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Sometimes, the biggest barrier between you and a good night’s sleep isn’t your mattress, but what’s under your head. Regardless if your pillow is too firm, too soft, or just a bit old and lumpy, swapping it out for a new one that suits you better might help you wake up refreshed in the morning.
We currently rate more than two dozen pillows from widely available brands, each poked, prodded, and pounded by machines in the lab. We assess how well each one supports the head and neck of people of various sizes—petite, average, and large/tall—whether they sleep on their side or their back. And we use a pressure mat to analyze about 1,600 pressure points, focusing on the contact area between the head and the pillow.
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“You need to find a pillow that doesn’t crane your neck in any position,” says Joel Press, MD, physiatrist in chief at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “The idea is to keep your neck as neutral as possible when you sleep.”
We also evaluate how well pillows hold their shape by placing an evenly distributed 225-pound weight on each one (to simulate the human body) in a room set to 98.6° F (to mimic body heat) for 96 hours. “Some pillows will show considerable changes, but fluffing will bring the pillow back to the exact characteristics it had prior to the test,” says Chris Regan, the CR test engineer who oversees pillow testing. “Some aren’t able to bounce back.” That’s reflected in a lower resilience score.
Pillows need long-term maintenance so they last as long as possible. Be sure you know how to wash your pillow to keep it in good shape. And if you have asthma or a dust mite allergy, consider adding a pillow protector.
For more, check our pillow ratings to see how the full slate of pillows performs in each of CR’s tests. And consult our pillow buying guide, where you can learn more about how we test pillows and additional factors to consider as you shop.
CR’s take: Comfort Revolution’s Blue Bubble Gel pillow marries the cooling properties of a gel pad with polyurethane foam. It’s less than ideal for back sleepers, but it is a solid choice for those who sleep on their side. Our testers found the resiliency of the pillow to be top-notch. Its breathability, however, is below average.
CR’s take: The Coop Home Goods Premium Adjustable Loft pillow is made of shredded memory foam and earns an Excellent rating in our tests for support, no matter your size and whether you sleep on your side or back. It’s quite versatile, in part because it comes with extra foam, so you can adjust the filling to your liking. The pillow also keeps its shape well, showing little to no change in height or fluffiness in our resilience tests. Our panel of testers liked the look and feel, too. The only test where this pillow falls slightly short is in how well it allows air to circulate. It sleeps slightly warm, so your head might feel a little sweaty at night.
CR’s take: This GhostBed pillow, made of shredded memory foam pieces with a polyester fiber cover, is a great option if you sleep on your side or back. Sleepers can customize their level of support by removing some of the shredded foam pieces and polyester gel fibers in the pillow. In our testing, removing filling for back sleepers improved support. Smaller sleepers will likely need to remove more filling than larger sleepers. Side sleepers, both petite and larger, will find that removing a small amount of filling might improve support. It earns just middling marks in our resilience test, but aces our breathability test.
CR’s take: Sleep Number’s ComfortFit Ultimate (yep, that’s the name) is made of a blend of memory foam pieces and down alternative fibers. Inside the pillow casing are three layers that can be added or removed to tailor the pillow to the level you need. It earns top support ratings for both side and back sleepers in our tests, and our testers found it to be very breathable. It’s not as resilient as some other options on this list, though, and might not hold its shape as well over time.
CR’s take: The Tuft & Needle Original Foam pillow is made of polyurethane foam and comes with a micro polyamide and polyester cover. It’s a great choice for side sleepers because it aces our side support test. But it’s less ideal for back sleepers, giving just a middle-of-the-road performance in our back support test. It excels in our tests for both breathability and resilience.
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