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The Best Pillows For Neck Pain In 2022 For Waking Up Ache-Free

Emma Loewe
Author: Medical reviewer:
August 16, 2022
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Scott Nass, M.D., MPA, FAAFP, AAHIVS
Medical review by
Scott Nass, M.D., MPA, FAAFP, AAHIVS
Board-certified Family Physician
Scott Nass, M.D., MPA, FAAFP, AAHIVS is a family physician and HIV specialist in California. He takes a holistic approach to healthcare, incorporating principles of functional medicine and using food as medicine when working with patients.
Image by mbg creative
August 16, 2022
Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

Never underestimate the power of the right pillow—especially if you're experiencing neck pain from a muscle strain, spinal injury, or just looking at screens all day. Switching to a pillow that supports your spine's natural curvature can make a noticeable difference in stiffness and soreness levels, and it's a whole lot more affordable than buying a brand-new mattress. And since sleep is foundational to immunity, blood sugar balance, mental functioning, and more, investing in comfort at night will seriously pay off for your overall health.

Let's run through what to consider when shopping for a supportive pillow, plus eight highly vetted options that won't be a pain in your neck.

How we picked.

Thickness

First and foremost, in order to be comfortable to the neck, a pillow needs to be thick enough to support the head and keep the spine neutral. Your ideal thickness will depend on the position you spend the most time sleeping in, so we provided options for back, stomach, and side sleepers.

Materials

Those with neck pain will need a pillow that stays supportive and holds its shape over time. We scoured customer reviews to find the ones that can hold up to years of nightly use and still look and feel good as new.

Sustainability

We looked for brands that use certified organic, natural, and/or recycled materials in their pillows. We also gave high marks to companies that are offsetting their shipping, utilizing plastic-free packaging, or going above and beyond to practice sustainability in another way.

Trial periods

We prioritized companies that offer trial periods because you really never know if a pillow is going to work for you until you sleep with it for a few weeks.

mbg's picks for the best pillows for neck pain of 2022:

Best memory foam: Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Cloud® Breeze Dual Cooling™ Pillow

Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Cloud® Breeze Dual Cooling™ Pillow
VIEW ON Tempur-Pedic | $199VIEW ON Amazon | $127

Pros:

  • Cooling for hot sleepers
  • Suitable for all sleep positions

Cons:

  • Expensive and no returns
  • Made from synthetic materials
Materials: Foam
Sizes available: Queen, King
Trial: N/A
Warranty: 5-Year

This pillow offers all the plush-yet-responsive comfort you'd expect from memory foam, with an extra layer of cooling gel built in to minimize night sweats. (Traditional memory foams tend to trap heat and run warm.) Its medium-firm feel is comfortable for most sleep positions, offering just the right amount of neck support to minimize pain. While it's on the pricey side, most customers found the pillow to be well worth the investment, and it's racked up an average of 4.3 stars from more than 3,000 reviewers on Amazon.

One thing to note about Tempur-Pedic pillows is that they do tend to be quite heavy and aren't as easy to travel with. And for those looking for a cushier feel, they will be too firm. While Tempur-Pedic offers a five-year limited warranty, they don't accept returns, so you might want to try this one out in person before placing your order.

Best for side sleepers: Zamat Adjustable Cervical Memory Foam Pillow

Zamat Adjustable Cervical Memory Foam Pillow
VIEW ON Amazon | $56

Pros:

  • Cooling for hot sleepers
  • Affordable
  • Comes in firm and soft options

Cons:

  • Made from synthetic materials
Materials: Foam
Sizes available: Queen, Regular
Trial: 100 nights
Warranty: 5-Year

This memory foam pillow comes in two firmness levels (firm and soft), so you can customize it based on your feel preferences and sleep position. Side sleepers with neck pain will likely want to opt for the firmer option, which supports proper alignment but still has some cushion for comfort. Hundreds of happy customers rave that the ergonomic shape of this pillow—thicker on the sides with a place to put your arms—allows them to snuggle comfortably on their sides without straining their necks. Plus, the pillow's cooling cover contains moisture-wicking bamboo that will satisfy hot sleepers, too.

The only downside to this pillow is the synthetic materials: You'll find memory foam in its inner shell and some polyester in its cover. However, for those who aren't determined to go organic, it's an affordable option worth checking out.

Best organic: Avocado Green Pillow

Avocado Green Pillow
VIEW ON Avocado | $109

Pros:

  • Made from natural & organic materials
  • Company is carbon negative

Cons:

  • Might be too firm for some sleepers
Materials: Latex
Sizes available: Queen, King, Regular
Trial: 100 nights
Warranty: 1-Year

Avocado's pillow is 100% organic through and through—from the latex interior to the cotton liner and cover. The latex layer holds its shape against many sleeping positions and doesn't bottom out like softer down or memory foam options (though it may feel too firm for some sleepers). This long-lasting investment in easing neck pain and stiffness also comes with extra filling for side sleepers looking to add some height to their pillow.

Beyond using organic materials, Avocado also supports the environment with carbon-negative production and shipping.

Best cooling pillow: Saatva Memory Foam Pillow

Saatva Memory Foam Pillow
VIEW ON Saatva | $165

Pros:

  • Cooling for hot sleepers

Cons:

  • May be too thick for back and stomach sleepers
  • Made from synthetic materials
Materials: Latex
Sizes available: Queen, King
Trial: 45 nights
Warranty: 1-Year

Sweaty sleeps are no fun, so this memory foam pillow from Saatva is outfitted with graphite to draw heat away from your head as you snooze. It's complete with a naturally breathable organic cotton cover. Measuring in at 6.5 inches thick, it might be too high for back and stomach sleepers; it's best for side sleepers suffering from neck pain and looking for some cooling relief.

Best for combo sleepers: Coop The Original

Coop The Original
VIEW ON Amazon | $72VIEW ON Coop | $72

Pros:

  • Adjustable filling
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Shredded foam might bunch at night
  • Made from synthetic materials
Materials: Foam
Sizes available: Queen, King
Trial: 100 nights
Warranty: 5-Year

Coop allows you to essentially design your own pillow by making it easy to add and remove foam filling to your liking. (An extra half-pound of foam gets shipped with each order.) This is a great option for combination sleepers who tend to switch positions and need to find a thickness that supports their neck alignment throughout the whole night. If you struggle to find a feel that works for you, Coop also has "pillow coaches" on hand to guide you.

While the filling in this pillow is synthetic, the foam is at least certified by GREENGUARD and CertiPUR-US to be low in VOC emissions and less harmful to health.

Best orthopedic pillow: Coyuchi Turiya™ Organic Latex Pillow

Coyuchi Turiya™ Organic Latex Pillow
VIEW ON Coyuchi | $148

Pros:

  • Made from natural & organic materials
  • Ergonomic design that takes pressure off neck

Cons:

  • Limited size range
Materials: Latex
Sizes available: Regular
Trial: 30 nights
Warranty: 1-Year

This reversible pillow has two sides that are ergonomically designed to take pressure off the neck and ears as you sleep. While reviewers note that the head cradle takes some getting used to, it's super comfortable once you find the right position.

Made from certified organic latex from rubber sap trees and a washable organic cotton cover, it's an earth-friendly pillow that gets shipped in a reusable, organic cloth bag to minimize plastic waste. Beyond being sustainable, latex is a naturally breathable and supportive material that holds shape over time.

This pillow gets super-high marks; out of hundreds of reviews, you won't find anyone who rated it with a single star. The main complaint is that it only comes in one size.

Best for back sleepers: Parachute Down Pillow

Parachute Down Pillow
VIEW ON Parachute | $129

Pros:

  • Comes in soft, medium, and firm options
  • Made from natural materials

Cons:

  • Might not be firm enough for some sleepers
  • Some reviewers note an odd smell
Materials: Down
Sizes available: King, Regular
Trial: 60 nights
Warranty: 3-Year

Most light-and-fluffy down pillows lack the support that those with neck pain require, but this option from Parachute comes in multiple firmness levels. Back sleepers will want to go with the firmest option, which will keep your neck in line while still retaining down's signature comfort. (Think the cloudlike feel of a hotel pillow.)

While this pillow is firmer than most down pillows, reviewers note that it is still definitely on the softer side, so those who need extra support will want to look elsewhere. Down, while a natural material, also tends to lose its shape faster than memory foam or latex.

Best for stomach sleepers: Elite Rest Ultra Slim Sleeper

Elite Rest Ultra Slim Sleeper
VIEW ON Amazon | $50

Pros:

  • Ultra-flat for stomach sleepers
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Made from synthetic materials
  • May not be supportive enough for some
Materials: Foam
Sizes available: 2.5 inches, 3 inches
Trial: 30 nights
Warranty: N/A

A flatter pillow that doesn't lift the head up too much will be most comfortable for those who sleep on their stomach—and this ultra-thin option from Elite Rest fits the bill. At 2.5 to 3 inches thick, it provides a slim layer of memory foam for neck kink-free wakeups. While it might be too thin for some sleepers, it's perfect for those who often throw their pillows off the bed in the middle of the night. It's also a nice option for those who tend to sleep with an arm underneath their pillow. Despite being so thin, reviewers note that the pillow keeps its shape—and comfortable firm yet plush feel—for years. (Not bad for an option that will set you back less than $50.)

The Elite Rest is encased in a machine-washable cotton cover, but the pillow itself is made from synthetic memory foam.

What to consider when looking for a pillow.

We asked a physical therapist and a sleep posture researcher all about the most important qualities in a pillow that will relieve neck pain. Overall, research shows (and experts agree) that the ideal pillow for neck pain should be soft but not too high, provide neck support, and be allergy-tested and washable. Here's a more detailed breakdown of what to look for:

  • Thickness: Looking at screens, driving, and just going about daily life can put a lot of pressure on the cervical spine, explains Erin Weber, P.T., DBT, a physical therapist at Flow Physiotherapy in Brooklyn. Your pillow can help take the strain off your neck at the end of a long day. Look for one that is just the right thickness to support a neutral posture and allow for the natural curvature of the spine. Side sleepers will likely need a thicker pillow to fill the space between their head and their mattress, while back and stomach sleepers can get away with something thinner and less bulky.
  • Mattress: Your mattress and your pillow work in harmony to create a comfortable sleeping environment. "If you sleep on a firmer-than-average mattress, your body is going to sit a bit higher on that mattress because you can't sink down, and that means your pillow will need to be a bit thicker because your head is sitting higher off the mattress," Doug Cary, Ph.D., a physiotherapist and sleep posture researcher previously told mbg. "Conversely, if you're sleeping on a softer mattress, you're going to sink further down into it, so there is going to be less of a difference between your head and the pillow." In this case, thinner pillows are best!
  • Loft: Loft is the height of your pillow when your head is resting on it. If the loft is too high, Weber explains, your cervical spine muscles will be activated as you sleep. This is a recipe for neck pain, headaches, or jaw pain upon waking. Instead, you'll want to look for a pillow that allows these muscles to rest up.
  • Support: While you don't want a pillow that has too much height, you don't want one that's too flat either. Depending on your sleep position, a flattened pillow will not be supportive enough for you. Finding a middle ground is important, but it can take some trial and error, which is why those trial periods are important. Cervical pillows offer extra cushion for the neck with an additional section at the bottom, though there is limited evidence that these do much to ease pain.
  • Cover materials: A pillow cover that's made from natural materials like cotton will be cooling, breathable, hypoallergenic, and easy to wash—a must for sweaty sleepers.

FAQ

Can pillows cause neck pain?

Yes, pillows can both aggravate existing neck issues and cause new aches and pains. Sleeping on the wrong pillow will activate your neck muscles and potentially lead to headaches, jaw pain, and neck pain upon waking.

Should my pillow be firm or soft to alleviate neck pain?

Your ideal firmness will depend on your preferences and sleeping style, but firmer pillows tend to be more supportive and comfortable for those with neck pain.

Should I sleep without a pillow if my neck hurts?

Weber notes that after a long day of extending the neck, sleeping without a pillow can actually feel really good. If you do, you might just want to pop a small towel behind your neck to support its natural curvature.

The takeaway.

A comfortable pillow can reduce neck strain as you sleep and help you wake up pain-free. Look for one that is the right thickness and firmness to keep your upper spine in a neutral position all night. And if your neck isn't the only thing that's aching, check out these mattresses for low-back pain and toppers for hip pain next.

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.