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The Very Best Pillows for Side Sleepers

best pillow for slide sleepers
Dreaming of a just-firm-enough side-sleeper pillow. Photo-Illustration: The Strategist

If you like snoozing on your side, you’re in good company — it’s the sleep position preferred by 60 percent of adults. But side-sleeping is more than a comfortable way to cozy up; according to Keith Cushner, a product expert at SleepFoundation.org, and his colleague Logan Foley, a sleep-science coach and the managing editor at SleepFoundation.org, it’s also good for your health. Side-sleeping is “one of the healthiest sleeping positions because of its ability to improve spinal alignment, reduce the risk of snoring, and reduce back pain,” Cushner tells us. But to achieve the perfect spine, neck, and head alignment, choosing the right pillow is key. Dr. Rennes Toussaint-Keshinro, a chiropractor and mental-health coach, tells us that a side sleeper should “maintain a neutral position/posture of the back,” which means your pillow should lift your head high enough that it lines up with your neck and your spine but not so high that it puts painful stress on that area.

While firmness and fill type are dictated by your sleeping preference, Cushner and Foley say that the loft, or height, of your pillow, is more important if you sleep on your side. “Side sleepers usually need thicker pillows to fill the space between their head and neck, but a pillow that is too thick may cause neck pain and put pressure on the spine,” Foley said. We spoke to Cushner, Foley, Toussaint-Keshinro, and three more experts about what to look for in pillows for side sleepers and which ones they recommend.

Best overall | Best (less expensive) overall | Best memory foam | Best height-specific | Best latex | Best vegan latex | Best adjustable loft | Best cooling | Best neck support | Best down | Best down alternative | Best for shoulder pain | Best body pillow

What we’re looking for

Loft: The loft, or height, of your pillow is a crucial factor for side sleepers to consider. Dr. Toussaint-Keshinro explains that “keeping your head, neck, and shoulders in a neutral and even position is most important. If a pillow is too flat or too high, it can create an uneven muscle tone in the neck and shoulders, leading to spasms over time.” While there isn’t a formula to figure out the ideal loft of your pillow, Dr. Dennis Colonello, celebrity and professional-athlete chiropractor at Peak Wellness and all33 co-founder, suggests that your pillow be around four inches off of your mattress. But don’t go breaking out your ruler just yet, as there is wiggle room with this number. For taller people with broader shoulders, a higher loft may be more comfortable, and conversely, a petite person with more narrow shoulders will likely rest comfortably with a lower loft.

Firmness: All of our experts agreed that medium-firm pillows tend to be the best option for people sleeping on their side. While there is room for personal preference here, a medium-firm pillow helps your head stay in the right position without sinking while you sleep. For people who like to dream on a bed that feels like fresh brioche buns instead of a firmer surface, gusseted-down and down-alternative pillows can be a plush compromise. Additionally, Cushner and Foley suggest memory foam pillows, as they sort of mimic the softness of down by contouring to your body, while still providing support.

Shape: Specialty pillows for side sleepers come in various shapes to help position your shoulders, neck, and head while you sleep. Whether these pillow shapes actually make a difference in your sleep quality is up for debate, and Dr. Thomas Schuler, chairman of the National Spine Health Foundation’s Medical and Scientific Board and founder of the Virginia Spine Institute, explains that “these pillows are a relatively new product without much academic research examining their effectiveness.” However, he allows that “if a person tries one and finds that it seems to give some pain relief, then that’s excellent.” For people navigating chronic pain, a specialty pillow with a unique shape may be worth a shot, as they are designed to relieve bodily stress. Meanwhile, for the average side sleeper who is simply looking for comfort and support, a standard pillow shape can likely get the job done.

Best overall pillow for side sleepers

75 percent latex, 25 percent polyester fiber fill | Adjustable loft | Adjustable firmness | Machine-washable cover

With a unique “U” shaped design, Eli & Elm’s side-sleeping pillow nestles into the space between your head, neck, and shoulders like a puzzle piece to create the ideal spine alignment. It’s filled with a blend of soft and supportive noodled latex and polyester fiber, and you can adjust the height and firmness by removing or adding filling. According to Cushner, most side sleepers need medium-to-high-loft pillows that provide “enough cushioning for the head and neck without sinking too low,” so the customizable fill level will help you figure out the loft that works best for your body. The filling is encased in a liner that is protected by a machine-washable exterior cover, however, the brand also sells a special pillowcase that fits the shape of the pillow seamlessly (and which you can bundle with the pillow at the time of purchase).

Best (less-expensive) overall pillow for side sleepers

From $21

Microfiber fill | High loft | Medium-soft | Machine-washable

Covered in silky-smooth microfiber material, this set of two pillows is filled with CertiPUR-US & GREENGUARD Gold downlike fiber. The fluffy fiber fill, combined with the bowed pillow shape, creates a plump and springy surface to support your head and neck. The highly rated, high-loft pillows come in three sizes — standard, queen, and king — and fill the space between your head and the mattress while keeping your neck aligned.

Best memory-foam pillow for side sleepers

Shredded memory foam | Adjustable loft | Adjustable firmness | Spot-clean

Memory-foam pillows are a dream for side sleepers, according to Cushner and Foley, owing to their thick filling and ability to contour to a person’s body. The Nectar Sleep Resident pillow has a pillow-in-pillows construction that provides the contoured support of traditional memory foam surrounded by a cushy outer layer to add plushness. The pillow will arrive intentionally overstuffed so that you can remove fill as necessary to adjust it to fit your sleeping needs. Dr. Janet Kennedy, clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, advises that memory foam can trap heat, making temperature regulation more challenging. However, thanks to the shredded-foam filling, the pillow is still breathable and doesn’t trap heat.

Best height-specific pillow for side sleepers

Pillow Cube Classic
$50

Memory foam | High loft | Firm | Machine-washable cover

We get it, this pillow looks like a brick — but there is actually some logic behind the Pillow Cube. The pillow is designed to completely fill that essential space between your head and the mattress to keep your neck aligned. Similar to the Elm & Eli pillow above, the Pillow Cube settles into that gap like a missing puzzle piece to lift your head into the perfect alignment.

Instead of the U-shaped cutout that snuggles closer to your shoulders, the Pillow Cube has a 90-degree angle to hold your head in place. It’s also on the firmer side and made of solid viscoelastic polyurethane and nanofibers (read: sturdy memory foam). The breathable, machine-washable cover helps to keep things cool while you snooze, and you can choose from two sizes that coincide with your height — the standard size is meant for people who are six-foot-three or shorter, the “thick” size for people who are six-foot-four or taller. And if you run especially hot, you can upgrade to an “ice cube” cooling cover for an extra $30.

Best latex pillow for side sleepers

Shredded latex fill | High loft | Soft | Machine washable cover

Cushiony and responsive, the Saatva latex pillow feels like a spring-loaded cloud. The interior is filled with shredded natural latex that Colonello says “offers a cooler sleep by promoting superior breathability” — and after sleeping on it for the last couple of months, I can confirm, as a naturally warm sleeper, that it helps me stay cool. While I usually fall asleep on my side, I tend to roll around throughout the night, and no matter which position I end up in, the Saatva pillow is supportive and incredibly comfortable.

Best vegan-latex pillow for side sleepers

From $129

Molded latex | Medium loft | Medium-firm | Machine-washable cover

Organic, sustainable, and vegan — the Avocado Molded Latex pillow is crafted with charcoal-infused, naturally sourced latex; the pillow is firm and maintains its shape over time. The charcoal infusion aids in temperature regulation, moisture-wicking, and odor control, and the machine-washable cover is made of organic cotton.

Best adjustable-loft pillow for side sleepers

Cross-cut gel-infused memory-foam fill | Adjustable loft | Adjustable firmness | Machine-washable cover

With a blend of Greenguard Gold and CertiPUR-US certified memory foam and microfiber, this adjustable-loft pillow is easy to customize with the included extra half-pound of fill and is plush yet supportive. The mesh gusseted perimeter promotes airflow and helps to keep the filling evenly distributed so your head is properly positioned while you sleep. The pillow is available in queen or king sizes with a machine-washable cover, and you can buy pillows individually or save a few bucks by purchasing a set of two.

Best cooling pillow for side sleepers

Gel-memory-foam fill | Medium-high loft | Medium-firm | Machine-washable cover

Dr. Kennedy calls temperature regulation “a key factor” when choosing a pillow, regardless of your sleeping position. This memory foam Ghost Pillow has aerated gel memory foam and an aerated inner-mesh cover that work together to respond to your body’s temperature and maintain a cool sleeping surface. Meanwhile, the foam of the medium-loft pillow maintains its shape for continuous proper neck and head support.

Best neck-support pillow for side sleepers

Water-and-fiber fill | Adjustable loft | Adjustable firmness | Machine-washable cover

Yes, water beds went out of style a few decades ago but Alanna McGinn, the founder and CEO of Good Night Sleep Site, and Dr. Toussaint-Keshinro both agree that water pillows are the gold standard for people in need of more neck support. Water pillows are “perfect for any type of sleep position and many are chiropractor-approved, as the firmness provides the support for head, neck, and spine alignment that will help individuals with chronic pain,” explains McGinn. A favorite of Dr. Toussaint-Keshinro, the Water Pillow by Mediflow has a soft layer of fiber that sits atop a layer of water that you fill yourself to create a responsive pillow that can help reduce neck pain. The uniquely adjustable pillow can be made firmer by adding more water or softer by removing some.

Best down pillow for side sleepers

85 percent down, 15 percent down plus feather fiber fill | High loft | Medium-soft | Dry-clean or machine-wash the entire pillow

Down pillows are known for their supreme, luxurious comfort and cloud-like softness. Without skimping on plushness, thanks to its 750-fill-power European white down, the Parachute Side Sleeper pillow has a high loft and medium density to cradle your head and neck comfortably. However, the 3.5-inch gusset is the star of this pillow, as it helps it maintain its rectangular prism shape for consistent strain relief while you sleep.

Best down-alternative pillow for side sleepers

Polyester fiber fill | Medium loft | Medium-firm | Entire pillow is machine-washable

For those who want all the perks of down without the down itself, this pillow by Nestwell is filled with polyester fibers to create a similar feel. The pillow has a two-inch gusset to help it maintain its shape over time and a medium-firm feel that won’t fall flat. The cover is made of 100 percent cotton, and you can toss the entire pillow in the wash.

Best pillow for side sleepers with shoulder pain

Memory foam | Medium-high loft | Firm | Machine-washable cover

Truth be told, the shoulders are often abandoned in the pillow conversation, but they need comfort and support too! The singular piece of memory foam inside Allswell’s side-sleeper pillow has a cutout similar to the Eli & Elm pillow but offers a more structured and firm sleeping surface like the Pillow Cube. Infused with cooling gel, the memory foam has ventilation holes so that it won’t trap body heat. The pillow is encased in an activated charcoal-infused cover that keeps dust mites at bay and extends the life of your pillow. The medium-firm construction helps keep your head in alignment while taking pressure off of your neck and shoulders.

Best body pillow for side sleepers

Memory foam | Medium loft | Medium-firm | Entire pillow is machine-washable

Body pillows are not exclusive to pregnancy and can offer total support for those who need it. Dr. Schuler tells us that aiming for proper alignment during sleep should apply to your whole body, advising side sleepers to always “focus on having proper support under their head and between their knees.” Having these two supports in place “will keep the spine in a neutral position, reduce malalignment, and relieve pressure placed on the neck and back,” he says, pointing to research that shows a pillow between your knees when lying on your side “can reduce pressure on the spine by nearly half.” Filled with shredded memory foam and covered in breathable bamboo fabric, the Snuggle-Pedic full-body pillow supports your knees, legs, and back while you sleep by helping to evenly distribute your weight. Since it is filled with memory foam, the pillow is able to hug and conform to your body for the ultimate level of support. And perhaps best of all, the entire pillow is machine-washable.

Some more bedding for side sleepers we've written about

Our Experts

• Dr. Dennis Colonello, celebrity and professional-athlete chiropractor at Peak Wellness
• Keith Cushner, product expert at SleepFoundation.org
• Logan Foley, sleep-science coach and managing editor at SleepFoundation.org
• Alanna McGinn, founder and CEO of Good Night Sleep Site
Dr. Rennes Toussaint-Keshinro, chiropractor and mental-health coach
• Dr. Thomas Schuler, chairman of the National Spine Health Foundation’s Medical and Scientific Board and founder of the Virginia Spine Institute
• Dr. Janet Kennedy, clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor

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The Very Best Pillows for Side Sleepers