looking at pillows for side sleepers

Having gone through the main types of pillow you can buy in a previous post, we’re now turning our attention to the relationship between sleeping positions and what you rest your head upon at night. If you tend to slumber on your right or left hand side rather than your back or front, you might be wondering - what’s the best pillow for side sleepers?  

Also, how do pillows for side sleepers differ from those aimed at those who sleep in a different position? What sort of characteristics make certain products stand out? When buying, should you be looking for soft, medium or firm pillows for side sleepers?

This post will delve into the downy world of side sleeper pillows. Then you’ll know whether you should be looking for the best memory foam pillow for side sleepers, or one that’s filled with feathers, synthetic or natural down, or is labelled as orthopaedic.

What to consider when buying the best pillow for side sleepers

Firm pillows for side sleepers tend to be the best idea. You want a plumper pillow with more height than someone who sleeps on their front or back would need. This is because side sleepers also require shoulder support. 

Shoulder support

The best firm pillow for people who sleep on their side will therefore support your shoulder as well as your head. Otherwise, you might wake up with a stiff sore shoulder - and the pain might last all day long. So that’s the head and shoulder covered.

Neck support

You also need to think about what’s between your shoulder and head, however. Your neck. The best pillow for neck pain and a side sleeper will also support your neck. It’s all about avoiding a hollow gap between your head and your neck, while supporting both the head and whichever shoulder you sleep on.

Spinal support

Here’s the good news. Sleeping on your side certainly has its perks. You probably sleep on your side simply because you find that position comfortable, but it also has benefits for your body. Namely, your spine.

Side sleepers tend to benefit from having their spine aligned in the correct position as they slumber. This helps to reduce pressure points all over the body, which in turn reduces the risk of you waking up in pain. A good pillow can help you achieve this optimal position.

Side sleepers tend to benefit from having their spine aligned in the correct position as they slumber. This helps to reduce pressure points all over the body, which in turn reduces the risk of you waking up in pain. A good pillow can help you achieve this optimal position.

One or two pillows

So if added height - or ‘loft’ as it’s known in the bedding world - is all you need, then won’t two pillows suffice instead of one? That can help if you find it comfortable, but what doesn’t help is sleeping on one or two old, worn-out pillows that are now as flat as a pancake.

How much to spend

It’s tempting not to spend too much money on a new pillow. Even if you want, for instance, a side sleeper pillow for shoulder pain. But would you skimp on a must-have fashion accessory, your Netflix subscription, a shiny new bit of tech or even getting the car serviced?

How long should top rated pillows for side sleepers last? Some say you’re looking at a year, but you may get away with several. Once it’s lost its firmness, it’s time to replace that pillow. Investing in one that you can machine wash may help to prolong the life of your pillow.

Best types of pillow for side sleepers

So what sort of pillow should you be seeking? Here’s an outline of the main types you can choose from.

Feather and/or down

Feather or down pillows - or those filled with a combination of both - are perennially popular. They offer a good level of ‘loft’ when they’re new. Down pillows may be made using real duck or goose down, or may be filled with man-made down. Feather pillows are just what the name suggests.

So you have synthetic down, natural feathers, duck (or goose) down and feather-and-down. Are the best down pillows for side sleepers a good choice? Unless you want to replace your pillow often, they’re not the number one choice.

This is because they lose firmness very quickly - and often aren’t even that firm to begin with. This means there’s less support for your shoulder and neck. Feathers and down can feel cool to sleep on, though, and are more breathable than some synthetics.

Memory foam or latex

Latex and memory foam are far firmer than down or feathers. So they can be a good choice. Natural or synthetic latex is available, while with memory foam you only have the man-made option.

The firmness of memory foam or latex can take a little getting used to. But as memory foam reshapes to support your head, spine and shoulders, it can be the answer for side sleepers. Both will spring back into shape after each use.

The downside of these materials is their heat retention levels. This can make sleeping on latex or memory foam feel hot and stuffy in summer.

Contoured pillows

Pillows with contoured edges can also be a good option for a side sleeper. These taper away gradually, rather than leaving your neck as if it’s falling off the edge of a cliff. Some have different shaping on each edge, so you can see which suits and supports you best. Brands like Kalm Pillow and Simba offer this type.

Side sleeper pillows

In this case, you could look for pillows that are specifically sold for side sleepers, rather than a generic orthopaedic pillow. Brands like Silentnight, Kally Sleep, Tempur and more offer this type of pillow, which has been scientifically developed to support those who sleep on their sides.

Double up

Doubling up and sleeping on two pillows feels more comfortable for some than using only one. If you do find this a better option, go for a firm pillow on the bottom. Top this with either another firm pillow or a soft one, depending on your preference.

Comfortable, cooling natural silk can also help you have a better night’s sleep, so why not cover your new pillow in a pure silk pillowcase?

February 02, 2023 — Michelle Fletcher Smith