How to choose the best pillow for a side sleeper

Everything you need to know if you are a side sleeper in need of a new pillow

March 19, 2024, 4:09 PM

With proper sleep and recovery being vital to a healthy lifestyle, choosing the best mattress, sheets and pillows are significant decisions.

And according to the National Library of Medicine, the predominant sleep position for adults is on their side. If you happen to be part of this side-sleeping group, finding the right pillow for the most comfortable night's sleep can be challenging with all of the options available.

ABC spoke with Dr. Wendy Troxel for some insight on finding the best pillows for side sleepers.

Troxel is a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation, and an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Utah. She is also the author of "Sharing the Covers: Every Couple's Guide to Better Sleep."

How to pick the best pillow for side sleepers

When purchasing a new pillow, Troxel shared some key characteristics you should keep top of mind.

Pillows for spinal alignment

"When you are shopping for an ideal side sleeper pillow, you should be looking for a combination of adequate cushioning so your head is nicely cradled, but at the same time something that supports good spinal alignment -- starting from your head, your neck, your shoulders and down your spine," she said.

"This means you can't have too much loft or thickness or too little. You do not want your head hyperextended, or if it is too low, misaligned in the other direction," Troxel added.

Troxel emphasized the importance of spinal alignment for side sleepers. She suggests also adding a body pillow to your setup or placing a pillow between your knees.

"The key is really to support that hip alignment. Many of us have extra pillows in the house so using one between your your knees to support that neutral spinal alignment is perfectly satisfactory."

Most comfortable pillows

"The reality is comfort is a subjective experience. Some people tend to like more firm pillows, while others, like softer pillows -- in terms of the material that is also going to be somewhat of a subjective preference."

Troxel suggests testing and trying different brands is the best way to truly figure out your best fit. She noted that trying a pillow for 15 minutes or more is recommended -- if that is not possible to do in a storefront, check the return policies before buying online to see if you can give the pillow a good run before deciding if it works for you.

Temperature-controlled pillows

"We know that human beings sleep better in cooler temperatures because we need our body temperatures to drop upon falling asleep," Troxel said. "So you want to avoid overly plush or synthetic materials that trap in heat, as that could also disrupt sleep."

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Best Pillows for Side Sleepers


Saatva Latex Pillow

This pillow from Saatva has a machine-washable cover and is described on the brand website as having a "shredded natural latex interior that delivers superior head and neck support." Our experts recommended checking the return policy on your new purchase and this one comes with a 45-day return policy.

  • $165
  • Saatva

Eli & Elm | Ultimate Side Sleeper Pillow with Adjustable Filler

This pillow has a unique U-shape, which the brand website says should “help alleviate neck pain and promote spinal alignment." The brand also shared that the breathable material can also help with temperature control: "The breathable cotton cover in addition to our proprietary shredded latex fill allows for greater airflow throughout the pillow, allowing maximum cooling properties." 

  • $129.99
  • Amazon

Beckham Hotel Collection Bed Pillows Standard / Queen Size Set of 2 - Down Alternative Bedding Gel Cooling Pillow for Back, Stomach or Side Sleepers

This product is an Amazon best-seller with more than 200,000 reviews and an average rating of 4.3 stars. 

  • $59.99
  • Amazon

The Marlow Pillow

This adjustable memory foam pillow lets you control the memory foam firmness with a zipper opened or closed. 

  • $58.50
  • Marlow

Body Pillows for Side Sleepers


Wiggle Pillow Cover

This eco-friendly full-body pillow is the support you have been looking for. "The wiggle is perfect for full-body support while sleeping, snuggling, and even during pregnancy," Buffy's website notes. Not only does it claim to provide neck and back support, but it also utilizing 55 bottles to prevent them from entering landfills. 

  • $95
  • Buffy
Cozy Earth

Bamboo Down Alternative Body Pillow

The 100% viscose bamboo fill makes you feel like you are "sleeping on a cloud," according to the Cozy Earth site. As our expert recommended, there is a large importance of spinal alignment when sleeping on your side, placing a body pillow between your knees can make a world of difference. 

  • $195
  • Cozy Earth