A good pillow is key to getting restful sleep, but finding the best one is no simple task. The experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Textiles Lab have tested all kinds of pillows including foam, fiberfill, down, and more. These top picks offer something for everyone based on your personal preferences, sleeping position, and budget.
Your sleeping position can also help dictate the type of pillow that's best for you: Side sleepers should choose a thick, firm pillow; stomach sleepers need a soft, thinner one; and back sleepers need somewhere in between. The goal is to have your head and neck aligned so that when you’re lying down, your neck isn’t tilting in any direction.
"Patients come to me in pain, and I know their pillow isn't keeping their neck aligned with their spine," says Dr. Darren Pollack, chiropractor and medical director of DASHA Wellness & Spa. "Overtime, this wear-and-tear can cause muscle stiffness, tendonitis, nerve pain, herniated discs, and more."
Starter Pillow Shopping Tips
Get to know the materials. Down pillows tend to be the fluffiest, but a combination of down with feather will be less expensive. A pillow made out of a synthetic fill or down alternative will also probably be cheaper, and still feel soft while offering supportive resistance. And memory foam pillows tend to be thicker and firmer. You also want to make sure that the outer fabric is tightly woven to keep the fill in and allergens out. The stitching should be very tight, and no feathers or fibers should poke out.
Consider any recent health changes. Health-related changes (like weight fluctuation, new aches and pains, or other changes in your body as you age) affect the type of support you need, says Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., an environmental scholar at the National Sleep Foundation.
Note how you'll need to care for it. Before purchasing a pillow, check the care label to make sure you're willing to wash it as recommended. Most are machine washable, but some are dry clean only, have front-loading machine restrictions, or only allow spot-treating. Your pillow will last longer if you wash it two to four times a year, and if you use a pillow protector to keep it clean and safe from wear.
In short, here are the GH Institute's top pillow recommendations of the year:
The Best Pillows to Buy in 2019
Best for Side Sleepers: Boll and Branch Medium Firm Down Pillow
Best for Back Sleepers: The Company Store Black Label Primaloft Medium Pillow
Best for Stomach Sleepers: Wamsutta Medium Support Stomach Sleeper Pillow
Coolest Features: Leesa Hybrid Pillow
Allergy-Friendly: Aller-Ease Hot Water Washable Pillow
Best Value: Joy Mangano 3-Piece Pillow Set
More on each of these top pillows ahead — plus more ideas if you prefer something softer or firmer:
The Best Pillows for Side Sleepers
Top Lab Pick: Boll and Branch Medium Firm Down Pillow
The lofty down-and-feather fill makes this pillow feel supportive yet not too hard. The shape is surprisingly high so it’ll keep your head and neck aligned when you’re lying on your side. Another plus: The down is ethically sourced and the cover is made of 100% organic cotton. You can also choose a softer fill, or switch it to down alternative for a lower cost.
This one has a unique cutout for your shoulder so you don’t have to awkwardly find the right position of the pillow against your body. Despite the shape, it still fit nicely inside a regular pillowcase in our test. It also washed well without showing signs of wear, and testers said called soft and snuggly.
If you’re looking for pressure relief, this foam pillow immediately bounced back to shape after weight was placed on it for eight hours. Our panel also liked lying on it and there are glowing reviews from users online who swear it has relieved their neck pain. Though the foam isn’t washable, its cover can be removed and laundered. Not to mention, it’s the least expensive foam pillow in our roundup.
The Best Pillows for Back Sleepers
Top Lap Pick: The Company Store Black Label Primaloft Medium Pillow
For a pillow that will last, this one looked brand new even after we washed it five times. It also recovered its shape nicely after we put a weight on it overnight, and testers liked lying on the synthetic fiberfill. It’s raised up two inches around the sides for support and has a medium fill specifically for lying on your back, but there are also softer and firmer options for stomach and side sleepers.
Softer: Layla Pillow
This one’s filled with a blend of shredded memory foam and kapok (a natural fiber that’s similar to cotton), making it feel supportive, yet plush. It’s also not too high or too low, so it’s perfect if you spend most of the night on your back or often change positions. The cover has copper in it to help prevent you from overheating, but the grey color of the pillow is visible through some white pillowcases.
Firmer: Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Neck Pillow
If you like firm support, this is the pillow for you. It’s made of solid memory foam and the shape is contoured so it’ll fit the curve around your head, neck, and shoulders. It also has a lower profile so it won’t feel too high, though it does fit pillowcases a bit awkwardly. Still, it held up to our pressure tests and those who prefer firm pillows said it felt supportive and great to lie on.
The Best Pillows for Stomach Sleepers
Top Lab Pick: Wamsutta Medium Support Stomach Sleeper Pillow
Not only is this a total steal for under 20 bucks, it also was a top performer across the board: It sprang back to shape after we put a weight on it, testers unanimously said it was comfortable and supportive, and it laundered well and looked great after five wash cycles. The flatter profile makes it ideal for sleeping on your stomach.
This one has a unique double-pillow design: there’s an inner pillow of feathers for support with an outer layer of down for a soft, fluffy feel. It kept its shape nicely in our pressure tests and it washed well in our laundering evaluations. Most testers liked it, too, calling it supportive and saying it had good quality construction.
Firmer: Bedgear M1X Series 1.0 Pillow
If you prefer the firmer feel of foam but need proper alignment on your stomach, this pillow has a lower height and a crescent shape to fit your body. And while the 1.0 style is ideal for most stomach sleepers, you can fill out the brand’s quiz before you buy to find the right height based on your size and sleeping position. Though foam can get hot when you lie on it, this one has a moisture-wicking cover and an airflow design to prevent overheating.
The Most Customizable Pillows for Any Position
It’s often easier to test your pillow's fit at home, so this one comes with extra stuffing that you can add or remove to create your own personalized fill. The stuffing is a blend of shredded memory foam and microfiber clusters, so it feels supportive yet still somewhat plush. Just be prepared for some spills when you remove the fill; it can get messy!
Softer: Sleepgram Pillow
This 3-in-1 design comes with two inserts (one thinner and one fuller) that you can use either individually or together to build your own height and support level. It’s made with a synthetic fiberfill that users of all ages say feels soft, comfortable, and supportive. On top of that, it has hundreds of five-star reviews online.
Firmer: Sleep Number Airfit Pillow
You get the firm support of memory foam with this pillow, but with the twist of a nozzle you can add or remove air from the center to find your perfect height. It may sound complicated, but it was surprisingly easy to use. There are two shapes available: Classic, which has a lower profile for stomach and back sleepers, and Contoured, which has a curved design for side and back sleepers.
Pillows With Features That Are Just Plain Cool
Top Lab Pick: Leesa Hybrid Pillow
It’s the most versatile pillow in our assortment: On one side there’s quilted fiberfill that feels plush to lie on and on the other there’s a flat surface with a layer of cooling gel. There’s an additional fiberfill pillow inside that you can remove if you want it flatter, or even if you need to take a travel pillow on the go. It’s pricey, but you’ll be able to get a lot of use out of it!
Cooling: Coop Home Goods Eden Pillow
No matter your size or sleeping position, you’ll find a comfy fit with this pillow thanks to its adjustable fill of shredded memory foam and microfiber, infused with gel to keep it cooler. It also has a machine washable cover that feels instantly cold when you touch it. The foam is CertiPUR-US certified so you don’t have to worry about unsafe chemicals. Hundreds of Amazon reviewers call it the best pillow they’ve ever owned.
Allergy-Friendly: Aller-Ease Hot Water Washable Pillow
If you suffer from allergies, this one can be machine washed in hot water, your best bet for killing germs and bacteria. It also has a tightly woven cotton/poly blend cover that keeps dust mites, pollen, and other household allergens from settling inside the pillow. The fiberfill feels soft and fluffy, and it’s backed by the Good Housekeeping Seal – so if it’s defective within two years of purchasing, Good Housekeeping will give you a refund.
Best Value: Joy Mangano 3-Piece Pillow Set
It’s an amazing deal for three pieces: You get two standard-size bed pillows and a seat cushion that you can use at work or in the car. The pillow itself has lots of layers: inside there’s solid memory foam and memory foam clusters and outside there’s a plush fabric with a heat-reflective material on one side and a gel-infused memory foam with a breathable cover on the other. It’s pretty tall and firm so we recommend it for side sleepers, but the tapered shape is designed for all sleeping positions.