The 6 Best Pillows for Side Sleepers Big and Small

By Greg
Best Pillow for Side Sleepers

Of all sleep positions, side sleeping is king! Over 70% of people prefer to travel to dreamland on their sides. Some research indicates that sleeping on our sides is one of the most instinctive and natural ways to fall asleep.

However, if you don’t have the right pillow, you could get neck aches, your arm could fall asleep, and you won’t be a happy camper! In this article, I’ll break down the best pillows to pick for a side sleeper, as well as some extra tips for maximum pain relief and prevention.

Here's a quick run down of the best choices for side sleepers:

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Why Pick this?

Side Sleeper Score

PureComfort Ear Pillow for Side Sleepers

Comfy indentations for your ears, adjustable height

Buckwheat Pillow by ComfyComfy

Buckwheat hulls are super supportive for neck and malleable

Brookstone Biosense 2-in-1 Shoulder Pillow for Side Sleepers

Special shape and firmness designed for side sleepers

Snuggle-Pedic Bamboo Memory Foam Pillow

Great all-around pillow

Water Pillow by Mediflow

Uses water for adjustable neck support

Shredded Memory Foam Pillow by Good Life Essentials

Great budget bamboo pillow for side sleepers

What does an awesome side sleeper pillow need to have?

Neck support

Your sleeping style is the most important factor when choosing the right pillow. The size, shape, and thickness of the best pillow for you is affected by whether you prefer to sleep on your back, your stomach or your side. Back and stomach sleepers generally need thin or even flat pillows to keep their heads from jutting too far forward. Side sleepers should consider choosing a firmer pillow to help keep their ears and shoulders in the best alignment possible.

Your neck and spine need to remain aligned properly to work efficiently. When your skeletal system is out of alignment, your posture becomes poor and your back and neck can hurt badly enough to affect your daily routine. You become more susceptible to fractured or broken bones in your spine, which leads to more pain. One of the best ways to ensure your back and neck stay supple and healthy is to choose the right pillow.

​The right stuff(ing)

The material used in the pillow's filling and covering have an impact on how your head rests on the pillow as well. A pillow's filling can be too firm or soft, leading to a very uncomfortable night's sleep. The pillow's filling, as well as its attached covering, can also retain heat, making it more likely that you'll wake up hot and sweaty during the night. 

If staying cool at night is one of your main impediments to a good sleep, check these out!

Materials used to fill pillows are chosen to support the head and neck and allow you to rest easy as you sleep. Fillings have include materials like sawdust, straw, rags, and feathers. Today, manufactured fillings like polyester fibers, microbeads or latex foam are popular choices.

If you prefer natural materials like feathers, cotton and, buckwheat, there are many choices for you as well. If you sleep on your side, reviewers and experts recommend memory foam, buckwheat or water as the optimal types of pillow filling.

Memory foam

A type of polyurethane foam, memory foam conforms to the contours of your body and also retains the impression of those contours for some seconds after you've moved your head. Memory foam also includes properties of heat sensitivity which helps keep the pillow cool throughout the night. Because of these special properties, a memory foam pillow weighs more than a traditional polyurethane foam pillow.

Shredded foam

Shredded foam is simply polyurethane foam that has been shredded to make the pillow's stuffing more malleable. The shredded foam is made from the scraps left over from manufacturing solid foam pillows. It is a breathable stuffing that creates air pockets a solid foam pillow doesn't have. This makes the pillow a lighter weight choice that breathes well and is cooler.

Shredded memory foam pillows keep the properties of solid memory foam. They provide a good fit for the head and neck because the inconsistent shape of the shredded pieces of foam more easily fill the voids inside the pillow. It will conform more easily to your particular head and neck shape.

Buckwheat

One of the more popular natural filling materials, buckwheat hulls are beneficial because the hard hulls don't compress. They instead move around inside the pillow to better conform to your head. This provides support during sleep and helps alleviate neck pain.

The hulls are also particularly dry and cool, a definite benefit if you're someone who experiences night sweats. Pillows filled with buckwheat hulls often have zippered linings that allow for removal of any hulls that have become compressed or misshapen from overuse. Buckwheat pillows are very robust and can last for years.

Feathers and down

Once considered a luxury item, feathers and down can be an affordable pillow filling for you now if you're someone who is looking for a comfortable pillow to support your head and neck all night. Down, which is the soft underside of waterfowl, isn't quite as firm in a pillow as feathers are. Although feathers used in pillows, which are usually curled and small, offer more support for your head and neck, they can cause problems for some people who have allergies.

Water

Like waterbeds, water-filled pillows are particularly beneficial for anyone who has injured their neck or upper back. Clinical research shows that the water cushions the affected area in a way that more traditional pillows aren't able to do. The level of water in the pillow can be easily adjusted to give the optimal amount of support to the neck and to cradle the head comfortably.

Ear Pillows

Ear pillows are simply pillows that have a nice hole for your ear! This takes pressure off of your face, and many people swear by them. Sleep improves due to more natural blood flow around the face for max comfort. You can also potentially sleep with earplugs or earbuds in and not have to worry about it!

Types of covering materials

Natural materials are the most preferred types of coverings, also known as shells, for the pillows that people sleep on. Linen, cotton, and bamboo are all natural fibers frequently used in pillow covers. Synthetic fibers that are easier and less expensive to manufacture are also popular.

Linen and cotton fibers come from either flax or cotton seeds. Linen was once considered a more high-class textured product than cotton, which meant pillow covers made from it were more expensive.

Bamboo fibers are either bamboo linen or bamboo rayon according to their manufacturing process. Fibers are extracted from the woody parts of the bamboo plants and spun into material in a manner very similar to that used to create linen. Bamboo rayon pillow covers look and feel more like silk than does bamboo linen, which is why it is the preferred type of covering material for bed pillows. Check out our list of the best bamboo pillows here.

Synthetic or man-made fibers include rayon, polyester, and nylon. Many pillow covers are made of blends such as polyester and cotton or polyester and rayon. The wrinkle-free characteristics are the primary benefit of the blends, which are less costly than natural covering materials.

Fleece is a natural material that isn't used as often as a pillow covering. Designed as polar fleece to help keep people warm who wear it, the primary benefit is its fuzzy texture and its insulating properties. It can be difficult to find a traditional bed pillow covered with fleece, but you might prefer to use a travel pillow covered with fleece.

Lifespan and Maintenance

The answer to the question, "How long should a good pillow last?" is this: It varies greatly. Some pillows may work as expected for less than a year, while others offer warranties of up to 20 years. It depends primarily on the fibers used to fill the pillow. Pillows filled with natural materials like feathers or buckwheat hulls can be expected to have a life of at least five to seven years or longer if cared for properly. Synthetic fillings have a shorter lifespan of about two to three years.

The Top Rated Side Sleeper Pillows- Our Picks

1.PureComfort Ear Pillow for Side Sleepers

Pros:

  • Relieves pressure on your face with ear holes
  • Great for sleep apnea and cpap machines
  • Adjustable height

Considerations:

  • Solid memory foam may be warm as you sleep

This pillow is great for the simple fact that it has a hole for your ears! Slipping your ear snugly into the pillow drastically relieves pressure and helps with headaches and neck pain. Ear pillows are one of the best choices for CPAP users. The hole allows the headgear to stay more snugly on your face since it isn’t getting mashed around by your pillow.

PureComfort uses a quality bamboo rayon cover for maximum airflow and allergy resistance. The memory foam is certified by CertiPUR-US, so you know its good! Pure comfort also includes a few different height inserts, so it can fit any size side sleeper.

The pillow comes with a 100-day no questions asked return policy, and a 5-year warranty. The cover is completely machine washable. One small downside is since the pillow is solid memory foam, it may run hot as you sleep.

2.Buckwheat Pillow by ComfyComfy

Pros:

  • Very supportive, can mold the pillow however you like
  • Buckwheat pillows have great airflow to help keep cool

Considerations:

  • buckwheat hulls may be slightly noisy
  • May be too firm for some sleepers

People who prefer pillows filled with natural materials will find the Buckwheat Pillow by ComfyComfy to be a good selection. The pillow is offered in four different sizes and is filled with buckwheat hulls that are free of chemicals and fumigation sprays. If you are someone who has allergies to many other kinds of pillow fillings and covers, you'll discover that a buckwheat pillow is can be exactly what you need.

Many people who have tried buckwheat pillows report that this type of filling supports the neck and head in ways that most other pillows aren't able to do. It's also been reported that a buckwheat pillow can help relieve cramps as well as snoring.

The disadvantages of a Buckwheat Pillow by ComfyComfy are related to its filling as well. Buckwheat hull-filled pillows can be heavy and harder to readjust while you're in bed. The materials inside the pillow aren't stable, but instead move around just as they do in a bean bag. If there aren't enough buckwheat hulls stuffed into the pillow's interior space, the hulls can form clumps as well as empty pockets that can make it hard for you to sleep comfortably through the night without having to readjust the pillow. They also can be a bit noisy.

3.Brookstone BioSense 2-in-1 Shoulder Pillow for Side Sleepers

Pros:

  • Ergonomically designed specifically for side sleepers
  • Middle memory foam layer for superior support
  • Soft outer layer for comfort

Considerations:

  • height not adjustable
  • may be too firm for some

Memory foam pillows are great for side sleepers since they provide the firmest support. But, the harder surface of memory foam is potentially more uncomfortable than a traditionally filled pillow. The brookstone 2-in-1 tackles this problem by having both a memory foam layer and a super soft “better than down” cover for soft support.

This pillow also has a slight indentation for your shoulder. This, combined with firm memory foam, makes for an awesome side sleeper pillow. Many customers report a reduction in back and neck pain, since the pillow keeps their spine in line. Brookstone has also added natural deodorants so that the memory foam doesn’t smell!

The only potential drawback is this pillow is not adjustable. If you are too tall/big and the pillow is not large enough for you, you are out of luck. It has a 6” loft, and is good for most customers under 6 feet tall.

4.Snuggle-Pedic Bamboo Combination Memory Foam Pillow

Pros:

  • Bamboo cover to keep you cool
  • shredded memory foam for moldable support
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    Can customize the amount of filling
  • 90 day trial and 20 year warranty!

Considerations:

  • May not be firm enough for some side sleepers

This pillow's primary benefit is that it doesn't become flat after long-term use. It provides the comfort of a down pillow while retaining its shape throughout the night. Manufactured with Biogreen foam that is certified as hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites, the Snuggle-Pedic Bamboo Combination Memory Foam Pillow is great if you sleep on your side most of the night and is particularly helpful if you are pregnant.

The pillow's shell is a micro-vented bamboo cover which, in conjunction with the memory foam filling, provides a cool night's sleep. A removable outer covering with zipper makes it easy for you to adjust the shape of the pillow for sleeping comfort. An unusual feature of the Snuggle-Pedic Bamboo Combination Memory Foam Pillow is the 90-day free trial and 20-year warranty offered by the company.

The Snuggle-Pedic Bamboo Combination Memory Foam Pillow, despite its shape-retaining features, may feel too firm for some people used to sleeping on a softer pillow. The shape retention feature isn't instantaneous. It may take you a few nights' sleep to experience the optimum contour effects the Snuggle-Pedic Bamboo Combination Memory Foam Pillow is known for.

5.Water Pillow by Mediflow

Pros:

  • Adjustable height using water!
  • Backed by studies, proven to help neck pain

Considerations:

  • Water may leak if not added correctly
  • Water makes the pillow heavy

The Mediflow Original Waterbase Pillow features a five-quart water container surrounded by a protective layer of polyester fiber. The level of the water in the base can be raised or lowered depending on the height you prefer for your pillow. The water in the pillow's reservoir retains its shape throughout the night, something that other types of pillows don't always do.

The waterbase pillow was in a study at Johns Hopkins University, and ranked highest among pillows tested for neck pain relief and comfort!

A 100 percent cotton cover can be easily removed to allow you to adjust the water levels as needed. Because the water chamber seal is tight and the padding prevents light from reaching the container, you don't have to worry about algae or other organisms growing in the water.

There are a few drawbacks to the Mediflow Original Waterbase Pillow. The primary problem is its weight. Since water is heavier than any other type of pillow filling, the pillow can be heavy to move around when it's filled to its optimal height. Some people have raised questions about the Mediflow Original Waterbase Pillow's durability. Leaks can be a concern as well, but fortunately, they happen infrequently.

6.Shredded Memory Foam Pillow by Good Life Essentials

Pros:

  • Never will go flat- shredded memory foam
  • Hypoallergenic
  • 30 day Trial, Lifetime Warranty

Considerations:

  • May not have enough loft for some side sleepers
  • very slight chemical smell when first opened

This shredded memory foam pillow is covered with a combination bamboo and polyester shell that helps prevent heat from building up during the night. A cool sleeping experience results. The support you experience when using this pillow if you sleep on your side is particularly good. The pillow is particularly good at supporting you as you sleep, making it less likely you need to change positions as frequently.

The pillow comes in standard, queen and king sizes. No matter what size you are, or what size your bed is, you'll be able to find a Shredded Memory Foam Pillow from Good Life Essentials that will work well for you. The company offers a 5-year warranty that covers practically any reason you might want to return the pillow, whether that's because something the pillow isn't performing properly or you just aren't happy with the product.

There are a few drawbacks. The pillow's cushioning retains its height consistently, which is a selling point, but some people who like cushioned pillows would like less cushioning than this pillow offers. It can take a bit of time to get used to the feel of the Shredded Memory Foam Pillow, but the benefits for your head and neck are worth the effort. Some people say a Shredded Memory Foam Pillow by Good Life Essentials has an odor that they find unpleasant when the pillow first arrives, but allowing it to air for a few hours generally resolves that problem.

Conclusion and Top Pick

While the Snuggle-Pedic Bamboo Combination Memory Foam Pillow may be the best all-around pillow of the bunch, side sleepers need more specialized features and this is where PureComfort’s Ear pillow comes out on top! It is adjustable, comfortable memory foam with holes for your ears for maximum comfort.

You can’t go wrong with any of these selections though. The buckwheat and water pillows give awesome neck support, while the shredded memory foam pillows are very breathable and good for those who sleep hot.

Test one or two of these out, and let us know in the comments which one you picked!