Are you ready for some pillow talk? Specifically about the best pillows for migraine and headaches?
With many of us finding ourselves in bed to weather the storm of a migraine attack, we need a comfortable and supportive pillow. The best pillow for migraine and headaches is an often debated topic online, with good reason.
However, as we are all unicorns, there doesn’t appear to be one best migraine pillow. We have compiled recommendations from our private Facebook group and through personal research on the topic. The list below contains the current recommendations from our community.
Conversation about tips and tricks for better sleep go hand in hand with the best pillow for migraine and headaches posts. Finding the perfect pillow is not the end of the conversation, or even the beginning of it.
While Migraine Strong writes about the latest in migraine treatments, this is not medical advice. We are patient educators and all information you read should be discussed with your doctor.
Why are you looking for the best pillow for migraine and headaches?
Are you looking for relief of morning headaches that you are attributing to a less than satisfactory pillow? Or do you have neck pain all the time and little control over your migraine attacks? We are all looking for the magic item to add to our migraine routine that will help us to feel better faster.
While a pillow might be part of the problem, understanding other issues that could be influencing your lack of quality sleep is equally important.
Realistically, a new pillow will not solve our migraine issues. But like any other item we add to our toolbox, it can help alleviate some of our symptoms and make us more comfortable.
Sleep and migraine
Migraine is a neurological condition that can be exacerbated by many different triggers. One of the most common triggers is sleep disorders, sleep disturbances and overall poor sleep.
Restful or restorative sleep is one of the most important factors for helping to control migraine. And it’s one of the most elusive ‘treatments’ in the migraine community.
The complicated nature of sleep and migraine is part of the problem. Too much sleep as well as too little sleep can both be triggers. Having a sleep routine of going to bed each night and waking each morning at the same time (including weekends) can be helpful in stopping attacks related to changing sleep patterns.
However, sleep can also be a treatment. While headache specialists almost universally recommend avoiding naps, many of us know that during postdrome a nap might be the only thing that helps us recover. Some of us also require a nap to allow our acute medications the option of working well.
Trusting our bodies to tell us what we need is important when it comes to recovery and sleep. If a nap helps you make it through the day and doesn’t affect your sleep at night, have at it. But if that daytime nap keeps you awake until all hours, it’s best avoided.
Neck pain as a warning sign for an oncoming migraine attack
Neck pain during an attack is reported by more than half of all people with migraine. They also report more neck pain and tenderness between attacks.
Migraine attacks originate in the brain, but we often feel neck pain as our first symptom. While many believe that the neck pain triggers the migraine attack, it is often migraine activation that triggers the neck pain. The neck pain is then an early warning that the migraine attack is on the way.
So can the best pillow for migraine and headaches stop this neck pain that is associated with migraines? Not from a positional perspective, but if a perfect pillow helps with a good nights sleep, that is one less trigger that is filling up our bucket. But the best way to get control over neck pain that is associated with migraine is to up your preventive game.
My personal experience with neck pain and migraine
I had neck pain for 18 years and a ruptured disc at the C6-C7 for a short time in there. I was convinced that the ruptured disc was the ultimate cause for all of my migraine attacks. But when we finally got control over the migraine attacks, the neck pain went away as well.
The only time I have it now is when a migraine attack is on the way. This article explains neck pain associated with migraine in more detail. There are some causes for neck pain that are not migraine related and should be evaluated by a doctor and appropriate imaging tests.
Now that we have an understanding about neck pain and sleep and how they can be linked to migraine, let’s talk pillows. There are a few things to consider when looking for YOUR best pillow for migraine and headaches.
Neutral head/neck position
Having a neutral head/neck position can help prevent migraine attacks and headaches that are exacerbated by the head being too low or too high. This neutral position is achieved by keeping your shoulders relaxed and your head directly over your spine.
Make sure your head is not straining forward or back. Straining our muscles and nerves in our neck can be an issue with having the wrong pillow.
A couple of options that don’t cost anything is to roll up a hand towel or dish towel and place it inside the pillow case where your neck will rest. This ensures that the head remains in a neutral position whether you are sleeping on your side or your back. The second is if your pillow is thin, you can try folding it in half to get the right thickness. For more information on these options, view this video from two physical therapists talking about using the correct pillow to prevent waking with headaches.
A cervical roll can also be purchased to insert in the pillowcase. They work a little better because they are made for this purpose. If the towel trick works, it might be worth trying a cervical roll. For those of you who have allodynia (defined as pain due to a stimulus that normally doesn’t cause pain, like a light touch) all over your head, using a cervical pillow alone may help to alleviate the pain felt with other pillows that touch your whole head.
Avoid the turtle scrunch
Some professionals suggest being mindful of your head/neck position as you get ready for sleep. Be aware of how much pressure you are putting on your neck and adjust accordingly.
Are you unknowingly putting pressure on your neck like a bicycle kickstand? If so, be mindful of tipping back slightly and taking the pressure off.
Also, as you lie down, think about “opening up your neck space.” Elongate your neck like a giraffe and avoid scrunching “into your shell” like a turtle. Sometimes this is our default position when we are in pain or frustrated by wakefulness.
Do you sleep hot?
Some of us tend to sleep…well, hot. So as the night goes on, our bodies will trap heat. This can be a symptom for some in peri-menopause or menopause. This heating up can be the difference between sleeping well or tossing and turning.
Many of us also like to have cold on our heads when we are having an attack. A cold pillow can be a game changer. I have a cold pillow and a regular adjustable pillow that I alternate depending on how my head and neck are feeling.
I also don’t use the cold pillow when I want to use my heating pad during an attack. Sometimes I want heat and sometimes I want cold. This is another reason why there isn’t just one best pillow for migraine and headaches.
Side, back or stomach sleeper?
There are a few things to know about the type of pillow that might qualify as the best based on your sleeping position. These are the types of features you should look for in each type of sleeping position.
- Side Sleepers need a pillow that has a high loft (high profile) to allow room for your shoulder and keep your spine in a neutral alignment position. The pillows should also be medium-firm to firm in the support department. Pillows that have the option of adjusting the height of the loft are good options.
- Back Sleepers need a pillow that has medium loft and medium firmness. If the loft is too high, it will tilt your head forward and your chin towards your chest. The medium firmness will ensure that the pillow doesn’t become flat during the night from the weight of your noggin.
- Stomach sleepers need a pillow with low loft (2 inches or lower) and low firmness. The fill inside the pillow should be easily compressed (think down or their alternatives). It should be noted that sleeping on our stomachs is not recommended because of the pressure it can place on the neck. But it’s hard to change sleep positions, so look for a pillow that can work with what you love.
How thick should my pillow be?
A useful and easy way to check your ideal pillow height is the towel method. You can fold 3-4 bath towels into squares, 3 times each and stack them on top of each other. Lie down on the towels and see what height allows your spine to be in a neutral position.
This is a great place to start to find your ideal loft. Depending on the firmness of the pillow, it will always give more than the towels which won’t give very much at all.
Using this method, I found my ideal pillow loft is about 5 and 1/2 inches. I frequently adjust my pillow from Zoey (listed below) but I am almost at that height now. I will remove just a bit more fill before bed tonight to achieve my perfect loft.
Recommendations for the best pillow for migraine and headaches
These recommendations are based on our personal experiences and the experiences of members of our private Facebook group. This group is filled with motivated people with migraine looking for the best treatments available. All migraine pillows are recommended for side and back sleepers unless otherwise noted.
- Coop Home Goods – This pillow was far and away the most recommended of all pillows. The pillow can be adjusted by removing or adding more fill which makes it perfect for neck and shoulder issues when you have to have just the right pillow height. It is also recommended for those that tend to sleep hot. The cooling fill will help to keep you cool while you sleep or treat an attack.
- The Casper Original Pillow – This pillow is filled with polyester microfiber. It is a nice alternative to down for those with allergy issues. It feels very similar, but does not contain feathers, making it a good option for those who avoid animal products.
- The Purple Pillow – This pillow has a layer of purple gel like grid on the outside and a Latex core inside. It comes in different heights which allows for different neutral neck positions.
- Beckham Hotel Bed Pillows – This pillow is crafted in super plush gel fiber and expertly tailored to ensure maximum comfort for any and all sleeping positions.
- Muse Pillow – This pillow has a cooling dual layer of memory foam. The pillows come in three separate lofts to allow you to customize. Surface is cool to the touch and stays cool all night long.
- Chilled Lady Ice Pads – If you need your pillow to be COLD, try these ice pads with any of the recommended pillows
- Zoey Sleep Side Sleeper Pillow – Memory Foam Bed Pillows for Sleeping – This is another pillow with adjustable fill options. The pillow is shipped firm and comes with a bag that allows for removal of the fill to create the perfect pillow loft for each individual. The curve of the pillow frees up the shoulder position and allows for the pillow to fit closely to the neck. This is one of my current pillows and I have enjoyed the option of removing fill to allow for adjustment. It is super comfortable. My daughter just got one as well.
- Hypoallergenic Down Pillow – The loose blown down filling in this pillow moves to where you want it for the ultimate customization. It can be shaped as desired.
- Arc4life Traction Neck Pillow – This pillow has a different shape than most others on our list. It provides both neck traction and support and helps to support good posture. Our members said it greatly helps neck pain that triggers migraine. They also note that neck pain is still present during a migraine attack, as referenced above.
- The Water Pillow – This pillow has extra ventilated memory foam combined with Waterbase Technology which keeps you cool and comfortable all night long.
- Core Products -Tri-Core cervical support pillow – This pillow has a similar shape to the Arc4Life Traction Neck Pillow above. It was recommended by a Migraine Strong members physical therapist and it helps keep the natural line of the neck and provided them with great relief.
- Tempur-Pedic neck pillow – This pillow has a contoured, ergonomic design which follows the natural curve of your body, properly supporting your head, neck, and shoulders when you sleep on your back or side. I have had one of these pillows for years and it is definitely a go to when my neck is unhappy.
- Meoflaw pillow – Reviewers of this pillow say they are waking up with less neck pain and there is no chemical smell and no latex. One member said it was more comfortable than My Pillow.
- Therapeutica Pillow, Firm Orthopedic Support, Back or Side Sleeping – If you like a very firm pillow that is good for side and back sleeping this might be the pillow for you. Make sure to follow sizing instructions.
- Shredded Memory Foam Pillow with Bamboo Cover ADJUSTABLE THICKNESS – This pillow was reviewed as having ‘resolved neck issues and is more comfortable than a down or memory foam pillow.’ Pillow stays cool as well.
- Sleepgram – This pillow is fully adjustable in three separate thicknesses to accommodate stomach, side or back sleepers.
- My Pillow – The most common comment on the My Pillow is that the foam stays in the position you put it in and doesn’t move leading to a comfortable sleeping position. It doesn’t require a lot of adjustment all night long. Make sure to order the correct size.
- The Pluto Pillow – This one is so interesting because it’s customizable. Each customer completes a survey that includes questions about height, weight, sleep position etc. A pillow is then created to meet your particular needs and preferences.
- Squishmallows – This was the surprise of all the recommendations. These are a kids pillow toy and comes in all shapes and sizes. The common thread was that they are super comfortable and easy to shape the exact way you want it.
Where to go from here?
Hopefully some of these recommendations will guide you and help you find your best pillow for migraine and headaches. While some of the pillows are very affordable, others are a bit more pricey. Make sure to review the return policy because some offer 30 days or even much longer to try the pillow or return it for your money back. I’d love to hear from you about your favorite pillow! Comment below about your favorite migraine pillow or drop a post in our private Facebook group, on Instagram or Twitter.
Updated from the original article on April 8, 2021.