Picking the perfect pillow isn't an easy job. You might not give much thought to the headrest you sleep on, but this soft piece of material is a vital component of your bedding and it can actually impact your sleep more than you'd think. All the more reason, then, to avoid the common pillow mistakes that so many of us make.
The thing is, while a pillow might just look like a soft lump of fabric, there's a whole lot more under the surface of these sleep supporters than meets the eye. That also means more ways of going wrong. From filling to loft and the shape itself, the number of factors involved in picking the best pillow is nearly enough to keep you up at night.
Knowing exactly what to look for in a pillow isn't so clear-cut since it really depends on your personal needs. However, there are some hard and fast rules on what not to do, and here we take you through what they are - with the help of some knowledgeable experts, of course.
1. The wrong number of pillows
We all have our preferences when it comes to pillows - soft, flat, firm, plump, low, high - and choosing the one that's most comfortable for you will, of course, equate to how to sleep better. Where we often go wrong, however, is by making up for lack of height or plumpness by stacking too many pillows on top of each other.
'One common mistake consumers make when choosing pillows is sleeping with too many - or too little - at a time,' says Jon Eilenberg, senior ergonomics engineer at Casper. 'With too many or too few pillows, the spine is forced to bend, and given that you cannot consciously correct your posture while you are asleep, this is a bit of a problem.'
The ultimate goal, he says, is to keep your spine aligned so that its shape while lying down is as close as possible to the shape when standing up straight. 'Plus about 10% of total length to account for the absence of gravity,' he adds. That means that if you're a two (or even three!) pillow sleeper because you just love the plump feel, you might not be doing your body any favors. If you regularly experience neck pain, try removing a pillow to find out if your huge pillow stack is the culprit.
2. Choosing the wrong pillow for your sleeping position
When it comes to how to choose the perfect pillow, a key factor is your sleeping position. It's easy to think all pillows are made for the exact same cause - sleeping - but while this is the case to an extent, different types are more supportive for certain sleeping habits, so it's crucial you spare a thought to how you tuck up in bed at night.
'There are a few different factors I'd recommend considering when shopping for the right pillow for you,' says Amelia Jerden, a sleep accessories expert at Sleepopolis. 'The most important, in my opinion, is your primary sleeping position - back, side, or stomach sleeping.'
As a general rule of thumb to assess the loft and firmness of your pillow, Amelia suggests a high loft and firm feel for side sleepers, medium loft and medium firmness for back sleepers, and low loft and soft feel for stomach sleepers. 'Loft refers to the height of the pillow and firmness is how firm or soft the pillow feels,' she adds.
3. Failing to consider your body shape
Besides your sleep position, your weight and body shape will also play a part in how well your pillow works for you. Intuitively, the more you weigh, the more support your head will need, and vice versa.
You can also determine the pillow loft you should be looking for by the shape of your shoulders, too. 'For side sleepers, the wider your shoulders are, the higher your pillow should be,' explains Jon. 'Likewise, the heavier you are, the more likely you are to sink into the mattress which will leave you needing a lower pillow, whether you sleep on your side or your back.' Additionally, back sleepers may also find that they benefit from a specialty pillow to support their neck such as a travel pillow.
For those rare breeds known as stomach sleepers, there's no easy way of saying that your sleep position will never be ideal, but luckily Jon has some tips. 'This position can be made more comfortable with a low loft pillow placed under one shoulder and/or hip to reduce the rotation of your neck while sleeping,' he says.
4. Sleeping with your shoulders on the pillow
Something we tend to pay very little attention to is where our body comes into contact with our pillow. Some of us rest our ears in the center of the cushioning while others shuffle right up to our headboard to feel more fully supported - but alas, one of these is wrong.
'Another common mistake sleepers make is sleeping with their shoulders on their pillow,' notes Jon. 'As this really only applies to back sleepers, generally, you’ll want your head and neck in alignment with your spine and torso when resting on the pillow. We suggest scooting back onto the pillow so that the base of your neck is off the mattress.'
It might feel like a lot of information to go away and digest, but avoiding these common pillow mistakes really could be the secret to that blissful night's sleep you've needed for so long. Now time to go test it out - you can thank us later.
Our picks of the best affordable pillows
Best for back sleepers
For a luxurious sleep, a down pillow is the way to go. These super soft pillows offer serious comfort while also being supportive, lightweight and breathable. If you're a side or back sleeper, a medium-loft down pillow will help keep your spine and neck aligned for the best snooze possible.
Best for hot sleepers
If you find yourself overheating in your sleep, try this cooling gel memory foam pillow from Walmart. The layers of cooling gel foam and breathable mesh cover promise to keep you comfortable in your sleep, even in the heat of summer while the memory foam adapts to the contours of your head and neck, helping to relive pressure.
Best for stiff neck sufferers
If you suffer from a stiff neck, a support pillow like this one could be for you. This latex neck pillow provides pressure-relieving supportive comfort whether you sleep on your back or side. What's more, it's naturally hypoallergenic, comes in three custom sizes, and is eco-friendly, dust-mite resistant and anti-microbial.
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Lilith Hudson is the News Editor at Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.
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