Being sleep-deprived doesn’t just make you a grumpy, unpleasant person to be around — lack of sleep can have real-life health consequences, too. In fact, sleep deprivation has been linked to things like depression, immune dysfunction, and inflammation. That's why it’s essential to get proper sleep — and also why your choice of pillow may be more important than you think. Having the best cervical pillows can help improve your quality of rest and support your overall health.
New York-based occupational therapist Brittany Ferri, OTR/L, tells Inverse that cervical pillows are important because they keep your upper body properly aligned and give your muscles a chance to heal. "This allows our sinuses to drain, our brain to recirculate fluid throughout our body, and regenerate the liquid surrounding the spinal cord," she explains. "These vital fluids help us sleep better and function better the next day."
When picking out a pillow, it's important to first consider how you sleep at night. If you tend to sleep on your side a lot, for instance, you'll want different features than someone who sleeps on their back or stomach. To get a better sense of what each sleeper type should seek out in a cervical pillow, I emailed Dr. Sebastian Kverneland, DC, an LA-based chiropractor.
When you're sleeping on your side, you should look for a pillow that's both thicker and higher, Dr. Kverneland explains. The goal is to support the most stable position of your spine and "not allow your spinal curves to sink into a bad posture position." He adds that this can help with certain musculoskeletal tension pains.
For people who sleep on their back, a slightly thinner cervical pillow works best, according to Dr. Kverneland. "You don’t want a big pillow lifting your head too much up and forward," he says." He also emphasizes the importance of pillow placement, as too often people put the cushion directly under their head, leaving their neck without proper support. "The pillow should not only cradle your head but also give support to your neck from the base of your skull and all the way down to the start of your thoracic spine."
As for sleeping on your stomach, Dr. Kverneland says that it's generally not a good idea. This position strains your neck and can lead to chronic pain. That said, he acknowledges that some people can't avoid it, and if that's the case, it's best to opt for a pillow that's extra thin. In most cases, this won't be a cervical pillow (which by definition has contours) but rather a thin, regularly shaped pillow that can mold to your body.
With Dr. Kverneland's guidance in mind, I put together a list of the best cervical pillows for each type of sleeper, including an option that's built for travel.
1. The cervical pillow for side sleepers
This orthopedic pillow for neck pain is the perfect choice for people who frequently sleep on their side and are more prone to stiffness, soreness, and aching in the neck. It's constructed with low-rebound memory foam that molds to the contours of your body slowly without being bouncy or giving you that sinking neck feeling. As Dr. Kverneland recommends, it's thicker than your standard cervical pillow — and higher, too. There's a contour at the bottom specifically meant to cradle your neck and upper shoulders, along with one in the middle to provide support for your head. As a bonus, the soft pillow comes with a removable cover that's machine-washable.
2. The cervical pillow for back sleepers
If you tend to sleep on your back the most frequently, this cervical memory foam pillow is a fantastic option. It's made with high-tech memory foam and is ultra-flexible, curving to the contours of your body. Not only that, but the breathable bamboo fiber is hypoallergenic and helps regulate your body temperature. The pillow is firm without feeling hard, according to Amazon reviewers, and slightly thinner than average to accommodate back sleeping. The rayon-polyester material is soft against your skin and the machine-washable cover slides off with a convenient zipper.
3. A thin pillow for stomach sleepers (if you must)
It's not advisable to sleep on your stomach if you can avoid it. However, if it's a habit you can't seem to break or you have other reasons that necessitate it, this ultra-thin memory foam pillow is a great option. With a flat, rectangular design, it''s not a cervical pillow, but it makes a good choice for folks who are prone to sleeping face down. It's made out of soft memory foam gel that adapts to the curves of your body and provides exceptional comfort, according to reviewers. On top of that, it has a breathable (and fully removable) bamboo cover, along with ventilations holes that help prevent you from overheating. The soft, comfy pillow comes with a convenient carrying sack so you can roll it up and take it with you when you travel.
4. A travel cervical pillow with heat therapy
If you're looking for a cervical pillow to take on airplanes, long car rides, or other scenarios when you're on the road, this heated neck pillow is an excellent option. In addition to its soft and pliable memory foam core, the innovative neck pillow features graphene heating film that helps soothe aches and pains. The adjustable temperature offers three heat settings ranging from 113 and 131 degrees Fahrenheit. The pillow heats up in three to 10 seconds and charges quickly, too with a simple USB cable. The relaxing neck pillow comes with a removable, fully washable cover.