Pillows have come a long way since we first started using them in Mesopotamia, roughly 9,000 years ago. Back then, pillows were made of stone—and not designed for comfort as much as to keep crawling creatures from exploring our facial cavities while we sleep.1
As the world turned, pillow types evolved to be made from wood, marble, ceramic, and hay—and then finally, the softer materials we’re familiar with today, such as down, feathers, and thanks to the space program, memory foam.
Some of the most popular types of pillows today have been around for thousands of years, such as down and feather. But nowadays, we’re not as worried about crawling creatures as we are about comfort and support.
Given that we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, it’s wise to know a thing or two about the different types of pillows.
Down pillows have been a luxury sleep accessory dating back to the Greeks and Romans, who were the first to establish the “soft” pillow. Even then, most citizens used cloth pillows filled with various natural materials such as straw, cotton, feathers, and reeds, while the wealthy indulged with plush down pillows.1
So, what is down precisely?
Regarding pillows, “down” refers to the soft undercoating found around the chest area of ducks or geese. Down consists of smooth fiber clusters that make for a lush and royal experience when it comes to pillow comfort.
In addition to the types of down, it’s essential to examine the following factors when looking for a down pillow:
Down pillows range from soft to firm, making them superb for all sleepers. There’s also a variety to choose from, including:
If you’re seeking the luxury sleep that a down pillow affords, you’ll want to start by identifying which type is right for you.
Typically, down pillows will be filled exclusively with either goose or duck down. In general, these two materials have a lot in common. Both are super comfy and have excellent thermal retention, but may require refluffing occasionally. In addition, both materials tend to be:3
When you’re trying to decide between the two, one factor to note is that goose down can be considerably more expensive than duck-down. If you want luxurious comfort without the luxurious price tag, then a duck down pillow could be the sweet spot.
When you’re shopping for a down pillow, an additional factor to consider is whether it’s an all-down pillow or a mixture of down and feathers. While both can offer benefits, the best option for you depends on what type of sleeper you are.
If you tend to become cold easily while sleeping and prefer a soft, plush pillow, then consider all-down pillows for their ability to retain heat. That said, a little breathability can go a long way toward your sleep comfort—and a mixed feather-and-down pillow offers this advantage. Feathers are lighter than down and can thus offer more airflow throughout the night. This combination of breathability and softness can be the perfect medium for sweet dreams.
While it’s not the real deal, these pillows still have a lot to offer someone looking for a good night’s rest. They’re made from synthetic fibers that mimic the quality of duck and goose down, giving them impressive softness and comfort.
Unlike natural down pillows, these can be more affordable and hypoallergenic. That said, they may offer less heat insulation than natural down.
Surprisingly enough, soft pillows mostly vanished after the fall of the Roman Empire. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that they made a comeback. But even then, most were stuffed with cheaper and more accessible materials, such as hay and chicken feathers. If you were wealthy or a skilled hunter, then you may have been fortunate enough to get your hands on duck or goose feathers.
Today, feathered pillows typically come from the feathers on the wings and backs of ducks or geese. Unlike down, these feathers are flat and have quills. They may not be as soft as all-down pillows, but the feathers can help give more structure to the pillow’s shape and firmness. And, as we’ve mentioned above, you can also reap the breathable benefits of a feather pillow in combination with down.
The benefits of a feather pillow include:5
That said, you’ll want to be aware of these drawbacks when purchasing an all-feather pillow:5
In the 1970s, NASA was contracted to enhance crash protection and seat cushioning for airline pilots and passengers—and lo and behold, they gave the world memory foam.6 Since then, it’s been used in numerous commercial applications, as well as––you guessed it—pillows.
As long as you don’t sleep from the ceiling like Dracula, all sorts of sleepers, whether side sleepers, back sleepers, or belly sleepers, can benefit from the various memory foam pillows out there. They come in all shapes and sizes, including multiple fills and firmness levels to adapt to your sleeping needs. Most pillows for back pain and pillows for neck pain are usually made from memory foam.
Most memory foam pillows are made from polyurethane and mixed with other chemicals, which improve their density and viscosity—in other words, they’re engineered to be the pillow that hugs you back.7 A memory foam pillow will even return to its original shape post-embrace, hence the name memory foam.
With so many options to choose from, let’s take a look at some of the most common types of memory foam pillows:
This single block of memory foam comes in the shape of a traditional pillow. It easily adapts to the natural shape of your head and neck. This classic memory foam pillow provides personalized support, reduces pain, and improves sleep quality.
That said, there are other iterations of a single-block memory foam pillow, too. Some come with perforated foam for better airflow. Others come in either low loft or medium loft so that you can choose the ideal height for your preferred sleeping position.
Most memory foam pillows are anti-allergy due to their synthetic nature and the manufacturing process they undergo. Still, specific hypoallergenic varieties are much more resistant to mold, bacteria, and dust mites. Whether you suffer from allergies or sensitive skin, this may be your option if you’re sensitive to certain materials.
This triangular-shaped pillow offers an ergonomic design, perfect for people with specific health issues or who require a slightly elevated sleeping position. Wedge memory foam pillows can offer plenty of health benefits, especially for the following:8
In addition, wedge-shaped memory foam pillows are multipurpose: they can also help ensure proper posture when sitting in a chair, or add some extra elevation beneath your knees.
Cooling memory foam pillows can be an excellent option for those who are looking for a supportive and plush pillow but want to keep things cool. But when it comes to knowing which one, you’ll need to choose between a few different types of cooling technology. Two of the most popular options are gel-infused pillows and pillows with multiple layers of perforated foam.
Gel-infused memory foam pillows are a nice option for sleepers looking for a pillow that feels cool to the touch without constant flipping, as the gel inserts can help to dissipate heat. That said, if you’re looking for a cooler pillow plus the benefit of increased airflow, a perforated foam pillow is the way to go. Multiple layers of perforated foam throughout the pillow allow for continuous air circulation throughout the night.
Orthopedic pillow – Unlike the standard pillow, the orthopedic pillow is designed to correct the sleeper’s body position as they sleep.
Buckwheat pillow – The buckwheat pillow originated in Japan and East Asia, and its insides are made from buckwheat, which is great for neck support and back support.
Body Pillow – A body pillow is basically an oversized pillow perfect for providing support to side sleepers.
Microbead Pillow – Stuffed with polystyrene beads, the microbead pillow is another type specifically designed for neck and back support. Unlike the feather pillow, wool pillow, or foam pillow, there are lesser chances of indentation from overuse.
As you can see, there’s a whole world of pillows out there—and there’s bound to be just the right one to fit your sleeping needs. The versatility of down, feather, and memory foam options and the various sizes, shapes, and firmness levels they offer almost guarantee you’ll find a pillow you love. But before you take your pick, you should also learn the proper pillow position for sleeping. Learning how to sleep with pillows is just as important as picking them for better sleep quality.
Now that you know a thing or two about the types of pillows and the materials used to create them, it’s time to find the pillow of your dreams. And Casper is here to help.
Casper makes pillows for all sleeping positions, designed by a team of sleep experts who’ve diligently worked to ensure that you can achieve the smoothest, sweetest snooze possible. Along with that mission, we’ve worked thoughtfully and passionately to provide our customers with the finest support and comfort.
Find your perfect pillow today with Casper.