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Bed-in-a-box mattresses are all the rage these days, but here are the cold, hard facts: If you don’t get the right pillow for the way you sleep, that thousand-dollar bed isn’t going to make much difference in how your body feels in the morning. Once you accept that your pillow is just as important as your mattress when it comes to sleep quality, you’re already on your way to a better night’s sleep. If you really want to get the best sleep of your life, you’re going to need the the best kind of pillow for the type of sleeper you are.
The good news is, there are only three sleep positions. So the science is pretty conclusive about what kind of pillow each sleep position prefers.
It’s all about spine alignment. Since pillows play an important role in maintaining proper spinal alignment and, therefore, posture when you’re upright, it’s important to understand how your sleep position determines which pillow is best for you.
Pillows for Back Sleepers
While most of us start off in this position, the overwhelming majority of us of us roll over at some point during the night. Only about 10 percent of people spend the majority of their sleep time on their backs. Still, sleeping on your back is the ideal sleeping position for spinal alignment, and is the recommended position for people that suffer from chronic neck pain or poor circulation.
If you sleep on your back, it’s important to have a firm pillow that supports your neck and head. A pillow with higher loft is ideal. The best kinds of pillows for back sleepers are:
Medium Memory Foam: These pillows contour to the curves of your neck and head while providing ample support and proper spinal alignment. Memory foam pillows tend to sleep hotter though—so if you love the conformability of memory foam but sleep hot, read on.
Medium-firm Latex Foam: Latex foam pillows have similar contouring properties as memory foam, but are naturally more breathable.
Shredded Foam: Shredded foam pillows usually come overstuffed, and can easily be adjusted by removing some of the foam to make them softer. The adaptability of shredded foam pillows is what makes them a popular choice for just about any type of sleeper.
Pillows for Stomach Sleepers
Stomach sleepers are more common than back sleepers—but not by much. They make up about 16 percent of all sleepers. However, most chiropractors agree that sleeping on your stomach is one of the worst positions for spinal alignment. More than any other type of sleeper, stomach sleepers need to be especially mindful of the type of pillow they use to avoid excessive, prolonged pressure on the neck, jaw, and shoulders.
Since sleeping on your stomach forces your neck and upper body to curve unnaturally, stomach sleepers need to use a very soft and flat pillow to keep their head as close to the mattress as possible. The best pillows for stomach sleepers are:
Down or Down Alternative: Down and down alternative pillows (sometimes referred to as feather pillows) are especially soft, so they make a great choice for stomach sleepers. The fact that down pillows are easily flattened make them ideal for stomach sleepers.
Low-Loft Latex Foam: Latex foam sleeps cooler and responds immediately to your every move. A low-loft latex foam pillow is a great option for maintaining proper spinal alignment while on your belly.
Shredded Foam: Shredded foam pillows are a great choice for stomach sleepers as long as a lot of the stuffing is removed—at least half or more.
Pillows for Side Sleepers
Most of us are side sleepers, about 74 percent. Sleeping on your side isn’t necessarily bad for your neck and back, but you’ve got to have the right pillow for spinal alignment. Because this position leaves your head significantly higher than the mattress, you need a pillow that has enough loft to keep your neck up—but not so high that it your leaves your neck crooked in relation to your spine.
If you sleep on your side, you should choose a firm pillow that allows your neck and back to remain aligned with your spine straight. The best pillows for side sleepers are:
Firmer Memory Foam: Memory foam is a great choice for anyone that needs additional neck and shoulder support since its natural contouring properties keep the spine and neck in alignment. Choose a firmer memory foam pillow, to keep your head from collapsing into your shoulder. And again, some find it too hot.
High Loft Latex Foam: Latex foam is naturally more breathable and responsive than memory foam. Because latex is both supportive and contouring but responds more quickly to movement, it’s a great option for those prone to tossing and turning.
Shredded Foam Pillows: Most shredded foam pillows are loft-adjustable by adding or removing material. To determine the right loft, make sure you’re able to lay on your side without your neck bending or your shoulder pressing too far into the mattress.
What’s the best pillow for every type of sleeper? Here are our picks.