Find the Best Pillow for Your Sleep Needs – Pillow Buying Guide
Your pillow plays a big part in the quality of your sleep and how you feel when you get out of bed. The right pillow can lull you to sleep, help relieve head and neck pains from incorrect sleep positions, and help manage conditions like allergies, back pain, and sleep apnea. Get to know your many choices so you can choose the best pillows for yourself and your family.
The following article will cover all of the topics listed below.
- Your Ideal Pillow According to Your Sleep Style and Preferences
- Other Factors to Consider When Deciding Between Firm and Soft Pillows
- A Guide to Pillow Materials and Alternative Fills
- Sizes and Types of Pillows
- Caring for and Cleaning Your Pillows
- What to Look for in a Quality Pillow
What do you look for when shopping for a pillow, comfort, temperature, support? Let us know below in the comments!
Sleep Preferences and Considerations
Using a pillow that suits your personal sleep preferences will help you get a better night’s sleep. Your pillow should provide support and comfort, letting you fall asleep easily as your body and mind relax. To help you pick the right one, here are factors to consider about your personal sleep situation:
Sleep Position and Style
Different sleep positions benefit from different pillow characteristics. This is because, no matter what sleep position you prefer, you need to support your head and neck aligned. Ideally, when you sleep, your head, neck, and spine are aligned in a straight line. This will help avoid neck and back pain and headaches on awakening.
- Back sleepers benefit from a medium-thick pillow that supports the head and neck with just a bit of lift for the natural curvature of the spine.
- Side sleepers need more loft in the pillow to keep the head elevated so the head and neck are in comfortable alignment.
- Stomach sleepers should choose a softer pillow with less loft so it doesn’t lift the head upwards causing neck pain.
Other considerations for your choice of pillow include what type of mattress you have and health considerations that can affect your sleep experience.
What kind of mattress you have can affect your choice of pillow. If you have a firm mattress, you may benefit from a loftier pillow that will give extra cushion to your head. And, since your mattress has less give, the best pillow is a lofty one that will hold your head up to align with your neck. A soft mattress will give way as you sink into it, so you are better off with a flatter pillow. This way, your head will not be raised too high, causing neck discomfort.
Hot or Cold Sleeper
Many people feel either cold or hot at night. Some health conditions, like stress, hyperthyroidism, menopause, and even alcohol or caffeine use, can make you feel sweaty. The material and construction of your pillow can affect how you experience the heat. Different pillow materials are either cooling or heating, depending. If you often feel hot at night, a latex, polyester, or gel pillow is a good choice. Natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and bamboo tend to wick away moisture and are also good choices. A cotton fabric covering on the pillow you choose increases breathability and keeps you cooler. On the other hand, memory foam pillows tend to trap heat.
What pillow you choose will depend on whether you are allergic or sensitive to any pillow materials. Latex is a relatively common allergy, and, while they are sanitized for use in pillows, feathers, and down may cause an allergic reaction in some people. If you have a dust mite allergy, be aware they tend to prefer polyester or other man-made materials. Be sure to read the materials in any pillows you plan to buy as they may have a natural cotton covering but the filling may be a different material.
Other Health Conditions
The right pillow will improve sleep position and support and help reduce neck pain. Health conditions such as acid reflux or congestion may benefit from a firmer, loftier pillow that elevates the head. Back pain can benefit from side sleeping with a medium loft supportive pillow that keeps the spine aligned, allowing for natural curvature. There are also special pillows for other health conditions, such as pregnancy and sleep apnea.
Choosing the right bed pillow for your sleep style is key to better, deeper, and longer sleep. This is good for your overall health, including metabolism, and mental clarity, as well as mood and energy.
Factors in Selecting the Best Pillow
Once you’ve identified your sleep preferences, learn which pillow characteristics will provide the perfect pillow choice for your needs.
Pillow firmness reflects the degree to which the pillow holds its loft and supports your head and neck aligned. Soft pillows obviously will give way under body weight, while firm pillows will retain more of their original shape. While designations are not exact, pillows generally are sold as one of five levels of firmness.
Soft pillows are preferable for stomach sleepers, and the medium range for most side and combination sleepers and subject to taste. Back sleepers benefit from medium firm to firm pillows to support the head, neck and back.
Loft is a description of the thickness or height of the pillow. A low loft pillow will be relatively flat, keeping head and neck flat and aligned, particularly for stomach sleepers. A medium or high loft pillow will allow for the natural curvature of the upper back, providing support where needed. These benefit side and back sleepers.
The decision whether to choose a low or high loft pillow is typically determined by factors of sleep position and also the size of the sleeper:
- Low loft pillows are preferable for smaller frames and for back and stomach sleepers, to keep head and neck in line without artificially arching the neck.
- Medium loft pillows are more comfortable for side sleepers and medium to large frame people who need more lift to support their body size.
- High loft pillows are suitable for large frame people as well as sleepers who prefer some elevation, such as those with sleep apnea or other breathing issues.
Fill density and weight
What goes inside your pillow makes a difference in the comfort and life of your pillow. Some types of pillows have an alternative fill to the standard down pillows, and some have adjustable fill. Fill density and weight are factors in the pillow’s quality and durability. Too little fill will leave your pillow sagging and cause it to flatten fairly quickly, after which it will no longer provide the comfort and support you need.
Fill density is a measure of the ounce weight of the pillow’s fill material. Depending on the pillow material, the higher the fill density, the more the pillow will hold its shape and firmness. Down pillows have a lighter density and will be softer with more give. Latex foam pillows are high-density and will hold their shape with less give.
Fill weight is a measure of how much fill material the pillow has. Higher-fill weight pillows will be more durable and retain their shape so that the sleeper continues to get appropriate head and neck support over time. Now let’s look at the choices for pillow fill and how they affect your pillow experience.
Pillows have been made from many materials over the centuries. Today’s materials are both natural and man-made, giving sleepers a wide choice of quality products, each of which offers a slightly different feel, texture, and type of support. Here are some of the most common pillow materials:
Feather pillows are quite soft and are made with goose or duck feathers. The feathers in a feather pillow will tend to align and compact over time, so regular fluffing of the pillow is advised. While feathers and down are sanitized before use, some people are allergic to small particles that can escape feather and down pillows.
Down is the ultra-soft feathering from the breast of ducks and geese. The best down pillows will be higher fill which will offer more support and be more durable. These types of luxurious pillows are very soft and cozy warm but need to be fluffed regularly to retain their loft. Because of this, manufacturers like Sobel Westex offer pillows that blend feather and down which, in
combination, help the pillow retain its form. Feather and down combination pillows don’t have the extreme give of down pillows and provide more loft and support while still offering that soft, luxurious restful feel.
An alternative fill to down pillows, microfiber pillows offer the same luxurious, soft comfort without animal products and the related potential for allergic reactions. They are made from very fine, silky soft polyester fibers that are hypoallergenic.
Cotton is a popular, cost-effective choice in pillows. Cotton is natural, and breathable material, so it stays cool on your skin. However, cotton pillows are less durable than other materials. Cotton tends to compress over time, so will be less able to cradle the head and neck than more supportive firmer pillows as the pillow ages.
Polyester pillows are lightweight and moldable. Like cotton, they are cost-effective. Polyester pillows are good for combination sleepers (those with multiple sleep styles) who change position frequently as they can be folded into the form needed for comfort. As a man-made fiber, polyester is hypoallergenic, washable, and less prone to retain odors. Like cotton, these pillows tend to compress and form lumps over time, so they should be replaced every year or two.
Gel pillows are filled with fine polyester fibers, called micro-denier because of their extra-fine, man-made qualities. These pillows are plush and fluffy but support your head and neck alignment, helping reduce the likelihood of aches and pains. They are a good hypoallergenic down pillow alternative. These are the best pillows for those who sleep hot, as the gel-infused fibers reduce heat and feel cool to the skin.
Latex is usually derived from the natural material from rubber trees, so it is eco-friendly, biodegradable, and hypoallergenic. It is a dense material for pillows and resists dust mites, bacteria, mold and mildew. Latex foam has a springy feel and is good for pressure point relief. Natural latex is more breathable and cooler than other types like memory foam pillows.
Memory foam is a synthetic pillow material made largely of polyurethane that forms bubbles so that air can move through the material. It contours and molds to the body, which is good for pain relief. Memory foam pillows come in block or shredded form. Block memory foam is firm and doesn’t change shape, while shredded foam will adjust to your sleeping position but must be fluffed from time to time to retain its shape. Memory foam can give off a slight chemical odor, called “off-gassing”.
Pillows using an alternative fill with recycled materials are available and offer the same comfort and support as pillows made from traditional materials. Recycled plastic, or PETP fiber fill creates a pillow with a soft, plush feel. Shredded natural latex pillows use materials in most cases leftover from the manufacture of mattresses, making them an earth friendly alternative. To find these type of pillows manufactured with organic materials, without the use of harmful chemicals and meeting other sustainability goals, look for their organic certification labels.
Other Pillow Materials
Other pillow materials include natural wool and bead-filled pillows, like microbeads (polystyrene), and their natural cousins, buckwheat and rice pillows. Beaded pillows provide good support, but can be noisy, and all beaded pillows can get very messy if they tear or break. Wool pillows must be dry cleaned and are not widely used today.
Sizes and Types of Pillows
Like mattresses, pillows come in standard sizes. Buying a pillow with the same designation as your mattress may not always be your optimal choice, as some sleepers may benefit from larger pillows to better fit their body size and support needs.
There are other types of specialty pillows available, such as body pillows, knee and leg pillows, wedge pillows, travel pillows and CPAP pillows. Body pillows help provide spinal alignment and are useful for people with back or leg pain and for pregnancy. Wedge pillows are generally made from memory foam and help support the back in case of lower back pain, snoring or acid reflux.
Always protect your pillows with a clean pillowcase. Cotton is a good choice for pillowcases as it is breathable and hypoallergenic, as well as easy care. Change your pillowcase frequently, usually weekly. A clean pillowcase helps keep repeated deposits of oil and debris from seeping through onto the pillow.
The best protection for your pillow is a pillow protector. These washable covers are designed to be breathable. They help block bacteria and allergens. The pillow protector, unlike a pillowcase, has a zipper for complete coverage. It prevents stains from sweat and saliva or food and drink spills from reaching your pillow. Pillow protectors also firm up the pillow and help it retain its shape. pillow protector will help extend the life of your pillow.
Most pillows need cleaning at least twice a year to remain fresh. While many pillows can be cleaned in the washing machine, some types of pillows cannot. Always read your pillow’s label first to be sure.
Feather and down pillow materials can be put in the washing machine. Wash in cold water on the gentle cycle. Don’t overdo detergent as it may stick to the feather and down, causing clumping. Dry feather and down pillows on air only cycle as heat may damage the fill. Make sure they are dry before removing them and then fluff to restore shape and balance.
Cotton and polyester alternative fill pillows can generally be washed in the washing machine as well. Wash two pillows at a time which will help balance the wash chamber. Polyester and cotton pillows can handle moderate heat in the dryer.
Note that latex and memory foam pillows cannot be machine washed. The foam they are made from will break and the pillow will lose its form. These types of pillows should be kept inside pillow protectors and spot cleaned as necessary.
To keep your pillows from bunching up, put a few tennis balls in the dryer with them to help balance them as they tumble. This will also keep your pillows soft. Pillows can also be line dried.
All pillow materials are subject to natural degradation. If you store your pillow, keep it in a dry, cool, and clean linen closet space with adequate air flow. Do not store in garages or storage spaces that are subject to dampness and will result in mold growth and mildew, or even attract pests like bugs and rodents. If you have washed the pillow prior to storage, be sure it is completely dry before putting it away.
When to Replace your Pillow
How do you know when your pillow needs replacement? Try the fold test. This test works better on softer pillows and doesn’t work on much firmer pillows such as memory foam. Fold the pillow in half. If it doesn’t bounce back on its own, it’s time to replace it. Lumps and bumps, tears, stains and odors, or a pillow that has lost its loft and plush feel are also signs a pillow is beyond its useful life. If you notice your pillow does not provide the support and restful comfort you need for pain free, restful sleep, it’s time to look around for a new one.
When purchasing a pillow, look for higher density fill that will last longer and provide more support. Consider the pillow cover, looking for tightly woven, quality stitching and seams, and a quality washable cotton cover that will last and not be subject to ripping or tearing. Look for a pillow that returns to its shape when fluffed, and is breathable for your maximum sleep comfort.
Sobel Westex offers some of the world’s best hotel quality pillows with styles, firmness, materials and sizes to fit your sleep style. Made for luxury hotels, our pillows use only the best quality materials and are manufactured for comfort and durability. Shop our pillows online at sobelathome.com/pillows.