Snuggle Up With the Perfect Pillow

Expert advice on how to find the pillow that suits your sleep style.

From the WebMD Archives


A combination of 50% feather and 50% down works well because the feathers act like springs and are "quite supportive," Breus says.

Do you avoid down or feathers because of asthma or allergies? Several studies have shown they pose no greater risk than a synthetic pillow -- and may, in fact, be better for you. But if you're allergic and prefer not to take a chance, synthetic down pillows are an option.

If a good-quality down pillow is out of your price range, other options include polyester fibers, such as Primloft, that mimic down. But Breus warns that although alternatives to down pillows are cheaper than some pure down pillows, they also won't last as long.

Shopping for your Perfect Pillow

When shopping for a new pillow, keep these tips in mind:

  • Consider more than cost. "Just because a pillow costs more does not automatically make it a better pillow or the right pillow for you," Bernard says. "What matters is how the pillow feels to you. Most of the time, you can find something that works without breaking the bank."
  • Try it out in the store. "If you're in a store and there's the option to lie down, do that," Breus says. If that's not an option, Breus suggests that you stand next to a wall in the position in which you like to sleep, put the pillow against the wall as though the wall were a vertical mattress, lean your head against it, and ask someone to tell you if your neck is tilting one way or another. Your neck should be in line with your spine.

Specialty Pillows: What You Should Know

Many pillows are designed to address specific needs, including hot flashes, headaches, and neck pain. But they can be pricey, and there is little clinical research available about how well they work.

Here's a quick look at some of the options:

  • Cervical pillows: Available in various materials and shapes, these pillows add extra cushioning in the lower portion of the pillow to support the neck. Doctors say that occasionally they can be of some help, but a research review, conducted by the Canadian Institute for the Relief of Pain and Disability in 2007, showed insufficient evidence to recommend for or against the use of these pillows.
  • Water pillows: Favored by some physical therapists and many chiropractors, these pillows use water to create your own customized level of density and support.
  • Cool pillows: Touted as an antidote to hot flashes and night sweats, these pillows include a filling of tiny "beads" that absorb and whisk away head heat, leaving the part of the pillow that touches your face cool. "You lay your head on it and it's like you always have the cool side of the pillow," Breus says.
  • Oxygen-promoting pillows: This pillow technology is based on studies of sock fabric that helped promote circulation in diabetes patients. These pillows use the same technology to increase oxygen content in tiny blood vessels by up to 29%. What can that do? Doctors aren't sure, but "some people have even reported a reduction in pain after using these pillows," Breus says.
  • Anti-snore pillows: There is limited research showing that any particular pillow design affects snoring. But individual patient reports, and a study published in 2005, show that relief is possible in some people.
  • Positional pillows: These pillows are designed for back, stomach, or side sleepers. Experts say some can be very helpful. If you choose one, look for support, comfort, and the right size for your body.

Freelance writer Lisa Zamosky contributed to this report.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on November 29, 2011



Michael Breus, PhD, WebMD sleep expert and clinical psychologist; author, Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep.

Andrew Hecht, MD, co-director of spine surgery at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York City.

Kammi Bernard, PT, physical therapist, Baylor Health System, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.

Woodcock, A. Allergy, January 2006; vol 61: pp 140-142.

Strachan, D. and Carey, I. BMJ, Feb. 15, 1997; vol 314: p 518.

Canadian Institute for the Relief of Pain and Disability: "Neck Pain Literature Review."

Lavin, R. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, February 1997; vol 78: pp 193-196.

Conference of Chiropractic Research and Education, San Diego, June 1996.

Zuberi, N. Sleep and Breathing, October 2004; vol 8: pp 201-207.

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