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10 best pillows that provide comfort and support for side, front and back sleepers

From mulberry silk and eucalyptus fibre to soft pine shavings and nanocubes, there’s a pillow out there for every sleeper

Liz Dodd
Monday 09 August 2021 22:59
<p>We put these pillows through their paces with all kinds of sleepers</p>

We put these pillows through their paces with all kinds of sleepers

In 2021 the market has moved beyond traditional feather and down pillows – although, as we found out through testing, it’s hard to beat a really exceptional down pillow – to incorporate more vegan, hypoallergenic, and environmentally-friendly fills. Silk pillows – which are stuffed with silk fibres, not encased in silk – are a huge new trend, and environmentally-friendly fills like wool and tencel are becoming increasingly popular.

The pillow you need depends on the way you sleep – for more, see our pillow buying guide. According to the Sleep Council, a good pillow should hold your head in the correct alignment – that is, in the same relation to your shoulders and spine as if you were standing upright with the correct posture. That means that people who sleep on their backs can get away with almost any kind of pillow, but people who sleep on their side or front need a little bit more support – think foam, not feather.

There are some exceptions to that: our best buy is a very firm down pillow, and our side-sleeping reviewer (literally) risked her neck to test its level of support – which was exceptional. Meanwhile some foam pillows, like the Simba Hybrid (£99, Simbasleep.com), are customisable – so you can adjust the quantity of foam fill to bring the pillow all the way down to mattress level, which will suit back sleepers.

Pillow care depends on the fill, and we looked for easy maintenance when we were testing. Most have removable covers that you can pop in the wash; if you’ve invested in a really deluxe pillow, you might also want to buy a separate pillow protector to extend its life. Don’t try to wash down yourself – a gentle fluff and regular airing is all it needs to stay clean and hygienic and get it professionally laundered if you have to.

How we tested

We got all kinds of sleepers – front, side and back – to test these pillows over a number of nights, which meant they were put through their paces in variable conditions (a heatwave, followed by a typical English month-long downpour). We looked for reported comfort, both when settling down to sleep and when sipping coffee and scrolling the internet in the morning, and we also compared our reviewers’ sleep scores, as reported on their wearables, for each pillow they tested.

Read more:

The best pillows for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Brook and Wilde marlowe pillow: £229, Brookandwilde.com
  • Best for a luxury feel – The White Company ultimate silk surround pillow: £85, Thewhitecompany.com
  • Best for side sleepers – Panda bamboo memory foam pillow: £44.95, Mypandalife.com
  • Best for supportive comfort – Simba hybrid pillow: £99, Simbasleep.com
  • Best for excellent support – Emma original pillow: £37.95, Emma-mattress.co.uk
  • Best for buying in pairs – Soak and Sleep ultimate 90 Hungarian goose down pillow: £75, Soakandsleep.com
  • Best for reading in bed – The White Company memory foam pillow: £45, Thewhitecompany.com
  • Best for waking up refreshed – Greenfibres organic wool pillow with swiss pine shavings: £99.60, Greenfibres.com
  • Best for luxury on a budget – John Lewis & Partners mulberry silk blend standard pillow: £55, Johnlewis.com
  • Best for the environment – Greenfibres tencel pillow: £53, Greenfibres.com

Brook and Wilde marlowe pillow

Best: Overall

  • Firmness: Medium or firm
  • Dimensions: 50cm x 75cm
  • Filling: Goose down
  • Cover: Cotton
  • Weight: 1.45kg
  • Adjustable: No
  • Guarantee: No
  • Trial offer: No
  • Rating: 10/10

One of the best pillows our reviewer has ever slept on, and the only down pillow we’d recommend to side and front sleepers. We tested a firm pillow and the combination of support and comfort was extraordinary. It’s so generously stuffed, with a combination of feathers and down across three separate chambers, that your head and neck are completely and comfortably supported – but you still get that gentle, five-star hotel style “sink” that makes down and feather pillows so gorgeously luxurious. The feather sourcing is impeccable, audited to the highest standards by Down Pass. Our reviewer doesn’t recommend pillows this expensive lightly – but this one is peerless.

The White Company ultimate silk surround pillow

Best: For a luxury feel

  • Firmness: Medium
  • Dimensions: 50cm x 75cm
  • Filling: Mulberry silk fibres and polyester
  • Cover: Cotton
  • Weight: 1.45kg
  • Adjustable: No
  • Guarantee: 2 years
  • Trial offer: No
  • Rating: 10/10

This new addition to The White Company’s sumptuous pillow collection is a delight, supportive and squishy with some of the best loft we’ve experienced: the pillow kept its shape and cloud-like puffiness after multiple sleeps, with no need to fluff it up. It feels like down, but the fill – polyester and ultra luxurious mulberry silk fibres – are hypoallergenic and fabulously breathable. Our side and front sleepers, who usually use memory foam pillows for the added support, loved it. The quilted casing – 300-thread-count cotton-sateen – is higher quality than our reviewer’s actual bedding, which made it tempting to skip a pillowcase entirely.

Panda bamboo memory foam pillow

Best: For side sleepers

  • Firmness: Firm
  • Height: 60cm x 40cm x 12cm
  • Filling: Memory foam
  • Cover: Bamboo and polyester
  • Weight: 1.8kg
  • Adjustable: No
  • Guarantee: 10 years
  • Trial offer: 30 nights
  • Rating: 9/10

We love bamboo bedding – it looks and feels a bit like silk, but is environmentally friendly, easy to care for, and temperature-regulating. That makes it the perfect antidote to memory foam, which offers unparalleled support but traps heat and is hard to recycle. The foam that Panda uses for this ultra-supportive pillow is really firm – not uncomfortably so, it has plenty of squish – making it perfect for side and front sleepers, and its thick bamboo case is soft, cooling, and hypoallergenic. You don’t need any additional case, although if the adorable embroidered panda logo in the corner doesn’t match your decor a large-ish pillowcase works fine.

Simba hybrid pillow

Best: For supportive comfort

  • Firmness: Medium-firm (adjustable)
  • Height: 50cm x 75cm
  • Filling: Microfibre
  • Cover: Stratos cotton
  • Weight: 2.7kg
  • Adjustable: Yes
  • Guarantee: One year
  • Trial offer: No
  • Rating: 8/10

Still our favourite alternative to traditional memory foam, Simba’s famous pillow is stuffed with small, closed-cell foam “nanocubes” that you can move and remove to tailor its height and supportiveness to your sleep style. One of the most technical pillows on the market, it’s genuinely brilliant at handling different temperatures: one side of the case is soft cotton, and the other is Simba’s own “stratos” fabric, which disperses or holds onto heat depending on your skin temperature. After many, many nights we found the cubes tended to bunch up a little, but that’s easy to fix by unzipping the case and moving them around.

Read the full Simba pillow hybrid review

Emma original pillow

Best: For excellent support

  • Firmness: Medium or firm
  • Height: 40cm x 70cm
  • Filling: Foam and memory foam
  • Cover: Polyester and elastane
  • Weight: 1.3kg
  • Adjustable: Yes
  • Guarantee: Yes
  • Trial offer: 200 nights
  • Rating: 8/10

Totally customisable foam support at a brilliant price. The Emma original pillow – from the same company that makes the popular Emma mattress (£639, Emma-mattress.co.uk) – is structured like a sandwich, with two sloped layers of firmer foam surrounding a super squishy layer of memory foam. You can remove layers if you need less height, and move them around if you want more or less give – popping the memory foam on top, for example. The thick polyester case is really good at dispersing heat in warm weather, is hypoallergenic and easy to remove and wash.

Read our Emma memory foam pillow vs Simba review here

Soak and Sleep ultimate 90 Hungarian goose down pillow

Best: For buying in pairs

  • Firmness: Soft, medium or firm
  • Height: 50cm x 75cm
  • Filling: Goose down
  • Cover: Cotton
  • Adjustable: No
  • Guarantee: 5 years
  • Trial offer: No
  • Rating: 7.5/10

Brilliant loft and all the luxury of top-quality down at a seriously reasonable price – with a good discount available if you buy a pair of pillows (a set of two nets you a 15 per cent saving). Multiple chambers mean that there’s plenty of support along with the squish: the inner core is stuffed with supportive feathers, and the outer is filled with super soft down. We loved the structure and lift of this pillow, which worked for our side sleepers, who typically need a bit more support. It has great ethical credentials: the down and feathers are sourced from a family-run business in Hungary, and scanning a QR code on the label helps you to trace the fill. We couldn’t test for this, but Soak and Sleep says that because the fill is washed in warm spring water, not chemicals, and encased in a mite-deterring fabric, it’s suitable for people with allergies.

The White Company memory foam pillow

Best: For reading in bed

  • Firmness: Medium
  • Height: 45cm x 70cm
  • Filling: Shredded memory foam
  • Cover: Polyester and viscose from bamboo
  • Adjustable: No
  • Guarantee: No
  • Trial offer: No
  • Rating: 8/10

An incredible pillow, and one of our favourites: this heavy, luxurious, sumptuous pillow is not what you expect from memory foam. That’s because the fill is shredded, rather than a solid block, which means that it’s both supportive and giving, about as close as you could get to a natural fill like wool or feather, but completely vegan and hypoallergenic. It’s got quite a high profile, but plenty of give, which makes it absolutely ideal if you like to read (or scroll social media) in bed. The part-bamboo casing helps to disperse heat well, and our reviewer never found this pillow too hot, even in warm weather.

Greenfibres organic wool pillow with swiss pine shavings

Best: For waking up refreshed

  • Firmness: Medium
  • Height: 50cm x 75cm
  • Filling: Organic wool and pine shavings
  • Cover: Cotton
  • Weight: 1.45kg
  • Adjustable: Yes
  • Guarantee: No
  • Trial offer: No
  • Rating: 9/10

Pine-stuffed pillows are the kind of luxury you find at Swiss spas: the gentle scent released by the pine shavings (which are soft, not spiky!) can allegedly help treat everything from insomnia to stress to poor skin. We can’t vouch for all that, but our reviewers absolutely loved drifting off surrounded by the very subtle smell of warm pine forests. Wool pillows are a brilliant alternative to foam and feather: they’re supportive, good for the environment and breathable. Unzip the pillow when it arrives and tease apart the wool balls inside until you get to your ideal level of loft, then slumber your way into an Alpine dreamscape.

John Lewis & Partners natural collection mulberry silk blend standard pillow

Best: For luxury on a budget

  • Firmness: Medium or firm
  • Height: 48cm x 74cm
  • Filling: Mulberry silk and polyester
  • Cover: Cotton sateen
  • Adjustable: No
  • Guarantee: 2 years
  • Trial offer: No
  • Rating: 7/10

Silk pillows are a real trend this year, but if you’re not sure that soft mulberry fibres will give you enough support – if you’re a side or front sleeper or you have a neck injury, for example – this snuggly pillow from John Lewis & Partners is a brilliant introduction. We tested a medium-firm pillow and found the combination of firm, bouncy polyester in the core chamber and soft silk in the outer chamber gave our side sleepers enough support for a comfortable night. There wasn’t quite as much bounce as you might get from a pricier pillow, but paired with a firm, flat, low-profile memory foam pillow underneath, there was plenty of structure for our front-sleeping testers, too.

Greenfibres tencel pillow

Best: For the environment

  • Firmness: Soft
  • Height: 40cm x 60cm
  • Filling: Tencel
  • Cover: Cotton
  • Adjustable: Yes
  • Guarantee: No
  • Trial offer: No
  • Rating: 8/10

From jumpsuits to bedding, tencel is the ethical fabric of the moment. Made from raw natural fibre derived from eucalyptus wood – in this case grown sustainably – it’s a soft, springy substance that’s a little like wool. Everything about tencel – from the way it’s grown to how it’s treated – is gentle on the environment. Greenfibres makes our favourite tencel pillow: the little clusters of fibre inside feel and respond like wool balls when you tease them apart, making the pillow buttery-soft and cloudlike. Ideal for back sleepers.

Pillow FAQs

What type of pillow is right for you?

Microfibre – These pillows tend to be among some of the most affordable and are manmade from synthetic materials such as polyester. They come in a range of different firmness levels, which makes them suitable for most sleeping styles, particular front sleepers as they tend to be flatter. However, they aren’t the most breathable option as they can retain moisture and heat.

Feather and down – To be called a down pillow, a product must be made up of at least 70 per cent down feathers, with the rest being regular feathers. Down feathers are typically far softer and better at retaining heat. It’s worth noting that they're more expensive than most other pillows and not always suitable for those with allergies, however you can find anti-allergy options. As down pillows flatten over time, they’re not the best option for side sleepers who require more height, but others will usually find it a comfortable choice.

Memory foam – These pillows are ideal for anyone who struggles with neck pain as they offer sturdy support by moulding to the shape of your body. While they are durable, memory foam pillows can feel quite rigid and have limited airflow, which means they can get hot. Back and side sleepers will benefit most from this type of pillow.

Wool – If it’s an eco-friendly and naturally hypoallergenic pillow you’re after, wool could be the option for you. Wool pillows help to regulate your temperature, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer, and are best-suited to front sleepers.

Latex – An alternative to memory foam, latex pillows share similar properties as they are firm and supportive. While they are much more breathable than memory foam, latex styles are on the pricey side and can have a distinct smell.

The verdict: Pillows

Resting our head on Brook and Wilde’s exceptional Marlowe pillow felt like a treat every single night, and it contributed to really excellent sleep. For back sleepers, we love Greenfibre’s exceptionally soft Tencel pillow.

Voucher codes

For the latest savings on bedding and other homeware offers, try the below links:

More bedroom recommendations:

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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