Choosing the Best Pillow for You

by Kristina Brooks Editor

Who knew there was so much that went into pillow shapes and sizes? It’s clear to see that all pillows are not created equal, and using this guide can help when searching for a pillow to get your best sleep. Whether it’s to sleep more soundly, relieve body pain, support a baby bump, or reduce acid reflux, here’s a rundown of the most common pillow shapes and types and their benefits.


Feather pillows provide high spring and thus high levels of support. For the best support look for the feather pillows with small highly curled feathers. A good way to know if it’s made of good quality is when you cannot feel the quills through the cover. Quality pillows should also run just under $100.


If a feeling of luxury is more your style, down pillows are perfect - designed to be soft, supple, cool and airy. Be aware that these pillows offer little support for those with neck or back problems. Down pillows will also need to be re-fluffed often to maintain shape. Due to their loose stuffing, down pillows may not be the best for allergy sufferers. To find the best quality, suggests European white goose down, with a fill of 600 and up.

Conventional Foam

Conventional foam is designed to offer even, all around basic comfort without sacrificing good support. Compared to memory foam, conventional foam balances firmness and softness to help support all parts of the body equally.

Memory Foam

Since its design allows it to self-adjust to curves of the body, memory foam offers a higher level of comfort than conventional foam. Curving to hold your body in place also reduces movement through the night. These come in different shapes and recovery types, so it’s best to take the time to test them and find one that’s right for you. Memory foam pillows are only advised for side and back sleepers.


These pillows are made with small unexpanded EPS beads, and are most commonly found in neck pillows, footrests and other types of ‘roll’ style pillows. They offer flexible but “hard” support for concentrated areas of the body such as the neck or legs, and can work to minimize movement in that area.

Pillow Shapes


Lumbar pillows are typically rectangular in shape, to offer a wider area for lumbar back support. Proper placement of this pillow is just above the lower lumbar (curve of your spine) so that the curve can rest freely. Many make make the mistake of placing the pillow directly into the curve of the back. These are good for pregnancy as well as those with general lower back pain.


Aptly named, these pillows look like an oversized doorstopper, and can be wedged behind you for a more upright position while lying or sitting (good for reading) or under your legs to relieve pain, swelling or varicose vein discomfort. Wedge pillows are also good options for those with acid reflux.


Body pillows are designed to be extra long with either a rectangular or rounded shape. These are placed between the legs to help with hip and lower back support while sleeping. These are also frequently used during pregnancy. Bolster pillows are usually shorter and “roll” shaped in design, often used as decorative pillows. However, these can be used for neck or back support while sitting upright in bed.

So which kind of sleeper are you? Knowing whether you sleep on your back, side or stomach can also help determine which type of pillow will work best for you. If you frequently wake up with dull aches or pains in your neck or back, it may be time for a pillow switch. Use the tips below to help find your perfect match.

Side Sleepers

Sleeping on your side promotes curvatures in the body and spine that need to be supported differently than when laying flat.Side sleepers need a pillow shape that is able to adjust to the contours of their body, while cradling the head, neck and shoulders to keep them in place and balance the line of the body. Firm or super firm pillow types are best for side sleepers.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers may also want to opt for a pillow shape that cradles the upper spine to help support the head and neck. This support makes sure there is no excess curvature that may cause pain later on. Back sleepers will want to opt for slightly more comfort level, with a medium support pillow type.

Stomach Sleepers

Sleeping on your stomach causes a rotation in the upper part of your neck and spine. Stomach sleepers need a pillow with high comfort level that can support the head and neck. Typically thin, the shape of the pillow for the stomach sleeper should be able to keep the head and neck at a comfortable angle and prevent unnatural turning. Sometimes, stomach sleepers can get away with no pillow at all!

Kristina Brooks
Meet Our Writer
Kristina Brooks

Kristina Brooks was a digital editor at HealthCentral with a background in animal biology, ecology, and health science. While studying broadcast journalism, she discovered the great need for health reporters that could translate research to the public. In her work, she hopes to use research to help consumers make smart decisions about their healthcare, and empower patients to stay confident and in charge of their chronic conditions. She helped launch HealthCentral's inaugural MythWeek.