We all know that sleep is important – and not always that easy to get – which is why it’s super frustrating to wake up with neck pain each morning and not understand why.
While there could be a number of reasons for nagging neck pain (including wear and tear related to aging), one common culprit is a bad sleep position brought on by poor alignment between a person’s body and his or her pillow.
There are ways to minimize the chances of experiencing neck pain – namely sleeping in a few recommended positions with a pillow that supports the neck and allows it to lay in a neutral alignment with one’s spine.
I’ve put together my top picks for the best pillows for neck pain and shared why they’re so helpful and supportive; these choices are designed to cover all different types of sleepers and a range of preferred fillings. Many of the pillows are adjustable in some way, which will get sleepers a step closer to finding the perfect alignment for their head and neck.
Cushion Lab Ergonomic Contour
Cushion Lab Ergonomic Contour
Cushion Lab's Ergonomic Contour pillow is an elevated version of a more traditional contour pillow, adding some customizable features and a good price point.
Hex Grid Design
The Purple Harmony pillow combines a solid and bouncy feel - thanks to its ventilated latex core - with the squishy nature of the Hex Grid that's made with the brand's Hyper-Elastic Polymer.
Dr. Loth's SpineAlign
Dr. Loth's SpineAlign
The SpineAlign pillow is designed with a foam and fiber filled middle chamber and raised sides by a chiropractor and made specifically for back and side sleepers.
One of the most popular TEMPUR-Pedpic pillows, the TEMPUR-Cloud, has a significant polyester knit cover and a solid core comprised of plush and proprietary TEMPUR material.
Below are plenty of details and more about each of my experiences with each of the pillows on my list. Use this as a guide to help narrow down the options and determine which one is the best fit!
Please let me start by saying that this is not an average contour pillow – it’s designed for back and side sleepers, or a combination of the two. Each side of the pillow offers support for the cervical curvature of the neck. However, one side is 3.1” tall and the other is 4.3” tall – this means larger body types have more height and support on one end.
That’s not where the personalization ends with this pillow because sleepers can choose from a firm or a medium-soft Hyperfoam core; the pillow features a contoured shoulder line to avoid extra pressure on the shoulders and raised cheek supports for enhanced support when turning the head to the side to sleep.
There is a removable cover that’s 100% organic cotton and extremely soft; it’s all hypoallergenic and it’s affordable – under $50 for this pillow plus 30 days to try it out.
- Comes in one size, and it’s 23.5” x 15” x 4.3”; fits any standard size pillowcase
- Designed for back, side or a back-side sleeper combination
- It has two sleeping heights: 3.1” and 4.3”
- There is a contoured shoulder line to help create space for the shoulders
- The corners are raised a little for face support when heads are turned to the side
- The center of the pillow has a “basin” design to allow the back of the head to rest while the neck and shoulders are supported
- The outer cover is 100% organic cotton
- The core is a solid piece of medium-firm Hyperfoam, which is an extra-dense memory foam
- The cover is hypoallergenic
- Designed in the USA, assembled in China.
- $43-$46 at full price (we’ve seen the price change at least once)
- 30-day return policy if it’s not a good fit and a 1-year limited warranty against material or workmanship defect
Check out the complete review of the Cushion Lab Ergonomic pillow.
Hex Grid Design
Purple also produces innovative pillows that feature their signature and proprietary Hyper-Elastic Polymer. This time it’s in the form of a tiny honeycombed shaped Hex Grid, which lies just underneath the cover of the pillow (it’s not the actual core).
The filling is a solid piece of ventilated Talalay latex foam and it’s such an effective foam for neck pain. The head contours to the foam and provides pressure relief but not in the same way a standard memory foam would. The latex foam is truly resilient and bouncy and offers nice light support, and it won’t change shape or go flat.
- Dimensions: 26″ x 17″x 6.5” for Standard and the Tall option is 2″ longer and 1″ taller
- Weighs about 4.5 lbs (Standard, Tall is a little bit more)
- Cover: cool-to-the-touch, moisture-wicking Breeze Mesh cover
- 88% Polyester, 3% Nylon, 9% Spandex Mesh
- There is also a layer of Purple Grid™: Hyper-Elastic Polymer Purple Grid
- Core: Ventilated Talalay Latex with Polyester Knit Cover
- Moisture-wicking treatment
- Cover care: Machine wash the cover on cold, separately. Lay flat to dry.
- Core care: Spot clean only
- 100-Night trial and a 1-year limited warranty
- Both profiles are $159 at full price
Read all about my experience with the Purple Harmony in my review.
As its name suggests, the SpineAlign pillow is all about keeping the head, neck, and spine in neutral alignment so that there is no strain on any particular muscles. Designed by a sports chiropractor, its shape features a center chamber for back sleepers and outer chambers designed for side sleepers.
The pillow has two heights to it, so those who are 5’ 7” like me or taller will use the side that has the logo and those who are shorter will use the smaller side – really just whatever side feels best is also fine. The filling is also adjustable – sleepers can remove filling from different sections as desired.
Individuals can’t machine wash or dry it so be sure to use a cover or pillow protector. It may take a little bit of patience, but once the correct level of support and height has been achieved, it should be extremely comfortable.
- Shape: Contour pillow
- Two outer chambers for side sleeping and a middle chamber for back sleeping
- Customizable to fit a sleeper’s correct posture in both the back and side sleeping positions
- Cover: Soft Tencel blended fabric with strips of mesh built in the sides (37% Lyocell – also called Tencel, 61% Polyester, and 2% spandex)
- Filling: blend of shredded internal fill (foam and fiber) accessible through zippers on the back
- Has “one size fits most” design
- Fits in a Queen size pillowcase
- Approximately 23” x 17” x 6”
- 90-night free trial
- Do not wash the pillow; spot-clean only
- Made in the USA with imported materials
Check out my full review of the SpineAlign pillow.
The TEMPUR-Cloud is such a classic TEMPUR-Pedic pillow. For those who are familiar, the brand is all about including their proprietary TEMPUR-material in their products – a foam that is similar to memory foam and is very contouring and pressure-relieving. The head sinks into this pillow and it’s truly cradled and supported lovingly.
Not to mention, the cover is also super soft and easy to remove and clean – what’s not to love? The pillow is an investment because it can’t be returned, but they are truly durable and will last 3-5 years. Based on my experience, I think the TEMPUR-Cloud will probably work best for back sleepers and some stomach sleepers.
- Dimensions: 24″ x 15.75″ x 5″
- Removable Cover:100% Polyester Knit
- Core: Plusher TEMPUR® material
- Removable/washable cover
- Feel: Extra-Soft
- Full price: $79
Check out my full review of TEMPUR-Pedic pillows, including the TEMPUR-Cloud.
One of the ways we help direct individuals towards the right pillow is by having them determine their body types and narrow down options from there. I am 5’7” and about a medium-weight, so I asked Marten, who is 6’7” and weighs 250 lbs, to offer his take on which of these pillows would be best for heavier sleepers who are dealing with neck pain.
Purple Harmony – There are two versions of this pillow, and I prefer the taller option that’s 7.5″ tall. My head sinks in just the right amount and is supported by the Hex Grid and their polymer that has a great feel – I liked it most when I was back sleeping and saw how it can provide great support to help combat that neck pain.
SpineAlign – As Katie mentioned, there are a couple of ways to use this pillow and taller and heavier sleepers should plan to use the side that features the SpineAlign logo – that’s the edge with more height and support. When I slept on my back, I felt wonderful head and neck support.
CushionLab Ergonomic – This has a similar design to the SpineAlign pillow – they’re both contour pillows – where one side is elevated and higher than the other. The taller side is great for added neck support and relieving pressure and neck pain in a back sleeping position.
The Right Pillow Will Help You Find A Neutral Spinal Alignment
One way to reduce the risk of neck pain is to ensure that the head is resting on a pillow that allows for the head, neck, and spine to all be in a straight line (or in a neutral alignment).
To help facilitate this alignment, try to sleep on one’s back or on one’s side, say experts. Sleeping on the stomach is not advised. “Imagine standing and looking one way for two or three hours at a time. Stretching your neck muscle for that long creates soreness,” said Dr. Andrew Bang, DC, at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in a post on the clinic’s website.
For those who sleep in multiple positions, staying neck pain-free might mean finding a pillow that can be adjusted so they can achieve neutral alignment no matter what the sleeping position.
The Bottom Line
There are many pillows on the market geared towards reducing neck pain but the key to finding the right one will come down to a few specific factors:
- Primary sleep position – the sleep position that people most often wake up in.
- Preferred pillow filling – there are a plethora of options from foam to down to Kapok fibers and polyester fibers (and more!).
- Alignment – the ability to match or adjust the pillow’s loft, firmness, and support so that one’s head and neck are naturally aligned all night.
Also, consider pillows that come with trials or a variety of comfort levels so there is the ability to try several kinds before committing.
How do I choose a pillow for neck pain?
Those experiencing chronic neck pain should always seek the advice of a medical professional to rule out anything serious. If it’s determined that the culprit is the pillow – it’s an easy fix!
First, pick a pillow that suits the primary sleep position (the position one typically wakes up in). Generally speaking, stomach sleepers need the softest/flattest pillows while side sleepers need the most loft and support.
Aim to get the body into neutral head, neck and spine alignment, allowing the natural curves of the body to lay as they should with support but no additional strain. This may take a few tries with different pillows and even some conversations about the right mattress but, over time, finding the best sleeping position and the best pillow to match will be worth it.
Are contour pillows good for neck pain?
Contour pillows can be a wonderful choice for those trying to alleviate neck pain. These pillows specialize in supporting a key area prone to strain and resulting pain – the natural curvature (often referred to as the cervical curvature) of one’s neck. Placing the right amount of support in this area takes pressure off the many muscles and nerves in the neck and may help the pain subside.
What is the best pillow for side sleepers with neck pain?
Side sleepers make up more than half of the American population, so we’re not surprised to see this question so frequently!
Side sleepers with neck pain really need to focus on finding a pillow that has enough loft and height to support the 4″ to 6″ gap that resides between the top of the shoulder and the side of one’s head and neck.
When the head and neck are properly supported and the shoulder does not have increased pressure on it, the neck can stay free from tensions and stress and neck pain should go away.
The goal is to look at oneself in a side sleeping position and see a straight line from the forehead, nose, chin down to the neck and sternum – this means neutral alignment is achieved.
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