If you’re one of the estimated 70 percent of people who sleep on their sides, you’re likely familiar with the toss-fluff-repeat cycle of a fitful rest. Unlike stomach and back sleepers, side sleepers need extra support, making it near impossible for basic pillows to get the job done. “Because of the greater distance between their heads and the mattress, side sleepers often need a thicker pillow to keep their head and neck in a neutral position,” says Heather Turgeon, the author of The Happy Sleeper. As someone who’s needed at least two pillows my entire life (lately a rigid Tempur-Pedic padded by a rotation of filling-challenged Ikea pillows), I’ve consulted Turgeon for her august opinion on better side sleeper pillows. After testing each for a night — it’s like One Thousand and One Nights around my apartment — I’ve come away with a few favorites. Spoiler: Price has (in most cases) very little to do with what I ended up liking.
My absolute favorite
Turgeon recommended the Wamsutta Extra-Firm, but I wasn’t so sure. Next to every other pillow I was meant to test, the Wamsutta Extra-Firm was the least “luxurious”: it was lightweight, its filling wasn’t down or cotton but — hm — polyester, and, well, it was the cheapest. But as soon as I rested my head on it, I understood. Unlike other pillows that mistake plushness or fluffiness for support, the WEF didn’t sink as soon as I rested my head. Instead, it had a firm, satisfying spring — it’s a different sensation, but one I took to right away. And even though I didn’t do any measuring, my head felt more propped up from the mattress and sheets than any other pillow, save the Tempur-Pedic (more on that later).
A caveat up front: If you don’t like the sensation of sleeping on a spongy piece of Styrofoam, you won’t like this pillow. Maybe because I’ve gotten used to my old Tempur-Pedic, but I really loved the hardness of the Side to Side Breeze, which is just like the regular Side to Side, only with a cooling gel layer for hot-headed sleepers (yes, please). Like Tempur-Pedic pillows you may be familiar with, this one features the brand’s signature viscoelastic — which I’m guessing means viscous and elastic — foam, but it wasn’t sink-y the way Tempur-Pedic beds can be. There are different curves on the top and bottom of the Breeze, one that slopes more for higher neck support and one that slopes less for lower. The pillow feels expensive — sleeping on the higher-sloping side was like a cushy, luxe embrace. I’m not a fan of regular Tempur-Pedic pillows because they’re too squishy and the angles aren’t right, but this one feels tailored for side sleepers. My only complaint is that it was a little too wide for the bed (even the queen size), and that, unless you’re Blue Ivy or Larry Ellison, it’s almost unjustifiably expensive.
Very worth considering
At first appraisal, the alternative down pillow from the direct-to-consumer houseware brand looked fluffier than I thought I would like, but once I rested my head on it, it settled to a nice thickness that “held.” I’ve found actually that for side sleepers who crave firmness, a polyester filling (like the kind that down alternative pillows use) generally outperforms real down — actual feathers tend to be too soft (pesky nature!) and don’t lift and prop my head the way it really needs to be cradled. The Snowe regular down pillow had that problem for me; side by side, it was less billowy than the down alternative, and less supportive, too.
Off the bat (and as you can see in the photos), the loft on these pillows is insane — they’re probably seven inches high just resting on your mattress. The pillows are filled with microfiber (which is a fancier way to describe a blend of polyester and various other man-made poly-prefixed materials) that didn’t collapse the way that something like cotton or down would, but didn’t provide the stiff support of the Wamsutta Extra Firm or Tempur-Contour either. Interestingly, the Parachute was one of the only pillows that didn’t have a gusset — that two-to-three inch panel along the perimeter of the pillow that, according to Turgeon, creates extra height for side sleepers. I didn’t notice a huge difference because of it (the Parachute was actually firmer than a few gusseted pillows), but that may be why the pillow seems almost overfilled. Much of that fill is air, though. Sleeping on it felt like sleeping on a solider, more permanently fluffed hotel pillow — nice, but not my, er, dream scenario. If you’re in the market for a plush mattress topper, though, my colleague Lauren slept like a baby on Parachute’s.
If you’re looking for more options in the side-sleeper-pillow category, here are some highly reviewed options from Amazon, according to hyperenthusiastic sleepers.
Best bamboo pillow
Not only is this the best-rated pillow on Amazon, it’s also the best-rated bamboo pillow, according to reviewers. While it’s great for sleepers of all preferences, side sleepers especially like it for how “soft and supportive” it is, with one reviewer writing that “it was very comfortable and my neck stayed in correct alignment all night.” Customers also appreciate that it’s filled with shredded memory foam that can be adjusted (either taken out or added, depending on preference), with one saying that the pillow “provides perfect support for my neck and doesn’t have the lumpy feel of cut up foam pieces, which makes for a much more comfortable sleeping experience.”
Best gel pillow
This gel-filled fiber pillow with over 2,600 five-star reviews “provides great comfort as it is not too hard or too soft,” according to one side-sleeping reviewer who says it was “like sleeping on a cloud.” Others agree, with one saying that “my neck feels supported and I feel refreshed waking up,” and another who writes that the pillows “don’t ‘smush’ down while I sleep like other pillows, but are still soft enough to be comfortable.”
Best down alternative pillow
“It’s softer than a standard down pillow but still firm enough for me, a side sleeper. They are perfectly fluffy and soft with not too much give,” writes a reviewer. Other side sleepers agree, like this one who writes that it’s “soft, yet firm and supports my neck where I don’t wake with a pain in my neck or have headaches anymore,” and another who says that “these give me the support I need without compromising my shoulders.”
Best cooling-memory-foam pillow
Filled with copper-infused foam, this cooling pillow features a slight curve designed to help maintain alignment while you sleep, as this reviewer attests: “The slight curve of the pillow makes it perfect to fit into me while I’m sleeping. I’ve never slept better.” Another side sleeper agrees, saying, “It’s incredibly comfortable. Not overfilled, but it doesn’t go flat after a few hours of laying your head on it. I’m comfortable all night, my neck and shoulders aren’t sore when I wake up and I get a good night’s sleep.”
Best contour pillow
This contour pillow is a favorite among Amazon reviewers, one of whom writes that “this pillow has improved my comfort” because “it is firm enough to keep my head up on my side.” Another says that they are “sleeping like a baby” with this pillow, calling it the “best pillow I’ve used, and I’ve used a lot: down, foam, you name it. The contour is perfect for side sleeping,” though they do warn that it’s “fairly hard.” Another side sleeper calls sleeping on these pillows “a dream,” writing, “My head formed a shape to the pillow and it was so comfortable. The last few nights I have slept on it, I did not want to get up it is so comfortable.”
Best L-shaped pillow
Reviewers say that this polyester-filled L-shaped pillow is “perfect for side sleepers.” One side sleeper says that “the filling is a higher quality and it made the pillow soft enough to sink in, but firm enough to keep from sinking in too deeply.” Another writes that it “is just full/stuffed enough to keep my neck supported, and the shape allows my shoulder and arm to lay flat on the bed without being compressed.” This reviewer agrees, too, saying that it “shapes around my neck perfectly and leaves room for my crazy shoulder. It’s like my very own little neck cocoon.”
Best pillow for ear and neck pain
If you’re a side sleeper who also has ear sensitivity, you might want to consider this pillow with nearly 300 five-star reviews. “It has been a never-ending search for a pillow as a side sleeper until I found this alternative to the traditional pillow,” writes one reviewer. “The contour of this pillow nestles my shoulder comfortably, and the ear holes provide added sleep comfort by preventing my head from sinking into the pillow.” Others agree, with one saying that it’s “the most comfortable pillow I have ever used,” explaining that “it supports my neck, relieving pressure on my cervical spine.” Another writes that “since I have been using the PureComfort pillow, the ear pain has vanished.” As this reviewer concludes, “It’s the perfect firmness. Feels like my head is floating on a cloud.”
And if you’re curious about when to replace your pillow…
Here’s our investigation into the when and why.
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