Home / Pillow tips / The Best type of Pillow for Side Sleepers (7 Hot Tips)

    While most of us know how great we feel after a good night’s sleep, few people realise just how important the healing power of sleep is for our minds and indeed our bodies. In fact more and more scientific research is starting to reveal that getting quality sleep has as much impact on our overall health as our diet or exercise. Chronic sleep loss has serious consequences and has been linked to heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, depression, digestive problems, obesity and compromised immune function.

    So if you’re tossing and turning all night, every night, it could be because you’re not using the right pillow. Too soft, too firm, too high, too low, too squashy, too lumpy, too smelly – there are zillions of ways a pillow can under-perform, interrupting your sleep and causing you to wake uncomfortable and decidedly unrefreshed. On the flip side, the sheer joy of getting great night’s sleep on a comfy, supportive pillow, can be, quite literally, life-changing.

    Believe it or not, there’s a bit of an art to choosing the best pillow for a side sleeper. With so many choices on the market, how can you know which one is going to be right for you? This is a question I’m often asked, so here are my top seven tips to keep in mind when buying a new pillow. After all, you’ll be reminded of your choice – for better or worse – every single night (and the next day!).

    1. Know your sleep position

    How you sleep is key to choosing the pillow that is correct for your body. So think about whether you sleep on your back or side, or both. When lying on your side it is important that the pillow supports your head and while keeping it in correct alignment with your spine (as per the image above). Keep in mind that although you may start off falling asleep on your back, most of us (85%) roll onto our sides (natural sleep position) when sleeping. A too firm mattress may also cause shoulder discomfort and lead to back sleeping and /or snoring, ask your partner to confirm your sleeping position.

    1. Use a pillow that provides night-long support

    There are many different types of pillows available on the market, however depending on your choice of feel (soft or firm), I would normally recommend either a latex pillow or a memory foam pillow, as these provide both comfort and support and will not sag and compress during the night. It may be all well and good to scrunch your down-filled pillow into the perfect shape before you go to sleep, but remember the goal is to sleep through the night in comfort. You don’t want to be waking every hour to pummel your pillow back into shape.

    1. Ensure you have ‘neutral spine’

    If your pillow is too high or too low, your brain will either send you the signal to wake up or roll over, disrupting the deep sleep cycles your body needs. When choosing a pillow, aim for one that creates a ‘neutral spine’ sleep posture – that is, one that maintains the correct alignment of your head and back.

    Contour pillows, which cradle the head and support the neck, are the best neutral spine choice for side and back sleepers. If you’re a tummy sleeper (which isn’t recommended, but that’s another story for another day), you will need a lower, softer pillow to keep your neck as neutral as possible.

    Another point to remember is that the firmness or softness of your bed will determine how much you sink into your mattress and therefore what height pillow you require.

    For side sleepers, choosing a pillow that promotes a neutral spine is absolutely crucial to getting a good night’s sleep and for the general health of your spine. I recommend that when selecting your new pillow, have someone with you who can check your alignment.

    Which Pillow is best for a Side sleeper?

    There are many different pillows for side sleepers available but here I will mainly focus on Memory foam (softer “sink in” feel) and latex (‘push up’ feel) as I have found both personally and with more than 90% of my patients that these two types with a “contour” profile offer the best support, spine alignment and comfort for most sleepers. (See how to choose the best pillow here) You may of course have your own personal preference to a more traditional style of pillow which is perfectly fine just make sure that you get nice alignment of your spine.

    Note in the diagram above that I have included pillow height as one of the varying dimensions. It is difficult to know exactly how high the pillow needs to be as not only do each of us vary in weight and shoulder width, but also your mattress will also affect the pillow height. If your mattress is softer your shoulders will sink in more and the height of the pillow will be less. On a firmer bed your shoulders will sink in less and a lower height pillow will be required. The pillows I recommend come with two different heights and you can select which side suits your individual needs. (You can also download my how to choose a pillow guide here).

    The Worst Types of Pillows for Side Sleepers

    • Feather or Down Pillows– they are soft and cuddly, but tend to flatten during the night
    • Polyester– anything that typically comes in a pack of two at the department store
    • Shredded memory foam – are moldable but because we roll over 30 – 60 times per night you don’t want to keep waking up to adjust your pillow
    • Adjustable fill pillows– may lack adequate support and firmness, plus they lose their shape during the night
    1. Give it time

    Once you get your new pillow home, it may take a week or two to get used to sleeping on it, as the muscles around your neck and spine will need time to readjust to the new position. It’s a bit like going to the gym after a long absence, but stick with it, because if you’ve selected wisely, the long-term benefits will far outweigh the short-term discomfort.

    1. Ignore the price

    Remember in the opening paragraphs we discussed the importance of sleep? We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, so it makes sense to invest in the best pillow for your body, regardless of the cost. Break the cost down over the long-term: for example, if you spend $250 on a pillow with a five-year guarantee, that actually works out at less than a dollar a week, or one cup of coffee a month over those five years. It’s a small investment when you weigh up the benefits that good sleep can bring you.

    1. Use a waterproof, breathable, protector

    The average person loses about half a litre of fluid per night, (which is also what dust mites and bacteria feed on) causing those ugly brown stains on your pillow (yes, they are there). Yuck! And, because this fluid is acidic, it can actually break down the foam in your pillow, reducing both its life span and performance(shape and support). By using a waterproof yet breathable protector, your pillow will both last longer and remain a healthier place to lay your head each night. This is particularly important for asthma or allergy sufferers.

    1. Talk to an expert

    Need more help? Ian is only an email away, and can give you expert advice about choosing your next pillow. Our pillow assessment process will help identify the perfect pillow for your needs, ensuring you get a great night’s sleep every night, to wake feeling refreshed, energized, and wondering why it took you so long to go out and find the perfect pillow.