The ultimate guide on choosing the best pillow for different sleeper types and lifestyle considerations, including a handy pillow size chart and filling descriptions.

Choosing a pillow for:

We talk a lot about mattresses here at Sealy, and while they are critical to enjoying a good night’s rest, your pillow is just as important for sleep health and comfort. A good pillow should support your head, neck and shoulders properly and promote correct spinal alignment.

If you find yourself waking up with a stiff neck, sore shoulders or aching in your upper back, it may be time to assess whether you are using the right pillow for your sleep position and overall comfort.

3 things to consider when choosing a pillow

1. Fill or fibre options

There is no simple answer to the question, “what are pillows made of?” They are filled with a variety of materials, sourced from both organic and synthetic sources. These include feather or down pillows, wool, cotton, latex and memory foam. If you are concerned about allergies or asthma, you may wish to read our guide on the best pillows for you. Otherwise, the right fill or fibre depends on how you sleep and what sort of comfort you prefer.

Feather, down and down alternative

Feather pillows are typically filled with duck or goose feathers. Down pillows are slightly different, packed with the fluff sourced from the chest area of waterfowl. Many brands combine the two materials for varying softness and height. Depending on the types of feathers and their composition, these kinds of pillows may compress over time. There are synthetic down pillows available, also called ‘down alternative’ that may provide a comparable amount of comfort while being hypoallergenic and, in many cases, more affordable.

Cotton, wool and polyester

Cotton and wool fills are naturally hypoallergenic with moisture wicking qualities, making them more ideal for warm sleepers. Wool pillows compress more than cotton, and may not offer sufficient support for back or side sleepers. Cotton tends to have a firmer feel, but both of these pillows will lose their shape over time.

Polyester is a synthetic alternative to cotton and wool. It is often a more affordable solution and can be easily machine-washed. As it is not a natural fibre, however, polyester may retain more heat and may form lumps quicker than other pillow types.

Latex and memory foam

Latex pillows are organic, made from the sap of rubber trees and are consequently hypoallergenic. They are known for durability and their ability to hold their shape, as the nature of latex allows these pillows to ‘rebound’. Many pillows designed with a contoured shape or specific-use pillows are made of this material.

Memory foam is a popular pillow choice because of the way it moulds to the contours of a sleeper’s head, neck and shoulders. The distribution of weight and pressure make these pillows an ideal choice for those with associated muscular pain. The drawback is that memory foam can trap heat unless it is infused with cooling gel or covered with moisture wicking fabric, like our Optimal Comfort pillows.

How to choose a pillow

2. Fill weight, power and loft

The best pillow for you may be a high or low pillow, depending on how you sleep. Some pillow fill options are lighter than others, and therefore more malleable. Feather and down pillows, for instance, are lightweight and easy to squish, fold or plump up; latex and memory foam pillows do not respond the same way. Besides the material itself, there are also measurements of pillow fill qualities: weight, power and loft.

There is a small distinction between each of these terms. Fill weight refers to the quantity (grams or ounces) of filling inside the pillow. Fill power refers to the quality of the filling, such as the size of feathers or tufts of down. 1kg of goose down has more fill power than 1kg of duck down because it is naturally fluffier and thicker. Pillows with higher fill power are softer and often much warmer, but they are not necessarily larger or thicker in size.

Loft measures how fluffy and how high a pillow is as a result of these qualities. A pillow with low loft means it sits flatter and is more compact than one with high loft. It is important to choose the right loft, as you may not want to sink in too much or have your head rest too high.

The best pillow for you

3. Size and shape

A standard pillow in Australia is 51 x 66cm. There are also Queen and King pillow sizes, body pillows and the European square. Whichever size you prefer, make sure your pillowcases are suitably sized to match. If your pillowcase is too small, your pillow is likely to become warped and lumpy. We have listed the standard pillow sizes below for comparison.

Pillow Size (cm) Size (in)
51 × 66 cm
20 × 26 ″
51 × 76 cm
20 × 30 ″
51 × 92 cm
20 × 36 ″
66 × 66 cm
26 × 26 ″
51 × 137 cm
20 × 54 ″

In addition to the standard rectangle, pillows also come in other shapes. A curved body pillow may help prevent rolling over, while a contour pillow has an arch designed to sit against the neck. There are also a number of specific-use pillows. Knee pillows can aid back and side sleepers with postural concerns and back pain; wedge pillows are ideal for particular health concerns like acid reflux.

It is important to consider whether you require a specialised pillow or a larger size, as well as the sort of comfort and materials you might prefer.

Pillows and accessories

View our Sealy range of pillows that include memory foam contour pillows, gel-infused options and Tencel covers for cooler comfort.
View our Sealy range of pillows that include memory foam contour pillows, gel-infused options and Tencel covers for cooler comfort.

Sleeping positions

Your pillow is equally important in getting a good night’s sleep as your mattress. A poorly chosen pillow can result in spinal misalignment, discomfort and tossing and turning. We break down the different sleep positions below and discuss which pillow type might suit you best.

Back sleepers

Back sleepers

The ideal pillow for a back sleeper is typically one with medium loft that has medium to firm comfort. It is important to keep the head and neck aligned while lying on your back, so opt for a curved or contour pillow that has the ability to mould to you. These are often made of memory foam or latex, as these materials do not squish down or move too much during the night.

If these options feels too firm for you, try a soft pillow that allows you to sink in without your head sitting too high or dipping too low.

Side sleepers

Side sleepers

As a side sleeper, you may require a pillow with high loft and firm support. Thicker pillows will fill the gap beneath your neck, offering correct support and keeping your spine in a neutral position. You do not want your head to sink too low or sit too high, straining your neck and surrounding muscles.

Again, in this case, a contour pillow is often ideal because of the wedge that can sit against your neck. Otherwise, opt for a standard pillow with significant fill power or density that prevents your head from sinking too low. For more information, read our guide on pillows for this sleep position.

Front sleepers

Front sleepers

Front sleepers typically suit the softest and thinnest of pillows to support the neck. In this position, the body lies closer to the mattress; if the pillow is too high or too firm, the head is likely to be angled upwards causing neck and back pain.

Ideally, a front sleeper pillow should be low loft with a fill that compresses easily, such as feathers, down or wool. A firmer memory foam pillow may also be suitable so long as it is a suitably low loft.

When to replace your pillow

The lifespan of a pillow varies depending on its filling and fabric, as well as how often you use it. Foam, latex, feather and down pillows can last up to 10 years if appropriately cared for. Cotton and wool have a typical lifespan of 3–5 years, while polyester may need replacing as frequently as every 6 months. Most pillow brands include a use-by-date on the care label as a helpful reminder. 

If your nightly pillow starts to show signs of wear, you should consider replacing it. Such signs include yellowing and stains, odours and irreparable lumps. You may also try folding your pillow in half — if it does not bounce back to shape or appears limp, it has likely lost support and may start to feel uncomfortable.

Caring for your pillow

It is important to care for your pillows for your health and sleep environment, especially if you suffer from any allergies or respiratory conditions. We know that up to 10% of the weight of a pillow is a combination of dead skin cells, bed bugs and dust mites. Caring for your pillow will help it to last longer and perform better.

We have a guide to help you care for your pillow, including guidelines for washing by machine or by hand, drying pillows effectively and protecting them for future use.

Questions often asked about choosing pillows

Which type of pillow is best?

The best pillow for you depends on your sleep position, temperature and any health concerns like allergies. Our guide breaks down different kinds of pillows and how to choose the best solution for you.

Which firmness of pillow is best?

If you sleep on your front, opt for a softer pillow. Side and back sleepers should look for medium and firm pillows. This does also depend on your individual needs and comfort preferences, so take the time to try a few different variations.

What type of pillow is best for all positions?

Look for a design that has a soft and supportive dip in the middle, with higher and more firm sections on the side. This pillow should have sufficient neck support when sleeping on your back, with elevation for when you roll to the side.

How much should you pay for pillows?

This is a personal choice, and you may need to balance your budget with the overall quality, material and expected lifespan of your pillow. Polyester pillows are typically the most affordable option, but they need replacing more often and tend to feel warmer during the night.


Where to try pillows

Visit your nearest Sealy retailer to seek their expert advice and experience first hand our innovative and luxurious products for yourself.
Visit your nearest Sealy retailer to seek their expert advice and experience first hand our innovative and luxurious products for yourself.