What is a Bed Pillow?

wiseGEEK Writer

The term bed pillow typically refers to pillows used on a bed to cushion the head and neck while sleeping. There are other kinds of pillows that may be found in beds and these include decorative types, and long pillows called body pillows.

Standard pillows are 20 inches by 26 inches.
Standard pillows are 20 inches by 26 inches.

There are numerous types of pillows designed for comfortable sleeping, and they come in several sizes. In the US, sizes are generally standard, queen and king, with standard and king being most common. Standard size is 20 inches by 26 inches (50.8 cm X 66.04 cm). Queen and king pillows are longer. The length of a queen is 30 inches (76.2 cm), and a king size bed pillow has a length of 36 inches (91.44 cm). Sizes in other countries may be different according to a country’s manufacturing standards. These measurements don’t account for the depth of pillows, which can vary, depending on their filling.

A bed with pillows on it.
A bed with pillows on it.

Filling of bed pillows has become considerably variable. Though the most common ones found are usually filled with things like polyester stuffing, it is possible to get those stuffed with wool, down, or with various types of foam. Those made with memory foam or latex have become increasingly popular and these may have advantages for some sleepers.

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Depth of the pillow and amount of filling may also be more or less appropriate for certain sleeping positions, and may be marked as soft, firm, or medium. Medium and firm pillows may be better for side sleepers, and stomach sleepers might prefer medium or soft rated pillows. Some types are recommended for any position and really it can be a matter of personal preference and degree of comfort.

Most bed pillows are covered with various fabrics. Common coverings are made of materials like cotton and cotton/polyester blends. In order to keep this cover clean, most people purchase pillow covers. Here it is important to check size of pillows to make certain covers will fit, since these are also sold in sizes that should conform with bed pillow size. Some specially types, like those made of memory foam may have slip off washable covers too that can be used in place of other covers.

There is much discussion on the appropriate pillow type for sleepers and those specializing in spinal alignment may recommend certain types as most optimal. It may be helpful to note that the bed pillow is a relatively new device, first mass-manufactured during the Industrial Revolution. Though the Chinese are credited with inventing the pillow, other cultures, like the Ancient Egyptians, used things like stones to cushion the head. Therefore, theories on what makes the most appropriate pillow may have some cultural bias, and are not always in agreement. Usually, if a pillow helps provide comfortable sleep, it’s a good choice.

Pillows provide support during sleep.
Pillows provide support during sleep.

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