Memory Foam vs. Down Pillow: What’s the Best Type?

By Geoff McKinnen Certified Sleep Coach

Last Updated On February 19th, 2024
Memory Foam vs. Down Pillow: What’s the Best Type?

Key Takeaways

  • Memory Foam Pillows: These pillows offer exceptional support and pressure relief by contouring to the shape of your head and neck. They are ideal for individuals seeking personalized support and a comfortable sleep experience. Memory foam pillows can also be designed with cooling features to address overheating concerns during sleep.
  • Down Pillows: Down pillows provide superior comfort with their soft and fluffy feathers, offering a luxurious feel and natural insulation properties. They retain their shape well and are suitable for those who prefer a softer pillow. Additionally, natural down pillows are environmentally friendly and have a lower carbon footprint.
  • Factors to Consider: When choosing between memory foam and down pillows, factors such as sleeping position, pillow materials, and personal preferences play a significant role. It’s crucial to select a pillow that maintains spinal alignment, supports your head and neck, and meets your specific sleep needs.

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to leading a healthy and happy life. One factor that can affect the quality of your sleep is the pillow you use. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one.

Two popular choices are memory foam and down pillows, but which one is best for you? Let’s explore the differences between memory foam vs down pillow and find out which one suits your needs.

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Quick Guide: A 30-Second Summary

Best Memory Foam Pillow Overall Amerisleep Comfort Classic Pillow
Best Shredded Memory Foam Pillow Amerisleep Flex Pillow
Best Flippable Memory Foam Pillow Amerisleep Dual Comfort Pillow

Understanding Memory Foam Pillows

If you’re in search of a pillow that provides exceptional support and pressure relief, then memory foam pillows are likely the ideal choice for you. A memory foam pillow provides custom support by molding and contouring to the shape of your head and neck for a comfortable and restful sleep experience. This helps make sure you get personalized support, promoting a good night’s sleep.

Memory foam pillows tend to be made from polyurethane foam, which is known for its ability to remain firm and provide consistent support. Traditional memory foam pillows are responsive to temperature, which means they can become extremely soft in warm temperatures and firmer in cooler temperatures. Interior memory foam allows the pillow to contour to your unique shape at an even faster pace.

Memory foam pillows can be designed with cooling features to address the concerns of people who sleep hot and retain body heat, making them an ideal choice for individuals who prioritize a cooler sleep experience.

There are various types of memory foam pillows available on the market today, including those with gel infusions and different firmness levels. Gel-infused memory foam pillows offer extra cooling benefits for sleepers who often get hot while sleeping.

Memory foam pillows support the head and neck to maintain spinal alignment, which enhances the quality of sleep. It also helps to alleviate pain and discomfort for those with neck or back problems.

Many people prefer the feel of foam pillows to traditional down pillows because they provide a firmer texture and don’t flatten out over time, which requires you to fluff a pillow or replace it if that fails to revive it. Polyurethane foam makes them less likely to escalate allergies and cause respiratory issues, too.

And if you do enjoy a downy feel, shredded foam pillows are an alternative to consider. Filled with pieces of memory foam, these pillows mimic the customization possibilities of a traditional down pillow.

Overall, memory foam pillows are an excellent investment if you’re looking for the perfect blend of support and comfort.

Understanding Down Pillows

When it comes to pillow choices, down pillows are a popular option for many people. Made from the soft and fluffy feathers of birds, they offer superior comfort and a luxurious feel that cannot be matched by other pillow types. The natural down feathers provide excellent insulation properties, keeping you warm during cold nights.

Feather pillows tend to be lightweight and fluffy, with a fill that gives them a distinct look and feel. The fill is made up of both down feathers and outer feathers, which help to keep birds warm in cold weather. The outer feathers add structure to down pillows, providing a balanced and supportive feel.

Natural down pillows use only the plumage of birds. These kinds of pillows are environmentally friendly and have a lower carbon footprint overall.

One of the biggest advantages of down pillows is their comfort. The fluffy feathers provide a soft and supportive feel, which can help ease tension in the head and neck. Down pillows tend to retain their shape better than other pillow types, making them a popular choice among people who prefer to sleep on their sides or backs.

However, you must consider that this material has its drawbacks, too. For example, feathers can escape a pillow, poking through the cover and pressing into a sleeper’s skin.

Factors to Consider: Comfort and Support

When it comes to choosing the right pillow, comfort and support are crucial for a good night’s sleep. Your sleeping position, head and neck size and personal preferences all come into play when selecting the right pillow. The type of pillow material and firmness level also contribute to maintaining spinal alignment and ensuring you have the correct level of support.

Sleeping Position

The type of pillow you choose should complement your sleeping position:

  • Back sleepers tend to prefer thinner pillows.
  • Side sleepers need a firmer, more substantial pillow.
  • Stomach sleepers usually prefer a flatter pillow to maintain spinal alignment.

Pillow Materials

There are a variety of pillow materials available to consider, from down and feathers to memory foam and natural latex. Down and feather pillows tend to be soft and fluffy, while memory foam pillows tend to support the head and neck better. Natural latex provides a cooling effect, making it an excellent option for those who tend to overheat at night.

Personal Preferences and Pillow Types

Personal preferences such as pillow material, size and firmness will determine the type of pillow you choose.

There are different pillow types available, such as body pillows, standard pillows, throw pillows, and travel pillows, which all cater to certain preferences and needs. Extremely soft pillows are great for those who want to sink into their pillow, while a firmer pillow provides more support.

Maintain Spinal Alignment

It’s essential to maintain spinal alignment when sleeping to avoid waking up with aches and pains. The right pillow provides support to the head and neck, keeping the spine in a neutral and relaxed position. Secondary pillows, such as a pillow between the knees, can further promote a healthy spine alignment. Proper spinal support can lead to a better night’s sleep and a positive impact on your overall health.

Choosing the right pillow type, material and firmness level can have a significant impact on the quality of sleep you receive. Take into consideration your sleeping position, personal preferences and the level of support you need to get a better night’s sleep. Also consider whether the pillow will be a primary pillow or an accessory pillow, such as a throw pillow, body pillow, or knee pillow.

Allergen and Maintenance Considerations

When it comes to choosing between memory foam and down pillows, it is important to consider allergens and maintenance needs. Both types of pillows can harbor dust mites, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source which can trigger allergies and compromise your sleep quality.

By taking care of your pillows and using a pillow protector, you can ensure a comfortable sleep free from allergens Verified Source Medline Plus Online resource offered by the National Library of Medicine and part of the National Institutes of Health. View source and irritants.

Pillow Protectors

Using a pillow protector is an easy way to reduce allergens and protect your pillow. Pillow protectors act as a barrier between your pillow and dust mites, preventing them from settling in. We recommend washing your pillow protector every two weeks.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Memory foam pillows tend to have a waterproof outer coating that provides an extra layer of protection against stains. Down pillows are typically machine washable, but natural latex and one-piece foam pillows should be spot cleaned for stains and freshened up with low heat.

We have a few guides on cleaning and caring for pillows:

It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully by reviewing the laundry and washing symbols and avoiding using high heat for drying.

Allergy Relief

If you suffer from allergies, you may want to consider a hypoallergenic pillow made from natural latex or memory foam. These pillows are resistant to mold, dust mites, and other allergens, and provide excellent support for the head and neck.

If allergies are an issue, it’s also wise to avoid pillow sprays and scented detergents.


What to avoid when buying a pillow?

When purchasing a pillow, avoid choosing solely based on aesthetics. Instead, focus on the pillow’s functionality and your specific sleep needs. Steer clear of pillows that are overly soft or firm if they don’t align with your preferred sleep position, and be cautious of low-quality materials that may lead to discomfort or a shorter lifespan.

What pillow filling is best for side sleepers?

Side sleepers generally benefit from pillows with firmer support to maintain proper spinal alignment. Memory foam pillows, which conform to the contours of the head and neck, are often recommended for side sleepers. The material provides the necessary support and helps alleviate pressure points, ensuring a comfortable sleep experience for individuals who favor sleeping on their sides.

What is the best pillow filling for neck support?

For optimal neck support, memory foam pillows are a popular choice. The material molds to the shape of the neck, promoting proper alignment and reducing strain. Additionally, shredded memory foam pillows offer customizable support, allowing users to adjust the filling to achieve the ideal level of comfort and neck support.

How can you tell the quality of a down pillow?

Assessing the quality of a down pillow involves considering factors like fill power and construction. The higher fill power indicates better insulation and loft, signifying superior quality. Check for tightly woven cotton covers to prevent feather leakage, and opt for pillows with ethically sourced down to ensure responsible and humane production practices.

How many years should you keep a pillow?

The lifespan of a pillow varies depending on its material and usage. Generally, it’s advisable to replace pillows every 1 to 2 years. Over time, pillows accumulate allergens, lose their shape, and may not provide adequate support. Regularly inspect your pillows for signs of wear, and replace them promptly to ensure a healthy and comfortable sleep environment.

Is it worth spending a lot on a pillow?

Investing in a quality pillow is often worth the expense, considering the significant impact on sleep quality and overall well-being. Higher-priced pillows, especially those made with premium materials like memory foam or responsibly sourced down, tend to offer better support, durability, and comfort. A well-chosen, higher-quality pillow can contribute to better sleep, reduced pain, and improved overall health.


Choosing the right pillow between memory foam and down pillows can significantly affect the quality of your sleep. It’s essential to consider your personal preferences, sleeping position, and medical needs before making a decision.

While both types of pillows offer unique benefits, we recommend you consult with a trusted medical professional or sleep expert for personalized advice. They can provide tailored recommendations based on your physical condition, allergies, and other factors.

Remember, the right pillow can make all the difference in getting a good night’s sleep. Don’t hesitate to replace your pillow if you’re experiencing discomfort or pain. Prioritizing your comfort and support is a step towards a better night’s sleep and a healthier lifestyle.

About the author

Geoff McKinnen is a writer focusing mainly on the healthcare industry and has written articles on everything from foods to help you lose weight to the connection between Alzheimer’s and sleep. Geoff’s passionate about helping readers improve their well-being to lead happier lives. Outside of work, Geoff enjoys cycling and hiking and believes that by leading a healthy lifestyle, he can help others do the same.

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