It’s no secret that getting a good night’s sleep positively affects our physical and mental health.
Unfortunately, achieving a restful night’s sleep has always been a challenge for me. Yet, when I stay at a nice hotel, I sleep like a baby- “and it’s always annoyed me.”
So I went on a mission to find out why I 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 like myself, I’ll also explain how the right pillow can help you attain deep, uninterrupted sleep.
My quest for better sleep: Recreating the Hotel Sleep Experience
Because I sleep so much better in hotels, I thought that my sleep issues might be solved by recreating that comfortable hotel sleep experience.
First, I invested in a high-quality mattress and sheets. Then I splurged on cozy bedding and plush pillows.
I did sleep better than before, but I still had a hard time staying asleep.
I let the matter go and figured I was one of those people who would be plagued with sleepless nights from time to time for the rest of my life.
A wakeup call at a hotel in Bordeaux
I was reminded of how much better I sleep at hotels during a trip to Bordeaux. Only this time, I paid attention and noticed that the hotel pillows felt inexplicably more comfortable than my pillows at home.
My pillows were soft enough, but no matter how much I punched, fluffed, and shifted them around, it was always hard to get in a comfortable position to fall asleep. And more often than not, I would wake up abruptly in the wee hours of the night because my head landed in an uncomfortable position.
If you’re interested, the hotel I stayed at was “Hotel bord d’eau,” located at 113 Rue du Dr Albert Barraud, Bordeaux France. They use pillows made by Lestra, a French duvets and pillow manufacturer from the Loire Valley of France.
I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why are hotel pillows so comfortable, and could my sleep issues be linked to my pillow?”
I tried changing out my pillows a few times but could never find that perfect pillow that gave me uninterrupted sleep.
Feeling frustrated from lack of regular sleep, I set out on a mission to discover why hotel pillows are so comfortable.
Why are hotel pillows so comfortable?
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
So this time, I decided to approach my sleep issues a little differently.
Rather than buying random pillows:
- I reached out to a few hotels, including the hotel in Bordeaux, to find out which pillows they use in their hotel rooms.
- 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.
The most surprising thing about buying pillows is some cost as much as a pair of fancy Nike shoes. Don’t worry; you don’t have to spend a fortune to find a comfortable pillow; you just need to know what to look for and understand the science behind how the right pillow can improve your sleep quality.
With my newfound pillow knowledge, I tried several pillows, and It turns out I was right!
My pillows were partly to blame for my inability to stay asleep. But not because my pillows were poor quality, flat, or anything like that.
Although my pillows were soft and cloud-like, I was choosing pillows that were not comfortable for my preferred sleeping position, the wrong pillows.
Feeling comfortable is key to a good night’s rest. It not only helps your body and mind relax, but it also makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.
Here are the key factors that contribute to a comfortable hotel pillow.
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) Hotels choose pillow firmness and loft that feel comfortable for a variety of sleeping positions.
The piece of the puzzle that I was missing when it came to choosing a comfortable pillow was selecting one with the right loft (height) and firmness.
My pillows were extremely soft and fluffy but not firm enough to support my head when I slept on my side- I’m a side and back sleeper.
To achieve maximum comfort, hotels choose pillows that give their guests the proper alignment and support, which feels comfortable in different sleeping positions.
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.
Let’s quickly go over why you need to choose a pillow based on your sleeping position.
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 comfortable hotel pillows.
Why your pillow may be the cause of your sleep issues
Although your mattress, blankets and sheets are important for sleep quality, hotels know that pillows also play a crucial role in comfort and getting a good night’s sleep.
Here are 2 important reasons why the right pillows can make all the difference in the quality of your sleep.
1) The right pillow prevents neck and back
pain in different sleeping positions.
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.
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.
Side sleepers: Don’t choose a pillow that’s too flat:
For instance, 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.
This is exactly what was happening to me.
Similarly, side sleepers don’t want a pillow that is too firm because it can tilt your head up.
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.
And 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,
2) A good pillow helps regulates body temperature:
Our core body temperature naturally decreases during sleep as part of the circadian rhythm.
Sleeping in a cooler environment between 60 to 67 Fahrenheit (15 to 19 Celsius) helps facilitate this drop in body temperature which helps you fall asleep and stay asleep.
When the body is too hot or experiences fluctuations in temperature, it can lead to restlessness, frequent awakenings, and poor sleep quality.
A good pillow made from breathable materials can help regulate body temperature by allowing air to circulate around the head and neck and prevent overheating and sweating, which can disrupt sleep.
What pillows do hotels use?
Hotels put a lot of thought into the pillows they use. And although hotels use different pillows, they typically take into account certain factors, such as the following:
- Pillow firmness
- loft (height)
- filling material
- and preferred sleeping position
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 while it’s not a universal standard, 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 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.
In this section, we’ll take a look at how these factors contribute to a comfortable pillow based on different sleeping positions.
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
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
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
|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.)
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.
|Recommended Firmness||Recommended Loft|
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
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 are the 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 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.
If you want to buy down pillows that follow ethical practices, look for pillows where the feathers have been collected from birds humanely slaughtered for food production.
For instance, in France, the humane production of down is often referred to as “duvet éthique” or “duvet responsable.”
In the United States and Canada, the humane production of down is often called “ethical down” or “responsibly sourced down.” There are also certifications, such as the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) or the Global Traceable Down Standard (Global TDS), that ensure the traceability and ethical sourcing of down feathers
These terms emphasize the ethical practices involved in obtaining down feathers that prohibit live plucking, which is considered inhumane and unnecessary.
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.
Synthetic pillows, like ones filled with polyester fiberfill or microfiber, can be made in different ways to be firmer or softer, higher or lower, by changing how much filling they put inside and how tightly they pack it.
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.
Several types of synthetic materials are commonly used as alternatives to natural down.
Some of the best fake down pillow filling materials commonly used in hotel pillows for their comfort and durability include:
- Gel Fiber: Gel fibre is a high-quality synthetic material treated with a special gel-like substance that makes them soft, plushy and moldable while providing good support and loft. Gel fibre pillows are known for their breathability and ability to regulate temperature.
- Cluster Fiber: Cluster fibre is a synthetic polyester fibre spun into little, bean size balls designed to replicate the loft and resilience of natural down clusters but also provides excellent support for the head and neck. Cluster fibre pillows retain their shape well and are often hypoallergenic.
- Microfiber: Made from ultra-fine synthetic fibres that mimic the soft, lightweight feel of down and provide good support. They are also hypoallergenic, easy to maintain, and durable.
- Hypoallergenic Synthetic Blend: Some hotel pillows may use a blend of synthetic materials, such as polyester or microfiber, specifically designed to be hypoallergenic. These pillows are suitable for guests with allergies or sensitivities and offer a balance of comfort and support.
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.
In Japan, some hotels off guests buckwheat pillows, which have 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
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
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
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.
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.
And 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.