Part of our series on getting better sleep.
It seems like a no-brainer, but pillow comfort is incredibly important when it comes to sleep quality. And it’s not just in your head—research has shown conclusively that pillow shape and comfiness have a huge impact in measurable sleep quality.
Poor sleep quality is very closely linked to poor pillow comfort.1Your Pillow May Not Guarantee a Good Night’s Sleep or Symptom-Free Waking If you’re looking for some solid sleep, you want the best memory foam pillow you can get.
So what is the best pillow for a good night’s sleep?
Well, the answer isn’t so simple. Different pillow shapes and specific materials work better for different people and different sleep problems. (One thing is for sure, though: feather pillows are one of the worst options when it comes to comfort and sleep quality.)2Your Pillow May Not Guarantee a Good Night’s Sleep or Symptom-Free Waking
If you’re looking for the best memory foam pillow and aren’t picky about the specifics, this one is a great option. It features a comfy contour for better neck support and comes with a washable cotton cover.
However, if you truly want the best memory foam pillow for you, read on. We’ll be look at the best pillows for different sleep positions, sleep posture, neck pain, headaches, snoring, and sleep apnea.
Back Sleeper or Side Lyer?
When it comes to choosing your perfect pillow, one of the first considerations is whether you prefer to sleep on your back or on your side.
Studies show that when sleeping on your back, a lower pillow leads to better sleep quality. Conversely, when sleeping on your side, it’s best to use a higher pillow. Sticking with the appropriate height can have a big impact on comfort and sleep quality.3Ergonomic approach for pillow concept design
And it’s easy to understand why. Imagine lying on the ground without a pillow. On your back, you would be mildly uncomfortable, with your head extending back an inch or two to touch the floor.
On your side, however, you would find your neck uncomfortably cranked to the side in order for your head to touch the ground. To make up for that gap, you’d need a thicker pillow.
If you’re a back sleeper in need of a thinner pillow, try this slim memory foam pillow. The low profile is ideal for sleeping on your back, and as an added bonus, it features a ventilated design that helps with airflow and cooling.
(And cooler pillows have been shown to improve sleep quality, which we explain in our cooling blankets and bedding guide.)4Effects of Two kinds of Pillow on Thermoregulatory Responses during Night Sleep
Slim Memory Foam Pillows
If you’re a side sleeper, this thicker memory foam pillow with a thicker profile will be a better option for you. Just like the one mentioned above, it’s built with a ventilated design to help keep it nice and cool.
Thick Memory Foam Pillows
If you’re a little hesitant to invest in a pillow that might be a little too thick or a little too thin, there are other options!
This adjustable memory foam pillow comes with memory foam pads you can add or remove to get the height just right. It can vary from 4.5 inches thick to just a half inch thick. If you’ve had trouble finding a thin enough pillow in the past, it should do the trick!
Adjustable Memory Foam Pillows
What About Both?
If you find yourself pretty evenly trading off between sleeping on your back and on your side, fear not!
There are a decent number of memory foam pillows designed with a lower contour in the center for sleeping on your back and a higher profile on the outer edges for sleeping on your side.
This ergonomic contour pillow is a great option for back and side sleepers. It lets you roll in any direction throughout the night without sacrificing any ideal pillow height. And just like the pillows above, it’s made with a nice, breathable material to maximize coolness.
Back & Side Sleeper Memory Foam Pillows
Memory Foam Pillows for Neck Pain
Chronic neck pain can be a big motivator for looking for a new pillow. Waking up day after day with a stiff neck is no fun, and it can be frustrating when even high-quality pillows leave you sore in the morning.
Why do some pillows seem to increase neck pain?
Well, there can be a lot of factors when it comes to morning neck pain, but there are a few simple solutions you can try out.
First off, quite a few studies have demonstrated that contoured pillows with increased neck support can help to reduce neck pain.5Neck pain and pillows – A blinded study of the effect of pillows on non-specific neck pain, headache and sleep6Improving the Quality of Sleep with an Optimal Pillow: A Randomized, Comparative Study Some of these studies have found that latex pillows work best of all, but memory foam pillows are also a great option.
So if you suffer from neck pain, a contoured pillow with boosted neck support might be a good option.
This pillow recommended at the top of this guide is a great choice. It’s built with a higher contour on one side and a lower one on the other, so you can pick the perfect amount of support for your neck.
Neck Support Memory Foam Pillows
Beyond that, consider the pillow height recommendations for sleeping on your back versus your side.
As discussed above, if you’re a side sleeper using a low-height pillow, your neck may very likely be cranked into a poor position at night. In that case, the solution might simply be to try a higher pillow, or one of the aforementioned ergonomic variable height pillows.
Conversely, if you’re a back sleeper and you’re primarily using a thick, tall pillow, your neck may be flexed forward too much at night. If that’s the case for you, trying a lower pillow might help to alleviate pain—especially one with neck support.
If all else fails, consider trying a latex pillow. Research indicates that latex pillows may help alleviate neck pain even better than the best memory foam pillow.7Pillow use: The behaviour of cervical pain, sleep quality and pillow comfort in side sleepers8Pillow use: the behavior of cervical stiffness, headache and scapular/arm pain Here’s our full guide on latex pillows.
Memory Foam Pillows for Headaches
Headaches and neck pain often go hand in hand. Luckily, their pillow solutions typically go hand in hand as well!
For example, one aforementioned study found that soft pillows with increased neck support helped to alleviate headaches in addition to neck pain.9Neck pain and pillows – A blinded study of the effect of pillows on non-specific neck pain, headache and sleep
If you struggle to sleep because of headaches or find yourself suffering in the morning, try some of the tips on reducing neck pain recommended above.
If a pillow with proper neck support doesn’t do the trick, try assessing what pillow height might work best for your preferred sleep posture. If you’re a back sleeper, try a lower pillow. If you’re a side sleeper, try a higher pillow. If both, try a variable height ergonomic pillow.
Memory Foam Pillows for Headaches
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
When it comes to sleeping deeply, snoring is a bigger issue than many people realize. Not only can snoring interrupt the sleep of those within earshot, but it can also severely impact your own sleep.
That guttural sound is a sign of a breathing problem. When air can’t properly pass through the nose, mouth, and throat, tissues in those areas can vibrate, creating that flappy noise. And although snoring may be a funny cartoon trope, it can actually be a huge detriment to quality of life.
Sleep apnea is a related condition in which breathing is repeatedly interrupted throughout the night. There are a few different causes, but it’s most often related to the same factors that cause snoring. Because of this, sleep apnea and snoring often go hand in hand.
“Wake Up! Go to Sleep!”
When you can’t breathe properly, at some point your body will jolt out of its sleepy state to try to catch some air. However, since these awakenings tend to be so short, even the heaviest of snorers often don’t remember most of their stirrings.
The result is some really poor-quality sleep.
Snorers and sleep apnea sufferers often find themselves experiencing symptoms of sleep deprivation, since they have trouble getting solid rest.
Constant interruptions to sleep prevent the body for entering and maintaining phases of deep sleep. Without that nightly recovery, quality of life during the day can really suffer.
Here’s what research has to say about memory foam pillow solutions for snoring and sleep apnea.
Note: The following solutions are recommended primarily for mild to moderate snorers. If you’re fairly heavy snorer or someone who suffers from sleep apnea, you can give them a shot, but bear in mind that these conditions often require heavier intervention. Consider consulting a doctor if that’s the case for you.
Memory Foam Pillows for Snoring
When it comes to poor sleep from snoring and sleep apnea, trying different pillow solutions is one of the most inexpensive options.
And luckily enough, we don’t have to guess what kinds of pillows will work. We can look at what the research has to say about the best memory foam pillows for snoring.
First Option: Neck Support
We’re going to sound like a broken record, but science doesn’t lie: Research has shown that pillows with increased cervical support can help with snoring.
One study on people suffering from sleep apnea found that switching to a contoured pillow with extra neck support resulted in reduced snoring, fewer awakenings at night, and better sleep quality overall.10Cervical Positioning for Reduction of Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Mild-to-Moderate OSAS
So in addition to managing neck pain and headaches, pillows with extra neck support can also help to reduce snoring. Here’s one of the best memory foam pillows with neck support based on our research.
Neck Support Memory Foam Pillows
For some snorers, extra neck support might not be enough.
Second Option: Incline Pillow
If neck support doesn’t quite stave off the snoring, don’t fret!
Research has shown that an inclined or elevated pillow can be effective for those suffering from mild to moderate sleep apnea.11Sleep Apnea Avoidance Pillow Effects on Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome and Snoring12Elevated Posture for the Management of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
In layman’s terms, sleeping with a wedge to elevate the chest and head can result in fewer awakenings and a decrease in snoring—or an elimination of it altogether! The subjects of the linked study also experienced more REM sleep, one of the most important deep-sleep phases and a good indicator of high-quality sleep.
To sum up, if you suffer from snoring, a simple first solution might be to try a memory foam pillow with neck support. If that doesn’t quite cut it, a memory foam pillow wedge to elevate your chest and head might do the trick.
This memory foam pillow wedge is a great option. It’s large enough that you won’t have to worry about slipping off, and comes in even larger sizes.
Memory Foam Pillow Wedge
If all else fails, you might try using a latex pillow. Research has shown that they’re one of the best options when it comes to sleep quality. Here’s our guide on latex pillows.