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 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. If you don’t remember how old your fiberfill pillow is, Good Housekeeping advises taking a pillow, folding it in half and placing a book on it.

The pillow should spring back into shape. If it stays folded, it’s time to shop.

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. These can be 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: You want 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 tell you whether the pillow keeps your neck lined up straight with your body.

Take your time shopping, trying out a variety of types, shapes and sizes of pillows in your price range.

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 increase 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, a 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 a memory foam pillow, make sure it 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.”

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