Getting enough sleep is vital if you want to live a healthy life. Of course, if you want to experience a restorative night of sleep, you need to have the right conditions to do so. Although often disregarded by people as unimportant, having the right pillow plays a huge role in how well you sleep. When you rest on a pillow, you need to ensure your head, neck, shoulders and upper back are supported. This is because the human spine has a natural curve to it, and ensuring this support is in place allows for a proper alignment to be maintained. If you sleep without the right support, you can wake up with neck and back stiffness, back pain and joint problems.
When it comes to pillow comfort, a user needs to consider factors such as their body size, sleeping positions and any relevant health conditions. Choosing a pillow should largely be dependent on your sleeping position. For example, if you sleep on your back, you will want a pillow which supports the natural curve of your neck. Side sleepers, on the other hand, will want to find a pillow which keeps their necks straight. Meanwhile, people who sleep on their stomach will be best suited to either a thin pillow or no pillow at all.
There’s a lot more to choosing a pillow than you might think. Whether it’s pillow type, pillow fill, firmness or loft, picking the right one could be the difference between high quality sleep and a night of tossing and turning.
Types of pillow
Those who use feather pillows will experience soft support and high quality contouring around key areas of the body. But these feathers aren’t the long, wispy ones you may be used to – a high quality feather pillow will make use of very small, highly curled feathers which act as a natural spring.
For a soft and gentle pillow, purchase one which uses the down of a bird’s undercoat. These are renowned for their luxurious feel, and are puffy to the touch. They are fluffy and cosy, but not intended to be supportive.
Memory foam pillows
These pillows were introduced to the market relatively recently. They will remember your shape and conform to your body as you move throughout the night, allowing you to remain comfortable. They will return to their original shape at varying speeds, so choose carefully according to your needs.
Enjoy a comfortable night of sleep with a specially constructed neck pillow, which is designed in such a way that your spine is supported and your head and neck are kept in the correct position.
The long design seen with body pillows makes them good for placing in between your legs for supporting the hips and lower back. They are especially useful for women during pregnancy.
These types of pillows are designed for people who are suffering from lower back pain. They provide support above the lumbar area, which lets the lower back enter a state of natural relaxation.
As the name suggests, these pillows are filled with microscopic beads. Referred to as unexpanded polystyrene, or EPS, they provide hard support and are usually featured in travel pillows.
These pillows are suitable for those who are looking for a natural and plant-based option. This is because they are filled with the husks from buckwheat seeds. You can expect a hard level of support with buckwheat pillows.
With a triangular shape, these pillows can be used to support various areas of the body. Made of polyester fiber fill, foam or a blend of both, they can be helpful for propping up the upper body to ease acid reflux or propping up the belly during the second or third trimesters of pregnancy. Additionally, they can be used for reading in bed or elevating the legs and feet to relieve the symptoms of varicose veins.
Types of pillow filling
Bird feathers have an undercoat called down which is very soft and a popular filling for pillows. The best quality is considered to be European or Hungarian goose down, and pure down pillows provide a luxury feeling. Sometimes, down will be combined with feathers in a pillow filling for economical reasons. Down is beneficial as a pillow filling in that it’s light and soft, easy to shape and provides high quality support to the head and neck. It’s also very durable. However, it holds heat, which can make sleep uncomfortable for those who tend to sleep hot, and it requires regular fluffing. They are also difficult to clean and can be expensive.
This type of pillow filling is seen as a cheaper alternative to down. Feathers can cluster together and deteriorate quickly, which is why some manufacturers combine it with some down to bolster it. While it’s cheaper than a pure down pillow, these can become flat and uncomfortable with time. Feather pillows are easy to shape and light to sleep on, but can have a lingering odor and are difficult to clean. Like down pillows, they can also retain heat, making for a hot sleep. Side and back sleepers are best suited to feather pillows.
Often seen as one of the best options on the market, polyester fiberfill is cheap, lightweight and simple to clean. That being said, it absorbs body heat, so may lead to a hot and uncomfortable night of sleep. The fibers in this pillow filling can also become clumpy, making the pillow feel lumpy and flat over time. The main benefits of polyester fiberfill pillow filling are that it’s very cost-effective, lightweight and cleans easily. However, they have a short lifespan, and its creation involves using chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde, which pose potential hazards to health and the environment. Those who sleep on their sides or backs will benefit the most from this type of pillow filling; stomach sleepers will too if the polyester isn’t too thick.
Shredded memory foam
Memory foam is constructed from chemicals such as polyurethane and can cause an unpleasant odor. However, it retains its shape incredibly well and makes for a comfortable night of sleep. Traditional memory foam pillows come in a single slice, shaped like a loaf or box, which can retain heat and be difficult to shape. Therefore, tearing it into pieces – and creating the shredded memory foam filling – makes it more malleable. While this kind of pillow filling offers excellent support, doesn’t clump and is easy to shape, it could be hazardous due to its chemical construction during off-gassing and could become extra thin when absorbing body heat, resulting in inadequate support during the night.
A highly breathable and shapeable pillow filling, buckwheat’s hull is seen as the perfect option by many. It provides a high quality level of support, aligning to the shape of your head and neck. It also allows for a good level of airflow, which is beneficial for those who tend to sleep hot. With a long lifespan, this style of pillow is a good investment. However, it makes a rustling noise when you move around, which can disturb your sleep, and it’s a large and heavy pillow which may be too firm for some.
Also referred to as uniform polymer particles, microbeads are seen as the synthetic version of buckwheat’s hull. They are both breathable and easy to shape. However, microbeads will decrease in size and become flat much more quickly in comparison with other pillow fillings on the market. While microbead pillows will offer a good level of support for the head, neck and shoulders, they have a short lifespan, produce a chemical odor and only generally come in medium-soft or medium-firm loft and firmness options. Back sleepers will benefit the most from microbead pillows.
Types of pillow firmness
There isn’t a generally used method to describe or measure the firmness of pillows, but certain words are used to illustrate the amount of sinkage a pillow has when you apply pressure to it. Here are some common terms for describing the firmness of a pillow.
- Soft: People who purchase a soft pillow can expect to have a low level of support; this makes them beneficial for stomach sleepers. They will easily conform around the head and neck areas, but can lead to neck pain if used in the wrong sleeping position.
- Medium Soft: Offering slightly more support than soft pillows, these still provide a light and cushiony feeling. That being said, larger sleepers may require a pillow with more loft and firmness.
- Medium: Suitable for back sleepers and combo sleepers, these don’t go too far along the soft or firm end of the spectrum.
- Medium Firm: You will have a firm feeling with these pillows, but they still have some give. You will benefit from a decent level of support around the head and neck, with conforming in these areas and additional cushioning functionality.
- Firm: Commonly filled with buckwheat, these pillows are firm and don’t tend to have any give. They aren’t encouraged for stomach sleepers, as these people won’t have enough support around the head and neck areas. However, they will most likely suit heavier sleepers, as they will be supportive enough for the head, neck and back.
Types of sleeper
- Back sleeper: This sleeping position is commonly seen as the best one for reducing the likelihood of waking up with back pain or joint troubles such as neck ache. It also helps you to rest your spine in a natural position. Furthermore, there won’t be excess pressure applied to your arms, shoulders and legs. However, back sleeping isn’t recommended for people with sleep apnea, as it pulls your tongue to the back of your throat. Back sleepers will be more likely to have problems with snoring overall. If you’re a back sleeper who struggles with snoring issues, take the effort to find snoring aids such as nasal strips or mouthpieces, or try to find a way of switching to a different sleeping position.
- Side sleepers: These sleepers are the most common, and there are many different variants of this position, such as the log, the yearner, and the fetal position. The benefits of side sleeping include the reduction of heartburn, and side sleeping on your left hand side can improve your digestion and blood flow due to the arrangement of your internal organs. However, this position can also lead to a numb arm, plus pain in the shoulders, hips and back if the spine, neck and hips aren’t properly aligned. There is also more strain applied to pressure points, and face wrinkles will be more likely to become an issue. To get the most out of side sleeping, keep your back as straight as possible. Positioning a pillow between your legs can also help.
- Stomach sleepers: This isn’t a common choice, and it can create drawbacks such as pain and stress around the neck and spine. However, benefits include the reduction of snoring and fewer issues with conditions such as sleep apnea. Furthermore, as stomach sleepers will find being buried in a soft mattress comfortable, they’re less likely to toss and turn during the night. To have the best night of sleep possible as a stomach sleeper, try using a thin pillow – or none at all, using a pillow under the pelvis and stretching in the morning to help with back pain instead.
How to choose a pillow
Choosing a pillow involves finding the factors which are important to you, then seeing which models will provide the most comfort and support for you. Here are some factors to consider when you go pillow shopping:
- What type of fill is used? – There are many different fill options available in a pillow, as described above. Finding the one which suits your needs best is important. For example, if you want a soft pillow, go for down or a feather and down blend. For a cheap option, there’s polyester fiberfill. Or you can get an ultra supportive buckwheat pillow.
- What’s the fill power? The higher the fill power number, the better you can expect the quality of the pillow to be. Furthermore, you can also expect the product to have a longer lifespan. If a pillow has a fill power of 600 or above, it will be high quality.
- What is the fill quality like? Think about the way you use your pillow. If you want to have a pillow which contours to your head, neck and shoulders, and you don’t move it around at night, then memory foam will be a good choice. If you like to adjust the shape and position of a pillow constantly, a lightweight option such as down or feathers will probably be more suitable.
- How large is the pillow? Usually, just going for a standard size pillow will do the job. However, some people will want to go for a larger pillow. In such a scenario, always ensure you can keep a well aligned sleep posture. Another factor within this segment is the thickness. A thinner pillow will suit stomach sleepers more, while a thicker one will be useful for heavier sleepers. Furthermore, use the right size of pillow case for your pillow.
- What fabric is used? It’s recommended to find a pillow which makes use of natural, high quality and breathable fabric. Not only do the pillow covers under pillowcases decide whether a pillow will allow air to flow well or retain heat, it also protects the pillow from stains and sweat.
- What chemicals have been used? Think about the processes which took place to make the filling of the pillow. For example, memory foam and polyester make use of particular chemicals, and some of these will produce an odor or be potentially hazardous. Consider your allergies and skin sensitivity when selecting a pillow type.
Sleeping position versus pillow type
It’s important to match your pillow type to the sleeping position you tend to adopt the most frequently during the night.
- Side sleepers will benefit from a firm pillow which is relatively thick.
- Stomach sleepers will want a soft pillow which is thin.
- Back sleepers will get the most from a flat pillow to align the head and neck.
How to care for a pillow
Pillows will be subject to absorbing dust, allergens and sweat just like a mattress. While it can be easier for some to simply purchase new pillows when their existing ones have lost their feeling of freshness, it’s possible to wash many types of pillow in an ordinary laundry cycle. That being said, ensure you read the laundry tags attached to these products to check the settings which may be required. In some cases, only the pillow case can be washed, in which case you will need to remove it from the pillow itself. If you have a synthetic and polyester-filled pillow, these are easy to get washed and dried. Furthermore, feather and down pillows can also be cared for in this way.
To clean a pillow, first check the laundry care tag to make sure you won’t cause damage to the pillow by washing it. Then remove the cover, as washing both elements will get the pillow as clean as possible. If you have a top loading washing machine, wash two pillows at a time to balance out the washer drum. If you only have one pillow, use towels to balance it out instead. Then wash your pillow according to the care instructions. In some cases, this will involve using the longest and hottest wash cycle, while others will specifically ask for people to use a cold cycle.
Many pillows can also be dried in a typical tumble dryer cycle, and some of them will even require that you place them in the dryer before using them for the first time. Make sure the pillow is dried out completely before using it!
How to clean a memory foam pillow
It isn’t wise to wash a memory foam pillow in the washing machine, even if you do find instructions on how to do so online. This is because completely immersing it in water could do it permanent damage and reduce its effect.
While you can wash other types of pillows, placing a memory foam pillow in a washing machine will result in the agitator breaking up its structure, tearing its material and potentially damaging it beyond repair. Furthermore, it’s a fire hazard to put a memory foam pillow in a dryer, and due to the density of the material in memory foam, it will be fully difficult to completely dry it out.
Memory foam pillows will often have a removable cover, which you can take off and wash separately. Alternatively, you can use a vacuum attachment to capture any dirt or dust deep within the pillow, or spot clean by dabbing small amounts of water onto stains and removing them in this way.
How often do I need to change my pillowcase?
It’s recommended to change your pillowcase as regularly as you change your sheets. In other words, this should be around once a week. Pillowcases will capture dirt, dead skin and sweat just like bedsheets, so you shouldn’t neglect washing them.
How often do pillows need to be replaced?
Bed pillows generally need to be replaced every 18 months. Memory foam pillows have the capacity to last longer, and may be usable for up to three years. Investing in a natural pillow will mean you get a longer life out of it than a synthetic one. Similarly, higher quality pillows will, of course, last longer than cheaper models. Those using pillows which are several years old should be aware that you’re most likely not getting the right support you need, or sleeping as comfortably as could be possible.
How to test whether a pillow needs replacing
Take off the pillowcase cover and take a look at it. Check whether it has any stains from sweating, smells, is torn and so on. Pillows will collect dust mites, mold, mildew, fungus and dead skin cells over time, and that’s hardly a pleasant mix to rest your head against at night! It can trigger allergies, make it harder to breathe at night and emit odors that make it harder to sleep comfortably.
If you’re satisfied that the pillow doesn’t have any nasty sights or smells, you can carry out the fold test. Fold the pillow in half and see how it responds. If it simply lies there without springing back into shape, it’s out of life and should be replaced. With natural pillows, a similar test involves draping the pillow over your arm. If it drapes and hangs down, then it will need replacing. For synthetic pillows, fold them in half and add some weight to the top, such as a shoe or book. When you remove this weight, if the pillow doesn’t spring back to its original shape, you should consider replacing it. Finally, for larger and king size pillows – regardless of whether they are natural or synthetic – you will need to fold them into thirds instead of halves.
What kind of pillows are used in hotels?
The pillows used in American hotels often use a type of goose down, or there will be a polyester pillow available. Usually the latter is offered as an alternative for those who suffer from allergies.
Some pillows will be all goose down, and others will be 50% down and 50% feather. While the goose down makes the pillow soft, the feathers make it denser and supportive. You may also find a Chamber pillow, which is good for back and side sleepers who want a soft pillow which offers more support than an all-down pillow. As the name suggests, these types of pillows have three chambers inside. The two outer chambers are filled with goose down to provide softness and comfort, while the inner chamber has a down and feather blend to offer support.