Why are hotel pillows so comfortable? Mystery solved!

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why are hotel pillows so comfortable?” Here’s the not-so-secret secret to comfy hotel pillows.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
why are hotel pillows so comfortable
why are hotel pillows so comfortable

I went on a mission to find out why I always sleep better in hotels and discovered that my sleep issues had a lot to do with my pillow. 

In this article, I’ll share my journey and spill the beans on my findings, including:

  • Why are hotel pillows so comfortable?
  • What pillows do hotels use?
  • For fellow sleep strugglers, I’ll also explain how I was able to choose the right pillow based on my preferred sleeping position.

My quest for better sleep: Recreating the Hotel Sleep Experience

counting sheep: your pillow may be causing your sleeping issues

I was reminded how much better I sleep at hotels during a trip to Bordeaux. 

Because I sleep so much better in hotels, I thought that my sleep issues might be solved by recreating that comfortable hotel sleep experience. Being comfortable not only helps your body and mind relax but also makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. 

So I invested in a high-quality mattress and sheets and splurged on cozy bedding and plush pillows. I did get that luxurious sleep feeling.

Unfortunately, I still had a hard falling asleep, mainly because I couldn’t find a comfortable position for my head to rest. And when I did fall asleep, I would wake up because my head landed in an uncomfortable position. 

Mind you, I bought premium pillows, which cost me a small fortune. 

I went down the pillow rabbit hole.

I was determined to find out what type of pillows hotels use and why hotel pillows feel inexplicably more comfortable than my pillows at home, 

  • I reached out to a few hotels, including the “Hotel bord d’eau” in Bordeaux, to find out which pillows they used in their hotel rooms. If you’re interested, they use pillows made by Lestra, French duvets and pillow manufacturer from the Loire Valley of France. 
  • I read everything I could about buying pillows and sleeping better.
  • I also went on a pillow-shopping expedition with a friend, poking and prodding different pillows. 

I finally figured out the not-so-secret secret of why hotel pillows are so comfortable. I was choosing the wrong pillow firmness and loft for my preferred sleeping position. 

Why are hotel pillows so comfortable?

A comfortable pillow helps you relax

Although your mattress, blankets and sheets are important factors for sleep quality, hotels know that a comfortable pillow also plays a crucial role in getting a good night’s sleep. 

Here are some key factors that hotels use for maintaining comfortable pillows. 

1) Hotels choose pillow firmness and loft that feel comfortable for a variety of sleeping positions.

Hotels put a lot of thought into the pillows they use. Although hotels use different pillows, hotels choose pillows that give their guests the proper alignment and support and which feel comfortable in different sleeping positions based on certain criteria. 

  • Pillow firmness
  • loft (height)
  • filling material
  • Preferred sleeping position

This was the piece of the puzzle that I was missing when it came to choosing pillows. I’m a side and back sleeper. My pillows at home were too soft and fluffy and not firm enough to support my head when I slept on my side. 

2) Hotels wash and maintain their pillows

Hotels want to ensure that their guests have the best possible experience, so they make sure that the bedding and pillows are fresh and clean. Pillows are carefully cleaned and fluffed to retain their shape and plushness. 

Clean sheets and pillows create a fresh and inviting sleep environment that’s instantly relaxing and comforting, which contributes to a more peaceful sleep experience.

3) Hotels change their pillows regularly: 

Another reason why hotel pillows are so comfortable is that hotels replace their pillows frequently.

By regularly replacing their pillows, guests don’t encounter issues like lumpy, flat, or worn-out pillows. 

The right pillow prevents neck and back pain in different sleeping positions.

The natural S curvature of the spine should be aligned when sleeping to prevent neck and back pain for better sleep quality

Once you understand how the right pillow helps you sleep better, it becomes much easier to choose the right pillows for your home that rival those hotel pillows. 

When your head, neck, and spine are supported in the right way, there are fewer distractions and discomfort, which reduces the chances of waking up in the night. A comfortable pillow with good support also helps relax the muscles of the neck and upper back. This relaxation reduces muscle tension and allows for a more restful sleep experience.

The human spine has a natural S-shaped curve, with curves in the cervical (neck), lumbar (lower back) and thoracic (upper back) regions.

A good pillow supports these natural curves and aligns your neck and spine by filling the space between your head, neck, and shoulders while lying down or sleeping.

By keeping your neck and spine aligned in this neutral position, a pillow prevents the natural curvature of the spine from being excessively flattened or exaggerated, which is what causes discomfort and can disrupt your sleep.

What pillows do hotels use?

luxury hotel room: why are hotel pillows so comfortable?

When it comes to choosing the most comfortable pillow, hotels know that different sleep positions require specific types of support in terms of firmness and loft.

However, not everyone sleeps in the same position. Some people prefer to sleep on their back, others on their side, and some are combination sleepers, switching between positions throughout the night. 

Hotels are aware of this, and many hotels choose pillows with firmness levels between medium-firm to medium-soft with a medium loft to please a wide range of people with different preferences and preferred sleeping positions.

These pillow firmnesses and lofts strike a balance between support and comfort by providing enough support for your head and neck while still being soft and comfortable to sleep on.

Best pillow based on pillow firmness

Pillows come in different levels of firmness, from soft and medium to firm.

Some hotels, especially higher-end hotels, provide a range of pillows with different firmness levels to cater to various comfort preferences.

Pillow firmness is also a matter of personal preference and comfort. Some prefer a soft, cloud-like pillow with more sinkage, while others prefer a firmer pillow for more support.

Regardless of firmness preference, the most important factor is that your head and neck are aligned while sleeping.

Best pillow based on pillow loft

why are hotel pillows so comfortable: Choosing the right pillow that is right for you based on hotel criteria

A pillow with a high loft will be thicker, while a low loft pillow will be flatter. 

While some people prefer a higher loft, others prefer a lower loft for a flatter surface. The most important factor in choosing the loft is that the pillow loft is high enough to keep the head, neck, and spine aligned in a neutral position to prevent strain or discomfort.

Having the right pillow loft that properly aligns your neck and spine determines whether your pillow is comfortable. Pick a pillow loft that is too high, and your head will be at an uncomfortable angle. Pick one that is too low, and you’ll have the same issue, especially if you’re a side sleeper.

Hotels always provide guests with at least one pillow with a decent loft to support their upper back, neck, and shoulders in different sleeping positions and preferences. Some higher-end hotels will offer multiple pillows on the bed with different lofts.

Best pillow based on sleeping position

Best pillows: most comfortable for different sleeping positions

Choosing the best pillow loft and firmness is a combination of personal preference and proper alignment in different sleeping positions. So finding that balance between support and comfort is key. 

For instance, I’m not too fond of memory foam pillows and prefer a fluffy cloud-like pillow with medium support. But a friend of mine swears she gets the best, most comfortable sleep on a firm memory foam pillow.

Below are two tables showing general guidelines for the ideal loft and firmness level recommended for different sleep positions:

Experimenting with combinations and paying attention to how the pillow supports your body can help determine the best combination for a comfortable and well-aligned sleep experience.

Back, side, or stomach sleepers

pillows help keep your spine aligned so you can sleep better and feel more comfortable

Side sleepers: If you sleep on your side, you don’t want to use a pillow that is too soft or too flat because it won’t provide enough support under your neck, which will cause your head to tilt to the side to reach the pillow. You also don’t want a pillow that is too firm because it can tilt your head up.

Back sleepers: If you sleep on your back with a pillow with too much height and firm support, your neck will be pushed too far forward, which can also be uncomfortable for long periods. 

Stomach sleepers: If you sleep on your stomach, which already extends the neck backward, using a firm pillow with too much loft (height) will push your head even farther back. Also, sleeping on your stomach with your head to the side puts your neck in a full rotation position, which can be uncomfortable for long periods of time and can disrupt your sleep, according to Matthew O’Rourke, a physical therapist at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, 

Recommended Loft
Back Sleepers Medium to Firm 
(One that fills the gap between the neck
and the mattress to support the curve
of the neck and head.)
Medium – Low Loft
8-13 cm (3-5 inches)
Side Sleepers Medium to firm pillow with Extra Loft
(To support the neck and align the
spine, keeping it in a neutral position.)
Medium to High Loft
10-15 cm (4-6 inches)
Stomach Sleepers Soft Density
(Thin, almost flat pillow, so the neck
does not bend back unnaturally.)
Low Loft
5-8 cm (2-3 inches)

Combination sleeping positions

Combination sleepers frequently change their sleeping positions throughout the night, making finding a pillow that accommodates all positions challenging.

Combination sleepers may benefit from multiple pillows on their bed to accommodate different sleeping positions. But if  you can only have one pillow, here are some suggested firmness and loft for combination sleepers. 

Sleeping Position
Recommended Firmness Recommended Loft
Combination Sleepers:
Back & side
Medium to firm Medium loft:
Or adjustable or Interchangeable loft pillow10-12 cm (4-5 inches)
Side & Stomach
Soft to Medium 5-10 cm (2-4 inches)
Back and stomach sleepers
Soft to Medium 3 – 8 cm (1-3 inches)

Pillow filling material

Down pillows are the most luxurious, and feel plush but are expensive and may cause allergies

Hotels use a variety of pillow fillings depending on the hotel’s brand preference, cost, and what they believe will appeal to their guests. This can include down feathers, synthetic fibres, memory foam, or a combination of materials.

Each material has its benefits and drawbacks, and the choice will depend on your personal preference, budget, and any allergies or sensitivities you may have.

For example, a 5-star hotel may offer more luxurious and expensive down pillows because that’s what guests expect at a premium hotel. While a 3-star hotel or 4-star hotel may offer their guests pillows made with a high-quality synthetic that mimics the feel of down. These down pillow alternatives are more affordable than down pillows but still provide a high-quality feel. 

Below are some common pillow materials hotels use, each with its benefits and drawbacks. 

Down Pillows:

Creme de la creme of pillows, generally known for their softness rather than firmness. Down is the soft, fluffy inner clusters found underneath the feathers of the chest area of ducks or geese. 


If you have allergies or are against animal cruelty, you may want to stay away from down feathers. 

Down feathers are usually plucked from the chest region of ducks or geese, in some cases whilst they are still alive, in which case the birds suffer terribly. You can read more about it at the following link.  I’m pointing this out because I had no idea either.

Pros of down pillows:

  • Soft and fluffy luxurious feel.
  • They are lightweight and compressible, making them easy to fluff and shape.
  • Good at regulating temperature, keeping you warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather.
  • Durable and long-lasting, with proper care.

Cons of down pillows:

  • If not ethically sourced, animals are plucked alive, which is terribly painful for the animal. 
  • Expensive compared to other types of pillows.
  • Some people may be allergic to down feathers.
  • May lose their loft over time and need to be fluffed regularly.
  • Some people may find them too soft or lacking in support if not filled with enough down.

Down pillows are good for stomach and back sleepers

Down pillows are best for people who sleep on their stomachs or back because they provide a soft and comfortable surface for the head and neck. However, side sleepers may find that down pillows don’t give enough support and may prefer a firmer pillow.

Down & Feather pillows

Feather pillows are usually a mix of down and the outer feathers of birds. Because feathers are heavier, larger and denser than the soft clusters of down, these mixed pillows feel soft but firmer, and they’re also less moldable than pure down pillows. 

Feathers used in feather pillows are typically not plucked from live animals. They are usually obtained as a byproduct of poultry farming and meat production. But again, look for ethically souced feathers, just in case. 

Pros of feather pillows:

  • Less expensive compared to down pillows.
  • Feather pillows are soft and light, making them easy to adjust and shape according to your comfort level.
  • Durable: Feather pillows can last for years if maintained properly.
  • Good airflow: Feather pillows allow for good airflow, keeping you cool while you sleep.

Cons of feather pillow:

  • Prone to clumping over time, which can feel lumpy and less comfortable over time.
  • Some people may be allergic to feather pillows.
  • May require frequent fluffing and shaking to maintain their shape and loft.
  • Can make a rustling noise when your head moves around
  • Feather quills may poke through the pillow, making sleeping uncomfortable. 

Feather pillows are good for back sleepers and side sleepers

Back sleepers need a pillow that is not too high, and a feather pillow can be easily adjusted to the right height. Side sleepers need a pillow that is thick enough to keep their head and neck aligned with their spine, and some feather pillows can be adjusted to provide the necessary firmness to support the neck while sleeping on your side. 

Down alternative (synthetic down pillows)

Pillows with synthetic down alternative fillings are made to feel just as soft and light as real down, but they don’t cause allergies.

They’re also a good choice for vegans or anyone with ethical concerns associated with the cruelty of plucking the feathers from living birds, which is extremely painful.

The synthetic fibres or clusters used in these pillows are often treated with a special coating to make them strong, fluffy, and comfy. Sometimes, they blend the synthetic fillings with materials like rayon, cotton, or other materials to make them even softer and more breathable.

Alternative pillows

Alternative pillows and pillow fillings offer a range of options beyond traditional pillows. Two of my favourites are buckwheat pillows and adjustable loft and firmness pillows.

Buckwheat-filled pillows:

Traditional Japanese pillow filled with buckwheat hulls offered in some hotels in Japan

I lived in Japan for several years and used to sleep on a buckwheat pillow which has a long-standing tradition in Japanese culture but can take some getting used to. 

Buckwheat pillows are filled with the hulls (outer shells) of buckwheat seeds that are firm and supportive. The hulls are extremely mouldable and contour to the head and neck shape. They are known for being extremely breathable. Because the buckwheat hulls move around, it allows airflow to circulate, keeping you cool.

One of the most interesting things about a buckwheat pillow is that it can last up to 10 years. And if you want to have a fuller pillow, you can just buy a bag of hulls to refill your pillow. You can even put your buckwheat pillow in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes on those hot nights.

The downside is that the hulls can be noisy as you shift around, but after a while, you get used to it. 

An adjustable loft pillow

Wopilo adjustable loft and firmness pillow from France

An adjustable loft pillow is a type of pillow that allows you to adjust the height and firmness of the pillow by adding or removing fill. This type of pillow often has a zippered cover that allows access to the fill material. These pillows come with additional filling, so you can make them as firm or as fluffy as you like. 

There are a lot of companies that offer different types of adjustable pillows with different types of fillings. Two of my favourites are from French manufacturers Hypnia and Wopilo. Wopilow has an interesting pillow that has an outer layer that you can refill with a soft synthetic filling. The center of the pillow is hollow, where you can insert a wedge-like memory form shape to add firmness to the pillow. 

Wrapping up why hotel pillows are so comfortable

Why are hotel pillows so comfortable: factors hotels consider when choosing hotel pillows

Ultimately, you should choose a pillow that feels comfortable to you. It’s always best to try out different types of pillows, materials, and thickness levels to see what works best for you and your specific sleeping positions.

I actually have many different types of pillows to choose from in my home now.

Some pillow manufacturers offer trial periods or money-back guarantees. During the trial period, if customers find that the pillow doesn’t meet their expectations, they can return it within the specified timeframe and receive a refund or exchange.

Make sure to check the specific terms and conditions of each manufacturer’s trial policy. Some may have certain requirements or limitations, such as requiring the pillow to be in a clean and undamaged condition for a return or refund. While others may charge for return shipping or restocking fees.

If you stay in a particular hotel and love their pillows, ask them where they are from because they may be commercially available, or you may be able to buy something comparable.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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