June 14, 2024

Advanced Ailment Care

Elevating Health Solutions

Best pillows for side sleepers for a comfortable night’s rest

14 min read

Turns out, sleeping on the wrong pillow can be more than just a pain in the neck. It can impact your overall quality of sleep and lead to a whole slew of health problems, from headaches and back pain to arm numbness and restlessness. If you’ve ever slept at a hotel and woken up feeling like death because the pillows, well, sucked, you know all too well it can affect your mood and energy levels, too.

Side sleepers, in particular, are prone to shoulder, hip and lower back pain, which is why the best pillows for side sleepers are generally firm to medium-firm. We spoke to pillow pros to break down what makes a great pillow for side sleepers. Here are our top picks in every category.

Table of Contents

What to consider when buying pillows for side sleepers

Firmness

When purchasing a new pillow, Byron Golub, vice president of product and merchandising at Saatva, says it’s important to look at fill density and weight, as these help determine your pillow’s durability and overall comfort level. If you’re a side sleeper, opt for a pillow with a medium- to high-density fill. “This will allow your head, neck and shoulder to rest comfortably on the pillow while ensuring that your head and spine are in a neutral position,” says Golub.

For side sleepers, a firm pillow is your best bet, says Dr. Laura Purdy, M.D., M.B.A. and board-certified family medicine physician and medical director of Swell. A medium-firm pillow is fine too, as long as it’s “thick enough to fill in the gap between your head and shoulders, which will give you the proper spinal alignment for quality sleep and support overnight,” says Purdy.

Material

“Memory foam, because it conforms to your body’s curves, is a good pillow material for side sleepers because it offers excellent pain and pressure relief,” says Golub. “Solid foam or latex options offer the most consistent support, while hybrid, down and down-alternative options provide more flexibility.” Really, though, any fill will work as long as the pillow is thick enough to support your neck, he notes. If you tend to run hot at night, consider a latex or down pillow for optimum breathability and airflow.

Loft

Loft refers to the height — or if you prefer, the thickness — of a pillow. “The vast majority of sleepers are side sleepers, and they benefit from a slightly thicker, firmer pillow for optimal alignment while sleeping,” says Golub. In general, side sleepers should look for a medium to high loft pillow, which is about 5 to 7 inches high, with five inches being the sweet spot, according to Golub.

Adjustability

The best pillows for side sleepers are fully adjustable, allowing you to custom-create your perfect pillow for a better night’s sleep. This is especially great for side sleepers, as you can play with the loft to find the perfect height for your head and bed/mattress.

Versatility

If you move from your side to your back throughout the night or from your side to your stomach, you’ll want to look for a pillow that accommodates multiple sleep positions, not just side sleeping.

Ease of cleaning

How easy is the pillow to clean? Can you throw it in the wash, or is it spot-clean only? Does it come with a removable cover? Pillows can accumulate a lot of dirt, dust mites, fungi, sweat, drool and oil from your body, so if you can find a fully washable pillow that’s best, especially if you’re sensitive to allergens. Read our thorough guide on how to wash pillows for more.

Our top picks for the best pillows for side sleepers

Most comfortable pillow for side sleepers: Tuft & Needle Down Alternative Pillow Set

Most comfortable pillow for side sleepers

Tuft & Needle Down Alternative Pillow Set

You’ll be sleeping on cloud nine with this ultra-cozy and hypoallergenic down-alternative pillow. “It’s so comfortable but still gives you the support you need as a side sleeper,” says Purdy. “It’s also high-quality so it’ll maintain its comfort, shape and support over time.” This set comes with two pillows, making it extra affordable, and is available in standard or king size to fit your bed. It’s also machine washable and can be thrown in the dryer, so cleaning it is a breeze. Some reviewers did experience slight flattening but noted the pillow was easy to fluff back up like new again.

Specifications:

  • Fill: High-quality polyester.
  • Loft: Not listed.
  • Firmness: Medium.
  • Sleep trial: 100 nights.
  • Care: Wash in cold water with mild detergent; tumble dry on low heat with dryer or clean tennis balls for fluff.
  • Sizes: Standard and king.
  • Price on publish: From $120.

What we like:

  • Affordable and comes in a set of two.
  • Comfortable but supportive.
  • Hypoallergenic.
  • Machine washable and dryer-friendly.

What we don’t like:

  • Flattens (but fluffs back up easily).

The AP Buyline takeaway:

For those who want something a little more cuddly and cloud-like, these hypoallergenic down-alternative pillows strike the perfect balance between soft and firm, with adequate support for side sleepers.

Get it here: Tuft & Needle Down Alternative Pillow Set


Best affordable pillow for side sleepers: Buffy Cloud Pillow

Best affordable pillow for side sleepers

At only $40, this cloud-like pillow proves you don’t have to break the bank for a good night’s sleep. Side sleepers will want to choose the firm option for ample support as they snooze. What’s cool about Buffy and this pillow is that they source GRS-certified recycled fiber that’s renewed into marshmallowy soft fill fibers for the ultimate plushness. In fact, each pillow upcycles 24-30 plastic bottles! The shell is made from an Earth-friendly and ultra-smooth TENCEL lyocell fiber, which absorbs moisture even better than cotton to keep you cool and dry during the night.

Specifications:

  • Fill: 100% GRS-certified, BPA-free, recycled PET fill.
  • Loft: Not listed.
  • Firmness: High/Firm.
  • Sleep trial: Seven nights.
  • Care: Use a pillowcase and spot or dry clean when needed.
  • Sizes: Standard and king.
  • Price on publish: From $40.

What we like:

  • Very affordable.
  • Uses extra fluffy recycled fill that’s extra comfortable.
  • Absorbs moisture to keep you cool and dry.
  • Choose from three different firmness levels.
  • Can try it for free with a seven-day sleep trial.

What we don’t like:

The AP Buyline takeaway:

Buffy nails it with this fluffy yet firm pillow that offers cloud-like comfort and optimum support without the high price tag.

Get it here: Buffy Cloud Pillow


Best cooling pillow for side sleepers: Purple Harmony Pillow

Best cooling pillow for side sleepers

The Purple Harmony Pillow – King Low

This popular pressure-relieving pillow will keep you cool as a cucumber through the night. It features a unique temperature-balancing Honeycomb GelFlex Grid, which draws away heat and conforms to your head and neck for maximum pressure relief and support. A responsive Talalay Latex core offers ample breathability and an airy, bouncy feel that won’t fall flat mid-snooze. A moisture-wicking, stretch-knit cover further ensures you stay dry through the night. Purdy especially likes that this pillow comes in three different pillow heights — she would recommend medium or tall for side sleepers — so you can choose the thickness that works best for your body and alignment specifically.

Specifications:

  • Fill: Talalay Latex.
  • Loft: 6.5-inch for medium and 7.5-inch for tall.
  • Firmness: Medium.
  • Sleep trial: 100 nights.
  • Care: Machine wash cold separately and air dry.
  • Sizes: Standard and king.
  • Price on publish: From $179.

What we like:

  • Cooling and naturally breathable.
  • Moisture-wicking cover.
  • Available in three height options.
  • Hypoallergenic and made with Certified Clean Air Gold materials.

What we don’t like:

The AP Buyline takeaway:

If you run hot, run, don’t walk to snag this luxe cooling pillow. It features the perfect amount of bounce, breathability and pressure relief for your best night’s sleep ever.

Get it here: Purple Harmony Pillow


Best down alternative pillow for side sleepers: Saatva Down Alternative Pillow

Best down alternative pillow for side sleepers

Down alternative pillow – King – White | By Saatva

This light and airy plush pillow will have you down for bed and off to dreamland in no time. It’s 100% hypoallergenic and perfect for sensitive side sleepers who love the lofty feel of traditional down without the sneezing and wheezing that comes with it. It comes with a super soft and breathable 100% organic cotton cover and absorbs minimal body heat, too, so you stay cool.

Specifications:

  • Fill: Custom down alternative blend.
  • Loft: 7 inches.
  • Firmness: Plush, soft and highly moldable.
  • Sleep trial: 45 days.
  • Care: Spot clean as needed.
  • Sizes: Standard/queen and king.
  • Price on publish: From $115.

What we like:

  • Plush, soft and pliable for any sleep position.
  • 100% hypoallergenic.
  • Cooling.

What we don’t like:

The AP Buyline takeaway:

If you’re a side sleeper who likes to snuggle your pillow to sleep, this Saatva down alternative definitely won’t disappoint.

Get it here: Saatva Down Alternative Pillow


Best pillow for side sleepers with neck pain: Honeydew Sleep The Scrumptious Side Pillow

Best pillow for side sleepers with neck pain

Honeydew Sleep The Scrumptious Side Pillow

Getting older means waking up with all sorts of weird aches and pains, but this side sleeper pillow was specifically designed to nip neck pain in the bud — and it does! A unique curved shape cradles the neck and shoulders so you’re perfectly aligned all night, while a ribbon that wraps around the sides of the pillow helps maintain its height so you never roll onto a flat part. Soft yet supportive, the Honeydew Sleep Scrumptious pillow is made from 100% CertiPUR-US certified Copper-infused foam, which is not only extra cooling but infused with natural antibacterial properties so your pillow stays fresher for longer.

Specifications:

  • Fill: 100% CertiPUR-US certified Copper-infused foam.
  • Loft: Not listed.
  • Firmness: Soft, yet firm.
  • Sleep trial: 60 nights.
  • Care: Remove fill to machine wash and tumble dry cover.
  • Sizes: Queen and king.
  • Price on publish: From $129.99.

What we like:

  • Unique curve shape ensures proper neck alignment, alleviating pain.
  • Super soft yet extra supportive.
  • 100% CertiPUR-US certified Copper-infused foam is cooling with antibacterial properties for freshness.
  • Pillow maintains an even height all over.

What we don’t like:

  • Only the cover is machine washable.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

Fluffy yet firm, this curved pillow helps ease shoulder and neck pain and will have you sleeping like a baby again.

Get it here: Honeydew Sleep The Scrumptious Side Pillow


Best memory foam pillow for side sleepers: Coop The Original Cut-Out Adjustable Pillow

Best memory foam pillow for side sleepers

Coop The Original Cut-Out Adjustable Pillow

What makes this highly rated pillow a cut (out) above the rest is its ergonomic shape, designed to minimize the gap between the neck and pillow for full head and neck support. The ability to infinitely adjust the loft to your liking is also a game changer — simply add or remove the hypoallergenic filling until you find your comfort zone.

Specifications:

  • Fill: Medium-firm memory foam and microfiber fill.
  • Loft: Adjustable to your preference.
  • Firmness: Medium.
  • Sleep trial: 100 nights.
  • Care: Wash in cold water on a delicate cycle for cover and pillow and tumble dry low until completely dry before use.
  • Sizes: Queen and king.
  • Price on publish: From $89.

What we like:

  • Ergonomic shape offers full head and neck support.
  • Pillow and cover are machine washable and dryer-friendly.
  • Loft is infinitely adjustable to suit your needs.
  • Hypoallergenic.

What we don’t like:

  • Shape may not be ideal for those who switch between sleep positions.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

Full-time side sleepers will love this cozy memory foam pillow’s adjustability and ergonomic shape.

Get it here: Coop The Original Cut-Out Adjustable Pillow


Best adjustable pillow for side sleepers: Sleep Number Ultimate ComfortFit Pillow

Best adjustable pillow for side sleepers

Sleep Number Comfortfit Pillow – Classic – Standard

The Sleep Number Ultimate ComfortFit Pillow includes three removable inserts so you can play around with height and support to build your perfect pillow, though two to three inserts are generally recommended for side sleepers. This soft, supportive pillow features a unique blend of memory foam and premium down alternative fill for the ultimate comfort, gently conforming to your head and neck for a better night’s sleep. It’s also hypoallergenic for those with sensitivities, and comes with a machine washable and breathable Lyocell blend cover to protect it.

Specifications:

  • Fill: Blend of memory foam pieces and premium down alternative fibers.
  • Loft: Adjustable.
  • Firmness: Medium-firm.
  • Sleep trial: 100 nights.
  • Care: Remove cover and machine wash cover only.
  • Sizes: Standard and king.
  • Price on publish: From $139.99.

What we like:

  • Adjustable to suit your sleep needs.
  • Hypoallergenic.
  • Gently conforms to your head and neck for the ultimate comfort.

What we don’t like:

  • Only the cover can be machine-washed.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

If you’re incredibly picky about your pillows, this customizable pillow lets you create your own, adding and removing inserts as needed.

Get it here: Sleep Number Ultimate ComfortFit Pillow


Best body pillow for side sleepers: Tempur-Pedic BodyPillow

Best body pillow for side sleepers

This body pillow from Tempur-Pedic is thick yet soft and firm. It literally molds to your body for all the support and comfort you need to comfortably side sleep. The cover can be removed and washed. This pillow is particularly recommended for pregnant people, who may be in need of additional support as their bodies change.

Specifications:

  • Fill: TEMPUR-Material.
  • Loft: Not listed.
  • Firmness: Medium-firm.
  • Sleep trial: None.
  • Care: Machine wash cover on cold, air dry recommended.
  • Sizes: 48 inches long.
  • Price on publish: $199.

What we like:

  • Molds to your body for optimum pressure relief and support.
  • Incredibly comfortable.
  • Durable and long-lasting.
  • Five-year warranty.

What we don’t like:

  • Only cover can be washed.
  • No sleep trial.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

You’ll melt into the bed every night snuggling with this huggable body pillow, which adapts to your weight, temperature and shape for increased comfort all night.

Get it here: Tempur-Pedic BodyPillow


Best latex pillow for side sleepers: Naturepedic Organic Side Sleeper Pillow

Best latex pillow for side sleepers

Naturepedic Organic Side Sleeper Pillow

From a brand you know and trust, this Naturepedic Organic Side Sleeper Pillow contours right to your body thanks to its curved shape, offering soothing pressure point relief and cushy neck support. The GOTS-approved latex filling ensures your pillow doesn’t go flat while also allowing for optimal airflow and breathability for a cooler night’s sleep. To switch up the height of your pillow, which is made without all the bad stuff — like polyester fill, polyurethane foam or chemical flame retardants — simply unzip the organic cotton stretch-knit cover to add or remove fill as you see fit.

Specifications:

  • Fill: GOLS or FSC® certified shredded latex filling.
  • Loft: Adjustable.
  • Firmness: Soft.
  • Sleep trial: 100 nights.
  • Care: Spot clean insert, machine wash the casing/cover on cold and dry on medium.
  • Sizes: Standard/queen.
  • Price on publish: $139.

What we like:

  • Adjustable so you can add or remove fill for personalized support and comfort.
  • GOTS-certified organic cover and GOLS or FSC® certified shredded latex filling.
  • Curved shape specifically for side sleepers.

What we don’t like:

  • Only the outer casing/cover is machine washable.

The AP Buyline takeaway:

This luxe, GOTS-certified organic shredded latex pillow is a dream to sleep on. You can add or remove fill for individualized support.

Get it here: Naturepedic Organic Side Sleeper Pillow


How we selected the best pillows for side sleepers

I consulted two experts, including a board-certified family medicine physician and the vice president of product and merchandising at Saatva, to learn what to look for in the best memory foam pillows, best supportive pillows and best bedroom pillows for side sleepers, from firmness and fill to adjustability and ease of cleaning. We also looked at consumer reviews, only including pillows with plenty of overwhelmingly positive ratings, and turned to highly trusted bedding brands to help make our selects.

Benefits of side sleeping

There are several benefits of side sleeping, from improving digestive function to relieving joint pain. That said, sleeping with a firmer mattress and pillow is key for proper spinal alignment — and for side sleepers to reap those benefits. “This combination actually promotes quality sleep for side sleepers, which is so important for your overall health,” says Purdy. “Sleeping on your side can reduce and relieve joint and lower back pain.”

Another benefit of sleeping on your side is that it may help reduce snoring. “If you snore in your sleep, that could lead to a whole other set of health concerns since breathing well is important to your health,” Purdy continues. “Sleeping on your side may also help your digestive system function more effectively and improve your gut health. It could help with gut issues like constipation, bloating and even heartburn.”

How to position your pillows as a side sleeper

Purdy recommends using one pillow placed right under your head. “Too many pillows will cause your neck to be pushed up, causing misalignment. Since a negative side effect of side sleeping may be that you experience shoulder pain, it’s important to position your pillow in the right spot under your head and have the right level of firmness to help avoid this,” she says.

A good rule is that your pillow should always keep your neck parallel to your mattress, no matter what position you’re sleeping in, Golub says. “A pillow should support the natural curve of your neck, filling the gap between your head and shoulders. Your neck shouldn’t be bent forward or to one side, which can cause stress on muscles and nerves, leading to neck, back and shoulder pain.”

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Do side sleepers need thicker pillows?

Yes. “Medium loft pillows with memory foam, gel or latex are good options for side sleepers to maintain proper spinal alignment,” says Golub. “An extra-wide gusset — the band of fabric that joins the top and bottom panels together — can be helpful as it adds to the pillow’s overall thickness. Consider how far your shoulders ‘dip’ into the mattress when determining the thickness that will keep your neck and spine in a neutral position.”

How high should a pillow be for side sleepers?

A medium to high loft pillow — about 5 to 7 inches in height — is generally recommended for side sleepers. For reference, medium loft pillows are about 3 to 5 inches in height, whereas high loft pillows are 5 or more inches thick. If you can, it’s always best to test out a pillow in person or purchase one where you can adjust the height/loft for optimum comfort and alignment.

“When sleeping on your side, your neck needs more support than in other positions because there is a greater distance between the mattress and your spine,” says Golub, who advises a height of around 5 inches for side sleepers.

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