How to Find the Perfect Pillow

Been pillow shopping lately? If not, get ready for a big array of choices. You have many options, including:

  • Neck pillows
  • Body pillows
  • Memory foam pillows
  • Anti-snore pillows
  • “Cool” pillows
  • Oxygen-promoting pillows
  • Cervical pillows

Shopping for a pillow can be stressful. A wrong purchase could mean you’re stuck with a pillow you don’t want. Fortunately, a little preparation can help prevent a poor choice.

A rule of thumb says pillows should be replaced every 12 to 18 months. By two years, your pillow should be headed to the dump. Good Housekeeping advises:

“If you have a traditional fiberfill pillow, fold it in half and place a book on top of it,” says Lexie Sachs, textiles analyst in the Good Housekeeping Institute. “If it springs back to shape, it’s still good. But if it stays folded in half, it’s time for a new one.” Memory foam pillows that are crumbly or no longer hold their shape also need to go.

The most important reason to dump an aged pillow is because of dust mites — the microscopic, creepy-looking little bugs that take up residence in bedding and rapidly multiply in homes, especially when the humidity is high.

Dust mites don’t bite. The problem is the accumulation of their waste and carcasses. Many people are allergic to a substance in dust-mite waste that can cause rashes, asthma and sinusitis. If you’re allergic to dust mites, you can buy protective pillow covers made of tightly woven material. They are found in bedding stores and online.

Mold, mildew and fungus also build up in pillows. That is not what you want to plant your face on night after night.

Shopping tips

While pillow shopping seems daunting, you can keep it simple by focusing on basics: Get a pillow that’s comfortable, supportive and keeps your head and neck properly aligned while you sleep. If possible, lie down and try out pillows in a store.

If that is not feasible, lean against a wall using the pillow as you would in bed. Sleep expert and author Michael Breus tells WebMD that it’s a good idea to ask someone to tell you if the pillow keeps your neck lined up straight with your body.

As for cost, don’t feel you must spend big bucks. “Price isn’t necessarily an indicator of performance,” according to Consumer Reports. Take your time shopping, trying out a variety of types, shapes and sizes of pillows in your price range.

Consumer Reports also suggests:

  • Compare pillows for firmness: Put each on a flat surface and press with your palm until the pillow is squeezed to about half its original thickness. The harder you have to press, the firmer the pillow will be for sleeping.
  • Examine the construction: Look for tidy stitches and straight seams. The fill should be spread evenly, and the zipper should be strong and work smoothly.
  • Give it the sniff test: Buying a memory foam pillow? Put your nose into it and smell it. Some have a chemical odor, although it may disappear after a bit of use.

What type of sleeper are you?

Here’s another approach to pillow-shopping: Match your pillow with your sleeping style.

Buying pillows is like buying a mattress: You can’t really tell by spending only a few minutes on a mattress or pillow whether they’re right for you.

You can up your odds of success by noticing how you sleep. Some pillows are even labeled as best for a particular position.

  • Back sleepers: Look for a slim pillow so your head won’t be pushed too far forward, straining your neck. Some back sleepers like a pillow whose lower third is fatter than the rest of the pillow. The fat part fits snugly into the curve of your neck and supports it.
  • Side sleepers: Kammi Bernard, physical therapist at Baylor Health Care System in Dallas, tells WebMD that she advises side sleepers find a pillow firm enough to fill the space between the ear and shoulder.
  • Stomach sleepers: Use a very thin pillow or none at all for the head and consider also using a thin pillow under your stomach, which can help prevent back pain.

The best fill material

The fill material you choose is a matter of personal preference. If you like a fluffy pillow, down is probably the stuff you want. If down is too expensive, look for a combination of down and feathers. Down alternatives are great for people with allergies who prefer a fluffy pillow.

Fans of memory foam pillows prefer the dense support this material gives. If you do buy memory foam, make sure the pillow fits your body well, since foam won’t compact and become smaller as down and polyester pillows do.

If you are still undecided, consider the compromise that chiropractor Dr. Darren Pollack suggests at Good Housekeeping:

“I like to recommend a hybrid pillow that has a memory foam core surrounded with a softer down or synthetic layer. This version offers support and comfort, and can adapt as you change position throughout the night.”

What’s your best pillow or other sleep solution? How much are you willing to shop and pay for the right pillow? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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