Neck pain plagues many Americans, and the causes aren’t always clear. If you often find yourself waking up with a sore neck, chances are your pillow could be partly to blame. Your pillow’s job is to hold your neck and head at the right height to prevent unnecessary strain. A pillow that’s too high or too low can cause pressure to build up as the neck tries to compensate for the lack of support.
Neck pain is a common and sometimes debilitating issue. Some studies suggest that up to 70% of adults will at some point in their lives experience neck pain strong enough to interfere with their daily life. Because we spend roughly one-third of our lives sleeping, and because we don’t have active control over the position of our spine while sleeping, your neck pain may very well be due to your sleeping position.
9 Best Pillows for Occipital Neuralgia in 2023：our choice
EPABO Contour Memory Foam Pillow Orthopedic
Xtreme Comforts Memory Foam Pillows
In our testing, we examine how they stand up to wear and tear, decide who will find them comfortable, and determine whether or not they could help reduce neck pain. Since weight and sleeping position both affect how your pillow feels, we make sure to use testers from multiple weight groups and sleeper types. We also make sure to test all pillows on the same mattress so our ratings are consistent.
1.EPABO Contour Memory Foam Pillow Orthopedic Sleeping Pillows
- ergonomic contour design supports and aligns the head, neck, shoulders, and back
- firm support
- removable foam inserts for adjustable height
- bamboo fiber cover is washable
- budget-friendly option
- some users find that it “sleeps hot”
- neck support too high for some
- may take time to adjust to this design
2.Coop Home Goods – Premium Adjustable Loft
- Sleepers looking for an adjustable memory foam pillow
- Stomach and back sleepers who prefer a softer level of support
- Sensitive sleepers who want a hypoallergenic pillow that can easily be cleaned in the washing machine
- Those who sleep hot and are looking for a more breathable memory foam pillow
- Sleepers who like the feel of a firm pillow
3.Xtreme Comforts Memory Foam Pillows
- firm yet soft fill
- shredded memory foam fill is customizable
- keeps spine properly aligned during sleep
- good for any sleeping position
- bamboo cover stays cool
- hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites
- completely machine washable
- noticeable chemical smell upon opening
- some users reported a lumpy feel
- not a great option for stomach sleepers
- no warranty
4.Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Ergo Neck Pillow
- Back and stomach sleepers who like extra-soft pillows
- Those looking for a pillow that packs down well for traveling
- Sleepers interested in a high-quality pillow with an affordable price tag
- Sleepers looking for a medium-firm or firm pillow
- Those who want a pillow that comes with a sleep-trial period
5.DOWNLITE Extra Soft Down Pillow
- sleeps cool
- duck down fill provides soft support
- flat design good for stomach sleepers
- machine washable
- some users found the pillow too flat
- might not be a good option for those who change positions often
- no removable case
6.Purple Harmony Pillow
- People who sleep hot
- Those who want a pillow that keeps its shape
- People with neck pain
- All sleeper types
- People on a budget
Purple is perhaps most known for its patented Purple Grid, which it uses in its mattresses and pillows, as well as seat cushions and pet beds. The Purple Grid is a lattice of hyper-elastic polymer, a stretchy and durable material, and is designed to provide pressure-free support by adapting to weight. This is great for those with neck pain looking for support that cradles the head and neck rather than pushing against them.
The Harmony Pillow is made with a smaller version of the Purple Grid with hexagonal cells. The Grid layer wraps around a single large piece of Talalay latex that is ventilated to allow for airflow and reduce overheating. The Harmony Pillow comes in two heights: the Standard is 6.5 inches and is best for back sleepers or side sleepers with a small frame, according to Purple. The Tall height is 7.5 inches and best for side sleepers with average or larger builds.
7.Nature’s Guest Cervical Pillow
The sides of the pillow are higher than the middle to provide neck support. The pillow itself is adjustable, so you can set the degree of firmness by removing or adding stuffing.
The cotton cover is hypoallergenic, and the filling is microfiber. No flame retardants or other harmful chemicals are used in the manufacturing process.
- hypoallergenic cotton cover
- no flame retardants or other harmful chemicals used
- reported to be well made
- adjustable firmness
- sleeps cool
- return within 90 days for full refund
- may go flat over time
- only available in one size
- not suitable for those who prefer soft, fluffy pillows
8.Weekender Gel Memory Foam Pillow
The pillow is ventilated for breathability. A solid piece of memory foam will generally be firmer and less malleable than a down-alternative or polyfill pillow. Reviews say this Weekender pillow is lightweight and squishy and may be better for those who find other memory foam pillows too stiff.
- Those looking for a supportive but inexpensive memory foam pillow
- Sleepers who like the pressure-relieving feel of a one-piece foam pillow
- Those who often get too hot while sleeping
- Shoppers looking for a memory foam pillow with neck and shoulder support
- Sleepers looking for an adjustable-loft memory foam pillow with shredded fill
- Those who like to rearrange or shape a pillow to their liking
9.Sleep Artisan Side Sleeper Pillow
The pillow’s shape is unique in that it’s a narrow rectangle with a curve on one side. This is meant to mimic how many side sleepers scrunch standard pillows to support their necks.
There are no petroleum-based chemicals or strong odors. As with other pillows on our list, you can add or take away filling for adjustable support.
- maintains neutral temperature
- 30-day at-home trial
- antimicrobial and hypoallergenic
- no petroleum-based chemicals or strong odors
- adjustable support
- may feel lumpy or pebbly
- fill is not washable
- requires specialty pillowcase
- not a great option for stomach sleepers
- 1 Neck pain and its relation to sleep quality
- 2 What Is Neck Pain?
- 3 How pillows impact neck pain during sleep
- 4 How to Choose a Pillow for Neck Pain
- 5 What Pillow Materials are Best for Neck Pain?
- 6 Other tips to help neck pain after switching your pillow
- 7 What is the Best Pillow Positioning for Neck Pain?
- 8 Other Tips for Sleepers with Neck Pain
- 9 How we chose the best pillows for neck pain
- 10 Frequently Asked Questions
- 11 What pillow loft works best for sleepers with neck pain?
- 12 How firm should a pillow be to help alleviate neck pain?
- 13 Can a pillow cause neck pain?
- 14 What pillow loft works best for sleeping with neck pain?
- 15 Can replacing your pillow improve neck pain?
- 16 Which style of pillow is best for neck pain?
- 17 How firm should a pillow be to alleviate neck pain?
- 18 Can neck pain be a sign of something serious?
- 19 Is a high, medium, or low loft pillow better for neck pain?
- 20 What is the best way to sleep with occipital neuralgia?
- 21 Should I massage occipital neuralgia?
Neck pain and its relation to sleep quality
Neck pain can involve discomfort in the muscles, bones, nerves, joints, and the discs between the bones. It can cause difficulty in movement.
Sometimes, a chronic health condition, such as fibromyalgia, causes neck pain. In other cases, it can occur as a result of an accident.
While periodic discomfort in your neck isn’t typically something to worry about, it’s important to seek medical care if your symptoms don’t go away within a week or escalate to other areas of your body.
It’s difficult to sleep when you’re experiencing any kind of pain, including chronic neck pain. You might toss and turn all night to find a comfortable sleeping position.
What Is Neck Pain?
The neck is responsible for bearing the entire weight of your head, and it’s not surprising that this delicate part of the body is highly susceptible to injury. The 2018 US Burden of Disease study found that neck pain is rising in importance as a leading cause of disability among the American population. Most sources estimate that between 25 and 30 percent of people suffer from neck pain every year. While many episodes of neck pain resolve naturally, for some it can become a chronic condition with adverse consequences for their quality of life.
Neck pain can be caused by a number of factors. It may stem from an injury or a chronic condition such as arthritis, or it may arise from daily habits such as poor posture or too many hours of sitting at a computer. While symptoms vary, people with neck pain often experience:
- Neck pain, especially during repetitive activities or long periods of sitting upright
- Limited range of motion
- Muscle spasms
- Poor sleep quality
If you have severe pain or additional symptoms, or if you’re not sure what’s causing your neck pain, it’s a good idea to visit a doctor to rule out underlying conditions.
Regular exercise and a healthy body weight are thought to have a positive impact on chronic neck pain. The American Chiropractic Association notes that neck pain often goes hand-in-hand with high stress levels and obesity.
Neck Pain and Sleep
The 8 hours you spend in bed every night is a critical time if you experience neck pain. The positions you adopt as you sleep can either relax your neck or put it under additional strain. As part of your sleep setup, a supportive pillow should promote proper neck and spine alignment.
Not only can an unsupportive pillow exacerbate your neck pain, but studies show that the wrong pillow can be the direct cause of discomfort during the night. This leads to nighttime awakenings, creating a vicious circle that makes it difficult to get the rest you need to recover from neck pain.
Your pillow is unlikely to be the sole source of your neck pain. However, choosing the right pillow and adopting a healthy sleeping position can help ease pressure on your neck. You should replace your pillow when it’s no longer able to provide the proper support.
How pillows impact neck pain during sleep
You spend about one-third of your life sleeping. Pillows that are too stiff or too full may strain your neck by keeping it flexed throughout the night, resulting in pain.
Ease your neck pain by using a supportive pillow, trying physical therapy or osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT)Trusted Source, and participating in regular exercise that includes strengthening exercisesTrusted Source for the neck and upper quadrant.
Fill matters, too. There are several types of pillow fill, ranging from latex to polyester to feather. The type of fill you choose is up to personal preference and it may take some time to find the fill that feels best for you.
Change it up
A general best practice is to change your pillow every 1 to 2 years, especially if you’re using one made from feathers. Over time, the filling can compress and not provide enough support.
If you’re choosing a memory foam pillow, you may be able to get away with changing it less often. A good indicator that it’s time for replacement is if you’re experiencing new pain or if the filling is no longer distributed evenly.
Regardless, it’s a good idea to wash your pillow every 6 months, following the manufacturer’s instructions. This is especially true if you have allergies or asthma. Drying on high heat will help kill dust mites.
How to Choose a Pillow for Neck Pain
If you experience neck pain, choosing the right pillow can be a key step toward living pain-free. The right pillow will depend on your individual needs. We’ll walk you through the most important considerations, including how to choose the best material, shape, and thickness for your individual sleeping style.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Pillow for Neck Pain
Most people don’t give much thought to their pillow, beyond choosing a pillow that’s nice and squishy for immediate comfort. This means that when we do realize our pillow may be contributing to our neck pain, we may not know how to go about choosing the best pillow. If you’re in this position, you may be susceptible to misleading marketing and end up choosing a pillow that’s ill-suited for your needs.
To help you get started, we’ve made a list of the most important factors. Focusing on these factors and having a basic understanding of pillow features and construction can help you find the pillow that works best for you.
- Loft: The loft determines the angle of your head in relation to your spine. A pillow that’s too high or too low can force your neck to bend at an unnatural angle, causing strain and discomfort over time. That’s why sleep experts recommend choosing a pillow loft that keeps your head and neck aligned with your spine. When choosing your pillow, don’t forget to consider the width of your shoulders and size of your head. If you’re not sure of your ideal loft, you may wish to purchase a pillow with an adjustable loft.
- Support: In addition to being the right height under your head, a pillow should also adequately support your neck. This is most often seen in cervical pillows, which typically have raised edges and gently contour to the neck instead of leaving a space where the neck is unsupported. This design is especially helpful for side and back sleepers.
- Firmness Level: The pillow firmness will determine where your head comes to rest, so it’s important to give this aspect careful consideration. The right pillow firmness for you will depend on how heavy your head is, how high the pillow is, what position you tend to sleep in, and the firmness of your mattress. Pillows that are too firm may cause pressure points, for example in the ears when side sleeping. On the other hand, pillows that are too soft may sag under your head and fail to provide proper support.
- Pressure Relief: A good pillow provides pressure relief by taking strain off your neck and contouring to reduce pressure points. For the best pressure relief, choose a pillow that’s the appropriate shape and size for your sleeping position, and the appropriate firmness to alleviate pressure at contact points.
- Shape: Today’s manufacturers offer a varied assortment of ergonomic pillows that provide enhanced support by adapting to the shape of your head and neck. Some people also choose to add another pillow to their setup, one popular choice being a small roll under the neck in addition to the main pillow. Pillow shape is a matter of personal preference, but if you can’t find relief from your neck pain, one solution may be to try a cervical pillow. This type of pillow is specifically designed to offer strong cervical support, which can help reduce neck pain and improve sleep quality.
- Price: Investing in a good pillow is crucial to your overall health and your neck health in particular. Pillow prices vary widely depending on their materials and design. When shopping for a pillow, keep in in mind that certain types of pillows will last you for years, while others may need to be replaced after a year or two as their materials wear out and lose their loft or conforming abilities.
- Quality Materials: Within broad categories such as memory foam or feather pillows, the quality of your individual pillow plays a significant role in determining its longevity and comfort. Some pillows can be washed occasionally and properly dried to fluff them up and increase their lifespan.
What Pillow Materials are Best for Neck Pain?
The best pillow for neck and shoulder pain is firm enough to hold your head at a healthy angle, but soft enough to alleviate pressure points. Most sleepers find success with either a memory foam, latex, buckwheat, or feather pillow, as these materials offer the best balance of support and pressure relief.
- Memory Foam: Memory foam molds in response to heat and pressure, contouring to form a supportive cradle around your head and neck. Memory foam pillows are hypoallergenic, cheap, and widely available, either in solid or shredded form. However, they have a limited lifespan, and the material’s slow response to pressure may be frustrating if you’re a combination sleeper. The material is also prone to trapping heat.
- Buckwheat: Buckwheat hulls naturally interlock and hold their shape, making them a great choice for head and neck support. As a natural material, buckwheat is naturally breathable, resistant to allergens, durable, and environmentally friendly. On the downside, buckwheat pillows tend to command a high price-point, and they may take some getting used to as they aren’t as soft as other traditional pillow types and do make some noise as you change positions.
- Feather: Good quality feather pillows are soft and offer excellent conforming. They’re also often customizable, allowing you to adjust the loft by taking out feathers or adding more. Unfortunately, feather pillows tend to lose their loft as the feathers get compressed over time. Many people also find that the feathers may become displaced under the weight of their head, affecting the support they provide.
- Latex: Natural latex has a buoyant feel that holds your neck in place while minimizing pressure points. Many latex pillows feature pincore holes for improved temperature regulation. The major downside to latex is that latex pillows usually come in one solid piece, so you can’t adjust them into a customized shape. While many people turn to latex as a natural and sustainable option, organic and other certifications tend to raise the price tag.
- Down: Made from the inner feathers of ducks and geese, down is exceedingly soft and lightweight. Down pillows can be reshaped to suit your preference. Due to down’s high price tag and ability to provoke allergies in some people, many sleepers opt for down alternative pillows, made from polyester fibers. Unfortunately, both down and down alternative pillows easily lose their shape and tend to be too soft to adequately support the neck.
- Polyfoam: Most polyfoam pillows offer some contouring and boast a quicker response to pressure than memory foam, although like memory foam, they will trap heat. Polyfoam pillows are lightweight, affordable, and hypoallergenic. However, they develop permanent indentations over time and will need to be replaced more often than other pillow types.
Other tips to help neck pain after switching your pillow
If you’ve changed your pillow but still aren’t finding relief, you can also try these tips:
Modify your overall posture when standing or sitting. Find a neutral spine in these positions, with your shoulders hovering directly over your hips and your ears over your shoulders.
Stretch your neck every 20 to 30 minutes when doing computer work, driving long distances, or doing other repetitive tasks that tax your neck. It may be helpful to set a reminder on your computer or phone to take breaks.
Use a backpack or rolling suitcase when carrying heavy loads. Either evenly distribute the weight or wheel it around. Using a shoulder bag puts excess strain on your neck and shoulders.
Use heat or ice to ease the pain by taking a warm shower or applying a hot or cold compress. This is especially effective in the first 2 to 3 days of an acute injury.
Take over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Try to quit smoking, if you smoke. Researchers note that smoking is associated with chronic neck pain.
What is the Best Pillow Positioning for Neck Pain?
Sleep experts recommend either back or side sleeping if you experience neck pain. Sleeping on your stomach causes your head to bend at a sharp angle and arches your spine, which puts unwanted pressure on your neck. If you strictly sleep on your stomach, you should choose a pillow with a low loft to minimize pressure.
For best results, back and side sleepers should ensure that their head, neck, and top of the spine form a straight line. Sleeping with a pillow that’s too high or too low can cause aches and pains. Likewise, sleeping with your head rolled to one side or the other is also likely to cause neck pain.
- Side with Elevated Neck: In order for side sleepers to avoid neck pain, it’s important to keep your head in line with your spine. The best pillow for side sleepers with neck pain should have a loft that equals the distance between the ears and the edge of the shoulders. This means that if you have bigger shoulders, you’ll usually need a higher loft. Since your neck sits naturally higher than the head, cervical pillows might be worth considering. Cervical pillows are designed with an elevated area that helps support the neck and promote proper alignment.
- Back with Two Pillows: Usually, pillows for back sleepers should have a medium loft that raises the head just enough to sit in line with the neck. But back sleepers face a similar problem to side sleepers in that most pillows don’t support the higher curve of the neck. If you have trouble finding a properly supportive pillow, you may opt for a small rounded pillow under the neck for added support in addition to the main pillow.
Other Tips for Sleepers with Neck Pain
In addition to choosing the right pillow, you can reduce neck pain through lifestyle changes like adopting proper posture, taking stretching breaks, and generally being more active. People who experience neck pain should avoid shoulder bags, slouching, and long periods of sitting at the computer.
- Choose the Right Mattress: Your body’s overall position is influenced not only by your pillow, but also your mattress. Plusher mattresses allow your body to sink down further, meaning you’ll need a lower-loft pillow. The opposite holds true for firmer mattresses, which will require a higher pillow to maintain proper alignment of the neck and spine.
- Engage in Physical Therapy: From daily habits to more serious regimens, there are plenty of exercises you can do to relax your neck muscles and relieve strain on the neck, shoulders, and upper back. A certified massage therapist or chiropractor may also be able to help. Always consult a health professional before starting any kind of treatment.
- Use Ice or Heat: Many people with neck pain receive instant relief from a hot or cold compress, or from taking a warm shower. This may not cure your neck problems, but it can be a helpful short-term solution.
How we chose the best pillows for neck pain
We rounded up a list of top consumer-rated pillow options that can help relieve neck pain while you sleep.
We looked mainly for foam and latex pillows. Why? Because research suggests that these materials are helpful for people with neck pain. According to a 2020 studyTrusted Source, latex and memory foam pillows may offer more support than traditional pillows and may help reduce neck fatigue.
Additionally, we looked for ergonomic pillows designed to provide ample cervical support without elevating the head too much. A 2022 studyTrusted Source found that increased pillow height changes the way your spine curves and increases pressure in your cervical spine, or neck.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best pillow for neck pain is one that has the right loft, firmness, and shape for your preferred sleeping position. Preferences vary among types of pillows. Some people find that memory foam pillows relieve their neck pain while others are much more comfortable with microfiber filling.
There are also variations within pillow types — memory foam pillows are available as a solid piece or with shredded foam filling, and each variant works well for some people but not others. Instead of focusing on the type of pillow, it is more important to determine the loft, shape, and filling that will work best with your body type in your preferred sleeping position. Reading independent reviews can help you understand these factors, as can speaking to any health care professionals treating your neck pain.
What pillow loft works best for sleepers with neck pain?
The correct pillow loft for alleviating neck pain is one that will hold your head and neck at a neutral angle in alignment with the natural curve of your spine. The right loft therefore depends on your preferred sleeping position. For example, side sleepers usually need a medium to high-loft pillow, while stomach sleepers require lower pillows so as not to crane their neck upwards. You should also consider how far you sink into your mattress, since one that cradles you deeply may require you to use a lower-loft pillow.
How firm should a pillow be to help alleviate neck pain?
Pillows should be firm enough to support the neck without creating pressure points, but the precise firmness of a pillow depends on your usual sleeping position. Back and side sleepers usually require firmer pillows than stomach sleepers, while combination sleepers and people whose firmness preferences change may want to consider an adjustable pillow.
If you prefer very soft pillows that do not adequately support your neck, you may enjoy a memory foam pillow with significant pressure relief. While the core of the foam should still provide enough support, its contouring qualities may make it feel subjectively “softer” and therefore more comfortable.1Firm or Soft Pillows for Your Neck
Can a pillow cause neck pain?
Yes, it can.
A pillow that kicks your spine out of neutral alignment can leave you with neck pain in the morning. Similarly, if a pillow doesn’t provide enough support, it can also leave you clutching your neck when you wake up.2Can Pillows Cause Neck Pain?
What pillow loft works best for sleeping with neck pain?
The loft of your pillow is the compressed height of the pillow when your head is sleeping on it. The loft can affect your sleep quality and your pain. However, current researchTrusted Source doesn’t suggest one pillow height for all back and side sleepers.
Can replacing your pillow improve neck pain?
If you’re experiencing neck pain, it could be the fault of your pillow. Especially if it’s old, it might not be supportive enough anymore.
Swapping for a new pillow doesn’t mean your neck pain will magically go away, though. Pillow preference is personal, and what works for one person might not work for you. So a bit of experimenting is to be expected.
Additionally, not all neck pain is the fault of a bad pillow. If a new pillow doesn’t seem to help, be sure to talk with your doctor.3Can a New Pillow Cause Neck Pain?
Which style of pillow is best for neck pain?
Some 2020 researchTrusted Source suggests that memory and latex foams are the ideal materials to help prevent neck fatigue.
But that doesn’t mean other types of pillows won’t work for you. You may want to try a few to see what feels most comfortable to you.
How firm should a pillow be to alleviate neck pain?
A somewhat firm pillow is generally best for neck pain, especially if you sleep on your side. A pillow that is too soft and unsupportive will put pressure on your cervical spine. But the pillow should still have some softness. Any pillow that feels uncomfortable is going to be bad news for your neck.
Can neck pain be a sign of something serious?
While this is rare, neck pain can sometimes be a sign of something serious. Seek medical attention if you’re experiencing additional symptoms alongside the neck pain, such as numbness in your arms and hands, a fever and headache, or shooting pain down your shoulder.4Can neck pain be a sign of something serious?
Is a high, medium, or low loft pillow better for neck pain?
It depends on what type of sleeper you are. If you’re a stomach sleeper, it may be best to choose a pillow with a low loft to minimize the pressure on your spine. If you’re a back or side sleeper, a medium loft pillow that allows your head, neck, and spine to form a straight line may be right for you.
Finally, if you’re a side sleeper with bigger shoulders, a high loft pillow may be suitable. Note the pillow should equal the distance between the ears and the edge of the shoulders.
What is the best way to sleep with occipital neuralgia?
The best position for people with occipital neuralgia to sleep in is on their back with a pillow that provides neck support and prevents side-to-side movement. If you cannot sleep on your back, the next best position is on your side.5Best Way to Sleep with Occipital Neuralgia
Should I massage occipital neuralgia?
Massage Often Helps
The best treatment for occipital neuralgia is often massage. It is so beneficial because it helps relieve the pain of occipital neuralgia due to tight neck muscles and muscle tension that is putting pressure on the nerves. Occipital neuralgia massage can be delivered through: A physical therapist.