Pillow Reviews: The Best Pillows of 2021
I Reviewed Over 90 Pillows, And Settled On Just Nine Options.
After 20+ years in the bedding industry inventing and building mattresses, we’ve watched pillow technology follow neck to neck with new advances in mattress design. There wasn’t much to choose from a few years back, but now, there are dozens of highly sophisticated pillows for virtually every kind of sleeper.
We’re going to give you the basics, the bullet points, and tell you where to buy our choices for the top 10 pillows available today. Not all pillows are created equal, and though we are all familiar with the old school fluffy dog eared rectangular pillow that your head collapses into, not many of us realize that, for one thing, pillows should be replaced frequently…like every year.
Neck and head support are probably more important than body support, and a comfortable pillow provides deeper, more restorative and energizing sleep.
Considering we spend at least a third of our lives in bed, the other two thirds being largely dependent upon our time at rest, the lowly pillow is actually an extremely important purchase and should be given serious consideration. I know this personally from having sleep issues for decades, and although I have tried dozens of pillows through the years, I ultimately discovered that my body really only likes one or two of them to maintain my well oiled machine.
“Patients come to me in pain, and I know their pillow isn’t keeping their neck aligned with their spine,” says Dr. Darren Pollack, chiropractor and medical director of DASHA Wellness & Spa. “Overtime, this wear-and-tear can cause muscle stiffness, tendonitis, nerve pain, herniated discs, and more.” If you’re shopping for a pillow, whether online or in brick and mortar stores, here are some helpful tips on how to make a good pillow choice.
1. Recognize when it might be time for a replacement.
Pillows simply don’t last forever, so keep an eye out for lumps and sagging, but more than that, stains, smells, and signs of extreme use. A pillow filled with shredded fill material or fiber will generally last only a couple of years, slowly mashing down until it takes on the consistency of a sleeping bag. A polyurethane foam pillow will compress and become less “sumptuous” feeling.
Natural latex pillows will almost never need replacing because of failure of the material, however ALL pillows will collect dust mite egg casings, particulate matter, bodily fluids, and allergens within two years.
2. Get to know the materials.
“Down pillows tend to be the fluffiest, but a combination of down with feather will be less expensive,” says Sachs. Also, down pillows are probably the worst pillow you could own. Offering little or no support, they are notorious for bottoming out, require constant “repoofing” and are antiquated at best.
Memory foam, latex, and gel foam hybrid foam pillows offer support and yielding and many are computer designed based on data that includes head and neck placement, dynamic sleep data, and are even zoned in specific layers, sculpted to contour anatomy very specifically. Advanced fibers and fill techniques have resulted in pillows that instantly “repoof” and will not permanently sag or sink.
3. Consider how you sleep.
A pillow’s material can tend to determine how supportive it is, but its thickness makes a significant difference, too. This especially applies to foam pillows in general. If you are a back sleeper with sleep apnea, for example, you need a low profile pillow to keep your neck aligned with your spine to keep an open air way, rather than having your head cocked forward, making breathing difficult.
Side sleepers can function well with something a bit loftier and slightly thicker, though we recommend considering as low a pillow as you can tolerate. A 4-5″ tall pillow is generally considered the ideal for proper spine alignment. For GERD or other digestive issues, don’t rely on pillows to give you any relief. Consider a wedge for the underside of your mattress instead, that will elevate the head end of your bed about 10 degrees.
“In general, side sleepers need a thicker pillow, stomach sleepers need a thinner pillow, and a back sleeper will fall somewhere in between, often much lower” says Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., an environmental scholar at the National Sleep Foundation.
But it’s very possible you’re an exception to these guidelines. “It’s all about the position of your neck,” says Dr. Pollack. “It should align with your spine in a neutral position as you sleep.”
One final consideration…do you use a pillow for head support, or for between your legs support? For between your leg support, or body pillow support, there are specific products made for these applications.
While you can use a low profile foam pillows such as memory foam or latex for between the knees, often a body pillow is make using fill material like Fibrefill, down, or other synthetic and natural blends, and can be long, tubular shaped pillows. Our selection of the 10 Best Pillows below, focuses on head pillows.
4. Note how you’ll need to care for it.
“Before purchasing a pillow, check the care label to make sure you’re willing to wash it as recommended,” says Sachs. “Most are machine washable, but some are dry clean only, have front-loading machine restrictions, or only allow spot-treating. Your pillow will last longer if you wash it two to four times a year, and if you use a pillow protector to keep it clean and safe from wear.”
And absolutely, and we cannot stress this enough here at MBG, use a washable pillow protector for any pillow that cannot be washed. Today’s space age materials are breathable, don’t crinkle or make noise, and allow the pillow to actively ventilate, keeping it dry and fresh. Also, liquids cannot pass through these barrier type materials due to the osmotic nature of the film. Air can move in and out, but liquids can not.
5. Test it out before you commit.
Just like you would when you buy a mattress, you should rest your head on a pillow to see if it’s right for you. If you can, try it out for at least 10 minutes in the store, but if that’s not possible, test it at home before removing the plastic wrap. If you feel your neck tipping forward or backward, or have any other discomfort, return it. If you buy a pillow online, it’ll come with a money back trial, so you can test it out for a good week, and then keep it or return it. Give a pillow a solid seven day trial, though as your body will need to adjust to it, just like a mattress.
6. You might not need the same type of pillow forever.
Health-related changes (like weight fluctuation, new aches and pains, or other changes in your body as you age) affect the type of support you need, says Dautovich. So if the type of pillow you’ve used for years is no longer comfortable, it’s time to consider something new.
If you stick with the rule of thumb regarding changing your pillow every couple of years, you will likely find newer and better pillows to choose from as time goes on and your body and sleep hygiene changes.