Did you know that choosing the perfect pillow is much harder to do than choosing the perfect mattress? So many of us choose our pillows by going to a big box store and picking whatever is on sale or the least expensive. Before I started working in the sleep business, I was one of those people. Because I am a stomach sleeper, I had to suffer for years before the pillow was ‘flat’ enough to actually be comfortable, and by that time the pillow was trashed and I had to start all over again.
So, how does one go about picking the right (perfect) pillow? It is a process that shouldn’t be taken lightly, or you will end up with the many, many pillows on your bed that really don’t work well. We all have them and suffer with them while continually searching for ‘the elusive perfect pillow’.
First, let’s discuss the purpose of a pillow. The most important purpose of a pillow is to put you in the correct sleeping posture for how you sleep, and this is important – not how you think you should sleep. Your pillow should allow your head to be level with your spine and not too low or too high. If you are a side sleeper, it should also take up the room between your mattress and your ear so your head is level with your spine.
You also need to know how you really spend the night; Back Sleeper, Side Sleeper or Stomach Sleeper or any combination thereof. Most of us start in one position and end up in another. How you wake up in the morning, is usually how you spent the majority of the night. Many of us start out on our backs and end up on our sides, or we may start out on our side and end up on our stomach or back. So, before you go out to search for the perfect pillow – take a few nights/mornings to discover how you really sleep.
There are a variety of pillows out there to choose from. Whether you choose a memory foam, latex, down/feather, cotton, kapok, buck-wheat or Dacron pillow, remember, this is the pillow you should love to sleep on. It is not the pretty pillow you show on the bed. Pillows should be chosen for their sleep-ability, not how they look on the bed. Just because you have a king sized bed doesn’t mean you should sleep on a king sized pillow! A king sized pillow is closer to a body pillow in size, and our sleeping pillows usually need to be smaller in size. If your perfect pillow is truly ugly and you fear the pillow police will judge you, don’t worry – just hide it behind the other pillows or if you really hate the way it looks (but love the way it feels) just throw it in the closet – no one really needs to see it.
Now, let’s discuss how to pick the pillow. Find a store where there are enough mattresses available so you can find the one that most closely matches your mattress at home. I can’t stress enough how important this is, as you can find the perfect pillow in the store and when you get home it is horrible, because your mattress is very different than the one your tried it on. For example, if you are a side sleeper and your mattress is firm and you try the pillow on a softer mattress – it will be a totally different pillow on your bed because your shoulder will ‘dig’ into the softer mattress and the pillow will be too high when you’re on your bed at home. It is critical that you can try the pillow at the store before you purchase it.
If you are at a store that doesn’t have mattresses to try the pillow on, you can make do with the wall (people will think your weird, but don’t pay attention to them – they have bad pillows!). Stand at the wall the way you sleep and put the pillow between you and the wall to test the height of the pillow. You will need to get as close to the wall as you can comfortable get.
The perfect pillow needs to be the right height, firmness and have the ‘feel’ you prefer. Rule of thumb is:
Back Sleeper – pillow should have proper neck support and the height (thickness of the pillow) should not be too high/low – so your head is level with your body. You shouldn’t feel like your head is falling back (too low) or you have a triple chin because your head is too high.
Side Sleeper – the pillow needs to make up the difference between the mattress and your ear. Your head should be level with your spine. Too high or two low will pull you neck muscles and cause neck pain. Too high can also cause headaches. Also, it shouldn’t be too firm as this will cause ear pain or jaw pain (like TMJ pain). Shoulder ‘rounding’ is not so much a pillow issue as a mattress issue (the mattress is too firm). You can solve this problem (if you love your extra firm mattress) by using a mattress topper or my favorite, a latex bed wedge (soft for your shoulder and firm for your back).
Stomach Sleeper – flat to no pillow. Most stomach sleepers need a very flat pillow to avoid neck pain with a pillow that is too high.
Combo Sleeper – For Back and Stomach sleepers the same pillow should work well as it usually is a fairly flat pillow and when you turn on your stomach you can move to the edge of the pillow.
For Back/Side sleepers or Stomach/Side sleepers this gets tricky. Depending on how broad your shoulders are, you may have to go with two different pillows. Some pillow manufacturers make a combination back/side sleeping pillow (i.e. Tempurpedic or Glideaway) however, not everyone likes these types of pillows (contour type).
Now, let’s briefly touch on snoring. Loud or excessive snoring can be a sign of a serious condition called obstructive sleep apnea (where you actually stop breathing many times during the night). You should always check with your doctor if you feel you have a serious snoring problem (your sleep partner will more than likely alert you to this). Many pillows claim to ‘stop snoring’; I have not found this to be the case. The best way to stop snoring is to elevate your upper body with either a bed wedge or an adjustable bed. When you raise your upper body it relieves the pressure on your diaphragm and makes it easier to breathe.
What type of pillow should you choose? Pillows come in many shapes and fills:
• Contour pillows. These are also called neck pillows and have the hump that fills the space between the mattress and your neck with your head slightly tilted back. They can be made of memory foam, latex foam and wool covered in cotton.
• Regular rectangular shaped pillows. These are the most common and come in all types of heights and fills: latex (shredded or molded), memory foam, cotton, kapok, buckwheat, down/feather, and wool.
• Standard size is approximately 20” x 26” give or take an inch
• Queen size is approximately 20” x 30” give or take an inch
• King Size is approximately 20” x 36” give or take an inch
So, hopefully you now have a better understanding of how to choose the perfect pillow. Feel free to give me a call at the store 425-454-8727 if you have any questions or want to discuss the ‘perfect pillow’.