Getting a good night’s sleep cannot be overvalued and while people are often willing to throw money at a more expensive mattress they often overlook the fact they are still using a lumpy old pillow. The right pillow can make all the difference, providing a good alignment of your head and neck, allowing you to sleep more soundly and to wake up without any aches.
But picking the right material and feel is just the start, we’ve collected some of the best options available to help you choose.
What to look for in a pillow
Firmness and filling are the first things you should be checking off in your search for a new pillow: does your sleep experience point you toward a soft, medium or firm pillow? What type of filling provides that firmness, and what are the other qualities of the filling?
Fillings can be divided into two types: synthetic and natural. Synthetic materials are hypoallergenic and often antibacterial; they are also readily machine-washable (solid foams excepted). Natural fillings are generally not a problem for allergy sufferers but washing usually requires special care. Most fillings, but especially naturals which tend to clump, require ‘plumping’ after washing to restore the pillow’s shape.
Widely-used synthetic fillings include hollowfibre and microfibre, which are often blended with other materials such as cotton, or each other, to provide a particular firmness or ‘bounce’. Hollowfibre, made from polyester, is a lightweight fibre that can be packed loosely or tightly for soft or hard pillows, while microfibre is much finer, with a down-like feel.
The favourite traditional natural filling is feathers and down. Firmness depends on the ratio of feathers to down in the pillow (with softer pillows featuring more feathers) but also on the volume of material packed into the covering. Bamboo cane is the ‘latest thing’ used in manufacturing pillows; it is eco-friendly and can be processed into an especially fine and soft fibre,
Other considerations are size, price and posture: It’s good to check, but size is not generally a problem since most pillows are approximately 48cm x 74 cm and are intended to fit a standard pillowcase. Exceptions will be traditional bolsters and some orthopaedic pillows.
Price, of course, is always an issue but our picks cover a wide price range from a few pounds to forty. Price is generally related to the cost of the filling and it is not necessarily an indication of the pillow’s comfort or durability: man-made fillings are usually cheaper but are washable and long-lasting.
Many manufacturers suggest their pillow will be suitable for a particular ‘sleep posture’ e.g. side-sleeper, or front- or back-sleeper. The idea is that a side-sleeper will achieve the best head-neck alignment on a firm pillow, while a front- or back-sleeper needs the gentle, moulding support of a soft pillow for a comfortable rest. We think this is more a matter of marketing than fact and, given that nobody remains still during sleep, we don’t believe you should select a pillow based on your view of your recumbent posture. Indeed, we are unwilling to suggest a best pick for anyone. Instead, we’ve done the research to help you narrow your choice. All of our picks are good pillows but, in the end, it’s all a matter of personal taste.
Best natural pillows
Viceroy Feather and Down Pillows
Call us old-fashioned but we enjoy the traditional comfort of feather and down filling. Standard-sized and well-filled with an 85%/15% feathers-down mix the Viceroy pillows are rated medium-firm by most testers. In regular use they ‘plump-up’ nicely with a little patting. The manufacturer claims the pillows are machine-washable with a gentle detergent at 40 degrees, when they will need to be carefully dried and ‘re-plumped’ to restore their shape. These pillows are well worth a try and for this price are an absolute steal.
Homescapes White Goose Feather and Down Pillows
A little more expensive then the Viceroy offering, these feather and down pillows are rated medium-softness by the manufacturer. Homescapes claims their high temperature processing of the filling kills dust mites and ‘ensures feathers are cleaner and healthier…’ than alternatives. The cotton pillow cover is double-stitched to prevent any feathers escaping. Washable according to the manufacturer’s instructions, they are hypoallergenic and durable.
Best synthetic pillows
Linens Limited Quilted Super Bounce Back Pillow
Medium-soft, standard-sized pillows, well-filled with a 60%/40% polyester/cotton blend. They are non-allergenic, machine-washable and can be tumble-dried. Users comment on their puffiness which is supported by the hollowfibre in the blend and which is maintained through repeated washes. Offered on-line at a budget price this is an easy choice of an everyday pillow.
Panda Luxury Memory Foam Bamboo Pillow
Bamboo is the latest thing in renewable, eco-friendly materials. Bamboo cane is chopped and treated to yield a soft fibre (similar to, but finer than, raw cotton) than can be spun into thread and woven. The material is hypoallergenic and antibacterial. This pillow’s cover takes advantage of woven bamboo’s softness and ‘breathability’, for comfort and temperature control. The memory foam has been rated medium-firm by users (who have also reported a ‘factory-smell’ when the pillow is first unwrapped). Similar to other memory foam products, the pillow is slightly smaller than standard measuring 60 cm x 40 cm. This is an interesting, good quality product, at a very reasonable cost.
Silentnight Deep Sleep Pillow
Silentnight offers a wide range of pillows with various specifications. The Deep Sleep, usually sold in multi-packs, is one of their lower-priced offerings. Silentnight describes the firmness as ‘soft’ but some users have suggested it is closer to medium. The manufacturer also recommmends Deep Sleep for front- or back-sleepers (but please see our intro on this topic!). The filling is machine washable, hypoallergenic, hollowfibre which should maintain its plumpness over long use.
Snug Contour Memory Foam Pillow
The Snug is our orthopaedic recommendation for buyers who require designed support to mitigate sleeplessness and aches experienced when using conventional pillows. The pillow is shaped from memory foam, with a roll along its forward edge which fits beneath the sleeper’s neck, helping maintain good head and spine alignment; it is necessarily firm. Moulded channels in the foam help keep the pillow cool and its solid construction will maintain its shape over long use. The pillow is a non-standard size (61 cm x 36 cm) but it is delivered with a washable, fitted, zipped cover and, if you choose, will fit (loosely) in a regular pillowcase.
Silentnight Impress Deluxe Memory Foam Pillow
Another pillow from the Silentnight stable, suggested by the manufacturer for ‘side and back sleepers’. The foam filling, which can be wiped clean, is wrapped in a washable, cotton/polyester cover and the entire product comes with a two-year guarantee. It is good-sized, measuring 68 cm x 45 cm and is our best choice for consumers who want to try memory foam without spending a fortune on luxury pillows.