Pillows are one of those things that you may not think much about, but they can make a huge difference in the quality of your sleep. While the mattress is important, the pillow's role in supporting your head and neck is a big deal as well. The wrong pillow can leave you with pain or stiffness in your neck, though even the right pillow will lose its ability to properly support your head after years and years of compression.

If you're wondering whether it's time to replace your pillow, consider this - experts say it's a good idea to get a new pillow every two years or so. Most of us keep our pillows for way longer than that, but when you consider all the body oils, dead skin cells, and sweat that pillows absorb after years of continued use, it starts to make sense. In addition to all of that, pillows accumulate and harbor dust mites which can trigger allergies and asthma, so you may want to think about switching out that lumpy pillow you've had for twelve years.

stack of fluffy pillows
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Types Of Pillows

Feather Pillows

Feather pillows are known for their softness and support. In a good quality pillow, the feathers are very small and curled (though this is not to be confused with the clusters in a down pillow). The feathers used in feather pillows usually come from the wing or back feathers of ducks or geese, and are a springy, classic fluffy filler.

Down Pillows

The absolute softest, gentlest pillow type, down pillows are filled with the light and fuzzy undercoat of a goose, duck, or swan. Down clusters are made up of filaments that spread out and intertwine to create air pockets that trap air, making the pillows supple and feathery. Down pillows are puffy and flexible and are the pillow most associated with luxuriousness. The _down_side to down pillows is that they're not particularly supportive, and are more known for being cozy and comfortable.

Memory Foam Pillows

As the name suggests, memory foam pillows adjust to the specific shape of your body, which means your shoulders, neck, and head are left to rest in a natural position. As you move and adjust through the night, memory foam pillows continually accommodate your changing positions. Memory foam pillows vary as far as softness or firmness and how long they take to reshape after being compressed.

curved memory foam pillow
Curved memory foam pillow. Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Microbead Pillows

Made of hundreds of tiny beads called unexpanded polystyrene (EPS), microbead pillows are designed to offer hard support. You might recognize microbead pillows from the travel neck pillows sold in airports.

Buckwheat Pillows

A plant-based alternative to microbeads, buckwheat pillows are natural, breathable, and a great option for vegans. Buckwheat pillows are stuffed with husks from buckwheat seeds and provide hard support, but tend to be noisier (and crunchier) than traditional pillows.

buckwheat pillow filling
Buckwheat pillow stuffing. Flickr / sleepsugar.com

Sleep Apnea Pillows

Designed for those sleeping with a CPAP machine, sleep apnea pillows are shaped to specifically accommodate the tubes and cords of the CPAP device. These pillows are typically made of sturdy polyester fiber fill or foam, and one size does not fit all. You'll want to try out a new sleep apnea pillow with your device to ensure it's a good fit and sits at a comfortable height.

man sleeping with cpap machine for sleep apnea
Man sleeping with a CPAP machine for sleep apnea. Chalermpon Poungpeth/Shutterstock

Wedge Pillows

Known for their triangular shape, wedge pillows can be positioned to support different areas of the body depending on your needs. Filled with foam, polyester fiber fill or a combination of both, these are great for propping up the upper body while reading in bed. Also frequently used to elevate the legs and feet, wedge pillows are often used for propping up the belly during pregnancy.

colorful wedge pillow on couch
Multipurpose wedge pillow.wiratwangpitipanit/Shutterstock

Body Pillow

Long pillows that are made run along the side of the body, these pillows are placed between the legs for hip and lower back support. Great for snuggling up to and for providing support for pregnant women, body pillows come in all kinds of sizes and lengths.

pregnant woman lying on full body pillow
Pregnant woman using body pillow for support. Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Best Pillows For Different Sleepers

Just because a pillow is the most fluffy, doesn't mean it'll give you the best sleep. A pillow that feels nice when you're trying it out for a minute or two won't necessarily be the best for your sleep style over the course of repeated eight-hour sleeps. The best pillow for you is one that keeps your head and neck aligned with your spine neutrally as if you were standing. Most people fall asleep in one position and move around unconsciously over the course of the night, but try your best to identify your sleep style before you pick out a new pillow.

Side Sleepers

If you sleep on your side (as most people do), you'll want a more firm pillow to take up the space between your ear and outer shoulder. A medium density pillow that supports your head and neck and keeps your spine in a straight line while you sleep will ensure you wake up feeling refreshed.

Recommended Pillow: Brookstone BioSense 2-in-1 Shoulder Pillow ($49.99 USD on Bed Bath & Beyond)

Specifically designed for side sleepers, what makes this a 2-in-1 pillow is its memory foam core combined with a plush outer cover for a more traditional pillowy texture. Its sturdy inner core is the source of the pillow's firm structure, and is ventilated for air flow to regulate temperature during the night. With side sleepers in mind, the shape of the pillow conforms to the shoulder and neck. This pillow's soft outer layer is microfiber, hypoallergenic, and removable for washing.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers should opt for thinner pillows so their head isn't resting too far forward ahead of their body. A medium firmness is also recommended so the neck, head, and shoulders are supported and remain aligned with the upper spine. Experts actually suggest an extra pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back, to keep the spine as horizontal as possible.

Recommended Pillow: Sleep Innovations Cool Contour Memory Foam Pillow ($38.94 USD on Amazon)

With a curved design specifically contoured to cradle the head and neck, this pillow's shape is optimized to promote spinal alignment throughout the night. The open cell memory foam encourages air flow for a cooling effect to keep you comfortable. This pillow is hypoallergenic, and includes an outer cover made from terry velour that is easily removed for cleaning.

Stomach Sleepers

An extremely thin, softer pillow is best for those that sleep on their front. You'll want to avoid pillows that are high, since this can cause back and neck pain when your body is forced into unnatural positions. Sleeping with any head pillow at all may be unnecessary for stomach sleepers, though it is recommended to sleep with a thin pillow under the stomach to prevent pain in the lower back.

Recommended Pillow: Elite Rest Ultra Slim Sleeper Memory Foam Pillow ($56.99 USD on Amazon)

This pillow is only 2.5 inches thick and made of a soft memory foam that your face can sink right into. This ultra thin pillow is flat on the underside while dome-shaped like a standard pillow on the top, and will keep your spine aligned and your neck from bending upward. It's hypoallergenic, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and resistant to bed bugs and dust mites.

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