How We Rate Pillows

Last updated: July 16, 2019

Overview & Methodology

People have been using pillows since 7,000 BC,  the civilizations of Mesopotamia. During this era, only the wealthy were able to use them and is considered a status symbol. The more pillows they own, the more wealthy and affluent they are. 

There are a lot of factors that need to be considered when rating a pillow in general before we can say it is one of the many that are considered as quality pillows plus the fact that there are a variety of pillows available in the market.  We now have memory foam pillows, hypoallergenic pillow, latex pillows, buckwheat pillows, cooling pillow, gel pillows, firm pillow, wool pillows, regular foam pillows. Then there are the covers. Now there is a variety of them, there are viscose rayon, cotton cover, polyester, bamboo cover, and viscose bamboo.  With all those things that need to be considered, we narrowed it down to the following to show how we rate pillows:

  1. Firmness and Support
  2. Loft & Adjustability
  3. Hypoallergenic
  4. Hygiene
  5. Comfort
  6. Structural integrity & Durability

People have come a long way from that, nowadays everyone uses a pillow, but are they using the right one that fits their needs is a question that we can help answer. We have all sorts of pillows these days.  We have pillows for:

  • Back Sleepers
  • Side Sleepers
  • Stomach Sleeper
  • Combination Sleepers
  • Neck Pain
  • Shoulder Pain
  • Travel
  • Pregnancy
  • Cooling Pillows
  • Memory Foam Pillows
  • Body Pillows
  • Down Pillows
  • Camping Pillow
  • Firm Pillows
  • Pillows for Toddlers
  • Pillows for Sleep Apnea

If you notice, there were pillows for particular kind of sleeper that is because there are several kinds or types of sleepers.  We have the Back Sleeper, Side Sleeper, Stomach Sleeper and the Combination Sleeper. A test was conducted by the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service (SAAS)  to determine the percentage of people for each sleep position known to man to determine the types of sleepers and 41% of the correspondents were side sleepers. The study also shows that side sleeping is healthier for you than sleeping on your stomach, which comprise of 7% of the population.  

Firmness & Support

One of the main uses of a pillow is support.  The firmness and softness of a pillow can make a big difference in your quality of sleep.  But like most things, one size doesn’t fit all. Some people require firm pillows while others need the soft kind.  But all in all, a good head and neck support is required.

There are different kinds of sleeper pillow and before purchasing one, you have to determine if it can provide support to your head, neck, and shoulders.  A pillow cannot be too firm as we are all aiming for the comfort a pillow brings when sleeping. It also must not just focus on support as again, comfort is a big factor in giving you a good night’s sleep.  It has to have the right balance of things to be considered to be one of your bed pillows.

For Back sleepers:

For back sleepers, support is of the importance but not so much with firmness.  Since you lay on your back you need to have at least a soft pillow to cradle your head and keep it from moving from side to side when you sleep.  Here are guidelines when we rate pillows for back sleepers in terms of firmness and support:

  • Is the pillow soft enough to just be able to provide support to your head, keeping it elevated as you sleep?
  • Does the pillow ensure that your head is in place and won’t move from side to side causing uncomfortable feeling and pain in the morning when you wake up?
  • Does it have the right firmness, not too firm but not too soft either that can give you comfort and ensure spine alignment as you sleep?
  • Is the firmness of the pillow enough to keep your head from going back too far disrupting the proper alignment it should have while you sleep?

For Side Sleepers:

When you’re a side sleeper you will need more support for your neck and shoulders to prevent you from waking up with pain as opposed to stomach sleepers or back sleepers.  Therefore, if you’re a side sleeper you’ll be needing a firmer pillow. Thickness doesn’t always equate to firmness and support. Some pillows maybe thick but as soon as you rest your head on it, it sinks.  When we rate pillow in terms of firmness and support we ask ourselves this question:

  • Is the firmness of the pillow just right to give your neck or shoulder the support it needs when you sleep?
  • Is the firmness of the pillow suits your body type and provides your spine support as much as it does your neck and shoulders?

For Stomach Sleepers:

  • Since you would have your face on your pillow when you sleep it should be soft.  The question to ask is “Is it soft enough without hurting my face when I sleep?”
  • Does it provide pressure relief and spine alignment as I sleep?
  • Is it soft enough and helps me keep my spine in a neutral position?
  • Is it too firm?
  • Does it provide the support your head and shoulder needs as you sleep on your face?

For Combination Sleepers:

  • Does it provide the support your head and shoulder needs as you sleep on your face?
  • Is the firmness of the pillow suits your body type and provides your spine support as much as it does your neck and shoulders?
  • Is the firmness of the pillow enough to keep your head from going back too far disrupting the proper alignment it should have while you sleep?

Pillows for Neck Pain:

  • Is the firmness of the pillow suitable for those with chronic neck pain?
  • Is the firmness of the pillow suitable to provide support to your spine as well?
  • Does it contour to your body as you sleep giving you the chance to have that much needed night’s rest (or day, for those who work at night)?
  • Is it generally good pillow to provide support to your neck?
  • As much as it is a good pillow for neck support, is it suitable for side sleepers?  How about stomach sleepers and back sleepers?
  • Does it provide support as well as allowing your head and neck to move freely as you sleep?
  • If it’s a water-filled pillow, does it provide the support on top of comfort?

For Pillows for Shoulder Pain:

  • Is it made up of high-density memory foam that is firm and can conform to your body?
  • Does it provide support regardless of your sleep position?
  • Is it contoured and ergonomically designed to ensure spine alignment and good posture as you sleep?

For Pillows for Travel:

A travel pillow would have to be firm and made up of quality material so you, in turn, can fall asleep in comfortable fashion without waking up with neck problems.  Now, if you’re traveling by car or bus the right pillow would ensure that you won’t get neck problems as well when you get off your car or bus after a long haul.

For Pregnancy Pillows:

  • Is the firmness of the pillow just right to give your neck or shoulder the support it needs when you sleep?
  • Is the firmness of the pillow suits your body type and provides your spine support as much as it does your neck and shoulders?
  • Does it provide proper support during sleep as well as when you’re breastfeeding?

For Cooling Pillows:

  • On top of its cooling quality, does it provide your head and neck the support it needs?
  • Is the memory foam used in this pillow, has the right level of firmness?
  • For cooling pillows that use water, if the bag is filled with water will be able to provide the same firmness as that of memory foam or memory foam pillows?

For Body Pillows:

  • Is the foam used for this pillow firm enough to provide stability and support as you sleep?
  • Is it suitable to provide support for different types of sleepers?

For Down Pillows:

  • Does the pillow contours to the shape of your head and neck for proper support thus giving pressure relief and provides equal weight distribution?
  • Does it go flat with continuous usage?
  • Is it firm enough to provide support for other types of sleeper?

For Camping Pillows:

  • Even if it’s compressible,  whether it has a filling of foam or inflated, does it provide the firmness and support a camp pillow should?
  • Does it flatten overtime?
  • For inflatable pillows, does it deflate as you use it?
  • Backpacking and hiking can put a strain on your body, does the pillow provide a good neck support?
  • Most pillows have an ergonomic design to provide support, in reality, does it?

For Firm Pillows:

  • Does it provide proper support to your neck, shoulders?
  • Does it help with proper spine alignment?
  • Does it contour to the body as you sleep through the night to provide overall support?

Pillows for Toddlers:

Kids needs support for their neck and shoulders but so much as would that it’s to firm that it can hurt their spine and disrupt posture.  Also, it is important that it’s the right kind of pillow to prevent SIDS. There would be a lot of stuff in a child’s crib or bed like blankets, and stuffed toys.  Parents think that these things can bring comfort and support to provide a good night’s sleep, but to prevent sids having the right kind of pillow can provide the kind of support without them risking of being smothered.  Thumb rule for finding the right pillow is:

  • Firm but not too firm.  
  • Reduce the risk of SIDS while giving support.  
  • The pillow should be able to provide support whatever your sleep position is.  

Pillows for those who have Sleep Apnea:

It is highly recommended that people who suffer from apnea ideally should sleep on their side or on their stomach.  The latter is really not a healthy option but it’s one way to deal with it. One important thing for pillows for those who suffer for sleep apnea is that it shouldn’t be too firm as to dislodge the mask if you will be wearing one.  

Loft & Adjustability

The loft is the thickness and thinness of a pillow.  When we shop for pillows, it is easy to be drawn to buy the biggest and loftiest, but is it the right one that can deliver the utmost comfort a right pillow can do?

Our guide when rating the loft of a pillow has a lot of considerations that we factor in.  Although loft may vary for different needs of the specific consumer, we consider a good standard loft to be at least 4 – 6 inches for proper support.  Too thin and it might not be able to support your neck especially if you have a broad shoulder. Neither can it be too thick for it might put pressure on your neck, especially when your mattress is firm.  Since it may take some time before you can achieve the height that your needs require, it would be great if the pillow is adjustable or customizable. This is possible even for memory foams as they have inserts that you can take out to adjust the loft of your pillow. 

For Back Sleepers:

For back sleepers, the loft of the pillow should be just enough to keep your head elevated and still provide support and comfort to your neck and shoulders.

For back sleepers, mattresses also play an important role.  Understanding and knowing the kind of mattress you use would also help you in determining the loft of your pillow.  For example:

  • If your mattress is quite firm and you don’t sink in to it when you lie down, then the loft of your pillow should be thin as your head is closer to the mattress and just needs to be elevated a little so as not to cause pain and discomfort to your neck, shoulder, and spine.
  • Then the opposite goes when your mattress is soft, if that’s the case you will be needing a firmer and a loftier pillow.  That is the reason why when we rate pillows for back sleepers we consider these factors to help you decide which are the best pillows to buy.  

For Side Sleepers:

Some pillows do not have that capacity which would then be a problem if your mattress is firm.  Adjustability is of great importance as much as the loft is. How we rate pillows for side sleepers in terms of loft and adjustability are guided with these questions:

  • Will you be able to adjust the pillow’s loft that can match the firmness or softness of your mattress?
  • If it’s not adjustable, would it be able to provide the neck and spinal support regardless of the kind of mattress that you are or you will be using?
  • Does the loft of the pillow enough for you not to have neck pain or shoulder pain when you wake up?

For Stomach Sleepers:

Pillows for stomach sleepers, most, if not all, are thin as it should be so you will not put so much strain on your spine, back, neck and shoulder to give you that much needed good night’s sleep.

For Combination Sleepers:

As the name suggests, a combination sleeper is a type of sleeper that tosses and turn at night.  Well, not all can sleep in one position all through the night, right? In terms of Loft & Adjustability for combination sleepers either two of the three:

  • For stomach sleepers, they need something a little less firm as what the type suggests, they sleep on their stomach thus be sleeping face down.  A high loft would only strain their neck and spine as they sleep.
  • For Side sleepers, they need more support to their neck and shoulders.  Also, since they’re sleeping on their side, the shoulder width and type of mattress used should be factored in as well.  
  • For back sleepers, mattresses must also be factored in.  If the mattress used is quite firm and you don’t sink into it the loft of the pillow should be low as if it is a high loft, it would put a strain on the neck, shoulder, and spine.  

For Pillows for Neck Pain:

  • Is the loft of the pillow just right for your needs, in this case, to provide support to your neck to alleviate pain or prevent it from having one?
  • Can it be adjusted to your liking?  Though a number of people who experiences neck pain have a particular need in a pillow, they do have different mattresses at home.
  • Is it easy to adjust or would it require rocket science to figure out how to adjust the loft of your pillow at home?
  • Are the adjustments suitable for spinal alignment?

For Pillows for Shoulder Pain:

  • Is the loft of the pillow according to the standards per sleep position?
    • Back sleepers – medium loft
    • Side sleepers – medium to high loft (depends on your shoulder width)
    • Stomach sleepers – low to medium loft
  • Is the pillow adjustable should the standard not work for the consumer?

For Pillows for Travel in terms of Portability:

A travel pillow should be able to fit in your carry on bag at least.  And if it’s something that was initially packed before going to the airport, the shape of the pillow itself would be different, thus, the pillow should have the ability to go back to its original shape to ensure proper support.

For Pregnancy Pillows:

  • Will they be able to support you and your baby’s weight?
  • Is it adjustable to ensure that there is no need to have additional pillows before you can use it properly?
  • Is the shape of the pillow right for your sleeping and nursing needs?

For Cooling Pillows:

  • If it’s not adjustable, is the loft of the pillow up to the standard that can give the right support for every kind of sleeper?
  • If the pillow or the filling of the pillow can be adjusted, will it still be able to provide the support?
  • Since there are two different types of filling for most of the cooling pillow in the market, will adjusting the loft affect its ability to provide the cooling effect?

For Body Pillows:

  • Is it the right loft for this type of pillow?
  • Is the pillow adjustable?
  • Once adjusted, will it still be able to provide the support you need as you sleep?
  • If it’s not adjustable, will it be able to provide the right loft?

For Down Pillows:

  • Does it have an adjustable feature?
  • Is it suitable for all kinds of sleeper?
  • Is it of standard loft good enough for the majority of kind of sleeper – side sleeper – too?

For Camping Pillows:

  • Inflated pillows – Does it have a standard loft to provide comfort and support?  
  • Is the filling of the pillow enough to provide a good loft?
  • Is the pillow adjustable?

For Firm Pillows:

  • Is it adjustable?
  • When we say adjustable, are the filling of the pillow can be removed to adjust the loft of the pillow?
  • If the filling cannot be removed to adjust the loft, is there a separate insert that can do just that?

Pillows for Toddlers:

  • Is the pillow of proper loft for a child?
  • Is it adjustable to to provide your child comfort as he sleeps through the night?
  • Is it of the right loft that will not put a strain on his head, neck and shoulder as he/she sleep?

Pillows for those who have Sleep Apnea:

Like a lot of needs from a pillow to give you a good night’s sleep, a pillow for apnea requires special needs and that you get the support you need even when you have your face mask on.  It also must ensure that your neck and shoulders aren’t strained all through the night. Since we cannot really guarantee that we are propped on one position all through the night so it should be adjustable to accommodate the masks you would choose to wear.  There are nasal pillows, nasal masks, full face masks, masks kits among other things. If you are the type who breathes through your mouth then you would have the full face mask and that would be greatly uncomfortable if your pillow is not adjustable. Here are some questions we have in mind when we rate pillows for apnea in terms of loft and adjustability:

  • Is the pillow adjustable?
    • Adjustable in terms of loft.
    • Adjustable in terms of support.
    • Adjustable for all types of sleepers.
  • If it’s not adjustable, is it the right fit in terms of ~
    • Loft?
    • Support?

Hypoallergenic

Most, if not all, people would go for pillows that are hypoallergenic.  It is not because they are picky when it comes to fabric or the product itself but it is important that the pillow that you use will not cause any irritations or trigger any allergies.  After all, everyone has their faces down their pillow at some point when sleeping and we would rather be careful and do our due diligence than to risk anyone’s health for that matter.

When rating with regard to this criteria, these are the questions we always ask ourselves:

  • What are the chemicals, if there’s any, the manufacturers use during production?
  • Are those chemicals, if there’s any, approved to be used for products such as pillows?
  • Is the filling used safely for public use?
  • Is the foam used Centipur US Certified?
  • Is the fabric Oeko-Tex certified?

Hygiene

We all know that good pillow care should be of the utmost importance.  For one, it will definitely prolong the usability of the product, and two, it is pertinent so as not to trigger any allergies and/or make it a breeding ground for bed bugs or dust mites.  Pillows that are made up of memory foam cannot be machine washed as it would destroy the pads of the foam but it can be spot cleaned or you can put the foam under running water to clean it.  Just make sure that you dry it properly as that would defeat the purpose of cleaning it in the first place.

Here are some of the questions we ask ourselves when rating in terms of hygiene:

  • If the pillow is just for spot clean, does it have a removable cover?
  • Is the removable cover machine washable?
  • If it’s not machine washable, should it be hand washed or has to be dry clean?
  • Does it have proper ventilation and resist moisture retention?  (moisture can become a breeding ground for dust mites and bed bugs)

Comfort

We all know that it takes some time before we can get used to using a newly purchased pillow, the standard is like a week or two.  Manufacturers understand that, so now there are options like you can adjust the loft of the pillow by removing some of the fillings.  This, in turn, would give you the opportunity to determine what loft suits your sleeping needs. Unfortunately not every pillow in the market has that option.  Although we must say we do not discriminate those that do not have that option, after all, it all boils down to comfort.

When we say comfort, it is means:

  • Does the softness or firmness of the pillow suits a general need for comfort?
  • Are the covers soft to the touch, the fabric doesn’t snag or cause irritation?
  • Is the fabric used for the casing of the filling and the pillow itself breathable so as not to retain heat and resist moisture retention?

Structural Integrity & Durability

Pillows have expiration dates too.  Pillows with down and feather filling which can be washed at least every 6 months or so and can last for 5 to 10 years.  Pillows with synthetic material, the upper tier can last for a good 1 to 2 years. Foam filled pillows tend to go firmer as time goes by, if it gets too firm then it’s time to change to a new one.   With the going rate for pillows these days, this should be a priority too. We rate pillows based on their filling, filling cover, the fabric used for the cover. We follow these guidelines as we rate in terms of structural integrity & durability:

  • Will the filling last for at least more than 3 months?
  • When changing covers, will the filling cover stay intact or will it tear?
  • For Machine washable, will they stay intact even if washed on a regular basis?

Resources

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.