Pillow Club

Everything You Need to Know About Pillows for Sleeping

Pillows are critical to getting a good night’s sleep.

If you don’t have the right pillow, chances are you may have neck pain and a restless night’s sleep.

When choosing your pillow, you could consider the following:

        • your particular circumstances like age, height, weight, partner
        • your usual sleep position
        • the kind of pillow fill that will suit you, and
        • if you have any conditions that your pillow needs to help alleviate.

Pillows come in a variety of shapes and sizes with many different purposes.

We will try to cover everything you need to know about pillows from sleep position to pillow type to filling type.

By the end of this guide, we hope to have provided you with relevant information to help you select a pillow for your individual needs.

What Are the Different Sleep Positions and Their Required Pillow Types?

The main sleeping types are side, back, stomach, and combination sleepers.  They all require different types of pillows to maintain the proper neutral alignment of your spine, neck, and head.

Side Sleepers

Side sleepers are those who sleep exclusively either on their left or right side, or typically don’t sleep on their back or stomach. Side sleeping can cause or increase shoulder and neck pain.  Therefore, if you’re a side sleeper it really works for you to find the right type of pillow to ensure your neck and shoulders stay in neutral alignment with your spine.

Pillow selection is very important.  Too thin of a pillow will not provide enough support while an excessively thick pillow will cause spinal alignment issues.  You should choose a firm pillow with a medium to a high loft that provides adequate support for your head and neck.

The best materials for side sleepers’ pillows include memory foam, buckwheat, feather, latex, down, and polyfoam.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers need a mid-loft and medium-firm pillow for the correct support of their head and neck and will keep a neutral alignment of the head, neck, and spine.  The best pillow will offer customizable support, cooling qualities, and bouncy support.

Stomach Sleepers

Some experts advise against stomach sleeping altogether as it can put extra strain on the neck and spine.  However, if you naturally sleep this way, you will require a pillow that has a low loft.  A medium or high loft will result in the craning of the neck, taking it out of neutral alignment.

Stomach sleepers need soft support and a compressible fill.  Soft support will allow for some buffer between them and the mattress while not overextending their necks.  A compressible fill can compress down to a low loft that is ideal for stomach sleepers.

Combination Sleepers

Combination sleepers are a bit trickier to satisfy when it comes to selecting a pillow.  Because they sleep in at least two positions throughout the night if not all of them, they need a pillow that satisfies all these positions at the same time.  They will need to select a good combination pillow that is adjustable as they change position throughout the night.  It will need to be able to satisfy the low loft requirements of a stomach sleeper and the high-loft requirements of a side sleeper.

What Are the Orthopedic Challenges for Sleepers?

A bad sleeping posture is just as bad for you as a bad standing or sitting posture.  It can lead to back pain, neck pain, and overall joint discomfort.  Sleeping in any position without supporting your neck can lead to neck pain when you wake up.

Not stretching often or maintaining an unnatural, fixed position for your shoulders throughout the day may translate into bringing that stress to bed at night.  You can alleviate this by stretching, strengthening muscles, and getting massage therapy may help you to rebalance your body, loosening the neck and shoulders.  It’s difficult to maintain a neutral spine in your sleep if you can’t do it while you are awake.

A good pillow for your sleeping type will help alleviate the aches and pains associated with sleeping.

What Are the Different Types of Pillow Fillings?

There are several different types of pillow fillings available.  From down to memory foam, there is something for every type of sleeper.

Down Pillow Stuffing

Down is the layer of fine feathers of birds’ chests and underbellies under their exterior feathers.   These fibers are soft, fluffy, and pure white.  Down pillows are very adaptable to your head and neck, offering excellent support.  They can last for several years if they are maintained correctly.

The downside to down pillows is that they cost more than other pillow alternatives.  Additionally, in the summer they tend to hold heat, making them less comfortable to sleep on.

Polyester Fiberfill Pillow Stuffing

Polyester fiberfill is manmade, small, curled polyester fibers.  Because of their design, it is a much more affordable option than other pillow fills.  However, it tends to clump and require readjusting, making it possibly less comfortable than other options.

Feather Pillow Stuffing

Feather pillow stuffing is different from down stuffing in that its feathers come from the wings and backs of birds.  Pillows made with this stuffing are easily adjusted and very affordable.  However, they are known to lose shape and feathers over time.

Memory Foam Filling

Memory foam filling comes in two types, block memory foam and shredded memory foam.  It is scientifically designed for comfort and pressure relief.  The foam will not clump, unlike other fill options.  Unfortunately, it does absorb heat, which can make sleeping in the summer uncomfortable.

Buckwheat Hull Pillow Filling

Made of the outer shells of buckwheat seeds, buckwheat hull pillow filling is known for promoting airflow and temperature regulating properties.  Pillows made with this filling are much thicker than alternatives and offer excellent spine support.  However, they are not hypoallergenic when it comes to house mites.

Kapok Pillow Filling

Kapok pillow filling is made from the flowers of the kapok tree that grow mainly in Mexico.  The tree’s flowers are cotton-like, smooth, and fluffy.  It is a completely organic option and is renewable.

Cotton Pillow Filling

Cotton is soft, plush, and the most common and readily available pillow filling.  It is slightly firmer than alternatives like down, polyester fiberfill, or foam fillings.  Cotton also has temperature regulating properties for warmer locations.  The downside is that cotton constantly needs to be replaced and tends to clump.

Wool Pillow Filling

Wool offers both breathability and insulating properties.  Pillows made with wool filling are excellent for people suffering from allergies.  They can provide comfort in both the summer and winter.  Wool does tend to lump and not hold its shape, making it less durable.

Latex Pillow Filling

Because latex is from a specific rubber tree sap and is hard to extract, it tends to be a more expensive pillow filling.  Like memory foam, it can be in a block or shredded.  It offers good breathability due to its open cell structure.

Microbead Pillow Filling

Microbead pillow filling is the synthetic alternative to buckwheat hull pillow filling.  This filling type is not as readily available on the market as other types.  It is known for clumping and is not eco-friendly.

What Are the Different Types of Pillow Coverings?

There are 5 common pillow covering types.

1. Standard (Housewife) Pillowcase

The standard pillowcase is what typically comes with bedding sets.  It features an opening on one end with a flap inside to cover the opening so that none of the pillow is exposed.

2. Oxford Pillowcase

Oxford pillowcases tend to be more decorative.  They feature a thick border along all the sides.  The main difference between an Oxford pillowcase and a standard one is its use.  Oxford pillowcases tend to be used in more decorative situations.

3.  Pillow Sham

Pillow shams turn standard pillows into decorative ones.  They feature either an envelope closure or a fastened edge to keep the pillow enclosed.

4. Throw Pillowcase

Throw pillows are decorative by nature so their pillowcases will be more elaborate than any other kind.  These pillowcases do not focus on durability or temperature regulation.

5. Square Pillowcase (Euro Sham)

Square pillowcases are often used for decorative purposes.  They are made in the style of Oxford pillowcases with a border around the edges.

What Are Specialty Pillows?

Specialty pillows serve a purpose for specific needs like pregnancy, reading, and sex.  They are designed specifically with these activities in mind.

Reading Pillows

Reading pillows, more commonly known as Husband Pillows, have a back and two arms for propping up in bed.  They’re designed to support your back and neck from behind while you watch TV or read.  They come in a variety of styles, based on your specific needs.

Pregnancy Pillows

Pregnancy pillows are designed to help support expecting mothers’ growing bellies.  When expecting mothers get to the point where they can no longer sleep on their stomachs or backs, a pregnancy pillow will make side sleeping a bit more comfortable.

Sex Pillows

Sex pillows are specialty pillows that are firm and angled.  They come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  They are designed to help couples try new sex positions and angles.

Are There Pillows That Can Help with Snoring?

There are pillows specifically designed for preventing snoring.  They work by adjusting your sleeping position.  They can promote the alignment of your spine, provide additional support for your head and neck, and help keep your airway open to reduce snoring.  Anti-snore pillows come in a variety of shapes and sizes with multiple levels of firmness and support so that you will be able to find the perfect pillow to fit your needs.

What Are the Different Pillow Shapes and What Are They For?

In addition to normal rectangular pillows, there are a variety of other pillow shapes that serve various functions like providing full-body support or traveling support.

Body Pillow

The typical body pillow is rectangular and is 20 x 54 inches.  There are, however, several other body pillow shapes, including U, L, J, and C-shaped.  Circular body pillows exist to provide both front and back support.  These pillows also work to hold you in place, preventing shifting in bed.

Body pillows can be used as an extra-long head pillow or they can be slept against lengthwise, keeping the pillow between your knees for additional spine support.

Horseshoe Pillow

Horseshoe pillows are the travel pillows that wrap around your neck.  They provide support for your neck while you are on an airplane or a bus.

Wedge Pillow

Wedge pillows are designed for back sleepers to allow them to sleep on an incline.  This type of pillow helps support your back, reducing pressure on your lumbar spine.  It also improves blood flow.  Alternatively, this type of pillow can be placed under your legs.

Rounded Pillow

A rounded pillow, or cervical pillow, has a divot around the neck area.  This holds your neck and head in place while you sleep.  By holding your head still, rounded pillows help minimize stiffness and strained neck and shoulder muscles associated with sleeping.

Contour Pillow

Contour pillows have a wavy shape and are recommended for back and side sleepers.  They provide great neck support, keep the spine in neutral alignment, and reduce muscle stiffness and soreness.

Bolster Pillow

A bolster pillow is a rolled pillow.  This type of pillow is occasionally used as decoration but can provide great support for your legs or neck.

Sleep Apnea Pillow

Sleep apnea pillows are designed with cutouts to accommodate the tubes and cords of your CPAP machine.  They have a high loft to prevent you from sleeping flat, which would obstruct your airways.

What Accessories Are Available for Pillows?

Accessories for pillows include things like protective covers, waterproof liners, and decorative pillowcases or shams.  Pillow protectors offer protection from accidents, spills, and bedbugs.

How Do You Care For Pillows?

You should be caring for your pillows routinely just like you do your bedding.  Over time things like skin cells, dirt, and drool can build up on the surface of your pillow.  There are several steps you can take to care for your pillow.

1. Air Out Your Pillow

Fluff your pillows daily to shake out the dust and return their shape.  Once a month hang them outside on a clothesline.  If you don’t have this option or if your pillow cannot hang outside, run them through the dryer on the no-heat cycle.

2. Gently Wash Your Pillow

Assuming your pillow can be laundered, wash it twice a year.  Up this to four times a year if your pets sleep with you, you eat in bed, or you sweat a lot.  Wash two pillows at a time to balance the load.

3. Dry Your Pillow Thoroughly

You must get your pillows completely dry, or you will risk getting mildew.  Do not use your machine’s smart dry feature as it will only detect surface moisture, leaving you with a wet pillow.  You can put a couple of tennis balls in the dryer with the pillows to keep them from clumping.

How Long Do Pillows Last and How Do You Dispose of Them?

Fill quality, how often you sleep on it, and how well you care for and wash your pillow will all determine how long your pillow lasts.  A pillow’s lifespan is typically between 18 months and three years.  Poor quality pillows can be less than this.

If you start waking up with aches and pains or your pillow begins to be lumpy, it’s time to replace your pillow.  If you wake up sneezing every day, it can be a sign that you need to swap out your pillow for an anti-allergen pillow.

Old pillows can be repurposed as pet beds.  If you can’t find a way to repurpose your old pillows, you can donate them to a local charity.  If all else fails, you can just throw them out with the trash.

What Can a Pillow Fight Do to Your Pillow?

A pillow fight can potentially damage your pillows.  If you strike your opponent hard enough, you have the potential to split the seams, damaging the pillow.

Are Pillow Fights Dangerous?

Pillow fights are play fights with pillows as weapons.  As such, they are not dangerous.  However, accidents can happen, and participants can be struck by elbows or get knocked to the ground.  So, there is the potential for an accident to happen.

Are Some Pillows Better for Pillow Fights?

If you’re going to have a pillow fight, use pillows that are old and not very hard.  This way, if your pillow breaks, it’s not a great loss. However hitting someone with anything is potentially dangerous, especially if you knock them into something hard like furniture or they fall hard on the floor. Always exercise caution with any sort of “play” as you may cause physical harm.


Pillows have a long and varied history.  Things have changed a lot since they were made of stone.  Now it’s critical to have a comfortable but supportive pillow that keeps your neck in line with your spine.

From pillows for reading to pillows for travel, there’s something for everyone with support options to keep you comfortable.