The Best Pillows for Side Sleepers

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on March 24, 2024
2 min read

You probably have a favorite sleep position. For many adults, that’s side sleeping, which might happen curled up in the fetal position or straight with your arms at your sides, among other variations. It’s also a position that experts often recommend to help stop snoring.

However you do it, sleeping on your side requires the right pillow to support your head, neck, and spine. Here are some pointers on finding the best side-sleeper padding.

On your side, you need head and neck support, which may mean a flatter spot for your head and a curve or bump under your neck. Some pillows come this way, some pillows (feather) can be fluffed into this shape. Or you could try a memory foam pillow, which conforms to the shape of your head and neck. You can also experiment with a little roll, such as a rolled-up towel, inside the pillowcase of a flat pillow.

You may need a higher pillow than back sleepers, since you’ve got your shoulder in the picture. But if you go too high, your neck will be at an angle all night and you’ll be unhappy in the morning.

Ideally, you want your head and neck to be in line with your spine when you’re on your side. Think about forming one straight, comfortable line.

For best spinal alignment, or if you have back pain, consider popping a thin pillow between your knees to keep the pressure off your hips and lower back.

What’s inside your pillow is entirely up to you and comes down to what you like, whether that’s feathers, down-alternative, memory foam, or buckwheat hulls. That said, a soft, squashy pillow will allow your head to dip down toward the mattress, putting your neck at an angle to your spine. You’ll probably want something firmer that can keep your head supported. If you have allergies, go for a hypoallergenic material and use a pillow cover that shields against allergens or dust mites.

Don’t buy your pillow without laying your hands, and your head, on it. If you can, lie down as though you’re going to sleep on it and see how it feels. Make sure your head feels in line with your spine, that your neck feels supported, and that you like the way the material squashes (or doesn’t squash) under your head.

No matter what you spend on a pillow (and you shouldn’t break the bank -- don’t skimp, but you don’t need to spend a fortune, either), the materials break down over time and offer less support. Replace pillows about every 1 to 2 years.