Buying a new bed is a major buying decision; they’re certainly not cheap and people can expect to spend in the low to mid four figures, depending on the type and quality of bed and mattress. All those factors to consider such as price, size, material; and that’s not even taking your bed partner’s preferences into account. What if he or she has completely different preferences than you? Further, due to the cost, a bed and mattress is not something most people can just change or discard on a whim. Needless to say, this can make selecting and buying a bed a rather stressful experience that most people are glad to be over and done with.
After such a decision, choosing the right pillow can almost seem like an afterthought; after all, pillows are just a nice accessory to your bed, right? Not so fast! While pillows are certainly much, much cheaper than beds and mattresses and thus easier to replace, choosing the right pillow is almost as important, if not equally important as a bed and mattress in determining the quality of your sleep. Fortunately, unlike a bed, you don’t have to share your pillow with anyone, giving you the opportunity to choose one that fits your needs uniquely. One expert, Dr. Ana C. Krieger who works for the Center for Sleep Medicine at New York Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center as the medical director, offers some helpful guidelines in selecting your soon-to-be favorite pillow.
Just Like Your Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner, Stuffing Matters
In today’s modern society, most people have terrible postures, a natural consequence of hours of sitting in chairs every day. We probably spend much more time sitting than we do sleeping, which leads to issues such as kyphosis (forward head posture), and that general hunched over computer posture we see every day. Even when we stand, we are usually looking at our phones, shoulders hunched over, head bowed as we scroll through our Instagram feed. Now imagine if you had equally poor posture while asleep? That would be a disaster.
The concept of good posture is to maintain a straight and neutral spine, meaning an alignment of the hip, back, and neck. While there are many varieties of stuffing to choose from such as latex, memory foam, feathers, and polyester, just to name a few, Dr. Krieger simplifies it into just two classes: natural and synthetic. She says that natural pillows such as feather and down pillows have an advantage in discouraging dust mites, further they can easily accommodate a sleeper’s shifting positions throughout the night as they fold and change shapes easily. They also tend to last longer and don’t heat up as much. Synthetic pillows, on the other hand can maintain their shape and height however their longevity is only about half compared to feather pillows. She also dislikes synthetic pillows with a fixed shape, noting that this can cause discomfort when shifting positions during the night and thus potentially disrupt your sleep.
A Matter Of Position
Dr. Krieger notes that for side sleepers, they should select a pillow that is at least equivalent to the distance between a person’s shoulder and ear in order to maintain proper alignment of the neck. She further notes that side sleepers may prefer feather or down pillows due to their remolding capability but a synthetic pillow that is slightly firm and able to provide consistent support without causing neck misalignment may actually be a better choice if you sleep on your side. Of course, there are also specific side sleeper pillows made just for that purpose.
Back sleepers are able to use most pillows comfortably; however they should take care not to use a pillow that lies too high or low. She says that if the pillow is too high, the top of the head will be tilted lower than the chin, potentially causing back or neck pain. If the pillow is too low, the chin may fall against the neck, resulting in breathing difficulties.
And as for stomach sleepers such as Dr. Krieger herself, she recommends either going without a pillow or using a very thin one to prevent the head from being raised too high and misaligning the neck. As the air within feather or down pillows is easily displaced, they are a great choice for stomach sleepers.
It’s Getting Hot In Here
Based on her experience in treating patients with sleep disorders, Dr. Krieger notes that patients exhibit a preference for a pillow that remains cool throughout the night. This assists in maintaining a lower body temperature which means less frequent ‘wake ups’ during the night. In this respect, people should choose a breathable material, such as a feather or light synthetic pillow, which stay cool the longest. She also observes that some of per patients kept two pillows and switched in the middle of the night.
Time For A Change
Now that you are aware of the main factors that go into choosing a pillow, Dr. Krieger suggest identifying your favorite sleeping position followed by your most comfortable thickness and height. Next, select for type and quality. She also trots out this fact: sleepers change position an average of once and hour, so which pillow is most comfortable can actually vary throughout the night. For this reason, she suggests that each person has multiple pillows.
On a final note, due to their regular use, pillows should be changed regularly; she recommends changing a synthetic pillow every two to three years, while natural pillows can last twice as long. A good pillow cover beneath a pillowcase made out of breathable cotton can also make your pillow last longer by keeping sweat and dust mites out.