All Types of Pillows You Need to Know About
Know all the types of pillows (photos included) with this detailed guide.
It is undeniable that your mattress is essential for a good night's sleep. However, even if you buy the best mattress for your slumber needs, it's important not to overlook the type of pillow you should get to maximise the benefits.
The best pillow supports your natural posture alignment, including the spine, your head, neck, shoulders, and sometimes the feet, which are targets of pressure during sleep. In the quest for the best pillows, it's easy to be overwhelmed with lots of options. We will lay out the types of pillows there are with their pros and cons to help you choose the right pieces for when you hit the hay.
Types of Pillows by Fill
Known for their cloudy and dreamy feel, downs are soft, luxurious fibres found closest to the skin of ducks and geese. A down pillow is fluffy and warm, making it perfect for head and neck support. The down cluster provides an insulating sensation, but some pillows blend down and feathers, which are on the firmer spectrum.
When shopping for a pillow, it's important to understand the distinction between down and feather pillows. Down is the undercoat, while feathers come from the bird's outer cover. Also, it's very important to find ethically sourced down materials.
- Natural and soft
- Extremely light and long-lasting
- Can mould through your head and neck
- Good for stomach sleepers due to the cushiony feel
- Can potentially trigger allergic reactions
- Can overheat during warmer nights
- Can be pricey
- Requires fluffing and can be difficult to clean
Best for: Back and side sleepers. Stomach sleepers may significantly benefit from a down pillow because of its softness and support. Sleepers heavier than 230 pounds will find better comfort from firmer pillow types.
Feather is a traditional filling that is soft and supportive. Feather pillows retain their shape longer than the soft and fluffy down. These are flatter materials that usually come from the wings or backs of geese or ducks.
Unlike the soft and fluffy down, feather pillows provide more support but less warmth. Many pillow manufacturers blend these two materials to give the right softness and support, so it's vital to look for the down-feather ratio before shopping.
- More affordable than down pillow
- Has a firmer feel
- Holds shape longer than down
- Feathers may poke the quilt or pillow casing
- Can potentially trigger allergic reactions
- Still requires fluffing and can be difficult to clean
Best for: Back and side sleepers.
Down Alternative Pillow
A down alternative pillow is filled with synthetic fibres that mimic the soft and cloudy feel of the classic down. Since it is made with microfibre or polyester material, this pillow type is less expensive and hypoallergenic than the genuine down variety. This means it is safe for those who have sensitive skin.
- More affordable than down pillows
- Can be enjoyed without potential unethical sourcing
- Easy care
- Does not provide the same amount of insulation as down
- Can be lumpy over time and not mouldable
- Can be less breathable than other pillow types
Best for: Back and side sleepers. The fluffy sensation can also be great for stomach sleepers, especially when the pillow has the right height and mould.
Memory Foam Pillow
Memory foam in the mattress provides cradling comfort and proper contour support for the body. Its visco-elastic property conforms to the natural shape of the body during sleep. This is also true for memory foam pillows. Due to memory foam's versatile comfort, this material is ideal for many sleeping positions.
Memory foam pillows can be filled with one solid block of foam material or a blend of shredded memory foam.
- Provides head, neck, and shoulder contouring
- Good for pressure relief
- Does not lump
- Easy to wash and clean
- Can produce an off-gassing smell
- Can retain body heat during humid days
Depending on the firmness rate, some varieties can be too firm
Best for: All sleeping positions. Memory foam can contour into the body's shape, giving pillow shoppers more versatile choices. However, it's important to check the pillow firmness before buying one, as memory foam can be too firm for side sleepers.
Shredded Memory Foam Pillow
A single solid memory foam block can be too soft or too firm for a sleeper's liking. Because of this, many pillow shoppers who love the contouring comfort of memory foam opt for shredded memory foam pillows. These shredded pieces can be removed and adjusted to fit the user's preference, making them ideal for every sleeping position.
- Provides contouring comfort
- Highly customisable
- Highly supportive and easy to clean
- Can produce off-gassing smell
- Can overheat during hot seasons
- Old shredded memory foam pillow wears out when old
Best for: Back and side sleepers. If a shredded memory foam pillow is too firm for your liking, you may adjust its softness by removing some of the fill from the pillow.
Latex Foam Pillow
Returning to a natural pillow filling material, latex is derived from rubber plants and has a springy feel that can retain its shape for years.This natural material is highly resilient and durable. When exposed to air during manufacture, latex exhibits tiny bubbles that will later on give it a bouncy feel while promoting proper air flow. It is hypoallergenic and does not contour the head in the same way that a memory foam mattress does.
A latex pillow can be a block or cluster. Aside from a natural latex pillow, you can also find a blend of latex and other foam materials.
- Provides the right bouncy feel without the stuck feeling
- More breathable than memory foam
- Can come at a higher price
- Can cause allergic reactions to users with latex allergies
- Blended latex varieties are less durable and can come with an off-gassing smell
Best for: Back and side sleepers. If you are a stomach sleeper and love the bouncy feel of latex, look for a piece with a thinner loft.
Cotton is widely used as a bedding and pillow material because of its availability and breathability. Aside from being a classic pillow fill, you can also find cotton on pillow casings, bedsheets, and other bedding accessories. Cotton pillows are preferred by people who have allergies to synthetic materials.
- Natural and hypoallergenic
- Generally odourless
- Absorbent to sweats
- Does not provide a resilient contour
- Can be lumpy or may flatten over time
- Needs regular cleaning to prevent dust mites and allergens from accumulating
Best for: Back, side and stomach sleepers. Cotton pillows are great if you want a more breathable sleeping solution. However, if you prefer better contour, cotton might not be as versatile as memory foam or latex pillows.
Kapok is a seedpod fluff cotton-like material from the Ceiba tree. This buoyant fibre is soft like a down pillow but is hypoallergenic. The lightweight kapok pillow also needs some fluffing to retain its optimum quality.
- A natural, hypoallergenic material
- Soft and lightweight like down
- Mouldable and buoyant
- Mildew resistant
- Can be expensive to produce, and thus, expensive to buy
- Potentially flammable
Best for: Side sleepers and back sleepers. Since neck alignment is a major concern, high loft kapok pillows might not be the most comfortable for stomach sleepers and may not be supportive for heavier sleepers.
Cooling Gel Pillow
When discussing gel pillows, the gel does not fill the whole pillow but is combined with foam or latex. Like in mattresses, you can also find many gel-infused pillows preferred by many hot sleepers and those who stay in warm areas. Versatile gel pillows can mould the body's natural shape while maintaining its optimal shape over time.
- Promotes proper airflow
- Has a consistent firmness
- Easy to maintain
- Other users might find it too firm
- Can be potentially expensive
Best for: Stomach and back sleepers. Gel pillows are cosy and refreshing to sleep on. However, if you are a side sleeper, you might find a gel pillow too firm to contour to your shape.
Another breathable pillow material, wool, is relatively rarer than other varieties since it is more expensive and more challenging to clean. Wool is soft and comfortable. However, it does not provide much support compared to other pillow materials.
- Soft, breathable, and comfortable
- Helps regulate body temperature
- Natural fire retardant compared to kapok
- Has anti-bacterial properties
- Can be heavy
- Requires special care
- Needs dry cleaning
Best for: Soft wool pillows are the best for stomach sleepers.
Unexpanded polystyrene beads (EPS) or microbeads are small, styrofoam-like materials that contour the head and neck when in use. These beads are not abundant in traditional pillows but are often found in horseshoe travel pillows.
- Highly supportive and versatile
- Cooling and breathable
- Polystyrene materials are not eco-friendly
- Can spill when the case rips off
Best for: Back sleepers. Microbead pillows are designed with a higher level of firmness.
Manufactured from a type of grain, buckwheat pillows are filled with hulls that are firm and supportive. These are the outer shells of the buckwheat seeds, which are separated through grinding. A buckwheat pillow somehow provides a breathable, beady feel like microbeads that conform to the head and neck's shape when sleeping.
- Allows proper airflow
- Provides firm support and is hypoallergenic
- Can be too firm for many sleepers
- Produces noise when hulls rub against each other
Best for: Another firm type of pillow, buckwheat is ideal for back sleepers.
Innerspring pillows have a spring core layer surrounded by foam or polyester. They provide proper airflow and firmer support like innerspring mattresses.
Based on the term hybrid, this pillow type is a blend of two or more materials to maximise the benefits while providing a more personalised structure. It can be a combination of feathers and down, foam and latex, latex and gel, and other mixtures.
Standard pillow sizes generally measure 20x26 inches. This can fit comfortably on a single to a super single bed, while you need two pieces for a queen-size mattress. A standard pillow is ideal for those who don't frequently toss and turn or change position. If you are a combination sleeper, this pillow size might not be adequate to keep you comfortable as it can strain your neck.
Super Standard Pillow
A super standard pillow is two inches longer than a single pillow, and it is ideal if you want more surface area when tossing and turning.
Queen Size Pillow
A queen-size pillow generally measures 20x30 inches. Two queen pillows perfectly fit a queen-size mattress. They are also the best pillows for restless sleepers who need more sleeping surfaces in a compact area.
King Size Pillow
King size pillows generally measure 20 x 36 inches, which is spacious enough for combination sleepers. If you opt to buy a king-size pillow, note that it can be bigger than a standard pillowcase, so make sure you get a suitable case for the size you choose.
With a size of 12x16 inches, travel pillows are smaller than many standard pillow sizes. They are typically in the shape of a horseshoe and are used when travelling by plane, car, or short nap. They are filled with microbeads, providing enough firmness and support against neck pain and tiredness.
Standard Pillow Shape
The rectangular pillows you usually see on the market are called standard pillows. These pillows come in different sizes, casings, and materials.
Why is a standard pillow rectangular in shape? The narrow nature of a rectangular pillow makes it easy for sleepers to flip or change its position without getting disturbed. The shape also provides a seamless neck and shoulder support.
This pillow measures 20x54 inches. Body pillows are ideal for side sleepers who need additional posture support when hugged or placed between both arms and legs. They are also suitable for pregnant women to prevent them from rolling on their backs or stomachs when sleeping. Like king-size pillows, body pillows need specialised cases.
A bolster pillow is a cylindrical pillow that can be used as a decorative piece for your bed or as a mini body pillow. This can also be placed under the target pressure points for a more comfortable sleep.
Based on its name, a wedge pillow is triangular in shape and used to elevate the upper body. This pillow is specially designed to address some symptoms of GERD, acid reflux, and sleep apnea.
Contour pillows are firm and have a specialised contour underneath the neck to support the head, neck, and spine. This is to reduce neck stiffness for back sleepers.
Types of Pillow Covers
In a scorching place like Singapore, having breathable cotton pillows is vital to improve and maintain the quality of your sleep despite the not-so favourable weather. A cotton pillow cover is highly breathable and absorbent, helping you sleep comfortably even as a hot sleeper.
Lyocell is a type of rayon fabric that is durable, stretchable, and wrinkle-resistant. This fabric is breathable, that is why many shoppers opt for this type of pillow casing. Like cotton pillows, lyocell is also soft and comfy. It also works as a semi-synthetic material for those who do not want to go for fully synthetic items and non-vegan fabrics.
Many bamboo pillows have shredded memory foam as their core fill material, while the cover is made from woven bamboo pulp. This makes the contouring memory foam more breathable and comfortable for hot sleepers.
Polyester is a type of synthetic fibre that is highly affordable and easy to produce. Because of its abundance, polyester has become one of the most common materials used in creating pillow covers and bedding. This material is light and hypoallergenic. It is also machine washable.
Sleeping during pregnancy can be very challenging, especially with the limited sleeping positions, fatigue, and discomfort. A pregnancy or maternity pillow is designed in different shapes to fit different pregnancy needs and promote proper weight distribution.
Nursing pillows support the infant's position during breast feeding when the mother is sitting up straight. This is to make it both comfortable for the baby and the mum.
The shredded latex and memory foam pillows that we talked about earlier were examples of adjustable pillows. These pillows can be customised according to your preferred size or firmness. Their covers were designed to let you add or remove fill according to your personal preference. Adjustable pillows are generally very firm when filled and can be adjusted to be softer.
Pillows and Sleeping Positions
Notice that you wake up feeling sore when sleeping on an unsuitable pillow? Like mattresses, there is no one-size-fits-all when choosing the best pillow for your needs. Ultimately, the firmness and thickness of your pillow will depend on your sleeping position, body weight, and comfort preference.
For more conducive sleep, your goal as a back sleeper is to keep your head and neck aligned with your spine during snooze. To achieve this, you need medium-soft to medium-firm pillows. A pillow with a medium height is also highly encouraged. Generally, pillows that are great for back sleepers are also comfortable for side sleepers.
If you are a side sleeper, you need higher loft pillows to contour to your body's shape and fill the gap between your neck and the end of your shoulder. Medium-soft to medium-firm pillows can help them maintain proper sleep posture.
Stomach sleeping is considered the unhealthiest position among everything that we mentioned since you are more prone to misalignments and body aches in this position. Unlike side sleepers, stomach sleepers need softer pillows for the best neck and spine alignment. While we recommend a firmer mattress to prevent your body from sinking, we encourage using a plusher pillow to let your head and neck sink. You also need less height to prevent neck strain when you are tilted during sleep.
Adjustable pillows are great for combination sleepers. We recommend getting pillows that can easily mould the shape of your head and neck without giving you the stuck feeling when you toss, turn, or change positions.
Does the Pillow Matter?
The type of pillow you use plays an important role in keeping you healthy and comfortable while you sleep. While the mattress gets most of the attention when shopping for a sleep solution, as it should, the pillow is also important. If you experience these red flags: disturbed sleep, lack of proper support, too soft or too hard of a pillow, and sore feelings when waking up, it might be because you are sleeping on the wrong pillow.
Like the rest of your body, your head and neck deserve the right kind of support too when you lie down. The right pillow type will maintain a healthy alignment among your head, shoulders, and spine.
Should I Sleep on a Flatter Pillow or an Elevated Surface?
This depends on your dominant sleeping position. Although we change positions when sleeping, there will be a spot where we stay longer. If you sleep on your back, you can use a flatter or plusher pillow since your spine can easily be aligned with your head and neck when sleeping with your head flat. However, if you are a side sleeper or suffering from conditions like sleep apnea, you need to consider different pillow shapes that can give you full body support. If you are having some breathing problems, sleeping with your head elevated can help you relax better.
Memory Foam vs. Latex Pillow: Which One is Better?
Both memory foam and latex pillows provide adequate support and pain relief. Block latex and memory foam offer uniform head and neck support. Shredded latex and foam, on the other hand, are great for those who prefer to personalise their pillow's feel. One major difference between the two materials is that latex can be natural or a mix of synthetic and natural materials, while memory foam is purely made of synthetic compounds. Latex also has a lower contour and is more responsive to movement. It is therefore more breathable and suitable for combination sleepers than memory foam that absorbs body heat. If you prefer a warm and contoured comfort, a memory foam pillow is your ideal choice. If you want a more breathable sleeping surface, choose a latex pillow.
When is the Right Time to Buy a New Pillow?
General signs that a pillow is not supporting your sleeping needs anymore are lumps, lack of flexibility, odour, discolourations, and traces of moulding. An old pillow can become too firm or too deficient in support.
Other signs might manifest in your sleep, like having a stiff neck, shoulder pain, disrupted sleep, or consistent headaches.
When shopping for a pillow, note that your choice is not only limited to one type. With a myriad of pillow types on the market, you can mix and match pieces to improve your sleep quality and relieve pressure. Take a combination of standard pillows and body pillows for example.
If you're looking for excellent solutions for different sleeping needs, check out Megafurniture's collection of mattress, pillows, and bedding accessories online in Singapore.