Part of our series on getting better sleep.
Let’s cut to the chase: research shows that feather pillows are one of the worst kinds of pillows you can buy.
Time and time again, studies have shown that even the best feather pillow can’t hold a match to almost any other kind of pillow—memory foam, latex, synthetic fluff, you name it.
If you have your heart set on feather pillows for some reason other than sleep quality, we won’t stop you. Here’s a link to a pair of the mostly highly rated and reviewed feather pillows on Amazon. If you have a strong preference for a down-stuffed pillow, that’s one of the best options.
However, if you want the deepest sleep possible, you’ll want to know what research has to say about feather pillows versus the other guys.
Feather Pillows: What Science Says
Nobody likes getting poor quality sleep. Tossing and turning at night isn’t a joy, and it usually leads to poor quality of life during the day too.
So when making bedding and pillow choices, it makes sense to make choices backed by sleep studies.
When it comes to feather pillows, the science isn’t too encouraging.
In one study, over 100 participants were tasked with comparing their own pillows and five trial pillows, each for one week.1Your Pillow May Not Guarantee a Good Night’s Sleep or Symptom-Free Waking Each day the participants were tasked with recording perceived sleep quality, pillow comfiness, neck pain, and more.
Among other observations, the study found a strong correlation between feather pillow use and poor sleep quality.
The same study also found that poor quality sleep strongly correlated with waking neck stiffness.
Even more, other studies have shown that feather pillows are one of the worst options when it comes to neck pain.2Improving the Quality of Sleep with an Optimal Pillow: A Randomized, Comparative Study3Neck pain and pillows – A blinded study of the effect of pillows on non-specific neck pain, headache and sleep Memory foam pillows and latex pillows were the best options for alleviating neck pain—particularly pillows with neck support.
For side sleepers, the story is similarly bleak. Feather pillows are associated with low sleep quality and increased neck pain compared to foam and latex pillows.4Pillow use: The behaviour of cervical pain, sleep quality and pillow comfort in side sleepers
For those who do sleep on their sides, research has shown that using a thicker pillow to lift the head results in improved sleep quality.5Ergonomic approach for pillow concept design More information on this can be found in our memory foam pillow guide.
Sleep Apnea and Snoring
Research on the ideal pillow for snorers and sleep apnea sufferers doesn’t show any benefit to using feather pillows.
For back sleepers, use of a molded neck support pillow correlates with fewer snoring-related awakenings and better sleep quality.6Cervical Positioning for Reduction of Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Mild-to-Moderate OSAS For side sleepers, a thick wedge-shaped pillow works best to decrease awakenings and improve sleep quality.7Sleep Apnea Avoidance Pillow Effects on Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome and Snoring
All things considered, we can’t in good conscience say that any feather pillow is the best feather pillow.
When it comes to sleep quality, neck pain, sleep position, snoring, awakenings, and so on, there are other pillows always beat feather pillows.
Unless you have some sort of loyalty to goose down, there is almost definitely a better option for you.
As discussed above, research has shown that pillows with neck support help with decreasing neck pain and increasing sleep quality. When it comes to cervical health, a memory foam pillow or latex pillow with neck support will do a lot better than a feather pillow.
This is one of the best neck support pillows we can recommend. It’s an adjustable memory foam pillow with a bigger contour on one side and a smaller one on the other. You can try both sides to see which ones works best for you.
Neck Support Pillows
Back vs. Side Sleeping
As briefly mentioned, different pillows work better for sleeping on your back versus sleeping on your side.
For back sleepers, a lower pillow helps with better sleep quality. For side sleepers, a thicker, higher pillow is better.8Ergonomic approach for pillow concept design This is fleshed out more in our memory foam pillow guide.
And if you’re not sure whether either pillow will be thick or thin enough, you can always go with this adjustable-height memory foam pillow.
Why Not Both?
If you want the best of both worlds, there are some pretty great pillows designed with a divot in the middle and more thickness on the sides. This lets you sleep on your back or on your sides while maintaining the ideal pillow height.
This one is a great option for back and side sleepers. The subtle crater in the middle helps to maximize neck support and comfort. With elevated sides, you can comfortably roll onto either shoulder while maintaining that ideal neck support. Additionally, cavities underneath each side of the pillow allow for comfortable positioning of the arm and shoulder.
Research has shown that keeping cool at night can lead to deeper sleep.9Ambient temperature and human sleep10Rem Sleep and Ambient Temperature in Man (Up to a certain point, of course. You’ll have a tough time sleeping if you’re shivering.)
Furthermore, one study found that cooler pillows similarly help with improving sleep quality.11Effects of Two kinds of Pillow on Thermoregulatory Responses during Night Sleep
There are lots of great options for pillows that keep cooler at night—although feather pillows don’t fall into this category.
Some memory foam pillows even feature a gel cooling pad on top for maximum coolness. Any of the above options may help with getting more high quality sleep.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a condition in which interruptions to normal breathing patterns cause awakenings during the night. It’s related to snoring, as they’re both respiratory issues.
Both of these issues can severely impact your sleep quality. Luckily, there are some pillow options that can help with managing these conditions. (And, unsurprisingly, feather pillows are one of the worst options—again.)
As mentioned above, pillows with cervical support help manage snoring and sleep apnea symptoms for back sleepers.
For side sleepers, elevating the head can help with managing sleep apnea. Thicker pillows do a good job at achieving this. Some pillows even feature designs that let you comfortably sleep with your arm under the pillow to help manage arm and shoulder pain.
Finally, further research has shown the sleeping with a wedge pillow to elevate the upper back and head can also help to manage sleep apnea and snoring.12Sleep Apnea Avoidance Pillow Effects on Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome and Snoring Users of these pillows report fewer awakenings, more deep sleep, and a reduction or elimination of snoring.
These wedges don’t completely replace your pillow, though. You’ll still need to have a proper pillow on top of the wedge to support your neck.