Could your pillow do with an upgrade? Chances are most of us are guilty of sleeping on a lumpy sack that we’ve owned for years, but did you know that neck pain, stiffness and persistent headaches could be the result of poor pillow support? A good night’s sleep is dependant on sleeping position and a decent pillow plays a crucial role in supporting your head, which is the heaviest part of your body.
Related: Best mattress: The guide to a perfect night’s sleep
According to The Sleep Council, an ideal pillow should keep your spine perfectly aligned. In other words, your head should be positioned, lying down, in the same way as if you were standing perfectly upright. Your pillow should also hold its shape and provide consistent support throughout the night, even if you move around a lot.
Finding the right pillow is a complicated business, but there are many sleepers out there who have decided to upgrade to memory foam as an alternative to down or feather pillows. This popular filling claims to do all of the above, so let’s find out more about memory foam pillows…
What are memory foam pillows?
Memory foam is a man-made material using visco-elastic polyurethane. It was first invented in the 1960’s by NASA scientists who were looking for ways to cushion astronauts as they launched into space. After further development it became commercially available in the 1990’s when the first memory foam mattress was released by Tempur, shortly followed by pillows.
Pillows are an individual choice but memory foam does offer superior comfort levels. It’s firm but still has bounce and holds its shape extremely well. It provides really good cushioning for your joints – it responds to heat and pressure, softening up under your body and moulding to your lumps and bumps. When the pressure is removed the memory foam slowly resets and returns to its original shape.
Memory foam pillows can be divisive as they are fairly dense, can be warm and come with a fixed height that won’t suit everyone. However, the height and density does vary slightly from brand to brand so it really is worth testing them out properly before you buy. If possible, you should try out different pillow options lying down on a mattress. Lie on your side and get someone to check if your neck and upper back are in a straight line.
Why do I need a memory foam pillow?
Memory foam offers great support for anyone with joint pain or back problems but even if you don’t suffer from aches and pains now it will help reduce the risk of future suffering so could be a lifesaver. It got its name as the foam appears to ‘remember’ the shape of your head from when it was last there.
The supple polyurethane foam bends and moulds to the shape of anything that is pressed against it, then the pillow springs back to its original shape in the morning – no pillow fluffing required! It is also smooth and soft; you won’t find any rogue lumps in a memory foam pillow.
How much should I spend on a memory foam pillow?
Memory foam isn’t as cheap as a polyester filled pillow but not quite as expensive as down or latex or feather pillows. You can spend between £18 – £85 depending on your budget and how desperate you are for a better night’s sleep. If you do suffer from aches and pains, the price may well be worth it.
Best memory foam pillows
1. Dunelm temperature controlling memory foam firm-support pillow – best for normal body temperature
If you find you get too warm in bed and have to frequently turn your pillow over to cool down throughout the night, then this is a great choice for you as it comes with temperature regulating technology. This works by absorbing and releasing heat from your body, which will help to keep you cool at night. No more night sweats!
This pillow is ideal for side and back sleepers but not so comfy if you wriggle around or end up on your front, as it is fairly firm so you might end up with a cricked neck.
It is quite heavy compared to other memory foam pillows and feels fairly dense so might take some getting used to, but it does have a bit of bounce and holds its shape very well. Once it moulds to your head and neck it feels very comfortable and soft.
Ideal Home’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Buy now: Temperature controlling memory foam firm-support pillow, £36, Dunelm
2. Soak & Sleep memory foam cooling pillow – best for value for money
If you’re looking for a good quality memory foam pillow at an affordable price, then this is a super option and might just save your sleep. This best-selling pillow is on the firmer side but if you prefer that it offers superb support and is filled with good quality memory foam. It moulds really well around your neck and shoulders, filling in any unwanted gaps.
Some people find memory foam too warm as it doesn’t offer much air flow but this pillow also comes with a Cool Touch removable (and machine washable) cover which helps to draw away heat and wicks away moisture to stop you getting too hot and bothered in bed.
Recommended for side and back sleepers, as your head hits the pillow enjoy that sinking in feeling and don’t be surprised if you wake up in the morning in exactly the same position, pain-free and feeling well rested.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Buy now: Memory foam cooling pillow, £32, Soak & Sleep
3. Eve the Pillow – best for any sleeping position
Eve believe memory foam is a much better material to sleep on compared to fibre or feathers so that is the only filling they offer in their product range which also includes mattresses and toppers. They have designed a ‘one pillow fits all’. This may sound like a bold claim but they feel they have thought of everything and if you’re not convinced they offer a 30-night free trial and your money back if you’re not happy.
Everything about this pillow feels high quality and well made. It arrives in a neat carry box and the removable soft cover comes with a distinctive and stylish yellow piping. It is thicker than other memory foam pillows but if you’re used to sleeping on two pillows then the height should suit you.
The Pillow is medium firm and feels more malleable than some. It has been designed with drilled cooling holes through the core, which increases airflow and breathability. It has also been given an UltraFresh treatment; this is an antimicrobial shield which helps combat odours, bacteria and protects from staining. There is a slight ‘new-car’ smell to begin with but after a bit of airing this soon dissipates.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Buy now: The Pillow, £59, Eve
4. The White Company Memory Foam Comfort Pillow – best for malleability
Bedding bought from The White Company always feels luxurious and this memory foam pillow comes highly recommended by existing customers. The difference with this pillow is it’s made with shredded memory foam as opposed to one solid piece. This means the foam is simply torn into tiny pieces.
The individual pieces of foam move independently which results in a more mouldable pillow, similar to a down pillow or feather pillow. You can flump it into any shape you wish and enjoy that sinking-in feeling. If you’re unsure about making the leap to memory foam, then this pillow will ease you in gently.
Shredded memory foam also offers improved breathability because there is more negative space for air to flow freely between the pieces of filling. This means the pillow won’t feel as hot as others. From a support, value-for-money and comfort perspective, this pillow is a real winner. It also comes with an anti-allergy, washable pillow protector, which will help it last longer.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Buy now: Memory Foam Comfort Pillow, £45, The White Company
5. Tempur Cloud Support Standard Pillow – best for back pain
This pillow is heavy so it takes a bit of getting used to but as long you’re not planning a pillow fight with it you should experience a very comfortable nights sleep with superior support, especially if you suffer from any neck or back pain.
It is firm enough in all the right places yet super soft – so yes, hence the name, it really does feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud! The pillow is slightly higher than most, so if you’re a back sleeper it will suit you very well.
Considered the Rolls Royce of memory foam, Tempur was the first brand to release the material into the public domain and they are the only company with licensed rights from the US Space Foundation to use the certified technology seal in their products.
It’s not cheap, so you are looking at a serious pillow investment but if you get on well with it and your aches and pains go away, it’ll be worth every penny. The 100% cotton cover is removable and machine-washable.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Buy now: Tempur Cloud Support Standard Pillow £85, John Lewis
6. Silentnight memory foam pillow – best cheap memory foam pillow
This pillow is made up of a memory foam core and shell with a hollow fibre filling. The plus side is you will still get some support from the memory foam but with added breathability thanks to the hollow fibre, which will help you to keep cool. If you’re looking to try a pillow that offers more support, then this is a good introduction to memory foam as it is more of a hybrid option and comes with a reasonable price tag.
However, to some, it may feel a bit a bit too solid and unyielding – it doesn’t really feel like your head is making an impression into the memory foam. If you can, get someone to check your head, neck and spine are in the correct alignment.
The pillow is encased in a luxurious knitted cover which feels very soft to the touch but it is also worth using a pillow protector to help it last longer.
Over all, the pillow does feel like a good quality product for the price but the support it offers might not work for everyone. There is also a distinct odour, similar to most memory foam pillows but it will fade if you give it a good airing for a few days.
Ideal Home rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Buy now: Silentnight memory foam pillow, £17.99, Argos
7. Simba memory foam pillow – best for side sleepers
Simba is a high-tech British bed manufacturer who are best known for their ultra-comfy mattress that arrives in a box, then cleverly unfolds itself. They promise, with their product, you won’t need to count sheep to help you nod off and hot off the press is this memory foam pillow, which launched in January 2018.
After the success of their popular Hybrid pillow, – a ‘one-type-fits-all’ memory foam pillow padded out with soft duck down, they wanted to offer a standard memory foam pillow for their customers that prefer a firmer base.
Arriving in a swanky box, the quilted removable cover feels very soft to the touch and comes with a stylish grey piping. The memory foam does feel quite blocky but once your head and neck nestle in you will feel well cradled, especially when lying on your side. It’s not as dense as some memory foam pillows so there is a lovely squidginess to it and it offers a good height.
If you have a very acute sense of smell, there is quite a potent chemical whiff, which is a bit unpleasant. But if the comfort reigns supreme, just give the pillow a good airing for a few days and it will soon wear off.
Ideal Home’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Buy now: Memory foam pillow,£45, Simba
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What questions do I need to ask about memory foam pillows?
- What are the different types of memory foam pillows? They are either shaped like a normal pillow consisting of one single piece of memory foam or contoured to fit more closely to your head and neck. You can also buy shredded memory foam pillows where the foam filling is simply torn into tiny pieces. These pieces of foam move independently which makes the pillow more mouldable. You can sculpt it into a shape that suits you, much like a down pillow.
- How long should you keep memory foam pillows? They have a three to four year lifespan, which is longer than other pillows, but will eventually lose their ability to bounce back after they are depressed. Test this by applying pressure on the pillow with your hand, if it’s ok it should return to its original shape instantaneously.
- How do I look after my memory foam pillows? To maintain a clean pillow and to help keep dead skin cells out you should use a removable pillow cover that is machine washable. Go for a cover that is breathable e.g. cotton, bamboo or linen and always use in addition to a pillowcase.
- Can you put a memory foam pillow in the washing machine? Memory foam is not really meant to get wet so it is highly recommended you use a pillow protector, see tip above. However, you can easily refresh your pillow and remove any odours by sprinkling with bicarbonate of soda. Allow it to sit on the surface for over an hour and then vacuum away. Flip the pillow over and repeat.
- Will my pillows help with snoring? Yes! They keep your neck raised which means your airways are kept clear enabling you (or your partner) to breath more easily.
- Do memory foam pillows smell? Memory foam is made using polyurethane and other chemicals to increase density so there can be a slight chemical odour – similar to a freshly painted room. This isn’t harmful and only lasts a few days when it’s best to keep the room well ventilated.
- What if I have allergies? The space age material is naturally hypoallergenic so resistant to dust mites which are the number one cause for most allergies.