Pillow talk - which to use?

Faye Prior | 2014-10-17 06:01:32

I guess it seems silly that when we have sleeping problems we try and correct everything from the time we go to bed, to the colour of our lamps, to what food we eat in an effort to improve our sleep, but we never seem to pay attention to what we’re actually sleeping on, like our pillows!

Yet pillows are really important, if not just for comfort, then for optimal breathing and spine alignment whilst we sleep, because there’s nothing quite as annoying as a dodgy back that keeps you up when you’re tired.

There’s a fair few different types of pillows out there now, and shopping for one can be quite a headache as well as an expensive necessity, so it’s important that you invest in a good one. There’s even research to suggest which types of pillows are best for which types of sleepers, for example an orthopaedic pillow is preferable to a feather pillow for people who lie on their back. But sometimes research isn’t the be all and end all, what’s important is what works for you, so don’t be afraid to actually collect a trolley full of pillows and test them out on the display beds next time you’re in the market for a pillow.

In the mean time, here’s a run down of the most commonly available types of pillow, available in most department stores, and their pros and cons:

Feather Pillows
These pillows are usually guaranteed to be comfortable and warm, and can be shaped, but they may not support the head and neck very well and are unsuitable for allergy sufferers. A very thin feather pillow may suit stomach sleepers, just watch out for the spiky feathers that pop out.

Polyester & Hollowfibre Pillows
These pillows usually come in different firmness levels so can be suitable for most types of sleepers, they’re also usually comfortable and are hypoallergenic and therefore suitable for allergy sufferers. They’re usually cheap and can be washed often, but they will flatten quickly and become unshaped, so they’ll need to be replaced every year.

Orthopaedic Pillows
These come in different sizes and shapes for people with different sleeping positions and spine alignments, but if you don’t pick the right one you could be left with more discomfort than you started with.

Memory Foam Pillows
These tend to be firm in the day and soften with heat when you sleep on them. This allows the pillow to mould itself to the shape of your body, keeping the spine in the same alignment, but it can be difficult to get used to. Good for back sleepers because it will mould to the necks curvature, where as a medium-firm pillow may suit side sleepers as long as it sufficiently supports the neck.

Faye Prior (Researcher)


Joen et al., (2014). Improving the quality of sleep with an optimal pillow: a randomized, comparative study. The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine, 233, 183-8.