The Best Pillows For Every Kind of Sleeper, Side to Sweaty to In-Flight

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Side sleepers to in-flight snoozers – we got you.

Photo source, above

It happened. You’ve finally drifted off to sleep, only to wake up the next morning with the worst neck or shoulder cramp, back pain, or other alignment unpleasantry. Or maybe you hardly slept at all, spending the night tossing and turning into the wee hours of insomnia. Wherever you fall on the sleep scope, that pillow you’re sleeping on is more than just a landing pad for your head to crash. It can greatly contribute to, or prevent, a good night’s rest – setting the tone for how you feel once you bounce drag yourself out of bed the next morning. Here, we spoke to a few sleep experts on the best pillows for every kind of sleeper, from back to belly to snorer to sweaty, even in-flight sleepers trying to catch those elusive zzz’s mid-air. Before we start, a few pillow basics from Terry Cralle, RN, Certified Clinical Sleep Educator and Co-author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top:

 1. “Pillows should be individualized for each sleeper based on preferred sleeping position, height, weight, allergies and chemical sensitives, temperature preference and any personal health conditions (sleep apnea, back problems, asthma, allergies, reflux, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and pregnancy, among others).”

2. “For the sake of aesthetics, you may want to keep two identical pillows at the top of your bed for neatness and symmetry – but also have behind them or stored elsewhere the very best pillow(s) you need for the best sleep quality possible.”

3. “It’s important to change pillows on a regular basis, around every 2 years depending on the type of pillow. This is not only for comfort but also for hygiene. Pillows accumulate sweat, dead skin cells, drool, pet dander or worse – fungus, mold and mildew, becoming a hot zone for bacteria and dust mites. Make sure your pillow and/or outside covers are washed regularly during use.”

4. “Some pillows are modifiable. For instance, I have a buckwheat and shredded latex pillow that was easy to empty out some of the fill – making it fit just right!”

5. “Similar to mattresses, you may want to change the type of pillow you sleep on based on changes in sleeping patterns, pregnancy, aging or health conditions.”

[Related: The Debate: Should You Wear Your Bra While Sleeping?]

Now onto the sleepers:

Back Sleeper

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Christy Turlington, source

According to Dr. Matt Tanneberg of Arcadia Health and Wellness Chiropractic in Phoenix, AZ: “If you sleep on your back, you want one thin pillow so that your head isn’t pushed too far forward. The best types of pillows for back sleepers are usually memory foam that have an extra cushion to support your neck. Otherwise, down and feather pillows are thin enough to keep your neck neutral.”

Adds Cralle: “Back sleepers may also want to place a pillow under the knees to alleviate lower back strain in this position. The type and firmness of the mattress factors into this.”

Side Sleeper

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Says Dr. Tanneberg: “If you sleep on your side, usually you want two pillows (depending on how thick they are) to keep your head and neck in a neutral position, in line with your spine. If you don’t have enough pillows underneath your head or if you have too many pillows, your neck will be cranked to the side one way or the other. Finding the balance of pillows is crucial. Usually, you will need a firm pillow with more supportive material so that your head doesn’t sink in, causing excess lateral flexion of your neck. Latex is the firmest type of pillow you can buy so usually those are the best for side sleepers. Wool or cotton pillows will have some support and if used in conjunction with another pillow, will usually keep your head supported enough. There are also specific pillows made for sleeping on your side that are either c-shaped or boomerang shaped. These can be used to support your head and also wrap around the front of your body so that you can cuddle it. This will help to keep you from rolling around all night and keep your upper body in a neutral position.”

Cralle continues: “If you are a side sleeper, you should try putting a soft, low-density pillow between your knees as it can help align your upper hip properly and provide a soft padding between your knees. A side-sleeper may also want full body support – long pillows are available to rest an arm or leg on.”

Also, says Cralle: “Side sleeping is a good anti-snoring and anti-reflux sleep position.”

Tummy Sleeper

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Audrey Hepburn, source

“If you sleep on your stomach, you want either one thin pillow or no pillows at all so that your head isn’t stuck back in extension all night,” says Dr. Tanneberg. “Pillows made from feather or down material are usually thin enough for tummy sleepers as you don’t want extra support when you are on your stomach.”

Cralle adds: “Pillowcases for these sleepers probably need more frequent washings as some tummy sleepers may drool in this position. Look for a very thin, almost flat pillow. Consider tucking another thin one under your stomach to avoid lower back pain.”

[Related: 10 Amazing Airbnb’s Around the World For the Ultimate Night’s Sleep]

Sweaty Sleeper

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There are specific ‘cool pillows’ that have beads or gel in them that help absorb heat from your head,” Dr. Tanneberg advises. “Some brands make pillow inserts that can actually be refrigerated, helping to keep you cool while you fall to sleep.” 

The Snorer

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“Snoring is most common when you sleep on your back – this is why anti-snoring pillows try to encourage the sleeper to lie on his or her side, or if on the back, chin off the chest,” Cralle explains. “A number of anti-snoring pillows are designed to lift the chin off the chest in order to open the airway, and most are made from memory foam to support the head and neck. Some pillows are designed to keep a snorer off their backs entirely and on their sides to prevent snoring.”

Dr. Tanneberg adds: “If you’re a back sleeper, to help with snoring try sleeping in a more upright position. Prop multiple pillows not only underneath your head but behind your upper back, as well. You don’t want to prop pillows behind your neck only because you will cause excess flexion of the neck. By propping up your entire upper body this will help with the airflow through your nostrils.”

In-flight Sleeper

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Bianca & Mick, source

Dr. Tanneberg explains: “The classic ‘airplane pillow’ is perfect for any kind of travel. The key with these pillows is that they need to be firm enough and big enough to keep your head supported. If the pillow is too small or too soft, your head will tilt to the side once you fall asleep. Make sure the pillow comes up almost to the bottom of your ears to give you that extra support. These can be used in-flight or on a long car ride to keep your head in a neutral position.”

Adds Cralle: “There are many alternatives to the U shaped travel pillow if those don’t work for you, such as inflatable body pillows and this versatile pillow that even sticks to windows. Also – be sure to bring earplugs and a sleep mask!”

For travelers – Cralle also recommends calling in advance to see if your hotel has a pillow menu. Jumbo pillows on your hotel bed may look nice and plush, but aren’t a one-sleeper fits all solution. When in doubt, BYOP (bring your own pillow).