Sleep Well: The Hunt For The Perfect Pillow

A couple cuddling in bedDoes the pillow that you sleep on every night really make or break your chances of a good night’s rest?

Most experts say…absolutely.

Sleeping on the wrong pillow can also take a toll on your health, by worsening head and body aches, shoulder and arm numbness, and wheezing. And most of us are sleeping on pillows that are too old and too dirty. Sleep experts advise buying a new pillow every 12 to 18 months. Not only does an old pillow not provide the support you need, but one that’s past its prime can also be packed with allergens, including mold, fungus, and dust mites, which can make up half the weight of an older pillow.

So, What’s Your Sleeping Style?

Before you buy a new pillow, think about what position you tend to sleep in. The goal of using a pillow is to help keep your head in what is called a ‘neutral alignment,’ meaning your head is sitting squarely on your shoulders without bending back too far or reaching too far forward.

Back sleepers: You need thinner pillows, so their head is not thrown too far forward. Also look for a pillow with extra loft in the bottom third of the pillow to cradle your neck.

Side sleepers: You need a firmer pillow to fill in the distance between the ear and outside shoulder.

Stomach sleepers: Look for a very thin, almost flat pillow. You may not even need a pillow for your head, but consider tucking one under your stomach to avoid lower back pain.

What About Stuffing Options?

There is no shortage of fillings you can find stuffed in a pillow these days. The most common ones are down-feather combinations, foam, or polyester fiberfill. Memory foam and latex pillows have become quite popular in recent years, particularly among people looking for additional neck support.

What’s right for you? That may depend on how you’re feeling on a given day. Therefore it is often recommended that most people have more than one type of pillow to choose from.

For instance, you may want a pillow to support your neck if your neck is bothering you one day. But once your neck feels fine again, that same supportive pillow may not be the most comfortable for you.

Here’s what to look for in each type of pillow filling:

Foam: Go by the density, because the higher the density, the less breakdown, and the more support you will have without getting too soft.

Memory foam: These are popular because they reduce pressure points by continuously molding and adjusting to the shape of your body as you move throughout the night. Memory foam pillows come in various shapes, including a popular contoured S-shape, which is meant to support the neck. Memory foam material is known to make sleepers hot, and can sometimes emit an unpleasant chemical odor.

Latex: This is the firmest type of pillow, and it resists mold and dust mites. Latex pillows may also help with back and neck alignment, as they’re often contoured for neck support.

Wool/cotton: Wool and cotton pillows are hypoallergenic and resist mold and dust mites. Both also tend to be quite firm. So if you love a squishy pillow, these fillers aren’t for you.

Down/feather: Many sleep experts recommend these as one of the best pillows for a good night’s rest. One of the great things about down pillows is that you can move the stuffing around so that you have the most support where you need it. Plus, it’s soft, yet firm enough to give you the support you need.

A combination of 50% feather and 50% down works well because the feathers act like springs and are quite supportive.

Let’s Go Pillow Shopping!

When shopping for a new pillow, keep these tips in mind:

Consider more than cost. Just because a pillow costs more does not automatically make it a better pillow or the right pillow for you. What matters is how the pillow feels to you. Most of the time, you can find something that works without breaking the bank.

Try it out in the store. If you’re in a store and there’s the option to lie down, do that. If that’s not an option, stand next to a wall in the position in which you like to sleep, put the pillow against the wall as though the wall were a vertical mattress, lean your head against it, and ask someone to tell you if your neck is tilting one way or another. Your neck should be in line with your spine.

Many pillows are designed to address specific needs, including hot flashes, headaches, and neck pain. But they can be pricey, and there is little clinical research available about how well they work.