If you’re like most people, you spend about a third of your days asleep (less, perhaps, if you’re a new parent or a college student cramming for finals). And the most important piece of the slumber puzzle is your pillow. Choose the wrong one, and you’ll trade 40 winks for fitful tossing and turning. Keep these tips in mind as you shop for the right headrest.
Your preference is as individual as you are, but there are three major types of fillings. If you like to feel cradled, you might choose a malleable goose down or feather filling. These materials retain warmth and help to keep you toasty on cold nights. On good-quality versions, look for an indicator called fill power, which refers to how much filling the pillow has (the more filling, the plumper and longer lasting the pillow will be). One advantage to down: It lacks the sharp ends of feathers, which can poke through the pillowcase and prickle your skin. Allergy sufferers who want the comfort of down or feathers can buy special hypoallergenic pillow covers to alleviate reactions.
Polyester filling, less expensive than down and memory foam, tends to provide good support and hold its shape reasonably well. However, it is also the least durable of these materials.
Springy memory foam molds itself to your head, returning to its original shape after you arise. Because it conforms to your movements in the night, it can be a good choice for restless sleepers. It also works well for those with neck and spinal problems, as it distributes weight evenly. The downside? It tends to be expensive.
Wool pillows actually provides the perfect temperature-controlled sleeping environment. Manufacturers have all tried to make a synthetic product with the qualities of wool, but to no avail.
A recent sleep study conducted by The Woolmark Company and the University of Sydney examined a variety of bedding products in a range of temperature and humidity environments, and wool was selected as the “undoubted winner.” This study proved wool breathes better than synthetics, increases periods of deep REM sleep, and also gets the body to a comfortable sleeping temperature quicker and maintains it for a longer period of time.
There are more specialized and natural options too; you also buy pillows with specialized fillings such as buckwheat hulls, which shift along with your position, and natural and organic latex, which are breathable and resist mold, mildew and mites.
Decide on the size To choose the right size pillow, you’ll need to consider three factors: how big your bed is, how many pillows you need and how you will use them. Pillow sizes correspond roughly to mattresses (standard, queen, king). However, that doesn’t mean you have to play by the rules — an oversize pillow can feel enveloping and cozy on a smaller bed. If you like to prop yourself against a pile of pillows for reading, buy smaller-size ones that you can layer. Even on a king-size bed, a standard pillow may be what you want to sleep on.
Whether you choose down, synthetic or another filling, the way it’s packed in makes a difference in how the pillow feels. A filling that’s stuffed tightly into the cover makes for a firmer pillow; conversely, less filling means a looser, softer feel. Many mattress showrooms allow you to try them out before you buy.
Consider your sleep position The way you sleep will affect the loft, or height, of your pillow; different positions require different types of support. Back and stomach sleepers may want to choose a flatter pillow that helps keep the neck aligned properly. If you sleep on your side, however, a loftier pillow, which fills the gap between head and neck, is generally a better choice.
Take special needs into account You’ll find plenty of specialty pillows on the market tailored to specific situations. For example, people with allergies might think about a pillow with a cover and filling that are specifically formulated to keep away dust and mites. If you snore, consider a pillow shaped to position your head and neck in a way that will prevent your airway from becoming compressed.