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What’s the Best Pillow for Side Sleepers?

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Dreaming of a just-firm-enough side-sleeper pillow. Photo: Getty/Getty Images

It’s true that there aren’t many sleep positions to choose from — you either snooze on your back, stomach, or side. The most popular of the three? Well, side sleepers take the win on that one. And you can’t sleep on the importance of your favorite position — each comes with its own challenges when it comes to picking the right pillow. “Similar to having an ergonomic chair for the hours we sit during the day, we should be mindful of having a good, supportive pillow for the hours we sleep at night,” says chiropractor Randi Jaffe.

For a side sleeper, that might be easier said than done. Unlike stomach and back sleepers, side sleepers need extra support, so a standard set of pillows just won’t work. Ideally, when you’re sleeping, the best posture is one that supports your shoulders while keeping your neck and spine straight, according to Dr. Kent Smith of Sleep Dallas. If you’re a side sleeper, that’s not possible with the wrong pillow. “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, author of The Happy Sleeper. Smith agrees, saying that you’ll need a pillow with enough lift for your head and neck in order to fill that gap between your shoulder and ear. The broader your shoulders, the higher loft you’ll need to fill in that space.

Personal preference matters, too, explains Keith Cushner, founder of Tuck, a sleep-product review site. He suggests going slightly softer or firmer to get a feel that’s comfortable. Dr. Joshua Tal, a psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders, recommends finding a pillow that’s firmer on the edges to support the neck and softer on the interior to support the head. For his part, Smith advises his patients on ones that tend to be on the stiffer side, since “sleeping on your side causes your head to rest higher than the mattress.” But if you’re counting sheep and don’t know where to start, we asked experts about the best pillows for all types of side sleepers, which you’ll find below.

Best side-sleeper-specific pillows

This pillow is popular with three experts we talked to. Sarah Riccio, a senior writer at sleep-product review site Sleepopolis, likes how this pillow’s cutout shape is designed to accommodate side sleepers, which can conform “to the precise contours of your head, neck, and shoulders so you’re always supported as you roll from side to side.” Tal, too, praises what he describes as the ergonomic cutout that can “cater to your shoulder comfortably.” Tal, along with Joe Auer, founder of the review site Mattress Clarity, are fans of the pillow’s filling. “The filling is a gorgeous mix of latex foam noodles and polyester fibers for a supportive but smooth overall feel,” Auer says.

Jaffe has been recommending this pillow to patients for years (and even recommended it again in our guide to pillows for neck pain). On the brand’s own site, you can find it in three different sizes and two levels of firmness, features that Jaffe points out to us. “The majority of people who try this pillow love it and find significant relief in neck and shoulder pain,” she says. Jaffe also praises its ability to keep your spine in that neutral position mentioned above.

This wedge pillow features a hole to put your lower arm through when you’re sleeping on your side, reducing pressure on the shoulders. Chiropractor David Perna of Back & Body Medical recommended it for side sleepers when we asked about the best pillows for relieving back pain. He says it reduces torque on the neck, and comes with “a body pillow that you can put between your knees so you can achieve that spinal alignment when you’re sleeping as well.”

Okay, hear us out. A cube-shaped pillow might seem like a fad that you want to stay far, far away from. But chiropractors previously explained to us that they are actually useful specifically for side sleepers. The brand even claims that the cube is “designed by side sleepers for side sleepers.” Perna told us that a cubed pillow “will allow less stress on the neck and bottom shoulder.” Jaffe also praises the company’s Pillow Cube Pro for its full-size option (for those who tend to roll throughout the night).

We previously recommended an extra-firm pillow from Wamsutta that Turgeon liked because it “stayed very plump throughout the night,” providing side sleepers with consistent support. (It was also a favorite of former Strategist deputy editor Jason Chen, who tested and reviewed more than a dozen.) For many years (years!), the Wamsutta pillow was one of our top sellers, so we were disappointed when we discovered it was recently discontinued. We went back to Turgeon and asked for an alternative. She says this pillow is her new favorite for side sleepers because it also doesn’t lose its firmness. “And even though it’s memory foam, it doesn’t seem to trap heat, which is important,” she tells us.

According to a spokesperson for Bed Bath & Beyond (where Wamsutta is an in-house brand), this Nestwell pillow is the closest alternative at the store. Like our old best seller, it’s extra-firm, so it should offer the same high level of support.

Best memory-foam pillow for side sleepers

From $125

Side sleepers who run hot will probably like the cooling feel of the Bear Pillow, according to Riccio. “It’s filled with ventilated foam and capped with mesh panels, two features that really boost breathability,” she says. And its medium-firmness and loft promotes spinal alignment when you’re on your side.

Best latex-foam pillows for side sleepers

One way to ensure that you get a firm pillow is to look for one that’s basically, as Cushner puts it, “a block of foam.” He tells us “those tend to be higher-loft pillows in general,” which makes them a good match for side sleepers. One of his favorites in this category is the Avocado molded-latex pillow, which is designed for extra neck support. A charcoal-infused core helps with temperature regulation, so you don’t get too hot during the night.

For a similar pillow with a slightly springier feel, Cushner recommends the Purple Harmony, which he describes as “a big piece of aerated latex with a little bit of hyperelastic polymer grid.” This type of grid cushioning — you may remember seeing it in Jansport backpack straps from the early 2000s — offers plenty of support without feeling too hard. It also boosts airflow for a cooler night’s sleep. If you have a larger frame or just want a higher pillow, this one comes in a “tall” size that offers even more loft.

Best adjustable pillows for side sleepers

Pillows that unzip and let you add or remove filling are an especially good choice for side sleepers who want to customize their pillow’s loft level. “The nice thing about the adjustable-loft pillows is that if your needs change over time or you find that something does or doesn’t work, you can adjust it,” says Cushner. That’s a point seconded by Tal, who also recommends this pillow for different sleep needs. It’s a longtime Amazon-reviewer favorite, and a “great fit for side sleepers in terms of loft and support,” according to Auer. He describes how it’s filled with large chunks of memory foam and “essentially arrives overstuffed,” so it’s perfect for the needs of side sleepers.

Riccio is a fan of this pillow’s “exceptionally lofty profile,” which gives even broad-shouldered sleepers plenty of support. It’s also adjustable, as Cushner points out, so if you find you need less loft simply unzip the pillow and remove some of the filling. “Side sleepers looking to alleviate shoulder and neck pain at the same time should definitely give this one a try,” she says.

Unlike the Coop Home Goods and Layla pillows above, the Purple Plush pillow adjusts not by adding or removing foam but rather by zipping and unzipping the two extensions on the pillow’s long ends. Zip them both up all the way for a firmer pillow, go unzipped for a softer pillow, or find a level in between that works best for you. Auer likes this pillow’s “intuitive design” and says it’s great for firm-loving side sleepers when it’s fully zipped.

Best buckwheat pillow for side sleepers

Because they’re naturally firm, pillows filled with buckwheat hulls are a good choice for side sleepers, Cushner says. “They will not change shape over the course of the night. They will not go flat. They’re rock-solid.” He says the Hullo pillow tested well internally among the Tuck team. I