The least believable part of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? She doesn’t complain about the pillows. The size of the beds barely matters! Which bear’s pillows are the best pillows for sleeping? (Also: Shouldn’t the bears be wearing pants?)
When you’re in a hotel or at a friend’s house, you’ll have thoughts on the pillow before you think about the mattress or sheets. Everyone’s got a preference, and that preference is impossible to articulate. Pillows can be wrong or right for 50 reasons. Not soft enough. Too soft. Not supportive. Too supportive. (No one said the complaints had to make sense.)
There’s no such thing as a perfect pillow for everyone. There are personal factors to consider: firmness, size, and material matter most, and that’s already enough variables to think about. The rest will have to boil down to “head feel,” which is like hand feel for fabrics or mouthfeel for food, and just as weird.
And then you get to preference. What type of pillow do you even want? Do you like those soft hotel pillows where your head sinks like sand, or do you like firm, thin memory foam where your spine is supported and aligned all night? Some of it depends on your body type. If you’ve got shoulders like Dwight Howard and you’re a side sleeper, you’ll need some loft—or else gravity will cause your head to slowly fall off. (Pro tip: Most people sleep in a combination of ways at night, though if you really want to pick one, go with the one you wake up in.)
The best pillows for most people do share some common traits. They strike a balance between sinking-in comfort and support. (I won’t say cloudlike, because that’s not how clouds work and we are adults here.) They use materials that best reflect what you need as a stomach, side, or back sleeper, and those materials don’t run hot. And the very best? They come with either adjustable features (removable shredded foam!) or a 30-/100-day guarantee. Ideally both. Because no amount of research can beat trying one out at home.
The Best Pillow for Most People
If you don’t come into the pillow search with a laundry list of demands, then it’s likely that the Coop Home Goods “Eden” pillow will work great for you: It balances even support and sinking in just the right amount for perfect, comfortable sleeping. And it’ll be comfortable for most people whether they sleep on their back, side, or stomach—or, if they’re like many people, all three. Shredded memory foam pillows are the new standard for good general pillows: As with a bean bag, the smaller pieces of foam make the pillow easier to mold around your weird head and provide perfectly even support. Compared to a big block of memory foam, it also stays cooler and is easier to adjust until things are just right. Plus, it makes it hypoallergenic, no feathers here! The Coop Home includes a little sandwich bag of extra foam, and it’s easy to add more (or remove foam) until you have the perfect loft. The adjustability is ideal, especially if you’re still trying to figure out what your actual ideal sleep position is. The adjustable pillow’s outer cover, made of bamboo and polyester, keeps the pillow cool, negating the one big downside of most memory foam pillows. At this price on Amazon, and with a 100-day guarantee and a five-year warranty, it’s a no-brainer pillow to buy right now.
The Best Pillow for Stomach Sleepers
Casper’s down alternative pillow has an inner and an outer core, both filled with a polyester fiber that’s plush and lets your head sink in (the inner core is slightly more dense to provide support). This setup works pretty well, and the polyester fiber inside stays evenly distributed throughout the night—no refluffing needed. You can think of it as the slightly less cushiony version of the Coop Home pillow. If you don’t know anything about your sleep preferences and your current pillow is one you’ve had since high school, then it’s likely you’ll love this Casper one. (And you have 100 days to find out for yourself.)
The Best Pillow for Side Sleepers
Tulo makes three pillows of different firmness levels, but all are a block of foam. This medium pillow is perfect for someone who wants a firm pillow, but maybe doesn’t want to go all the way down the firmness rabbit hole. (I’m sure some sleep guru out there is just sleeping on a bed of sheetrock, and their neck pain and back pain has been erased forever.) The foam is really dense and stays cooler than you’d expect, thanks to a light cover. The density is ideal for side sleeping, since it’ll offer you all the neck support you actually need.
The Best Luxe Pillow
Some people want huge, fluffy, soft pillows, and who am I to stop them? This Saatva pillow is just like one of those large, glorious hotel pillows—wide and luxurious and what you’d imagine kings and queens slept on. It’s got an inner core of shredded latex and an outer core made up of synthetic fiber that actually feels something like the best down pillow, without the allergens. If you’re a stomach sleeper, this will be your dream. (And you’ve got 45 days to test.)
The Best Weird Modern Pillow
This Purple gel pillow is a glorious hunk of ventilated purple polyester made up of tiny triangles that weighs ten pounds. But it makes every other pillow look absolutely old-school (though it looks just like a normal pillow when you have the pillowcase on). It evenly distributes the weight you put on it, never bends out of shape or needs to be fluffed, and sleeps cool thanks to the built-in air holes all over. Talk about airflow! No overheating here! It doesn’t feel like a conventional pillow—more like a gel memory foam pillow that’s less firm and feels less like your head is in sinking sand. Sure, it’s a weird-looking heavy hunk of breathable purple polyester—but then again, most pillows are feather pillows. Isn’t it kind of weird that it’s 2021 and we’re putting goddamn bird parts in our pillows?