If you sleep on your back, you need a pillow that’s neither too high or low nor too soft or firm — the Goldilocks of pillows, more or less.
As we set off on our quest to find the best pillows for back sleepers, we slept on 21 pillows, from those designed specifically for back sleepers to the group of great all-around pillows we tested for our piece on the best pillows overall. We also spoke with doctors, researchers and sleep experts to better understand which pillow types and shapes are the best for each sleep position. In the end, we found five great pillows that can help back sleepers get a great night’s rest.
Soft and supportive without feeling too firm, The Eden pillow from Coop Home Goods was one of our favorite pillows in testing. The fill can be added or removed to suit different body types and preferences, meaning it should suit almost any back sleeper.
Even after many nights of sleeping and multiple washes, the Parachute down alternative pillow never got lumpy like some other pillows we tested. The fill is soft and squishy, which we found supportive for back sleeping. It also comes in soft, medium and firm densities for those who need more or less support.
The plush Garnet Hill Heirloom pillow is filled with 100% down, without any crunchy feathers, so it’s quiet and cradles your head with cloudlike comfort, which helps prevent your head from falling to the side. It’s filled with plenty of down, so it doesn’t fall flat during the night, and it comes in soft, medium and firm densities.
With a foam-fill core surrounded by well-ventilated memory foam, the Casper Hybrid struck a perfect balance between plush and firm. It kept its shape through testing while retaining a soft feel, and we never felt overheated. It comes in low and regular loft to accommodate different preferences.
The gel-filled Beckham Hotel Collection pillow offers dense, squishy support that we found among the most comfortable in this price range. We loved that it didn’t flatten out during the night, keeping our head supported.
Best pillow for back sleepers overall: Coop Home Goods The Eden
$96 at Coop Home Goods and Amazon
The Eden pillow from Coop Home Goods pillow tops our list of pillows for back sleepers because of its combination of comfort and adjustability. Similar to other adjustable pillows, you can add or remove fill as needed to create the exact height and firmness you prefer — essential for sleeping on your back since you’ll want a pillow that doesn’t flatten out and let your head tip over to the side.
While there are other adjustable fill pillows available, we loved that the shredded memory foam and microfiber combination didn’t feel lumpy and gave us a more uniform and supportive feel than similar pillows.
Initially, when we took this out of the box the pillow looked like it didn’t have enough fill. However, following the company’s suggestions, we washed and dried it and the foam fluffed almost two to three times the original size.
It took some adjusting the fill level as well as a few nights of sleeping on the pillow to determine the correct amount (we ended up removing some foam, but for those who like an extra-firm feel, the Eden comes with an extra bag of foam fill), but once we got there the pillow was very comfortable. It comes with a pillow cover that is also soft and has a bit of padding, adding to the plush feel.
The only drawback to this pillow is that it comes only in queen or king sizes, so if your favorite pillowcase is standard size it may not fit well. The outer pillow cover is removable and washable, so you can also skip the pillowcase altogether.
Best down alternative pillow for back sleepers: Parachute Down Alternative Pillow
$79 at Parachute
One of our favorite down alternative pillows, the Parachute pillow is available in three firmness levels: soft, medium and firm. Parachute recommends firm for back sleepers, medium for combination sleepers and soft for stomach sleepers.
While average and larger-sized people should be well served by the company’s recommendation, our smaller-framed tester opted for the medium pillow rather than the firm because they suspected the firm would be too lofty (they also prefer a flatter pillow). The medium fill was perfect for back sleeping and the occasional roll to the side, feeling soft and supportive.
Over time the pillow mildly flattened out, but this wasn’t a deal breaker. After multiple washes and dries, the pillow fill did not clump and remained soft and squishy. Parachute also has a 60-day return policy, so if you’re not happy with the pillow it’s simple to exchange or return it.
Best down pillow for back sleepers: Garnet Hill Heirloom European White Goose Down Pillow
$199 at Garnet Hill
As soon as our head hit this pillow, we felt like we were wrapped in a cloud as it encased our head in plush softness. The Garnet Hill Heirloom pillow stood out for a couple of reasons: Unlike some other down pillows, it’s got plenty of fill, so it doesn’t fall completely flat throughout the night like lower-quality competitors. And that fill is 100% down, so you’ll enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep with no feathers poking through or crunching in your ear. And even after multiple washes and nights of sleeping on this pillow, it bounced back to its original shape every time.
The pillow is available in three densities: soft, medium and firm. The brand recommends the firm version for back sleepers, and while we found the firm pillow cloudlike and supportive, it was on the loftier side for our petite tester, so if you are a smaller person you may want to choose a medium or soft pillow, even if you’re a back sleeper. Luckily, if you find the fill is not quite right, Garnet Hill has a 90-day return or exchange policy.
Starting at $199, this is the priciest pillow we tested, but it’s well worth it compared to other pillows that skimp on high-quality down, and most 100% down pillows (without feathers) are similarly pricey.
Best memory foam pillow for back sleepers: Casper Hybrid Pillow
We liked this pillow both for back and side sleeping, so if you’re a back and occasional side sleeper this may be the pillow for you. It has a synthetic core with soft memory foam surrounding it, which gives a soft yet supportive feel. Casper describes this pillow as “feeling like a marshmallow,” and that description hits the mark. It’s squishy enough that it had some give while lying on our back but also enough support that it kept our head properly elevated. The rectangular-shaped gusset on the side of the pillow also helps keep the structure, which we appreciated when sleeping on our side. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like adjusting your pillow throughout the night, you’ll like this pillow, as we found it kept its shape better than down or down alternative pillows.
If you’re a hot sleeper, we think you’ll appreciate the Casper. Unlike other foam pillows that can overheat, we didn’t feel too hot with this, thanks to the holes throughout the pillow to help disperse heat.
The Casper Hybrid Pillow comes in two heights: regular with a 2-inch gusset, and low loft with a 1.25-inch gusset. Casper has a quiz you can take to help determine which loft height is right for you, though we found that the low loft version was the perfect size for our petite side sleeper, so if you have an average to larger frame you may want the regular loft. It comes with a removable and machine-washable cover, and Casper offers a 30-night return policy.
Best budget pillow for back sleepers: Beckham Hotel Collection
49.99 $43.99 at Amazon
This pillow took us by surprise, offering a shocking amount of comfort at a bargain price. While it didn’t outshine our top picks, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money but still want a supportive pillow that can help you get a great night’s sleep, the Beckham Hotel Collection pillow is an excellent choice. The gel-filled pillow is comfortable and offers better support than other lower-priced pillows we tested, with a dense yet soft feel, and it did not fall flat while sleeping on it.
This pillow is machine-washable; however, the instructions state it should be dried flat, which takes at least half of a day depending on the temperature inside your home. Suspecting that few purchasers will do this, we did machine-dry the Beckham Hotel Collection pillow to see how it fared, and it held up without any noticeable damage or change in loft, though we suspect over time machine-drying may cause the pillow to degrade faster.
How to choose the best pillow for back sleepers
There are many pillows to choose from for back sleepers, so we spoke with experts to find out how to find the best pillow. All of the experts agreed there is no perfect pillow that will work for everyone, and that a good pillow should keep the head, neck and spine in a neutral position.
While many pillows are marketed for specific sleeping positions, the arguments for their effectiveness are largely anecdotal. There’s actually no scientific evidence that a given pillow labeled for a certain sleep position, such as back sleeping, will work for an individual, says Andrew Varga, M.D., neuroscientist and physician at The Mount Sinai Integrative Sleep Center.
During our testing, we kept this expert consensus in mind, and worked with the understanding that there wasn’t one “perfect” pillow for anyone — we looked for a pillow that would let us achieve a neutral, comfortable, supported sleeping position — and we didn’t always like the pillows sold for a given specific position.
However, while testing pillows we did find in general that manufacturers’ sleep position labeling gives a good starting point to finding the right pillow. Most pillows for back sleepers, for example, are more supportive and lofty compared to pillows for stomach sleepers that are softer and flatter, so you’ll want to take this into consideration, at least as a starting point, when trying to find a pillow to suit your needs.
Choose the right loft (pillow height or thickness)
If you’re a back sleeper you’ll want to find a pillow that has enough loft to cradle your head comfortably, and while manufacturers tend to recommend firm pillows for back sleepers, exactly what works will vary for different size bodies.
If you have a small frame, you may find a lower loft pillow is more comfortable; if you’re larger you may find a higher loft pillow works for you. Because of this, Josh Tal, Ph.D., of Josh Tal & Associates, Sleep and Health Psychotherapists, advises that online shoppers look for adjustable fill pillows because you can add or remove fill to find the right fit. Our top pick is a great option, since it’s simple to remove fill to achieve a good amount of loft for smaller people, and it comes with additional fill if you need extra firmness.
Fill types and firmness
There are many different types of fill available for pillows; the most common are shredded foam or latex, down, down alternative and molded foam. It’s also becoming popular to mix different types of fills to reap the benefits of each fill type. Tal says that just about any type of fill would work for back sleepers, but the key is to make sure the fill is supportive enough so it doesn’t fall flat but also not so bulky that it makes the pillow too high.
Consider a separate neck roll for extra support
According to Tal, back sleepers who suffer from neck pain may need extra support beyond what most standard shaped pillows can provide. If you suffer from neck pain you may want to consider a contour pillow that has built-in support at the bottom. If so, you should make sure that the contour is the right size and keeps your head, neck and spine aligned. Alternatively, a separate supportive neck roll pillow can also work to help prevent neck pain, and is easier to try out along with another pillow you like.
Lie on the pillow for at least 15 minutes to get a good feel
Susan J. Gordon, Ph.D., research professor at the Flinders University College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Adelaide, Australia, who has studied the effect of pillow types in relation to sleep quality and their effect on waking back and neck pain, recommends lying on a pillow for at least 15 minutes when trying it out. That’s the time it takes for the body to fully settle so you’ll know whether or not the pillow is right for you.
Check the return policy
Since one pillow will not work for everyone, make sure to check the brand’s return policy. Many brands offer a trial period or returns, but some brands do not allow you to return the pillow. You’ll want to choose a pillow with a good return policy so you can return it if it doesn’t work for you unless you’re willing to risk not being able to return it.
How we tested
After narrowing down our list to the most popular pillows and brands, we slept on each for a minimum of two nights, noting factors like durability and comfort. We evaluated each using the following criteria:
- Comfort: After sleeping on each pillow for a few nights, we judged how comfortable each pillow was to sleep on, noting if we had to make adjustments throughout the night, if the pillow fell flat or if the pillow retained a lot of heat.
- Durability: In order to assess the durability of each pillow, we washed and dried each pillow twice, if applicable, according to the manufacturer’s care instructions. If the pillow indicated it was not machine-washable, we washed the cover where possible. We evaluated each pillow for how much it flattened or changed shape after washing and sleeping on it. We also looked at the overall appearance of the pillow after wash and use and if anything broke in the process.
- Ease of cleaning: For each pillow, we scored it on if it could be cleaned and how easily it could be cleaned, taking into account if it’s machine-washable, able to be dry cleaned or spot cleaned or not washable at all.
- Firmness options: We looked at how many firmness options are available for each pillow or if it can be adjusted to anyone’s fill preference, which makes it more likely you’ll be able to find the right fit for you.
- Trial period and return policy: Since pillows are highly personal; we also scored each pillow brand on its trial policy and whether or not you could test it out and how many days you had to return it.
Other pillows we tested
$49 at Garnet Hill
We loved the Garnet Hill Heirloom European White Goose Down Pillow, so it’s no surprise we also liked its down alternative pillow. It’s more plush and supportive than most other synthetic fill pillows we tested and keeps its shape throughout the night. It’s washable and comes in three firmness levels. Garnet Hill also has a 90-day return policy.
$165 at Saatva
Unlike other adjustable pillows that can be messy when removing the fill, the Saatva pillow has an outer layer that’s filled with down alternative fibers and a removable inner core made of shredded latex that’s completely encased so it’s not spilling out. This makes it much easier to adjust the firmness of the pillow but doesn’t allow for complete customization, essentially only allowing for two firmness levels.
$29.99 at Amazon
Amazon Basics recommends this soft pillow for stomach or back sleepers. We found this pillow comfortable when sleeping on our back and even our side. It’s one of the flatter pillows we tested, making it good for someone who likes a thinner pillow or a petite person who doesn’t need a higher pillow. When we washed this pillow, it seemed to flatten out and clump slightly more than others, so we question how long it will hold up over time, but it’s one of the lowest-priced pillows on this list, so it would be more budget-friendly to replace than others.
$109 at Layla
This pillow from Layla is made with shredded memory foam and kapok fibers, which come from a kapok tree and feels similar to a mix between wool and cotton. Like many other pillows, the firmness level can be adjusted by removing or adding fill. We liked the unique honeycomb-looking cover that added an extra layer of plushness. One of our testers noticed a slight musty smell, though it seemed to get better over time as the pillow aired out. Another tester didn’t notice a smell at all on their pillow, so keep in mind this pillow may need to air out for a while if it has a smell.
$65 at Brooklinen
The Brooklinen Marlow pillow is a firm pillow. The construction is unique with side zippers that can be opened to create side gussets and allow the fill to spread out further, making it slightly softer. When we tested this pillow we found it too firm for back sleeping even with the zippers open. It only comes in one firmness level but does come in standard and king sizes.
$119 at Tempur-Pedic
Tempur-Pedic recommends this pillow for back and side sleepers, saying its molded contoured design follows the curve of your body, supporting your head and neck. It comes in small, medium and large sizes and has a guide on its website to help you choose the correct size based on your body measurements. While we found the contour pillow to support our neck and allow our head to lay in the dip, it was also extremely firm, much more so than most Tempur-Pedic beds and pillows we’ve tried, with little to no give. This is great for someone who wants an extra-firm pillow that won’t change shape, but it’s much firmer than most Tempur-Pedic beds and pillows.