Your choice of pillow can make or break a night of sleep. With the right pillow, you can lay your head down comfortably, rest easy, and drift off to dreamland. With the wrong pillow? You may find yourself tossing and turning trying to get comfortable — or, worse, waking up with aches and pains. Choosing the right pillow can play a big role in the quality of sleep you get.
But what’s the right pillow for you? One of the biggest factors to consider when selecting a pillow is your preferred sleep position. If you’re a side sleeper, your needs will be different from those of a stomach sleeper or a back sleeper. Identifying your preferred sleep position is the first step in finding a suitable pillow.
In fact, side sleepers might be especially prone to neck pain without a good ergonomic pillow. This is due to the unique pressure points a side sleeper’s body has when making contact with the mattress. A good pillow will cradle the head and neck, alleviating the strain of unsupported muscles between pressure points like the ear and shoulder.
Material is another consideration when selecting a pillow type, regardless of your sleep position. Organic pillows are increasingly gaining favor with consumers, as people shy away from harmful chemicals, and embrace more natural materials. Of course, these are only two of many points to consider when selecting the best pillows for side sleepers.
The below guide goes into greater detail, explaining what type of pillow is best for side sleepers, and revealing the benefits of alternative pillows made of cruelty-free, non-toxic materials. With the below information, you’ll have the knowledge you need to select the best pillow for your unique needs as a side sleeper.
Pressure Points of Side Sleepers
The human body isn’t linear like a ruler. It has natural dips and curves, from top to bottom, and when a person lies down, they don’t create a straight line. Instead, when a person lies down on a mattress, certain parts of their body come into closer contact with it than others. These are known as pressure points.
Pressure points vary depending on the individual’s sleep style. The key pressure points for side sleepers are the ear, shoulder, elbow, hip, thigh, leg, and heel. These are the parts pressed most firmly against the mattress (and, therefore, are more prone to potential discomfort if you choose the wrong mattress or pillow).
The pressure exerted by these various points isn’t uniform, either. Heavier body parts tend to exert more pressure. So, if a side sleeper selects a mattress that’s too firm, they may experience discomfort around critical pressure points like the shoulders and hips. In contrast, a back sleeper may experience pain around the tailbone — their primary pressure point.
For maximum comfort at night, a side sleeper needs to select their mattress and pillow while taking their primary pressure points into account. The mattress shouldn’t be too hard, providing cushioning and support while having some give to accommodate pressure points. From memory foam to natural latex, a variety of mattress types meet this need.
How the Right Pillow can Improve Sleep Quality for Side Sleepers
A good mattress alone won’t guarantee a great night’s sleep, though. The right pillow is another critical part of the equation in addressing pressure points. As a side sleeper, you need a pillow with sufficient height to ensure your head is elevated enough so that it remains aligned with your spine when lying down. This also helps alleviate pressure on the ear and shoulder.
If the pillow is too flat, your neck will sag and your head will drop down, causing you to sleep with your cervical spine (the spine in your neck) at a curve. This can cause tension in the neck muscles, and stress in the surrounding ligaments and tendons. The result? That awful crick in your neck when you wake up.
So, you want a pillow that’s high enough — not too flat — and firm enough to prevent your head from sagging. However, you don’t want a pillow that’s too high, or your head will again not be aligned with your spine. Instead of dipping down, however, it will tilt up. The result is the same: a curve in your cervical spine that can strain muscles, ligaments, and tendons, causing neck pain.
A medium to firm pillow is ideal for most side sleepers. This leaves a huge variety open to you in terms of materials, construction, and style. From memory foam pillows to Talalay latex made in the USA, you have no shortage of options available.
Factors for Side Sleepers to Consider When Choosing a Pillow
When shopping around for pillows, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the choices. Don’t stress, though. In addition to the material, there are just three main factors you need to assess when picking a pillow — firmness, size, and shape. Find out more about each point below.
Firmness refers to how much give a pillow has when you lie your head on it. Soft pillows can have a lot of fluff, which is cozy. But they also have a lot of give, allowing your head to sink into the pillow. Firm pillows don’t allow for this sinking effect. There is also a range of pillows between these two extremes, such as medium-firm.
If your preferred sleeping position is on your side, aim for a medium-firm pillow. It will be high enough to ensure your head and neck align with your spine. A soft pillow will overly compress, while a super firm pillow won’t have any give. In either instance, you may suffer from spinal curvature, and resulting pain.
If you try a medium-firm pillow and find it’s too hard for you, there are other options. A memory foam pillow is a great pick, as it will feel soft while offering the necessary neck support. Breathable memory foam material can also enhance airflow, which can be helpful if you tend to be a hot and sweaty sleeper.
Following firmness, pillow size is another essential consideration when selecting a pillow. You want a pillow that’s large enough to comfortably accommodate your head and neck, and that fits the dimensions of your bed. For example, if you have a king-size bed, a larger pillow makes sense. You may also opt to sleep with multiple smaller pillows instead of one big one.
The standard sizes for pillows depend on factors like brand and the type of pillow. Here are some examples of how size schemes work depending on the pillow type:
- A down pillow might be sized according to labels like standard, queen, and king, and is measured according to weight, from 2 pounds to 2.9 pounds.
- A memory foam pillow may come in just two sizes: queen (measuring 29 inches by 16 inches with a height of 6 inches) or king (measuring 46 inches by 16 inches with a height of 6 inches).
- A handmade vegan wool pillow can come in different dimensions entirely: standard (24 inches by 15 inches by 4 inches), queen (28 inches by 16 inches by 5 inches), or king (34 inches by 16 inches by 5 inches).
The point is: standard sizing varies significantly! Do your research, and take measurements to determine how much surface area you want your pillow to offer. Then, look at the precise dimensions of products before buying them. Don’t simply rely on labels like queen versus king. Look at the actual size, according to inches.
Finally, there’s the pillow shape to consider. Traditional pillows for sleeping are rectangular — this is generally referred to as a standard pillow. However, this isn’t your only option. Other types of pillow shapes include:
- Wedge: A wedge pillow is shaped like a triangle, helping prop up the chest and shoulders while sleeping. This is an ideal pillow choice for people who have sleep issues, like acid reflux, which can get worse when the body is horizontal.
- Cervical: A cervical pillow is designed to help minimize tension and soreness in the neck and shoulders. It cradles the head and neck, keeping them firmly in place while the individual sleeps.
- Contour: A contour pillow focuses on neck support, offering a dip for the head while having a raised portion under the neck. This helps prevent a stiff neck.
- Body pillow: A body pillow is a long rectangle measuring approximately 20 by 54 inches. This is a popular pick among side sleepers who like to have something to “hug” at night. You can put the pillow between your arms and legs, alleviating the pressure points there.
- Roll: Roll pillows are shaped like a sausage or cylinder. Most people don’t actually use roll pillows for sleeping — they’re primarily decorative. However, side sleepers may like to place a roll pillow between the knees to alleviate pressure point pain.
Your perfect pillow shape depends largely on personal preference. While some pillows, like a body pillow, have advantages for side sleepers, that doesn’t make them a must-have. Trying some different options can help you pinpoint which one is best for you.
Why You Should Consider Pillows Free of Harsh Chemicals
Pillow firmness, shape, and size are the most critical factors when selecting a comfortable pillow as a side sleeper. However, there is one last point to think about: the material. If you want to ensure your comfort and well-being, a non-toxic pillow made with organic materials, such as certified organic cotton, is advisable.
Conventional pillows may use harsh chemicals as part of the production process, including:
- Flame retardants like polyurethane, a material that can emit hormone disruptors like polybrominated-diphenyl-ethers.
- Formaldehyde, which can cause irritation like watery eyes, skin irritation, and wheezing. Formaldehyde has also been identified as a carcinogen.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which may contribute to asthma attacks. Research suggests that in the long term, VOCs might be linked to serious illnesses, like liver damage.
Traditional pillows also may include perfumes and deodorizing agents, which can further cause irritation of the eyes, throat, and nose, impeding breathability. This isn’t to say that all traditional pillows contain these chemicals! However, if you want to err on the side of caution, a natural pillow is a great pick, and can bring you peace of mind.
So, how can you confidently find pillows made of natural fibers, without all those harmful chemicals? Look for the CertiPUR-US seal. This is a not-for-profit program that aims to protect consumer safety. Products (including bedding and furniture) that carry this seal have been tested to meet set standards for their content.
CertiPUR-US certified products are made without popular flame retardants like PBDEs; heavy metals, lead, or mercury; formaldehyde; or ozone depleters. Further, they’re tested for VOC emissions, and all must pass low-VOC emissions standards for preserving indoor air quality.
PlushBeds offers a range of CertiPUR-US certified products, from memory foam mattresses to pillows. You can confirm a brand’s participation in the program yourself via the CertiPUR-US website. (If you see a brand carrying the CertiPUR-US label but they aren’t listed on the website, be aware that they may be making a fraudulent claim.)
You’ll also find PlushBeds pillows with other certifications — like being made from GOTS Certified Organic Cotton. The Global Organic Textile Standard indicates a product is made with organic fibers. GOTS evaluates the full supply chain, assessing everything from pesticide use to labor practices. GOTS-certified goods are eco-friendly, and socially responsible.
Discover How Pillows from PlushBeds can Help You Sleep Better
Ready to try an environmentally-friendly pillow? Head to PlushBeds. You’ll find a huge array of options, from cotton pillows to hypoallergenic down alternative pillows, organic latex pillows, shredded latex pillows, and more. Best of all? You can purchase these products with confidence, and a clean conscience, knowing they’re healthy and sustainably sourced.
PlushBeds provides this assurance thanks to a range of third-party certifications. In addition to products carrying the CertiPUR-US and GOTS certifications, you’ll find goods meeting the standards for Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS certified), GOTS Certified Organic Wool, USDA Organic, OEKO-TEX Standard 100 Certification, Greenguard Gold Certification, and more.
PlushBeds also offers other products you need for a comfy night’s sleep, from organic cotton covers to sateen pillowcases, organic mattresses, machine washable pillow covers, high thread count sheets, and more. Whatever you buy, rest easy knowing it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals, was created in an eco-friendly fashion, and comes with a multi-year warranty.
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