How to Pick the Perfect Pillow

pillow fight

What is a great mattress without comfortable, cool pillows? If you have ever slept on a lumpy, old, or hot pillow, you know the feeling. It can ruin the quality of sleep that you get each night. A good pillow can make all the difference between a restful night and a not-so-restful one. The wrong pillow may worsen headaches, neck pain, shoulder and arm numbness, discomfort, sneezing, and wheezing.

But what makes a pillow “good?” This will ultimately be an individual choice, as you have your own unique preferences and needs. While there is no substitute for seeing and (more importantly) feeling some options, here are some tips to keep in mind as you look for that perfect pillow.

Sleep Position

Before you buy a new pillow, consider your sleep position.

Your sleep position will determine what kind of pillow will best achieve the goal of neutral alignment, or keeping your head squared with your shoulders, not too far forward or backward. There is little more important than supporting your head and neck when sleeping. Awkward positioning can put your rest and even your health in jeopardy.

What position do you sleep in normally? Do you have a smaller or larger frame? These questions will help you determine how soft or how firm of a pillow you should purchase.

If you sleep on your back… Consider a thinner pillow, so your head isn’t elevated too far forward. Pillows with extra loft on the bottom can help cradle your neck, as well.

If you sleep on your side… Consider a firmer pillow, which will fill the gap between your ear and outside shoulder.

If you sleep on your stomach… Consider a very thin, nearly flat pillow. It’s possible you won’t even need a pillow for your head, but putting one under your stomach can help offset lower back pain. 


What makes up a pillow? There is no shortage of options available in today’s marketplace—down, feather, polyester fiberfill, memory foam, latex, and so on—and the right one for you is often a matter of personal preference, or even your mood on a particular day. Perhaps investing in a variety of choices, a “pillow wardrobe,” could be a savvy purchase.

Down/feather: Down pillows allow you to move around stuffing to give you support where you need it. They are soft and tend to last long, but generally aren’t machine washable. They can also prove to be a little pricey compared to other options.

Synthetic/polyester: A more cost-friendly option would be synthetic/polyester fiber pillows, which are generally hypoallergenic, feel like down and are machine washable.

Wool/cotton: Hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites and mold, these fillings also tend to be firm.

Foam: When shopping for foam, make note of the density: the higher it is, the more support you’ll receive and the less it will wear with time.

Memory foam: For firmer support, memory foam pillows are quite popular. They provide you with that “sinking” feeling experienced on a memory foam mattress, reduce pressure points, and adjust to your body as you move at night. Some can be hot, but memory foam pillows have come a long way since their introduction.

Latex: Generally the firmest filling option, latex is also resistant to dust mites and mold. These pillows may also prove useful in improving back and neck alignment, as they're often contoured for neck support.

Finally, combination pillows merge two pillow fills, such as memory foam and down. The resulting feel is quite unique depending on the combination and can vary from pillow to pillow. 

Other Considerations

-Don’t forget thread counts when researching pillows. Simply put, higher is usually better, creating a more durable and plush pillow. A standard 300 thread count is often cost-efficient and comfortable. You can step up for even more luxury, but as you do, your price tag will as well.

-A hypoallergenic pillow can help if you suffer from asthma and allergies. If your pillow is past its prime, it may contain skin cells, mold, mildew, fungus, and dust mites, which can make up more than half of an older pillow's weight.

-How resilient is the pillow? Give it a hug, and then see how long it takes to re-fluff. Buy a new pillow when yours does not unfold immediately when folded. This is a sign that it’s wearing down!

-Make sure that you replace your pillows regularly. Higher-quality pillows can last for years, but others can have a much shorter lifespan. A fluffy pillow means that fresh air is still able to travel through it. A lifeless one that's deflated and flat signifies that the pillow can no longer trap air, which is not ideal for providing comfortable support.

-From body pillows to U-shaped neck pillows perfect for traveling, several types of pillows can be right for your needs in addition to a “standard” sleeping pillow. You can also opt for a different sized pillow, depending on your mattress and sleep preferences. 

Caring for Pillow

Do what you can to make your pillow last. While less expensive pillows may only last six months, higher-quality pillows can easily make it for five or more years—and sometimes a lot more. However, that is all depending on the right type of care for your pillow.

The most important thing to remember is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Some pillows can be washed, and some can’t—each pillow will have instructions regarding care. Make sure you follow these instructions, so your pillow stays in optimal shape.

Protect your pillow. Two pillow protectors and two pillowcases per pillow will not only keep your pillow in good shape, but will anticipate when it’s time for cleaning with one on reserve. You can purchase a pillow protector that will protect you from common allergens, dust mites, bed bugs, and much more!

Some pillows need to be fluffed daily. Some can be put in the sun for a day every three months to let odors escape. All pillows should be stored in a breathable bag when not on the bed. 

Remember that a Sleep Outfitters mattress store is always near—and we’re more than happy to help you find the perfect pillow for your needs. Plus, many of our mattress sales include free pillows! If we don’t have the right pillow for you, we will help you find one. Visit us at a nearby Sleep Outfitters store or call our customer service department! 


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