pricing that the brand that makes and sells it decided on.

Since there are so many brands selling pillows it’s nearly impossible to give a narrow price point for the various pillow types, but we managed to make a list of the average price range of all the common pillow types:

Pillow TypeAverage Price Range
Down pillows$15-260
Polyester pillows$10-85
Latex pillows$100-150
Feather pillows$25-50
Cotton pillows$50-100
Memory foam pillows$50-150
Bamboo pillows$50-150

If you want to learn more about the average price range of these common pillow types I recommend checking out our post How Much Do Pillows Cost? Average price of all pillow types.

Obviously, most of us want to spend as little money as possible while simultaneously get the best quality possible. With that said, quality usually follows price as something that costs more is often also of higher quality.

But, to help you get the highest quality possible without having to spend a fortune, we decided to make a list of the best affordable pillows for all sleeping positions. You find that list in this post.

Do I Need Any of These 11 “Odd” Pillow Shapes?

The most common sleeping pillow is the rectangular one that we all are used to seeing and using. Sure, it can be made of various materials that acts differently as you lay your head on it, has different firmness levels and comes in various loft heights.

But, there are other more oddly shaped pillows that can come in handy for certain individuals and for a lot of different reasons, and these include:

You can press the link on any of these pillows and it will take you to a post where you can learn more about the specific pillow, its benefits as well as why you might need it.

Summary

Okay, so there you have it, the complete guide for picking the right sleeping pillow. I hope this guide has helped you make a more educated decision when it comes to picking a pillow that is suited to your needs. A pillow that will improve your sleep and in doing so also your health and well-being on a daily basis as well as for the long-term.