Buying Guide – Shopping for the Best Gel Pillow
The term ‘gel pillow’ refers to any pillow containing individual layers of gel and/or gel-infused memory foam. All foams — memory foams in particular — retain a fair amount of body heat from sleepers. As a result, sleepers may feel excessively warm or hot during the night, and this can lead to sleep disruptions. Gel layers may allow the pillow to sleep cooler and help owners cut down on nighttime disruptions — but in some cases, gel pillows do not sleep significantly cooler than standard memory foam pillows.
This guide to gel pillow will explore how these pillows are designed, discuss sleepers who may benefit from using one, provide some tips for first-time buyers, and list our picks for the top gel pillows sold today.
What is a Gel Pillow?
Gel pillows are often referred to as ‘cooling gel pillows’ because they are supposed to absorb less body heat and sleep more comfortably. The ‘gel’ in a gel pillow may constitute the following:
- Gel layers: Some pillows have gel layers that line the interior, while others have surface gel layers to cool off the exterior of the pillow. The gel layers are typically thin, and may be removable.
- Gel-infused fill: Memory foam and/or polyfoam may be infused with gel beads or swirls. Additionally, pillows with gel-infused down alternative fibers are available through select manufacturers.
It’s important to note that some gel pillows have customer satisfaction ratings that are on par with the ratings for standard pillows. This suggests that either they do not offer as much cooling as advertised, or that they have inherent flaws that undermine their cooling abilities. However, our customer feedback indicates some gel pillows (including the ones found in the ‘Best Brands and Models’ section) do sleep noticeably cooler than others.
Other variables of gel pillows include:
- Fill distribution: Some gel-infused memory foam pillows are one-piece models, while others have shredded foam or fiber fill. One-piece designs tend to offer closer conforming and more pressure relief. However, most shredded fill pillows offer adjustable loft (or thickness); owners simply remove or add to the existing fill to decrease or increase the loft size.
- Shape: Most gel pillows with shredded foam or down alternative polyester fill have flat, even surfaces. Some one-piece memory foam pillows are also flat and even, but many have a contoured shape that aligns with the curves of the sleeper’s head, neck, and shoulders. These pillows, also known as orthopedic pillows, can be beneficial for sleepers who regularly experience aches and pains.
- Reversibility: Most pillows are reversible by design. However, some gel pillows are constructed with gel and non-gel sides to offer different sleep experiences.
- Cover: A gel pillow will often include a cover made of breathable, cooler materials. These materials include cotton and rayon from bamboo. Some polyester covers also sleep cool to a noticeable extent.
Gel pillows are most commonly made in the following sizes: