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Pillow Buying Guide: How To Choose The Right Pillows

Latex? Down? Here's exactly how to choose the best type of pillow for you.

Once you’ve chosen the perfect mattress, you need to make sure you have the right pillows to match. Gone are the days when you had a simple choice – foam or down. These days, there’s an endless supply of different types of pillows, depending on your preferences. Whether you want an anti-allergen pillow, you sleep on your back, side, or stomach, or you want the spring-back firmness of memory foam, read on to discover the right choice for you with our handy pillow buying guide.

Happy family having a pillow fight on a bed.

How often should you replace your pillows?

You should aim to replace your pillow every two years, as they can become worn, deformed, and discoloured from persistent use. In some cases, they can also become ineffective at supporting your head, neck, and spine during the night. An old pillow can also harbour some unwelcome guests in the form of dust mites. So if you have allergies, change your pillows regularly for hypoallergenic options such as the Silentnight Anti Allergy Pillow.

What type of pillow do I need?

When it comes to choosing your new set of pillows, there are several things you’ll need to consider to make sure your body is supported, alongside budget and materials.

How do you sleep?

If you sleep on your back, side, or stomach, it will have a big impact on what kind of pillow you choose.

The best pillows if you sleep on your side

Over 70% of the population sleep on their sides, and if you’re one of them, then keeping your neck and shoulders in line is super-important to avoid neck and shoulder pain. When it comes to looking at the different types of pillows available, choose a slightly firmer option that’s thick enough to fill the gap between your shoulder and ear.

While you can choose a softer option if you’d prefer, just make sure your head doesn’t droop down to avoid waking up with a stiff neck. We recommend the Silentnight Impress Memory Foam Pillow - Firm. The memory foam layers mould to the contours of your head and neck, keeping them supported while providing relief to muscles - it's a top pick for side sleepers.

Close up of Silentnight firm pillow.
Silentnight Impress Memory Foam Pillow – Firm

The best types of pillows if you sleep on your back

If you sleep on your back, you should opt for something thinner to help the neck stay aligned with the spine. Additionally, the pillow should be on the softer side to prevent your head from rising too high. However, you also have the option to go for something firmer if you’re looking for a manmade option such as memory foam. Firmness is particularly important if you have lower back pain, so consider this as well when you’re picking your pillow. Our favourite pillow for back sleepers is the Simba Hybrid® Pillow, as it is filled with hundreds of Nanocube® Fillings that you can remove or add to create the perfect thickness for you.

Image of two Simba Hybrid Pillows.
Simba Hybrid® Pillow

The best pillows if you sleep on your front

It may not be recommended, but loads of people do it – if you’re a front sleeper you’re not alone. The trouble with choosing a pillow for front sleepers is picking one that not only gives you the support you need but as your head is turned to breathe, doesn’t smother you as well! 

If you’re wondering what’s the best pillow to buy, we’d say go for one that’s as thin as possible; and if you find you’re waking up with back ache, then pop a soft pillow under your stomach or pelvis to keep your spine in line. Our top pillow for front sleepers is the Emma® Premium Microfibre Pillow, as it has two inner layers that can be adjusted to make the pillow thicker or thinner - perfect for any sleeping position!

Image of the Emma Premium Pillow on a white and yellow striped sheet.
Emma® Premium Microfibre Pillow

The best pillows for neck pain

Waking up with neck pain can ruin your whole day. If you want to stop that ‘cricked neck’ feeling in its tracks, then you need to know how to choose the right pillow.

A memory foam option like the Coolflex® Hybrid ICE Cool Gel Memory Foam Pillow will mould to the shape of your body, giving you exceptional support, by removing any excess pressure on your joints. Memory foam is suitable for all types of sleepers, just make sure it’s the right level of thickness if you’re a side sleeper. This Coolflex pillow also features cooling gel pads which will ease inflammation and help to reduce pain in the neck.

The best pillows if you’re pregnant

Getting to sleep when you're pregnant can be difficult, especially in the final trimester. You may have found the best mattress for pregnancy, but what about a pillow? We'd recommend the Emma® Diamond Degree Pillow, as it is also adjustable thanks to removable inner layers, and has specialist cooling Diamond Degree® technology which keeps you cool, fresh and dry all night long. The cushioning memory foam is also great for propping underneath your stomach if you need to, as it'll nicely contour to your shape. Remember to stick to sleeping on your side if you can - our guide on how to sleep more comfortably when pregnant will help.

The best pillows for allergy sufferers

The vast majority of pillows these days are hypoallergenic, but it’s not just those who suffer from allergies that can benefit from hypoallergenic pillows. If you suffer from asthma or respiratory conditions then a Sealy Anti-Allergy Pillow is our top pick. If you have sensitive skin, then the gentle microfibre surface of this pillow will minimise the chance of any skin rashes, or flare-ups of conditions such as eczema.

The best cooling pillows

If you tend to ‘run a little hot’ at night, suffer from hot flushes or night sweats, or just love that ice-cool feeling on your cheek, then you might be wondering what the best pillow to buy is.

Luckily, there are plenty of pillows out there that will offer you a cooler night’s sleep, including the aforementioned Coolflex® Hybrid ICE Cool Gel Memory Foam Pillow with its cooling gel pads, or the Emma® Diamond Degree Pillow which is Graphite-infused to keep you at the optimal sleeping temperature.

Pillow fillings: Natural vs synthetic

There are several different types of pillows available, all with differing benefits and limitations. However, in general, there are two categories to consider with pillows: natural and synthetic. Natural pillows include down and feather pillows, made from - you guessed it - natural materials. Synthetic pillows, on the other hand, include materials that are man-made, like memory foam or hollowfibre, which are specially designed to offer you maximum support and comfort.

Duck feather pillows

Super soft and ultra-luxurious, feather and down pillows are generously filled to provide plenty of support for your neck and head. Our absolute favourite when it comes to duck feather pillows is the Silentnight Feather and Down Pillow. These come as a pair, so you're getting real value for money - and it's made by Silentnight, a brand you can trust.

It's filled with duck feathers and down to give you that wonderfully soft and squidgy feel as you sink into it, but with no compromise on support. A breathable cotton cover keeps things from getting too hot and prevents bacteria and dust from making itself at home.

It’s ideal for those who want a luxurious, medium-support pillow that’s also naturally and ethically sourced. Best of all, you can wash down and feather pillows to keep them fluffy, fresh, and clean.

Gel pillows

If you’re wondering how to choose pillows for your bed, then gel pillows are ideal if you suffer from night sweats, or simply prefer a cooler feel. These are designed with an additional layer of gel to keep you cooler at night and are usually combined with memory foam for a firmer feel. They pair perfectly with a cooling gel mattress if you prefer a much cooler sleeping environment.

Hollowfibre pillows

Hollowfibre is one of the most common forms of synthetic pillow on the market, and are made up of hollow fibre materials and polyester, offering a bouncy, comfy feel that also helps to retain the pillow’s plump appearance, preventing it from sagging in the middle

The other great thing about hollow fibre pillows is they’re a budget-friendly option: perfect if you want all of the support, at a lower price. The Silentnight Ultra Bounce Pillow - available in a twin pack for extra value for money - is the perfect bouncy, plump pillow that doesn't break the bank.

Latex pillows

Latex pillows, such as the Hypnos High-Profile Latex Pillow, are perfect for those who love the cushioning of foam, but not the compression or heat retention. This pillow from Hypnos, for example, springs back to its original shape as soon as pressure is removed and is highly breathable to keep you fresh and cool without trapping heat. It's also another one of the best pillows for back and side sleepers.

Woman sat on bed holding an Emma pillow.
Emma® Diamond Degree Pillow

Memory foam and memory-grade pillows

For many people questioning what type of pillow do I need, memory foam can often be the best option. Featuring visco-elastic material which offers superior support for your neck and spine during sleep, memory foam pillows contour naturally to your body, taking unnecessary pressure off certain painful points. 

This style of pillow has become particularly popular in recent years because of its pain-relieving features, and medical-grade foam pillows are often advised by clinicians for those who suffer from neck and shoulder problems. The TEMPUR® Original Pillow is a great example of this, with award-winning authentic TEMPUR® Material cushioning your pressure points with expert precision, while the specially engineered shape of the pillow ensures maximum support.

Natural pillows

Natural pillows contain materials such as wool and feathers, as well as recent innovations such as bamboo fibres. They’re fully recyclable too, which gives them some serious green credentials. The best eco-friendly, natural pillow is arguably the Panda® Bamboo Hybrid Memory Foam Pillow, with its innovative CharcoCell Foam™ filling and a silky smooth, 100% bamboo cover.

How many pillows should I sleep with?

The number of pillows you sleep with entirely depends on your personal choice and comfort. If you’re a front sleeper you may forgo a pillow altogether, or you may not feel comfortable unless you have two fluffy pillows to snuggle into. For more information on this issue, check out our article on how many pillows you should sleep with.

If you’ve been wondering what’s the best pillow to buy, hopefully, we’ve answered your questions, and you can now update your pillows to give you the best possible night’s sleep. Alternatively, if you’re looking to upgrade your entire bedding, then make sure you have a read of our cooling bedding for hot sleepers guide, or our mattress buying guide if you want a totally new sleep set-up.