Side sleepers need the most support from their pillows. Stomach sleepers, the least. And back sleepers are right in the middle. “You don’t want the head too far up but also don’t want it falling too much into the pillow either,” explains Dr. Shelby Harris, a psychologist who specializes in behavioral sleep medicine. “Nothing flat or too firm.” Several chiropractors we spoke to echoed this, adding that it’s important to find a pillow that keeps your neck aligned with your spine. For back sleepers, that means a mid-loft pillow is best so your head isn’t too high, and your neck is supported, says Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon.
Other than that, a pillow — even for back sleepers — is really about your preference. “Picking the ‘perfect pillow’ is very specific to you, and you may have to go through a few pillows to find the one that is right,” Okubadejo advises. To help, we consulted our own panel of pillow experts, including Harris, Okubadejo, chiropractors, a physical therapist, and a doctor who specializes in pain management, and asked for their recommendations on the best pillows for back sleepers. Below, you’ll find their favorites, many of which I’ve also tested myself.
What we’re looking for
When you are laying on your back, you want to avoid bending your neck into a strained posture, says chiropractor and American Chiropractic Association member Karen Erickson. “If the pillow is too thick, it causes your cervical spine to flex forward. Sleep is one time when you want to avoid this posture, and your pillow can be your ally,” Erickson explains. A lower- or medium-loft pillow that allows your head, neck, and spine to align while preventing your head from dipping too far back is ideal.
Most of our experts said the best pillow fill for back sleepers depends on personal preference. For people who tend to switch between sleeping on their side and back throughout the night, Jaspal R. Singh, MD, a triple-board certified physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, sports medicine, and pain medicine, suggests using a couple of fluffy down or down-alternative pillows that you can squish to suit your position. However, memory foam, latex, kapok, and buckwheat can all work.
According to American Physical Therapy Association spokesperson Ben Fung, PT, DPT, the firmness of pillows for back sleepers should fit the Goldilocks model: “The material should offer firm support, but not feel like a rock; it should have some give, while not slumping into the mattress or sleeping surface,” Fung says.
The general consensus among experts is that most pillows should be replaced every one to two years. Following your pillow’s care instructions will help you maximize that time. The material your pillow is made of and filled with will determine whether you can toss the entire thing in the washer and dryer or rely on spot cleaning or only launder the outer cover. We’ve listed the care instructions for each pillow below.
Best overall pillow for back sleepers
Fill type: Memory foam | Loft: Low | Firmness: Firm | Care instructions: Machine-washable cover
Dr. Janet Kennedy, clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, told us that sleeping on a lower-loft pillow can help back sleepers keep their head in a pain-free position that won’t knock their neck out of whack. This flat-on-purpose pillow caters to those needs. The pillow comes in three loft heights — Super Slim (3.25 inches), Ultra Slim (2.75 inches), and Hyper Slim (2.25 inches) — so you can choose the loft that works best with your body size. The fill is a single piece of perforated gel-infused memory foam, which gives the pillow a supportive, medium-firm feel. Before sleeping on the Bluewave pillow, Strategist senior editor Crystal Martin was dealing with continuous neck pain because her pillow was too thick. She swapped a loftier pillow for the Bluewave Super Slim loft and after sleeping on it for a year, says “it’s still supportive even though it’s thin.” Martin sleeps with it vertically so it is nestled underneath her shoulder blades and it supports her neck, “so it’s not dipping too far back,” she says.
Best adjustable pillow for back sleepers
Fill type: Cross-cut memory foam | Loft: Adjustable | Firmness: Adjustable | Care instructions: Machine-washable cover
Okubadejo prefers pillows with removable foam, as the adjustability allows you to easily lower your head’s resting position to help with that all-important alignment. A Strategist reader favorite and our best-overall pick for bed pillows, the Coop Home Goods Original is squishy and supportive and adjustable to suit any sleep style; former Strategist writer Lori Keong once called it a “hug for your head.” I’ve also slept on this pillow and it is a good standard pillow for devoted back sleepers or people who tend to switch positions throughout the night. The cross-cut memory foam fill doesn’t bunch up or flatten out, so the support is consistent and responsive. The pillow is available in queen and king sizes and comes with a bag of extra fill for those who want to add firmness, and you can purchase additional fill in medium-firm or firm densities for further customization.
Best memory foam pillow for back sleepers
Fill type: Cube cut foam | Loft: Adjustable | Firmness: Adjustable | Care instructions: Machine-washable cover
Dr. Singh suggests that back sleepers use a medium-firm pillow, cautioning that an overly firm one may cause your head to be “somewhat more elevated off the mattress than your trunk,” putting it in a “flexed” position that can cause neck pain. This one by Nolah is filled with cube-cut foam and, despite its name, has a medium-firm feel. I’ve slept on it myself and found it supportive even as I switched between sleeping on my side and my back throughout the night. The pillow’s firmness really stood out — I didn’t feel like I was sleeping on a slab of concrete but my head also didn’t sink in too much. The pillow is adjustable, so if you prefer a lower loft and less firm feel, you can remove some of the cube-cut foam fill. The outer bamboo cover can be tossed in the washer and dryer too.
Best (less-expensive) memory foam pillow for back sleepers
Fill type: Clumps of eco-foam | Loft: Medium | Firmness: Medium | Care instructions: Machine-washable cover
Okubadejo recommends this pillow for back sleepers who tend to wake up with back pain. It’s filled with what the brand describes as “MicroFlex cushions,” which are clumps of foam that help the pillow keep its shape and provide consistent support.
Best wedge pillow for back sleepers
Fill type: Memory foam and polyurethane foam | Loft: Incline | Firmness: Firm | Care instructions: Machine-washable cover
Back sleepers can be more prone to snoring because your soft tissue and tongue can narrow your airway as you’re lying flat, Okubadejo explains. To combat snoring, Dr. Singh suggests a wedge pillow that gradually inclines, starting around your shoulder blades, which “will keep your spine in a neutral position so your chin isn’t to your chest,” allowing air to flow freely and in turn reducing snoring. This wedge pillow from Helix comes in a single size, 24 inches and 10 inches high at its tallest point. If sleeping with your head elevated doesn’t help your snoring, Harris also advises going to a doctor to rule out issues like sleep apnea.
Best down pillow for back sleepers
Fill type: 85 percent down clusters, 15 percent down and feather fibers | Loft: Medium-high | Firmness: Soft, medium, or firm | Care instructions: Entire pillow machine-washable
Parachute’s down pillow came highly recommended in our search for the best down-filled pillows. As Laura Bates, a co-founder of Comfybeddy, puts it, “With 750 fill power, these pillows feel supportive but offer a generous amount of cradling for luxurious comfort.” Chiropractor Dr. Jordan Duncan of Silverdale Sport & Spine in Washington says this pillow works well for back sleepers specifically, by helping with neck alignment while adding plushness on top that makes it extra comfortable. It comes in two sizes, standard and king, with three different densities to choose from: soft, medium, and firm. Duncan recommends going with the medium firmness. The entire pillow can also be washed and tumble dried (note that the brand recommends using dryer balls to maintain the pillow’s fluffiness).
Best cooling pillow for back sleepers
Fill type: Microfiber with cooling gel | Loft: Medium | Firmness: Medium-soft | Care instructions: Entire pillow machine-washable
This pillow’s cool-to-the-touch cover counteracts heat on both sides, Duncan says, and the inside has another breathable cotton cover to prevent it from trapping heat. There are also microfiber gel clusters mixed into the filling for more neck, shoulder, and head support, according to Okubadejo, who recommends it for those with neck pain as well.
Best orthopedic pillow for back sleepers
Fill type: Polyester fiber fill | Loft: Medium | Firmness: Firm or gentle | Care instructions: Hand-wash and lay flat to dry
Proper posture is everything — even when you’re sleeping. An orthopedic pillow like this one helps restore the correct curves of the spine, says Dr. Stephen Szaro of Brooklyn-based Physio Logic chiropractic and physical therapy. He and chiropractor Dr. Randi Jaffe recommend this pillow for those with neck pain. It’s Szaro’s go-to because of the trapezoid cutout in the center. “This particular pillow offers just the right amount of support without overcorrecting the natural curves of the spine, as other contour pillows do,” he says. Although this pillow is comfortable, Szaro also notes that patients usually need some time to get used to it since it can feel awkward at first to those who have never slept on an orthopedic pillow. “It’s almost like trying to break in a new pair of orthotics for your shoes,” he explains. The pillow is available in three sizes — full, midsize, and petite — with the full size recommended for taller adults, the midsize for petite people and children age 10 and older, and the petite for children. It also comes in two firmness levels, “gentle” and firm. The gentle version will help ease you into using this style of pillow.
Best contour pillow for back sleepers
Fill type: Memory foam | Loft: Medium | Firmness: Medium-firm | Care instructions: Machine-washable cover
Although this pillow is meant for all sorts of sleepers, Jaffe calls it an “excellent choice for back sleepers.” She points out that the pocket at the center of the pillow can help maintain the proper spinal alignment and ease tension and tightness in your neck, upper back, and shoulders. According to Jaffe, it can also help relieve headaches by taking pressure off your neck.
Best pillows for back sleepers with neck pain
Fill type: Polyester fiber | Loft: Medium-low | Firmness: Extra-firm | Care instructions: Hand-wash and lay flat to dry
Duncan recommends this pillow, which is similar to the other Core Products pillow above, but instead of a trapezoid in the middle, it features a D-shaped center that’s meant to gently cradle your head. There’s a built-in cervical roll that adds an additional level of support and works with the center to complement the normal curvature of the neck. The pillow is available in two sizes — full and midsize — and can fit into a standard pillowcase.
Best cervical water pillow for back sleepers
Fill type: Water | Loft: Adjustable | Firmness: Adjustable | Care instructions: Machine-washable cover
Pillow firmness isn’t always easy to adjust, which is why Jaffe likes this pillow with a chamber in the center that you can fill with water. “This impacts the amount of support you receive, so it is truly an adjustable pillow,” she says. Plus, Jaffe points out that water allows the pillow to gently adjust to your head and neck as you move positions while sleeping. She also recommends it for those who have chronic neck pain.
Best bolster for back sleepers
Fill type: Plant-based Melofoam | Loft: Medium-high | Firmness: Medium-firm | Care instructions: Machine-washable cover
When you sleep on your back, it can shift the normal curve of your lower back (or, formally, the lumbar lordosis) and put extra stress there, Szaro says. To prevent or relieve that pain, Fung suggests placing a small pillow under the knees or thighs, which “can alleviate the sense of pressure.” The Bearaby Cuddling is a miniature version of our favorite extra-long body pillow. Made of the same bouncy and Melofoam material, this much smaller bolster pillow (which measures 14 inches long by 7.5 inches in diameter) can be used beneath your knees to reduce strain on your back. The pillow comes with a white linen cover (additional colors will be available in the future, but are currently wait-list only).
Best pillows for back sleepers who snore
Fill type: Airbag | Loft: Adjustable | Firmness: Adjustable | Care instructions: Machine-washable cover
Okay, hear us out. It might seem silly, but this is one of the best anti-snoring pillows out there. Kannan Ramar, a sleep physician and professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical-care medicine at the Mayo Clinic, tipped us off to it for back sleepers who are trying to switch things up by occasionally sleeping on their sides. “It’s not going to be comfortable when you try to get onto your back, so it tries to keep you on your side,” he says. And Dr. Singh says that in his experience, these backpack anti-snoring contraptions have worked well to keep him on his side and keep his airways open. This one features an inflatable airbag to help stop you from tossing and turning throughout the night, although some determined back sleepers do manage to roll over while wearing it. Note that it does not come with a pillow to put your head on, so you’ll need to choose a side-sleeper pillow to complete the set.
• Laura Bates, co-founder of Comfybeddy
• Dr. Jordan Duncan, chiropractor at Silverdale Sport & Spine
• Karen Erickson, chiropractor and American Chiropractic Association member
• Ben Fung, PT, DPT, American Physical Therapy Association spokesperson
• Dr. Shelby Harris, a psychologist who specializes in behavioral sleep medicine
• Dr. Randi Jaffe, chiropractor
• Dr. Janet Kennedy, clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor
• Crystal Martin, Strategist senior editor
• Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, spinal and orthopedic surgeon
• Kannan Ramar, sleep physician and professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical-care medicine at the Mayo Clinic
• Jaspal R. Singh, MD, physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, sports medicine, and pain medicine
• Dr. Stephen Szaro of Brooklyn-based Physio Logic chiropractic and physical therapy
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Additional reporting by Ambar Pardilla