The best pillow – for a comfortable, pain-free night’s sleep whether you’re a back, side or stomach snoozer

While we’ve all become much more aware of late about how much a good mattress, one that’s specifically suited to the way you sleep, will improve your night, that isn’t the whole story for bedtime comfort. It’s important to take on board the huge impact on sound sleep that a good – or bad – pillow can provide.

As with mattresses, the best pillow for you will largely depend on two or three key factors. First, which kind of sleeper you are (stomach, side or back), whether you suffer from any allergies and what filling you prefer. You also might want to think about opting for a cooling pillow if you tend to overheat at night. A breathable cotton outer will help, as will choosing a filling that’s not likely to contribute to your overheating, like some memory foam pillows can for instance. Hypoallergenic microfibre, silk or the best memory foam designs will help if you suffer from allergies.

Choosing a pillow for neck pain will depend on the issue, but often people realise that much of their general neck pain and muscle cramps will be due to an incorrect pillow choice for their sleeping position. A preference for a firm pillow or a soft, marshmallow-like one will also influence the filling you choose. So, whether you’re after a luxurious five-star hotel-style goose down pillow or the best memory foam pillow for neck support, we’ve picked the best for a great night’s slumber.

The best pillow test criteria

We tested each pillow over several nights with a range of sleeper types – front, side, back, restless and overheating – to ascertain the comfort and quality of both the filling and outer cover, and checked to see how easy it was to clean. In general, we looked for ultra soft exteriors with fillings that didn’t clump or poke through the casing, and pillows that were machine washable. For side sleepers we tested for head and neck support and firmness, and for front sleepers, softness that didn’t impair breathing.

Overall best pillow: w&h’s verdict

Because of the three removable layers of the pillow, the Emma is able to cater to your needs however you sleep. We found that the pillow gave the perfect level of comfort, while still keeping our spine aligned. Though a little on the pricey side at £65, the Emma really does have it all which is why we’ve named it our w&h best buy pillow.

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SHOP NOW:  The Emma Pillow is £65 at emma-mattress.co.uk

W&H’s star buy: Slumberdown Allergy Protection Pillow

However, if you are looking for value then the Slumberdown Allergy Protection the best pillow for you, we’ve named that pillow woman&home’s star buy. It’s incredibly affordable and offers good support for all sleepers.

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SHOP NOW:  Slumberdown Allergy Protection Pillow, £12.50 for a set of two, Argos

The 11 best pillows you can buy

1. Best pillow for a customised sleep experience: Memory Foam Pillow, Emma, £65

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The soft, breathable outer cover of this pillow encases three separate layers of support. The top is cold foam, which according to the makers is necessary for counter-pressure and helps to keep your spine aligned. The second is an Airgocell foam layer that’s softer, aiding sleep by letting your head sink into the pillow. Finally, an adaptive visco-elastic memory foam layer to distribute and relive pressure evenly for a good night’s sleep. However, this isn’t where this pillow’ story stops as it’s designed to allow you to remove layers, depending on what kind of sleeper you are in order to have a night’s sleep that’s right for you. Emma’s recommendation is that side sleepers keep the pillow with all three as they will need more support in the neck area. Front sleepers should use just one, while back sleepers two. It doesn’t say which layers to take out or leave in so we experimented. Our side sleeper found the three layers super supportive but the restless, position-changing sleeper preferred two layers – the comfort and the memory foam combined. It gave the right level of softness as well as helping to keep the spine aligned whether they were on their side or back.

Firmness: soft/medium

Machine washable? The cover is washable

Product guarantee: No, but you get a 100 night trial of the pillow before you have to commit

w&h’s rating: 4.5 out of 5

SHOP NOW: The Emma Pillow is £65 at emma-mattress.co.uk

2. Best pillow for front sleepers who want support: Octaspring Compact Pillow, Dormeo, £88.88

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Most front sleepers eschew memory foam as it can be too firm for them, making for an uncomfortable night. This compact version of Dormeo’s clever Octaspring pillow has a lower profile than normal memory foam offerings but is just as supportive. The soft-to-the-touch washable cover contains two layers – a pressure relieving memory foam that moulds to your body shape and a layer of 32 memory foam ‘honeycomb’ springs. These springs, unique to Dormeo, are eight times more breathable than traditional memory foam and also move three-dimensionally to provide a cool and comfortable place to lay your head. Our testers found the lower profile perfect for our restless sleeper who spent some of the night on their front as it was just high enough to slightly elevate the head without the suffocating feeling some deeper memory foam pillows have if you sleep on your stomach. In fact, we found it supported the neck well in any position, so was incredibly comfortable and, we felt, a good all-round choice.

Firmness: Medium-soft

Machine washable? The cover is washable

Product guarantee: No

w&h’s rating: 4.5 out of 5

SHOP NOW: Octaspring True Evolution Compact Pillow, £88.88 at dormeo.co.uk

3. Best pillow for back sleepers: New Zealand Wool pillow, Soak & Sleep, £45.50 (for two)

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Filled with New Zealand wool, this medium-firm pillow was both supportive enough for our back sleeper but also soft enough for a more than sound night for our restless sleeper. It fitted beautifully under the head, gently shaping to cradle the contours of the neck and shoulder, which ensured there was no neck stiffness in the morning. To keep it from compacting, we just massaged the filling a bit and it was back to its usual medium-firm plumpness in no time. Wool is naturally temperature regulating and dust mite resistant, making it a good choice for allergy sufferers and it can also be machine washed at 60˚C, which means it can be kept in tip-top condition. It comes in three sizes, junior, 40x60cm, standard and super king.

Firmness: Medium-firm

Machine washable? Yes

Product guarantee: 5 years

w&h’s rating: 4.5 out of 5

SHOP NOW: A pack of two standard pillows cost £45.50 from Soak & Sleep.

4. Best pillow for neck pain: Original Support pillow, Tempur, £72

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This contoured ergonomic pillow is specifically designed to cradle the neck and shoulders to provide a neck-pain free night. Made from a visco-elastic material first developed by NASA to provide pilots with a comfortable seat when flying, Tempur began making mattresses from it in the 1990s. This pillow is very firm and the unconventional, almost rigid curved shape means it’s best suited to those who experience neck pain at night and who sleep on their back or side. The shape, and the memory foam filling itself – which gently moulds itself to your individual shape when sleeping and springs back to its original shape afterwards – definitely take a little time to get used to, particularly if you’ve always had a traditional style pillow but many say it’s well worth persevering for a couple of weeks. It was definitely the most ‘Marmite’ of all the pillows we tested and while it didn’t really suit our multi-position, restless sleeper, after a few days our back sleeper had got used to it and found it helped them sleep a little sounder with no recurrence of recent neck pain.

Firmness: Firm

Machine washable? The cover is washable

Product guarantee: 3 years

w&h’s rating: 3.5 out of 5

SHOP NOW: Tempur Original Support pillow, £72.00, John Lewis

5. Best memory foam pillow: Hybrid pillow, Simba, £99

This is Simba’s latest version of their Hybrid Pillow, which now features heat-phase technology called Stratos, which helps the body maintain the perfect sleep temperature, effectively storing and releasing heat for when you are cold and moving it away from you when you get too warm.Instead of the previous Nanotube filling the pillow now uses Nanocubes that gently cushion your head, neck and spine.

We really liked the fact that this loose filling of soft memory foam cubes was encased in a zip pocket, allowing us to remove as much or as little as we liked to create a bespoke sleeping experience. When it arrived, with all its filling intact it was quite deep even for our side sleeper but once we’d taken out a few handfuls of the cubes to adjust the height and firmness and popped them in the handy mesh bag that comes with the pillow, it was very comfortable. If you feel you need more or less cubes, simply empty or fill from the mesh bag to adjust, allowing you to perfectly pinpoint your ideal sleep height. The Stratosfabric technology –inspired by technology originally designed for astronauts – works to keep body temperatures steady all night by absorbing, storing and releasing heat as and when it’s needed. The cubes are sandwiched between a hypoallergenic mineral enriched fibre called Aerelle Cool Night that dissipates heat, and a durable microfiber padding for softness. As with Simba’s original offering, our overheating side sleeper definitely found it supportive and there was no need to flip it during the night.

Firmness: Adjustable

Machine washable? The cover is washable

Product guarantee: 1 year

w&h’s rating: 4 out of 5

SHOP NOW: Hybrid pillow, 50x75cm, £99, Simba

6. Best pillow for side sleepers: The Microfibre pillow, Eve, £35

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The unusual shape of this microfibre pillow – it’s boxy at one end and tapered at the other – means it works well for both side and back sleepers. The thicker side provides more support to the neck – great for those who assume the side position – while the thinner edge works to align the spine for back sleepers. Softly supportive, rather than firm, it still provided enough rigidity for our multi-position sleeper to get a good night’s sleep once they’d decided on which of the two options (the thicker of the two) suited them best. The 230 thread-count cotton case is beautifully soft and the polyester mesh side panels aid airflow, ensuring there was no sign of overheating, even on an unseasonably warm spring night. At 46x67cm it’s sized to fit a standard pillowcase and is machine washable at 40˚C, too. A quick refluff after tumble-drying will help it to retain its shape.

Firmness: Soft

Machine washable? Yes

Product guarantee: 3 years

w&h’s rating: 4 out of 5

SHOP NOW: The Microfibre pillow, £35, Eve

7. Best pillow for luxury five star hotel-style sleeping: Hungarian Goose down and feather pillow, The White Company, £75

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If it’s a luxurious, boutique-style hotel experience you’re after then this beautifully soft yet supportive pillow definitely fits the bill. Straight out of the package, its quality shines through and the super soft 329 thread-count cotton jacquard cover definitely makes it feel like an elegant choice. Importantly, you can opt for soft/medium or firm support, making it a good choice for both back and side sleepers depending on which level you go for. A slightly denser down and feather inner core construction, surrounded by an 80% down and 20% feather mix meant the firmer version suited our side sleeper best. While not the most expensive of the pillows on test, it is still a considered purchase but we felt the high down content combined with the firmer centre meant it was worth the investment. It’s available in two sizes, standard and super king and although it is machine washable, the makers recommend professional laundering to keep it in tip-top condition.

Firmness: Soft/medium OR firm

Machine washable? Yes, though professional laundering is recommended

Product guarantee: No

w&h’s rating: 4.5 out of 5

SHOP NOW: Hungarian Goose down and feather pillow, from £75, The White Company

8. Best pillow for stomach sleepers: Front Sleeper Pillow, Slumberdown, £11.99

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Because of their position – with face pressed into the pillow, often with an arm cradling their head – those who regularly sleep on their front often find themselves drifting towards the outside edge of their pillow to ensure they don’t feel smothered by it. Front sleeping is the least recommended position because it can force the neck into an uncomfortable angle, resulting in aches and pains. If you do sleep on your front, a thinner profile or loft (height) will help, as pillows that are too plump can feel suffocating once your head sinks into them. While you can buy oddly-shaped designs that allow for breathing space, we found this regular shaped one was not only a great price, it was also a perfectly comfortable option for front sleeping as it was supportive enough but didn’t force the neck of our multi-position sleeper into a nasty angle when they flipped onto their tummy.

Firmness: Soft

Machine washable? Yes

Product guarantee: No

w&h’s rating: 4 out of 5

SHOP NOW: Sleeper Pillow, £11.99, Amazon

9. Best pillow if you get hot when sleeping: Airmax Pillow, Silentnight, £11

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Just like the duvet of the same name, this pillow has a lovely, squishy marshmallow plumpness – in fact it was so big we had to use an oversized Oxford pillow case to cover it. Don’t be fooled, though, this box construction hollowfibre pillow is pretty supportive, and at just £10.99, it was also one of the best value pillows we tested. Even though it’s very much on the soft end of the scale, our dedicated side sleeper found it firm enough for a comfortable night’s rest. However, it’s the improved airflow from the meshed material strip that runs through the centre of this pillow that makes the difference. It definitely helped to circulate the air and keep our over-heater cool and rested, with no need for the usual pillow turning to get the cool side in the middle of the night. It’s hypoallergenic and machine washable at 40˚C, plus it has a 2-year guarantee, all things that added up to make it the best all-round pillow we tested.

Firmness: Soft

Machine washable? Yes

Product guarantee: 2 years

w&h’s rating: 4.5 out of 5

SHOP NOW:  Silentnight Airmax pillow, £11.00, Argos

10. Best pillow for allergy and asthma sufferers: Slumberdown Allergy Protection pillow, Argos, £12.50 for two

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One of our testers has what Allergy UK has named ‘home fever’, an increasingly prevalent non-specific allergy to our homes that causes sniffles and sometimes sore eyes as well as aggravating eczema. So, we were keen to try this pillow – one of the few that has the Allergy UK seal of approval – filled with synthetic fibres that have been specially treated to combat dust mites, one of the biggest causes of night-time allergies and asthma. It’s a medium-dense, soft filling that’s a good all round option if you sleep in a variety of different positions during the night, although our side sleeper needed two in order to ensure proper spine alignment and avoid a stiff neck in the morning. It’s machine washable at 40˚C, has a breathable 100% cotton cover and at just £12.50 for a set of two measuring 48x 74cm, we felt it was the best value pillow we tested, too.

Firmness: Medium

Machine washable? Yes

Product guarantee: No

w&h’s rating: 4 out of 5

SHOP NOW:  Slumberdown Allergy Protection pillow, £12.50 for a set of two, Argos

11. Best pillow for kids: Clevamama Toddler Foam pillow, £17.99

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While babies shouldn’t have pillows, as there’s a risk of suffocation, once a toddler moves from a cot to a proper bed, you might find they need a more supportive base to rest their head. Filled with ClevaFoam® this pillow, researched and developed with the university at Trinity College Dublin, has the benefit of being the only one that is scientifically proven to reduce pressure on the back of a baby’s head by 50% and increase support by 80%. This helps to combat Flat Head Syndrome, a condition often caused by lying and sleeping in one position. Lightweight, hypoallergenic and breathable it has reduced heat retention ensuring there’s no overheating at night and makes it a good choice for children with asthma or allergies. The pillow, compared to adult ones, feels quite thin at first but the foam filling moulded comfortably to the head and was just the right height and level of firmness for a toddler. The cover is removable and machine washable, too.

Firmness: Firm

Machine washable? The cover is washable, the pillow is hand wash

Product guarantee: No

w&h’s rating: 4 out of 5

SHOP NOW: Clevamama Toddler Foam pillow, £17.99, Amazon

How do  I choose the best pillow for me?

Much like purchasing a new mattress, finding the right pillow will largely depend on your body size and shape and what position you sleep in most. Finding the right firmness, or softness, for your sleep style is crucial to not waking in the morning with a sore or cricked neck. The best pillow for you will be one that – when you’re in your chosen sleeping position – comfortably supports your head and neck in the same alignment as if you were standing up straight and this is down to the amount and supportiveness of the filling itself.

As a general rule, back sleepers should choose a medium-thickness pillow, side sleepers a thicker, high-fill pillow to cushion the space between the neck and the bed, and front sleepers a thinner, softer down, synthetic or specialist pillow to avoid that suffocating feeling of sinking into something too deep. If you’re a restless sleeper, finding the right pillow for your most common sleeping position could help but if you naturally opt for several positions in the night then choose a medium-filled pillow to ensure you have enough support.

Frequently asked questions about best pillows

What are the different types of pillows?

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While most pillows have a soft, cotton or polyester outer, the fillings can vary considerably. There are 6 types of pillows, each with different properties. Familiarise yourself with the pros and cons of each so you can choose the best pillow for you:

  • Down or feathers: A combination of down and feathers will be soft and cushioning, with those featuring a larger percentage of down to feathers being the most luxurious and gentle on the face. However, the more down, the less support, so while they will be good for front sleepers, they might not be firm or deep enough for side sleepers. Pillows filled with pure feathers are less expensive but the quills can sometimes poke through the outer covers, providing a less than comfortable sleep if you’re constantly being scratched by a sharp feather quill. For those with allergies, pillows with a higher down to feather ratio might be best avoided, although the common thinking that feather and down pillows are more susceptible to dust mite allergens is being questioned by recent rigourous scientific testing. If well cared for, natural materials are the best choice if you want a long-lasting pillow.
  • Silk: Silk pillows are generally less deep and are a good choice if you overheat at night because they naturally wick away moisture and help to regulate heat at the same time. Opt for one if you’re a front sleeper with allergies as they’re naturally dust-mite resistant.
  • Wool: Natural wool will give a good level of support and, depending on how well filled the pillow is, will work well for both back and side sleepers. Regular plumping will help to stop it compacting over time.
  • Synthetic: Synthetic pillow fillings, such as microfibre and hollowfibre are also hypoallergenic, so a good choice for those with allergies. They’re lightweight, often machine washable and reasonably priced, too. Medium-filled synthetic pillows will provide support for back and side sleepers, However, choose your outer carefully if you get hot at night as some feature a polyester cover, which is not as breathable as cotton. While they may be the cheapest pillows, they often have the shortest lives as the filling can start to clump and be uncomfortable after time.
  • Memory foam: Memory foam is a relatively new entry into the pillow charts but provides great support if you’re a side sleeper, although many people find them on the firm and hot side and, like memory foam mattresses, there is sometimes an initial chemical smell that can take a little getting used to. A number of the bed-in-a-box companies, such as Nectar, Eve and OTTY, as well as memory foam specialists Tempur, have their own versions, which you can buy when you purchase your mattress. Be aware, though, that many of them have a much shorter return time than the mattresses if you’re not happy. The deep, firm support they offer often make them a good choice of pillow for those that have neck problems.
  • Latex: Latex pillows are similar in feel to memory foam, providing firm, deep support to head and neck but often giving a cooler sleeping experience, excellent if you’re an overheating side sleeper.
    What pillows do 5 star hotels use?

If you’ve ever laid your head to rest in a five-star hotel, you’re likely to remember the ultimate softness and abundance of the pillows. Many hotels claim to have the best pillows and will have their own brand of standard pillows – usually well-filled goose or duck down ones for ultimate squishiness – and some even have pillow menus, from which you can pick a variety of fillings and comfort levels. The Savoy uses a quality feather down pillow, as does The Sanderson, while Hilton hotels over the world have pillow menus that feature something for every kind of sleeper. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the pillows will be encased in super luxurious high thread count Egyptian cotton!

Is it better to have a hard or soft pillow?

The firmness of your pillow will largely depend on your sleeping position and personal taste. Front sleepers will find a too-firm pillow uncomfortable and cloying, while back and side sleepers will need a more solid support to hold their neck and spine in alignment through the night.

Can you wash pillows?

Always refer to the care label on your pillow before washing. It’s not recommended to wash cheaper synthetic pillows as this can result in unpleasant clumping of the filling, although middle to high-end are usually fine if you tumble dry carefully to keep the filling loose. Most natural wool, down and feather pillows can be washed at lower temperatures of 30-40˚C but if you want to get rid of dust mites you’ll need to choose ones that can be cleaned at 60˚C. Tumble dry and fluff regularly to plump the filling. Most memory foam pillows require marks to be spotted with a sponge but have outer covers that can be removed and popped in the wash at 40˚C to keep them clean.

How often should you change your pillows?

We’re all now up to speed with the need to change mattresses every eight years or so but how many of us regularly change our pillows? If you’re waking up with sniffles or a sore nick and shoulders it’s likely that your pillow has overstayed its welcome. Some synthetic pillows may need replacing after as little as six months, while others such as down and feathers and memory foam will give you two years or more depending on how well they are cared for. Down pillows tend to last longer – up to five years, while a feather pillow could last up to eight years. A report by Allergy UK, which spoke to 1,600 allergy sufferers, quoted figures that – brace yourself – “the average bed harbours 2 million dust mites and the average pillow doubles in weight over six month due to dust mite droppings”. A hypoallergenic synthetic pillow is chemically treated to prevent dust-mites, while the little critters aren’t fans of natural materials such as silk or wool. In all cases, though regular washing and changing bed linen, plus use of a pillow protector will help. Not sure if you need a new pillow? If it has lost its shape or you wake with a stuffy nose or bad neck then it is probably high time you replaced it.

Are there standard pillow sizes?

A single or double bed will need just a standard size pillow, which is generally around 50x75cm. If you have a king, or super-king bed base, then the best pillow will be a slightly longer one, a 50x90cm version to prevent you slipping off the side of the pillow during the night and to give a more polished, clean-lined look when the bed is made. Square pillows are available (65x65cm) but usually used as decorative touches rather than sleeping aids. Pillow depths will vary depending on whether you choose a one filled with soft down or a firm memory foam one.