The Best Pillow
Experts say you need a pillow that maintains neutral neck-to-shoulder alignment, but because no two body types and sleep positions are the same, that perfect pillow is a little different for everyone. To find the best, we slept on 15 pillows over two weeks and found some unanimous favorites.
The Best Pillow
Experts agree there’s no such thing as a universally perfect pillow — personal preference plays a huge part in what you’ll love. Our 25 pillow testers’ favorites fell into two opposite categories: dense, moldable memory foam pillows and light, fluffy down alternative pillows.
Our testers raved about our shredded memory foam pick, the Coop Home Goods Pillow. Despite their different sleep styles, they all loved how comfortable it was. It stayed bundled and firm when we needed more support, and flattened out when we wanted to nuzzle in. The Iso-Cool Memory Foam Pillow is a classic memory foam block, so it’s dense but yields to pressure. The one we tested is designed for side sleepers, but back sleepers liked it equally. Our heads sunk in, but didn’t leave a lasting impression. If you tend to run warm during the night, this may be your pillow: Its phase change material (PCM) cooling beads make every side the cool side.
For something a little more luxurious and fluffy, consider a down alternative pillow. (Down alternative is cheaper than down and less likely to trigger allergies.) We like the Casper Pillow’s dual-fiber design and its bunch-able loft for side sleepers. Its outer layer is lightweight and feather-like, while its core feels denser, like cotton. The Parachute Down Alternative Pillow cradles back sleepers better — testers thought its springy, lightweight design fit perfectly under their necks and shoulders.
How We Found the Best Pillow
Before we got started, we consulted Pete Bils, the VP of sleep science and research at Sleep Number, to better understand what makes for a great pillow. He explained that it comes down to two things: neck-spine alignment, and personal comfort. But it’s not an exact science — things like your height and shoulder width, or the pillows you’re used to, can influence what will make you comfortable.
Our goal: Find a pillow that all types of sleepers loved. Pillows that weren’t just supportive, but also comfortable; something we wanted to cuddle into, but still held our heads up overnight as we alternated sleeping on our stomachs, backs, or sides.
We looked at the pillows we knew you’d encounter in your search.
To find the most crowd-pleasing pillows, we pulled bestsellers from retail sites like Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond, top recommendations on sleep sites and blogs, and any best-sellers from big name brands like Simmons Beautyrest and Tempur-Pedic, as well as a few new disruptors from My Pillow, Purple, and Casper.
We made sure we were testing a variety of materials, sizes, and prices too — we wanted options that would work for all comfort levels.
Then we took our new pillows home for a test-snooze.
The only way to find out which pillows are the most comfortable and supportive is to, well, sleep on them. Just feeling a pillow with your hand isn’t going to tell you what it’s really like to sleep on it. That’s why we sent our pillows home with 25 testers over the course of two weeks — a mix of side, stomach, and back sleepers. We were looking for pillows that gave us such good rest, we barely remembered sleeping on them.
Our favorites were pillows that provided adequate head and neck support, didn’t need to be adjusted throughout the night, and were soft and snuggly enough to lull us quickly to sleep. Pillows that were too stiff or bouncy, balled up and separated, or too flat to accommodate a human head, were cut early on.
Some pillows that initially felt soft ended up feeling way too tall and stiff when it came time to sleep on them. For example, the Isotonic Indulgence felt soft and luxurious — we’d be sold on this one in a store pretty easily. But when we rested our heads on it, we quickly changed our minds. It could be good for bunching on your side or laying out on your stomach, but testers complained about the lack of support as the night went on.
We also quickly became skeptical of any pillow brand’s marketing claims. Some disrupters like MyPillow (“The most comfortable pillow you’ll ever own!”) and the Purple Pillow (“The heaviest pillow in the world!”) tempt sleepers with their innovative designs and advertising. But the Purple, made of hyperelastic polymer, was so heavy that it was impossible to shift while sleeping. The MyPillow claims to have interlocking shredded memory foam, but it was perhaps too interlocking — it was the lumpiest pillow we tested.
And we found that materials don’t directly match up to sleeping positions.
Consumer Reports found that side sleepers typically prefer a pillow they can bundle up under their neck, while back sleepers will want one full enough to cradle their head without sinking through to the mattress. Most people interpret this to mean that down pillows are the best for side sleepers, while memory foam is better for back sleepers.
In our testing though, we found that shape, height, and density correlated to sleeping position more often than the material did. Not every back sleeper preferred a memory foam, and not every side sleeper loved the down alternative.
The good news: Our top picks were clear favorites among our testers — every person that slept on them described them as comfortable and supportive. But really, the best pillow is a matter of personal preference, and the only way to find your perfect fit is to try them yourself.
Our Picks for the Best Pillow
Best Memory Foam Pillows
The Coop Home Goods Shredded Memory Foam Pillow was a unanimous favorite among our testers.
Shredded memory foam, as you might have guessed, is memory foam torn into tiny pieces reminiscent of cake crumbs. So, it’s heavier than down alternative pillows and lumpier than regular memory foam, but still easy to fluff or flatten. Because it’s so malleable, it’s easy to customize to any sleeping position.
We loved how easy it was to reshape the pillow as we rolled around throughout the night. Side sleepers were able to bundle it up under their necks, and back sleepers found a nice balance of height and give. One tester loved that she could mold the pillow to support different positions, “I was able to fluff up the middle to sit up while watching TV, and then easily flattened the sides for sleeping on my stomach.” Even better, you can unzip its cover to remove some of its filling or add more in to reach your ideal height.
The two other shredded memory foam pillows we tested, the Xtreme Comforts and Snuggle-Pedic, were also described by testers as soft and supportive, but were firmer and held their shape more than the Coop Home. We couldn’t fluff them up or keep them flat to our preference. Still, testers felt they were supportive while lying on their backs.
The Iso-Cool pillow lives up to its name; it’s cool to the touch. Resting our heads on it felt refreshing, like dipping your toes in cold lake on a hot day. That sensation comes from its fill, which is a mix of memory foam and microscopic cooling beads — the same material used in cooling vests worn by construction workers.
The Iso-Cool is firmer than the Coop Home, but its 300-thread-count cotton casing makes it smoother and less lumpy. It’s designed for side sleepers, but works great for those who change positions. And if you run particularly hot and like a firm pillow for behind the head or between your knees, it works as a great secondary pillow as well.
However, the Iso-Cool’s form is quite unyielding. Its sides are stitched with two corded gussets to help it firmly retain its shape. So, if you love to bundle up your pillow, the Iso-Cool probably isn’t for you. Consider the Coop Home Goods pillow or the fluffier Casper pillow instead.
Iso-Cool pillows range between $27 and $46 depending on size; that’s cheaper than any of our top picks. However, a quick scroll through its Amazon reviews reveals a common complaint: The Iso-Cool tends to lose its shape and cooling power after about six months. We wouldn’t mind replacing it every year or so — it’s that comfy, but if you’re looking for a pillow that’s in it for the long haul, go with one of our other picks.
Best Down Alternative Pillows
Casper makes a fluffier pillow that’s easier to cuddle with than our memory foam options— but it’s still dense enough to support your head and neck without feeling flat.
Because the Casper Pillow is made from synthetic fibers rather than memory foam, it doesn’t reform or resist like the Coop Home or Iso-Cool. If you scrunch up the Casper, it’ll stay that way, whereas a memory foam pillow would start slowly to return to its original shape.
One tester said the pillow had “the perfect height, squish level, and enough space and body for me to be able to stick my arm under without ruining the pillow.” Side sleepers, in particular, will appreciate the height it has while still being able to squeeze it. Back sleepers will find it sports lower and fluffier support.
We’re crediting the Casper’s popularity to its unique “pillow-in-pillow” design. The pillow’s core is filled with cotton and polyester, covered by an outer shell made of polyester fibers that mimic feathers. The outer layer is removable, so you can wash it along with your bed sheets, or keep it off if you prefer to sleep on the inner pillow. Stomach sleepers tended to prefer the lower, flatter inner pillow, but other testers thought it was a little too lumpy on its own.
The Casper easily outperformed other well-known universal pillows like the My Pillow, which felt like we’d just bundled a sweatshirt and shoved that under our head. It felt cheap and lumpy after just a few nights. Casper works best for any sleeper that wants a fluffy pillow that still supports the head, neck, and shoulders.
The Parachute also uses polyester fill to mimic feathers, but it’s bouncier than the Casper. If you’re really looking to sink into a pillow, the Casper is your best best. But if support and cushion are a priority, go with the Parachute. Back sleepers, in particular, preferred this option because of its balanced loft. It’s not too high that your chin dips to your neck, but has enough support to cushion the head. One tester even converted, “I am normally a side sleeper but was even comfortable on my back.”
The texture has a silky feel to it — much like if you’ve ever cuddled up or rested you head on a fluffy golden retriever. This sensation comes from a microfiber fill with a sateen cotton shell.
The pillow is also the lightest in weight. The Royal Hotel down pillow felt similar to the Parachute before we slept on them, but that pillow was so full and firm, it was like sleeping on an innertube. You’ll love the Parachute if you want a dense and supportive pillow that still cozily cradles your head.
Testers thought the Parachute’s comfortable cradle made the pillow feel special-ordered for them — which you can actually do. We chose the medium density option, but you can go softer or firmer, or upgrade to a real down and feather fill if you prefer something heavier and flatter.
Did You Know?
Your perfect pillow might not be perfect all the time.
Michelle Fishberg, co-founder and CEO of Slumbr, told us it’s common to sleep in different positions (and with different pillows) depending on your day. Bils confirmed this, and recommends people own a few different types of pillows.
“Listen to what your body needs at bedtime. So many things affect how our bodies feel – such as diet, hydration, stress, and exercise – that it’s not uncommon to have a preference for a different pillow from night to night,” said Fishberg.
Just ran a marathon, for example? You might want to sleep on your back with a firmer pillow that supports your neck tension, paired with a pillow under your knees for lower back support. But by the weekend, a more pampering, squishy pillow might lead you to a sleep-in snooze on your side.
Keep your pillow in good shape.
Experts recommend washing your pillow at least twice a year. Regular washing prolongs your pillow’s lifespan and eliminates the dirt and other allergens lurking in your bed: microscopic dust mites, the dead skin they feed on, and their feces (yuck).
The good news: Cleaning your pillows is easier than you might think. All the down alternative pillows and shredded memory foam pillows we tested can be machine washed in cold water, then dried on a low heat. However, solid memory foam (like the Iso-Cool and Temperpedic) is a little more finicky. To keep the pillow in-tact, only wash the removable cover, then spot-clean the foam as needed.
Be sure to read the instructions for washing for your pillow though — some materials, like feather or down, need to be washed in pairs of two to prevent damage. They also need be dried for six or more hours to ensure there’s no dampness that will accumulate mold.
Get your best rest.
Even if you’re getting a full eight hours, it might be what Pete Bils coins as “junk sleep,” — sleep that is not truly restful. If you can’t make it through the day without a nap or caffeine, are overeating or always hungry, or have issues with memory, it’s likely you need better quality sleep.
- Make your room as dark as possible. Even the tiniest bit of light can disrupt sleep and prevent your pineal gland from producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. If the sun rises into your room, black-out curtains can work to keep out that light.
- Keep the atmosphere cold too. Ever notice how you toss and turn during a hot summer night? That’s biology. During sleep, the body naturally tries to lose heat — particularly in your hands, feet, and head. The ideal room temperature is around 60–67 degrees Fahrenheit, and your core body temp should drop by about two or three degrees.
- Avoid caffeine after 2PM. One of the toughest tips Bils had for us was no caffeine after 2 o’clock. Caffeine has a half life of 6 hours, and will still be in your system when you go to bed, subtly preventing your from deep sleep.
- No electronics an hour before bed. You should keep any electronic off and away from your bed for a solid hour before you go to sleep. The blue light suppresses melatonin and keeps your brain alert. Even just the anticipation of notifications can keep you restless.