All About Pillows

Pillow of your dreams

No need to lose sleep about where to rest your head

RHONDA OWEN
SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

Getting a good night’s sleep rests on a variety of factors — room temperature, peace and quiet, whether your partner snores — but none of those matter if you’re sleeping on a pillow whose better days are as faded as the pattern on its cover.
The nonprofit National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Bedroom Poll reveals that 91 percent of people believe the right pillow is the stuff of sweet dreams and restful nights. Chances are, most of us agree. When we lay our heads down to rest, we want them upon pillows so comfortable that we don’t even give them a second thought.
What type of pillow is the most comfortable? The answer lies with the individual, who must search for his ideal headrest in a vast and confusing pile of pillow types and materials — memory foam, anti-microbial, hypo-allergenic, down, feather, latex, polyester, buckwheat, contoured.
The variety of choices might make you want to hide your head under a pillow, if only you had the right one. Add to that trying to figure out when and how often you need to replace your pillow and you conjure up quite a headache. Recommendations range from every few months if you buy cheap pillows that lose their fluff quickly to every one or two years for more expensive models. If you need an orthopedic pillow for a back or neck problem, your doctor can make a recommendation of how often to replace it.
Dr. David Davila of the Baptist Health Sleep Center in Little Rock says you won’t know how well a pillow suits you until you sleep on it. He suggests starting a pillow quest by noting what appeals to you in terms of texture, scent, density and thickness. Think back to pillows at places where you’ve slept such as hotels and homes of friends and family, make a list of the most comfortable and try to find out the style and material of each.
While the right pillow can affect quality of sleep, Davila says he doesn’t tell his patients what pillow they should have because the best pillow for a person is the pillow he likes. For example, some people prefer squishy pillows while others want to sleep like a log on something nearly as hard.
Choosing a pillow can be a daunting task, but it helps to understand that unless you have a special consideration like a neck problem or a dust-mite allergy, all you have to do to begin pillow shopping is know your sleeping style and how much money you’re willing to spend. A polyester-filled pillow may cost as little as $12 up to $200, while a high-quality down pillow that has a long fluff life could cost anywhere from $60 to more than $200. Have your pillow custom-made and the price tag goes even higher.
HOW DO YOU SNOOZE?
Sleeping style more than price, however, probably will be your first consideration, according to webmd.com, because how you sleep determines the type of pillow and filling you need. A person who sleeps on his back, for example, needs a thinner pillow so his head isn’t thrown too far forward, making him wake up with a stiff neck. A side sleeper needs a firm or contoured pillow to fill the hollow between the ear and outside shoulder. Stomach sleepers either should have a thin, flat pillow or none at all.
Then there are scrunchers, people who like to wad their pillow into a ball, the folders who want to fold their pillow into a desired thickness and the “Cloud Niners” who want a pillow that’s all puff and fluff.
How a pillow scrunches, folds, springs or holds its shape depends on its filling, for which there are two basic categories: natural and synthetic. Here’s a look at materials within those categories, based on information from the Better Sleep Council (bettersleep. org), eHow.com, webmd.com, wisegeek.com and consumerreports.org. Prices are approximate and based on standard and queen pillow sizes.
ALL NATURAL
Down — The soft under feathers of ducks and geese make wonderfully fluffy pillows because down holds its shape. The interlocking feathers also hold in warmth, which makes these pillows especially great during winter. Price: $30-$270
Feather/down combo — Most “feather” pillows actually contain feathers and down because down increases softness and fluffiness. The highest quality “feather” pillows contain more down than feathers, but a typical ratio is 25 percent down/75 percent feathers. Price: $30-$95
Wool and/or cotton — Both are dense and warm, but firm. They tend to pack down over time to become flat and hard. Price: around $50
Latex — Molded of soft foam, a natural latex pillow is made from the sap of rubber trees. Some companies mix natural latex with synthetic latex, so check the label if you want a pillow that’s all natural. Latex pillows are among the most durable and long-lasting — many hold their shape and firmness for up to five years. Price: $30 and up.
Buckwheat — Pillows filled with buckwheat hulls are firm, but also mold to the shape of your head and neck. Price: $20-$30
SYNTHETIC
Memory foam —Dense foam that retains warmth, shaping itself to the contours of your head, neck and shoulders as you sleep. When you move, the foam will spring back to its original shape. Memory foam is often used for contoured pillows for people with neck or spine problems because it provides support and give where necessary. Memory foam pillows are rated by density, with a 3-pound pillow being softer than a 6-pound pillow. Price: $12-$160.
Gel memory foam — These typically have memory foam on one side and a gel-coated foam on the other to provide two sleeping surfaces. People who find traditional memory foam uncomfortably warm can use the cooler gel side, which retains less body heat. Price: $35-$70
Microfiber gel pillow — Made of polyester fibers that have been coated with a gel to extend their life and make them softer, these are supposed to be the synthetic equivalent of a down pillow. Price: $22-$70.
Polyester — Polyester fiber, often touted as a down alternative, is softer than other fill materials. It has the advantage of being machine washable, but pillows will lose their shape after a couple of washings. Polyester pillows are also the most common and least expensive pillows, with the type of covering (sateen, microfiber, cotton) figuring into the cost. Price: $6 to $60.
When pillow shopping, test firmness and resilience by placing pillows on a flat surface and pressing them with your palm until they are about half their original thickness. Firmer pillows need more pressure and the quicker a pillow returns to its original shape, the more resilient it is.
Sleep tight.

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