Alright pillow fans, it’s time for another round of Pillow Talk! Last week we walked you through the history of the pillow, and I think we all can agree that pillow technology has come a long way in the past 9,000 years!

In fact, with so many modern advancements and brands to choose from today, pillow shopping can seem like an overwhelming task at first glance. What’s the difference between down and feather? Which firmness level is right for me? And what the heck is “fill power”?

We answer all of these questions and more in our buying guide below! So read on and start yourself on the journey to pillow perfection as we break down the steps you should take in the purchasing process.

Step 1: Assess your sleep position

Source: Sleep Junkie

While there are many different opinions on which sleep positions are most beneficial, ultimately the “best” sleep position may come down to what’s most comfortable for you.

Determining your sleep position is also the first step in choosing the right pillow to meet your needs. Are you most comfortable sleeping on your back? Or do you favor one of your sides, or your stomach? While there is some variation among these three sleep styles, these are the three main terms we use when discussing sleep positions and determining which level of support is best for your style.

Stomach sleepers: If face down is your favorite sleep position, you will want to choose a soft, thinner pillow with a lower profile. Not only will this be most comfortable for you, but it will also prevent neck strain by keeping your head from being propped up too high while you sleep. (Because let’s face it: waking up is already hard enough without having to readjust your neck!)

Luckily there are plenty of low profile pillow options for stomach sleepers that still provide excellent support!

Back sleepers: When it comes to this position, “medium” is the name of the game. Basically, you want a firmness level that will provide adequate support for your head and spine without propping them up too high. (Again: neck strain. You don’t want it.) This will vary based on the individual, but a good rule of thumb is that if the pillow is listed as “medium support” or something similar, it’s a good place to start. Browse our recommendations here!

Side sleepers: If you sleep on your side, you should look for a pillow with medium to firm support and a high enough profile to fill the space between your head and your mattress. You may also want to consider an additional pillow to place between your legs to cushion your knees, as this will help your body maintain its proper alignment as you sleep.

Step 2: Determine your fill preference

Now that you’ve assessed your sleep position, it’s time to decide which type of fill you’d like in your new pillow. There are a LOT of options, and they each have their advantages and disadvantages, so read on for the full breakdown!

Down: Down is widely considered to be the most luxurious of all fills, and thus, it’s usually the most expensive. But what is it, exactly? Basically, down is the type of warm, insulating feather found closest to a bird’s skin that helps protect it from frigid temperatures. Some advantages of down are that it’s very lightweight, it has superior loft and fluffiness and it’s exceptionally soft. However, down can trigger allergic reactions in those who have feather allergies, so make sure you’re not one of those unlucky few before making a purchase!

Also, be aware that not all down is created equal. Remember that term “fill power” we mentioned earlier? Here’s where it comes into play. “Fill power” refers to the quality and insulating value of down. So the higher the fill power, the higher quality the down will be, and thus, the loftier, softer and more insulating the resulting pillow will be. If you’re in the market for a down pillow specifically, we recommend one with a fill power of at least 500.

Down/Feather: This fill type is a combination of down and the larger, exterior feathers found on the duck or goose. Down/feather pillows vary in their levels of support and softness based on the ratios of included down and larger feathers. Basically, the more down that’s in the mix, the softer and loftier it will be, while the greater the percentage of larger feathers, the more firm and supportive it will be.

The main advantage of this fill type over others is its versatility and range of firmness options. Basically, no matter your firmness requirements, you’ll be able to find a down/feather option that’s right for you! However, the same disadvantages of down still apply: if you have a feather allergy, go with an alternative pillow type.

Down Alternative: Allergy sufferers, this fill type is for you! If you still want the soft luxuriousness of down without the coughing and sneezing fits, a pillow with a down alternative fill is a great choice. Down alternative fills are comprised of either natural or synthetic fibers that are designed to mimic the feel of down, and thanks to modern technology, many of them are so realistic it’s difficult to tell the difference!

Nomex 2 Cropped
Synthetic fibers under microscope. Source:

Synthetic: This is another great option for those with feather allergies! Synthetic fibers are man-made, the most common being polyester. These fibers can range from 10 to 15 micrometers in thickness all the way down to a fraction of a human hair, so manufacturers can create all types of loftiness and firmness levels by varying the thickness of the fibers. Because of this, there is likely a synthetic pillow out there that meets your needs! In addition, synthetic fiber-filled pillows are machine washable, very easy to maintain and much lower cost than feather and down options.

When it comes to foam pillows, there are two main options: memory foam and latex foam. Memory foam pillows are typically very dense, provide a firm support level and conform to the sleeper’s body. Latex pillows come in two varieties: Talalay Latex and Dunlop Latex. Dunlop latex pillows are generally more dense and firm, while Talalay latex offers a wide range of firmness options and have more of a “pillowy-soft” feel.


Step 3: Decide which size is right for you

Like the people who use them, pillows come in all shapes and sizes! Ultimately, the right size for you comes down to personal preference. Below are some common configurations.

Common sizes: These are the rectangular bed pillows you’re probably most familiar with. The most common sizes are “standard” (20 inches x 26 inches), “super standard” or “jumbo” (20 inches x 28 inches), queen size (20 inches x 30 inches) and king size (20 inches by 36 inches).

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Body pillows: If you find yourself amassing an army of pillows to cuddle up to in the night, you may want to look into a body pillow to meet your needs for full body support. Body pillows come in all shapes and sizes, so there is an option for everyone! Since they provide total body support, body pillows are great for keeping your body properly aligned as you sleep.


Contour pillows: Contour pillows are designed to cradle the user’s head, neck and shoulders. They are ergonomically crafted to hold the sleeper in proper alignment, so they are especially good options for those with neck and back pain. Like most pillows, contour pillows come in all shapes and sizes.


Square pillows: These square-shaped pillows are also referred to as “Euro” or “European” pillows, and they come in all different sizes. Euro pillows are great for decorative use and for acting as a backdrop for your other pillows, but many people also use them for sleep as well.


Pillow inserts: Pillow inserts are another decorative option, and come in all shapes, sizes and fill options!

Fine Design by Willie Pillow Insert 4

Step 4: Enjoy your new pillow!

You made it! See, pillow shopping wasn’t so scary after all. Once you understand the terminology and range of options available to consumers, finding the perfect pillow becomes simple and stress-free—the way your sleep should be!

Once you find that perfect pillow, however, you may encounter some brand new problems: getting out of bed in the morning, for example! Luckily, we have you covered there as well: in next Monday’s post we’ll be dishing out our favorite tips for waking up in the morning, so be sure to check back then!

Until next time: sleep well, live well and be well!