Pillows can have a definite effect, for better or worse, on sleep posture and comfort. And, like mattresses, there is no easy one-size-fits-all recommendation. Let me begin by saying that I have purchased more pillows than I have actually used and I have actually “tested” them by lying on the floor of stores to try to find the best fit, much to the dismay of other customers coming down the aisle! Here are a few guidelines that I hope will be helpful in your quest for the perfect pillow:
Simply put, pillows should help to maintain the alignment of your ear, shoulder and hip in a straight line (when viewed from the side) without bringing your head forward or tilting your head to the side (when viewed from the front).
If you are a back sleeper, you do not want your pillow to push your head up, bringing your ear forward of your shoulder, which means that you will use a fairly flat pillow. Enough pillow should be used to keep your face parallel to the ceiling, tilting the chin neither up nor down. Some people sleep comfortably with a roll under their neck and no pillow under their head at all.
If you are a side sleeper, you will need a thicker pillow to fill in between your ear and the mattress without tipping your head up (too much pillow) or down (too little pillow). If you find yourself putting your arm up under your pillow to make it more comfortable, it is likely that your pillow is too thin (and that you will also end up with shoulder problems as a result).
Many pillows are now labeled for back sleepers or side sleepers (ignore any that suggest stomach sleeping, which is, with very few exceptions, always a bad idea!), which can be a place to start. You may be asking after reading above, what if I sleep on both my back and my sides? There are some specialty pillows with more cushion on the sides than the center that can work in this case, but most average pillows are not designed to support you properly in both positions.
My final suggestion is to ask the store if you can buy multiple pillows and return the ones you don’t want if you keep them in the original packaging and don’t actually sleep on them. (Yes, there are stores that will do this.) That way, you can at least try them on your own bed and get a much better idea of how it will work for you than lying on the floor of the store!