Side sleepers typically require a higher pillow loft to fill the gap between their head and the mattress. Medium firm and firm pillows generally provide added support and structure.
Back sleepers tend to prefer a medium loft, medium firm pillow to cradle the head and neck without pushing it too far forward.
Stomach sleepers require lower lofts. Higher lofts can force the head back and to the side, putting stress on the neck and shoulders. Stomach sleepers also prefer soft to medium firmness levels.
Combination sleepers regularly change positions, so adjustable pillows are often ideal. Sleepers can easily change the loft and firmness to meet their nightly preferences. A pillow with a mid-range firmness and loft may also fit most combination sleepers’ needs.
Body Weight and Frame
Body frame, weight, and head size are key determinants of the ideal firmness level. Pillow firmness indicates how well the pillow maintains its shape and structure when a sleeper puts their head on it. Individuals with different body types require varying levels of support.
- Sleepers over 230 pounds: Sleepers who weigh more than 230 pounds often favor firm pillows because they do not compress as easily under their weight.
- Sleepers under 130 pounds: Pillows tend to compress less under the heads of sleepers who weigh under 130 pounds. Therefore, softer pillows are often ideal for this weight group.
Support vs. Comfort
We’ve consistently found that a pillow with the right balance of support and comfort enhances the sleep experience. Fill material is often key to these performance characteristics. The perfect amount of support and comfort varies from sleeper to sleeper, but understanding these criteria can help you decide what’s best for you.
Softer pillows are generally plusher but less supportive, making them popular with sleepers who prioritize cushioning. These pillows usually flatten under the sleeper’s head, providing little support. For side and back sleepers, this can cause neck or back pain due to spinal misalignment.
Firmer pillows tend to offer ample support, but they may feel too solid to some sleepers. A pillow that’s too firm can cause pressure point pain.
Firmest Pillow Types
Fill is integral to a pillow’s overall comfort and support levels. Some fill types are light, airy, and easily compressed, while others have a denser structure that doesn’t collapse under a sleeper’s head. Anyone interested in a firm pillow should consider fills made of polyfoam, memory foam, latex, buckwheat, down, and down alternative.
Polyfoam is a synthetic material that may be used for shredded or solid core fill. Solid cores are often firmer. Different formulations of polyfoam vary significantly in their feels, so shoppers seeking a firm pillow should pay careful attention to how the manufacturer describes the model. While polyfoam is less dense than memory foam and latex, pillows made of the material are often more affordable.
Memory foam is a type of heat-responsive polyfoam with greater viscosity, elasticity, and density. In pillows, these traits usually lend to close contouring and notable pressure relief. Shredded and solid memory foam cores are widely available. In our tests, shredded memory foam pillows are usually cooler and more moldable, while solid memory foam models are often firmer.
Latex fill is available in natural, synthetic, and blended forms. Most firm latex pillows contain a natural, solid latex core, which contours evenly to the head while limiting sinkage. Shredded latex pillows are also available, but they’re less common. Latex pillows tend to retain their shape well, respond quickly to position changes, and resist wear and tear.
Buckwheat fill contains the hard outer shells of buckwheat seeds, also known as hulls. These hulls make a pillow breathable, dense, heavy, and extra firm. Buckwheat pillows are usually adjustable, allowing sleepers to add or remove hulls to attain their desired loft.
Down traditionally consists of the underbelly feathers of geese or ducks. This fill is well known for its insulation, malleability, and durability. While the material itself is soft, lightweight, and most common in soft or medium pillows, some manufacturers craft firm down pillows by packing the fill more densely.
Down alternative mimics the softness of down without the use of animal products. Most down alternative fill consists of synthetic, hypoallergenic polyester fibers. Down alternative pillow firmness levels generally range from soft to medium firm.
Choosing the Best Firm Pillow
The best firm pillow varies by sleeper. Some sleepers need additional support, while others value plushness. Individuals may sleep hot, requiring a breathable, temperature-regulating pillow. Others prioritize pressure relief. Choosing the best pillow for your needs depends on several factors, ranging from sleep position to cost.
- Sleep position: Each sleep position requires a different level of firmness and loft to promote good posture. For instance, side sleepers traditionally benefit from firmer pillows with higher lofts, while stomach sleepers favor softer, lower-loft models.
- Pillow types and materials: Pillow fill material contributes to a pillow’s firmness. Firm pillows often use buckwheat hulls, memory foam, latex, or polyfoam.
- Pillow height (loft): Pillow loft refers to the pillow’s thickness. There are three categories: low loft (under 3 inches), medium loft (3 to 5 inches), and high loft (over 5 inches). Sleeping position and support needs determine the most appropriate loft.
- Firmness: Pillow firmness indicates the pillow’s ability to maintain its shape under pressure. Most models range from soft to firm. The best firmness level depends on a sleeper’s weight, shape, sleep position, and comfort preferences.
- Support: Support indicates how well the pillow holds the head without flattening. This factor is critical for proper spinal alignment and reducing head, neck, and shoulder pain. Firm pillows are usually more supportive than soft pillows.
- Pillow shape: Most pillows come in rectangular standard, queen, and king sizes. However, firm contour and cervical pillows are ergonomically designed for additional neck support.
- Pressure relief: Pressure relief refers to a pillow’s ability to contour to your head, neck, and shoulders. Generally, firm pillows provide less pressure relief than soft pillows. However, materials that conform to the sleeper’s head, like memory foam and latex, often balance pressure relief and support.
- Moldability: Moldability indicates the ability to adjust the shape of the pillow to your needs. Although firm pillows with solid foam cores are not moldable, those with shredded foam, down, or down alternative usually are.
- Temperature regulation: Temperature-regulating pillows remain cool as you sleep, making them ideal for hot sleepers. Because firm pillows with solid cores are usually denser, they often retain more heat. If you want a firm yet temperature-regulating pillow, we suggest considering a buckwheat or latex model.
- Cost: Firm pillow prices vary based on several factors, including materials, quality, construction, and features. However, firm pillows tend to be higher in price because they typically consist of high-quality, durable materials.