How to Choose the Right Pillow

You spend one-third of your life in bed. Make sure it's quality time, by choosing the very best pillow for your head.

According to the Better Sleep Council, the average person spends one-third of her life, or 220,000 hours, in bed. For that reason alone, it's important to choose your pillow with the same care you use to choose your mattress. Some people swear by down, others by foam. Some like their pillows fat and fluffy, others like them flat and firm. Everyone likes their pillows lump-free. But what's most important, besides personal comfort, is the support you get from the pillow you choose.

First Things First

The point of a pillow is to position your head and neck in a fashion similar to when you are standing upright, to avoid neck strain. When choosing a pillow, the first thing to consider is your usual sleep position. Do you sleep on your back, side or stomach?

  • If you sleep on your back, a medium-firm pillow might be best for holding your head in firm alignment while at the same time allowing it to sink in and find it's own comfort level. Your pillow should fill up the space between the back of your neck and your mattress.
  • Side sleepers benefit from a firmer, thicker pillow that provides extra support for the head and neck. Your pillow should fill up the space between your ear and the mattress, resting on the side of your neck.
  • Sleeping on your stomach is most stressful for your back and should be avoided, according to University of South Carolina's Environmental Health & Safety Department. But if that's where you end up, using a smaller, softer pillow, or no pillow at all, can help prevent neck strain.

Nothing to Sneeze At

The pillow stuffing you choose may be based on personal preference or may be dictated by allergies. Down, feather and wool stuffings are most likely to contain allergens. Even if you don't have allergies, feather and down pillows can be uncomfortable because they provide a lot of warmth. Alternatives include natural latex, cotton, hypoallergenic down and synthetic down-like fibers.

Great Expectations

If you're pregnant, the National Sleep Foundation recommends using a "pregnancy pillow," which can help you sleep on your side to ensure the best blood flow to your baby and your own internal organs. A proper pregnancy pillow is a comfortable body pillow that fits between your legs and accommodates your belly, and at the same time is ergonomically designed to help prevent backaches by keeping your spine aligned while you sleep.


The Better Sleep Council. Sleep FAQ. 2009. Web. 20 Aug 2010.


National Sleep Foundation. "Sleeping by the Trimesters: 3rd Trimester." Web. 20 Aug 2010.


University of South Carolina. "Sleeping Posture." Department of Environmental Health & Safety. Web. 20 Aug 2010.