The importance of pillows: which one is right for you?

A woman sleeping soundly on a fluffy white pillow

Nicola Dowse

Posted April 20, 2022

We humans spend roughly a third of our lives asleep, which is why it’s so important to know what it takes to get a good night’s rest.  

The average adult needs between seven and nine hours of shuteye every night.

Of course, not all of us are getting the amount of sleep we would like, and this can have consequences. “We still don’t know exactly why sleep is so important, but it does affect the functioning of every part of your body, including your brain,” says associate professor Sutapa Mukherjee, President of the Australasian Sleep Association.

Multiple factors can affect our sleep, including our bedding. While having a good quality mattress is important, so is having good quality pillows. “Having a comfortable pillow certainly helps create an environment that’s conducive to a good sleep,” Mukherjee says. 

In fact, having the right pillow can lead to benefits beyond improved sleep.

Good for your neck, back, sleep and skin

During sleep, your pillows serve to keep your head, neck and spine aligned in what’s known as a neutral position – with your head square with the shoulders.  

In this position, pressure on the neck is minimised, helping to prevent neck and joint strain.

A good pillow is also a clean pillow. All bedding, including pillows, should be cleaned regularly. Failure to do so can lead to an accumulation of dust mites, pet dander, mould or fungi which can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. 

Because they come into such close contact with your body, your pillows can also accumulate sweat, oil, dirt and skin. Over time, a build-up of these can irritate your skin and lead to pimples and rashes.

Keep in mind that even pillows that are cleaned regularly still need to be replaced every few years, depending on the type of pillow you use.


A woman wearing a long-sleeve shirt and jeans fluffs a pillow while making a bed

Even pillows that are cleaned regularly need to be replaced at some point. Photo: Getty

Choosing the best pillow for you  

The pillow market is booming, with market research company TechNavio predicting the industry to grow by nearly $US12 billion between 2020 and 2025.  

For the consumer, this provides plenty of pillow options, each with their own pros and cons. According to bedding experts Snooze, there are a few aspects to consider when choosing the best pillow for you. 


This is how tall you’d like the pillow to be and is closely related to your sleeping style – that is, whether you sleep on your side, back or stomach. 

For instance, a high pillow might cause someone who sleeps on their stomach to uncomfortably arch their neck. But the same pillow might be perfect for someone who sleeps on their side. 

Everyone is different, but Snooze recommends low pillows for stomach sleepers, medium pillows for back sleepers, and high pillows for side sleepers. 


Once you’ve decided on the right height, it’s time to think about pillow density. Essentially, how soft or hard do you want your pillow? 

High-density pillows are firm and are often favoured by side or back sleepers. They can also provide support for your neck and back if that’s a concern. 

Stomach sleepers, however, might crave the fluffiness of a low-density pillow where they can sink right down into the material.  


Gone are the days of the standard rectangular pillow, with consumers now also able to choose from curved (good for side and back sleepers) and wave-like contour pillows (which can help with neck and back pain for some people). 

Star-shaped pillows are also increasingly available, which can be useful in supporting people who sleep on their stomachs.  


Finally, what do you want your pillow to be filled or stuffed with? The pillow fill can affect the height and density, but there are other reasons you might opt for one type of fill over others. 

Memory foam is a popular for choice its ability to contour to most sleep positions, provide neck support and for having several firmness levels. You can also get memory foam pillows with gel that keeps you cool while sleeping. 

Latex pillows also provide some support and are great for keeping you cool on hot nights. Latex is also dust mite resistant. 

Polyester is affordable and easily cleaned (you can usually throw the entire pillow in a washing machine) but can flatten over time. 

Feather and down has been around for centuries as a luxurious pillow option but can be susceptible to moisture and go lumpy. 

No matter what type of pillow you decide to go with, it should be comfortable and help provide you a good night’s sleep.  

If you continue to experience sleeplessness or aches, speak to your doctor.