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Types of Pillows | Definitive Guide to Help you Select the Best One!

Types of Pillows | Definitive Guide to Help you Select the Best One!

Pillow filling defines the firmness and support a pillow can provide. While some fillings offer fluffiness, others provide firmness and good support. Information about fillings can help you nail down the pillow that’ll provide you with the most comfort.

In this article, you’ll learn more about different types of pillows and the best pillow fillings available on the market.

General Information

A few key terms:

  • Loft: the height of the pillow.
  • Firmness: the hardness of the pillow, largely dependent on the density of the material.
  • Breathability: property of a material to not hinder airflow and to enable hot air to escape out of the pillow.
  • Durability: ability of a pillow to last for a specific time.
  • Hypoallergenic: these materials rarely cause allergies.

What are Adjustable Pillows?

Adjustable Pillows

Adjustable pillows contain shreds or pieces of a particular material. The amount of shreds can be adjusted to alter the firmness and loft of the pillow. Adjustable pillows obviate the need to try out different pillow sizes and materials.

What to Look for in a Pillow?

What to Look for in a Pillow

You need to look for a pillow that:

  • Offers good support: ideally the pillow should conform to the shape of the neck to provide consistent support. Materials that provide good and consistent support are malleable.
  • Promotes better spine alignment: the pillow should facilitate good alignment of your spine to reduce stress from joints, ligaments, and discs.
  • Maintains natural curve of spine: the natural lordosis (curvature) of the spine should be maintained to maximize comfort.

A pillow that does all the three minimizes the pressure on your joints and prevents the development of neck pain.

Choose the right pillow size

Combination sleepers, who change sleeping positions regularly during the night, can test different loft and firmness to find the one that suits their needs.

Types of Pillow Fillings

Each pillow filling has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, and you must go through them to decide the best pillow filling for yourself.

Down

Down

Pros:

Cons:

Light weight

Durable

Moldable & Supportive

Fluffy and Plush

X Expensive

X Potentially allergenic

X Easily overheats

X Difficult to clean

 

A luxurious material extracted from the underbellies of goose and ducks, down is both malleable and durable, but requires regular fluffing.

Although popular for being cozy and warm, down isn’t as supportive as memory foam or latex. So companies often mix down with feather to increase the firmness of the pillow.

Before selecting a down pillow, you should check the amount of down present in it. The measurement is generally in cubic inches, with a high quality down pillow having a fill power of at least 600.

Feather

Feather

Pros:

Cons:

Affordable

Light weight

Malleable

X Requires regular fluffing

X Retains body heat

X Difficult to clean

 

More affordable than those made of down, feather pillows are both supportive and durable.

As this filling isn’t that cozy, many manufacturers blend it with down to enhance the comfort offered by the pillow.

Like those made of down, feather pillows require regular fluffing because feathers tend to clump together, decreasing the loft and fluffiness of the pillow.

Down Alternative (Microfiber)

Down Alternative

Pros:

Cons:

Affordable than down

Hypoallergenic

Easy to clean

X Not as breathable

X Requires fluffing

X Doesn’t mold

 

People allergic to down can use down alternative, or microfiber, pillows, as this material is hypoallergenic and rarely causes allergies.

Made from synthetic fibers such as polyfill or polyester, down alternative is plush, cozy, and warm, but not as much as down. Yet it is relatively inexpensive and more durable.

Memory Foam

Memory foam

Pros:

Cons:

Contours to shape

Retains original shape

Hypoallergenic

Firm & supportive

X Retains body heat

X Off-gasses when new

X Difficult to clean

 

Because of its malleable nature and high density, memory foam is best suited to provide relief from neck pain and stiffness.

It improves support for your neck and promotes better spine alignment, but a new foam pillow usually has a chemical odor, which takes a few days to disappear.

So it’s better to purchase a pillow made of CertiPUR-US® certified foam, which is low in volatile inorganic compounds responsible for the off-gassing process that produces the chemical odor.

Memory foam pillows are of two types:

  • Solid memory foam pillow: the core consists of a solid block of memory foam, which molds to provide support.
  • Shredded memory foam pillow: the core consists of pieces or shreds of memory foam, the amount of which can be altered to change the loft and firmness of the pillow.

Latex

Latex

Pros:

Cons:

Breathable

Biodegradable

Moldable & Supportive

Durable

X Off-gasses when new

X Costly

X May cause allergies for some

 

Like memory foam, latex is malleable, but not as firm. It too is naturally resistant to dust mites and molds, so it’s hygienic.

And both solid and shredded latex pillows are available on the market. The shredded ones can be adjusted to meet the user's preference.

Unlike memory foam, latex is naturally biodegradable and eco-friendly. However, it isn’t as hypoallergenic as memory foam. Further, you need to ensure that the pillow consists of 100% natural latex and that it isn’t blended with synthetic latex.

Gel

Gel

Pros:

Cons:

Stays cool

Hypoallergenic

Great for night sweats

X Expensive

 

Gel usually accompanies other materials, generally memory foam and latex. As memory foam retains body heat and gets warm, gel perfectly complements its features.

Cooling gel prevents the pillow from passing back the retained body heat. Gel can be of two types:

  • Normal: the normal ones simply prevent heat from being passed back to the body.
  • Temperature regulating: these gels regulate temperature by passing some retained body heat back to the user.

This pillow is great for anyone suffering from night sweats.

Buckwheat

Buckwheat

Pros:

Cons:

Firm & Supportive

Breathable

Durable

Biodegradable

X Make a lot of noise

X Too firm for some

X Heavy weight

 

Popularly used in Asian countries, buckwheat hulls are natural, biodegradable, and eco-friendly.

The material conforms to the shape of your body and provides good support to the neck, but the buckwheat hulls make noise when the hulls are crushed together, and the noise can be a deal breaker for some.

Microbeads

Microbeads

Pros:

Cons:

Malleable

Breathable

Firm & Supportive

X Bad for environment

X Off-gasses when new

X Retains body heat

X May spill out of pillow

 

Like buckwheat hulls, microbeads adjust according to the shape of your neck and provide good and consistent support. However, they aren’t biodegradable.

In fact, researchers estimate the polystyrene takes around 500 years to biodegrade. Further, the beads can tear out of the pillow case and scatter around.

Kapok

Kapok

Pros:

Cons:

Light weight

Hypoallergenic

Adjustable

X Difficult to wash

X Flammable

X Very expensive

 

Soft, fluffy, and lightweight like down, kapok is biodegradable and eco-friendly. It’s a hypoallergenic material, rarely causing any allergies.

But because the material is flammable and very expensive, pillows made from it aren’t popular.

Cotton

Cotton

Pros:

Cons:

Breathable & Biodegradable

Light weight

Odorless

Hypoallergenic

X Flattens out with use

X Retains moisture

X Prone to dust mites & molds

X Difficult to clean

 

Both breathable and soft, cotton is a natural fabric that can somewhat conform to the shape of your neck.

However, cotton isn’t as firm and loses its shape relatively faster than latex and memory foam. Pillows made of cotton usually become flat quite quickly, and the material retains moisture, so it’s prone to mold and mildew build-up.

Wool

Wool

Pros:

Cons:

Highly breathable

Warm

Fluffy

X Animal product

X Requires dry-cleaning

X Expensive

 

Wool can only be dry-cleaned and is more expensive than filling such as memory foam and latex, so pillows made from it aren’t as popular.

Further, vegans tend to avoid wool, as it’s an animal product.

But wool is quite breathable and soft. It’s very fluffy, and can be blended with various other materials to get desired firmness and loft.

Water

Water

Pros:

Cons:

Retains original shape

Firm

Hypoallergenic

X Can leak & soak the mattress

X Doesn’t contour

 

Although uncommon, water pillows are often used because of their adjustable nature. By altering the amount of water in the pillow, you can adjust its loft.

These pillows don’t lose their shape over time, as water inside the pillow can be replenished. Further, the pillows are hypoallergenic since there’s only water inside.

However, the pillows can leak and saturate your mattress, doing a lot of damage. And they don’t contour to the shape of your neck.

Pillow Types for Medical Conditions

Pillows are available in different shapes, each shape serving a unique purpose. Let’s take a detailed look at different types of pillows on the basis of shape.

Body Pillow

Body pillow

Who’s this pillow for: pregnant women.

Body pillows come in the following shape:

  • U-shaped
  • L-shaped
  • C-shaped
  • J-shaped

These shapes facilitate all sleeping positions and body types. So body pillows are quite popular among pregnant women.

To protect from injury, it can also be used by people who suffer from night terrors.

Horseshoe Pillow

Horseshoe pillow

Who’s this pillow for: people who travel a lot in car or flight

These are travel pillows meant to be placed behind the neck when sitting. People who travel a lot can rely on this pillow to relieve pressure from the neck and enjoy a short nap while sitting.

Wedge Pillow

Wedge pillow

Who’s this pillow for: people with sleep apnea.

A wedge pillow is popularly used for sleep apnea. Its incline prevents your tongue from sliding down into the throat, keeping the airway open.

It can also improve blood flow to the lumbar spine while reducing pressure from it, so it’s great for anyone with a back injury.

You can also place the pillow under your knees to reduce the curve in your lower back.

Cervical Pillow

Cervical pillow

Who’s this pillow for: people with cervical pain

A cervical pillow has an ergonomic design because of which it can provide better support to your neck and improve alignment of your spine.

However, these pillows are only suitable for side and back sleepers, and not for stomach sleepers.

Further, these pillows are most commonly available with a memory foam fill.

Contour Pillow

Contour pillow

Who’s this pillow for: people who regularly wake up with neck pain or stiffness.

With a wavy shape, contour pillows fit your curves perfectly. One of the sides is generally higher than the other to facilitate both side and back sleepers.

Both side and back sleepers get good neck support and alignment. And side sleepers can use the side with greater loft to reduce stress from their shoulder that is closer to the mattress.

CPAP Pillow

CPAP pillow

Who’s this pillow for: people who use CPAP machines to relieve symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the first line of therapy used for obstructive sleep apnea. The machine requires the patient to sleep with a mask on.

The mask delivers positive airflow continuously in order to keep the airway open.

CPAP pillow facilitates sleeping with a mask on. The center of the pillow provides extra space for cords and tubes connected to the machine. Further, these pillows have a high loft to provide relief from symptoms of sleep apnea.

Lumbar Support Pillow

Lumbar support pillow

A lumbar support pillow reduces pressure from your lower back by providing appropriate support to your lumbar spine while you’re sitting.

If you have a chair that doesn’t provide lumbar support, then you can get this pillow and place it behind your back while sitting.

Doughnut Pillow

Doughnut pillow

Shaped like a doughnut, these pillows are perfect for people suffering from tailbone or lower back pain and/or muscle cramps. You can simply place the pillow on your seat before sitting down.

Coccyx Pillow

Coccyx pillow

Like doughnut pillows, coccyx pillows provide relief from lower back and tailbone pain. However, the two have a different design, as a coccyx pillow focuses more on relieving pressure from the tailbone.

Pillow Types for Decoration

Types of Pillows

Bolster

Popularly used for decoration, these pillows are usually kept on sofas. However, they can also be used to lift up the knees and reduce stress from the lower back.

Some people use these pillows to bolster support for the cervical spine, but doing so isn’t recommended as these pillows aren’t good at ensuring good alignment of the spine.

Knife-edge

Because of the simple seam technique, which requires sewing of two pieces of fabric at extreme ends together, the pillow has a thick center, which looks plush and luxurious.

Box edge

Unlike the knife edge pillows, box edge pillows have a consistent thickness throughout, giving them a box look. Although most popularly available in square shape, these pillows are available in a variety of other shapes, such as triangle and circle.

Conclusion

Pillows come in different shapes and sizes, and you need to select the one that meets your preferences. This post will help you narrow down the right pillow for you on the basis of filling, shape, and size.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. When should I replace my pillow?

Ans. That depends entirely on the pillow filling. A cotton pillow lasts for a year or two, whereas a memory foam pillow lasts for more than 3-5 years.

But if you notice any of the following, then it may be time to get a new pillow:

  • The pillow has flattened out
  • It has developed lumps
  • It folds into half easily
  • It has stains in several places

And if the pillow fails to provide comfort, then you should definitely replace it.

Q. Should I elevate my head while sleeping?

Ans. You should elevate your head if you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. To reduce pressure from the shoulder adjacent to the mattress, side sleepers may require a pillow with a greater loft than back sleepers.

 

Q. What types of pillows should I use to reduce neck pain?

Ans. You can go with a cervical or a contour pillow to reduce the stress on your neck. These pillows have an ergonomic design to not only enhance support but also facilitate alignment. 

 

Q. What type of pillow is best for side sleepers?

Ans. Side sleepers should get a contour pillow made with a malleable material such as latex or memory foam. Further, the pillow must have a good loft to decrease the pressure from shoulders.

 

Q. What type of pillow is best for back sleepers?

Ans. Back sleepers require a pillow with medium loft. A contour or adjustable pillow can perfectly fit the curves of your neck and maintain the natural lordosis (curvature) of your cervical spine.

 

Q. What type of pillow is best for stomach sleepers?

Ans. Stomach sleepers require a very flat pillow to reduce the curve in the cervical spine while sleeping. The pillow must be very soft, so something made of down may be preferable.


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