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Twelve Keys To Finding a Great Pillow

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1. Thickness

  If it is too thick, your neck is uncomfortably raised causing stiffness and neck pain.  If it is too thin your neck sags down and you wake up with a very stiff, painful neck.  The proper height keeps your head, throat, and center of chest in a line and puts your head in a neutral position.  Imagine how you would feel if you walked around for eight hours with your head craned back.  It would hurt and cause neck pain.  The same thing goes for sleeping.  You need to keep your head in a supported and neutral position. 

2. Firmness

 Firmness is a very important part of picking the right pillow.  If it is too firm your ear may hurt, too soft and your neck may hurt.  If you sleep with your ear pressed against your pillow and it presses too hard it will hurt your ear.  How do you manage this?  You get a pillow that is soft enough to distribute the weight across your entire head.  The problem is that if you get too soft a pillow you don't get the head support you need and your head droops causing neck pain.

Best City To Sleep In

Charlotte, NC

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Charlotte, NC, USA

3. Heat Management

If your pillow traps too much heat your head will heat up sweat through the night and you'll get a very dirty and smelly pillow.  You also won't sleep well.  If heat is an issue, there are special pillows designed to manage heat by using special materials or construction.  If you have problems with your head getting hot or want a summertime pillow look at special heat management pillows.  One is below.

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Louisville, KY, USA

4. Material

There are a few popular choices for material including memory foam, fiber, and buckwheat.  Memory foam is a great fit for some as it conforms and supports well in the medium to firm range, but it can have a strange smell depending on the manufacturer.  Fiber is a great, time-tested material but it can have heat management issues.  Fully stuffed, firm fiber pillows are hot.  Buckwheat is a good material since you can adjust the thickness by adding or removing buckwheat and has good heat management though it isn't hypoallergenic.

A Cool Pillow For the Hot Headed

Sleep Better Iso-Cool Memory Foam Pillow, Traditional Shape, Standard
Amazon Price: $79.99 $29.88 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 23, 2014)
One of the top rated on amazon...

5. Hypoallergenic

If you have asthma or allergies look for a hypoallergenic pillow.  It should say it clearly on the label so there is no confusion.  Some of the memory foam pillows with a strong smell can create problems for those with asthma so a hypoallergenic, fiber pillow is best.  If you want to try a buckwheat pillow, remember that while few have allergic reactions, technically they're not hypoallergenic.


Aller-Ease Hot Water Washable Allergy Pillow, Queen, Medium
Amazon Price: $19.99 $16.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 23, 2014)
A good choice for those with allergies.

6. Pillowcases

Some specialty pillows require specialty pillowcases so check this out before you buy.  Look for a good pillow that comes with a good pillowcase.  Pillows with strange dimensions will have custom pillowcases so watch out.  Best to go with standard sizes.

7. Price

You get what you pay for, but how much do you need?  If you are willing to pay around $50 you can get a very, very good pillow.  If you can only afford a $10 one you may not get as high a quality.  The quality is in the stitching, material, consistency, and durability.  Don't expect high quality at low prices.  What are you willing to settle for?  If you can get by with a less expensive pillow and you sleep well there is probably no reason to pay more.  If you are into high-end bedding or you have special needs from a pillow, you'll need to pay more for higher quality or specialty features.  

8. Color

Pick the right color.  While white pillowcases are the norm, you may want to get a bright color or a pattern to make your bedroom more personalized.  The problem with white of course is the difficulty keeping it white over time.  This is especially hard if you have oily hair.  Don't be a grease monkey.  Take a shower before bed. 

9. Durability

Regardless how much you pay for your pillow, like all things and your pillow, like your knees, will wear out. Even expensive ones will lose their shape or softness over time. Expect to replace it after a few years if you are lucky.  If you get a buckwheat pillow you can fill it with more buckwheat hulls as it ages. 

10. Spouse Appeal

The odds are your spouse will want matching sets.  A bed can look lopsided or unbalanced with one extra-super jumbo and one standard pillow.  If your spouse wants a matching set odds are you'll want a matching.  Talk about what you want before you go shopping if you are in this situation and you may find common ground.  

11. Toughness

If you have kids who steal your pillows and play, memory foam could have problems.  If it rips when the kids steal it you could be out $50.  Fiber and buckwheat pillows have small parts so they can move around without ripping.  Memory foam is one piece.  You can pillow fight one of those into pieces... yep, been there.

12. Environmental

There are organic pillows that have organic buckwheat pillows.  If you don't want to part of the manufacturing and consumption chain for petroleum products look to buckwheat - even organic buckwheat pillows.  You sleep better if you're good to the environment.  The're not hypoallergenic though.

Organic Pillows

Organic Buckwheat Pillow - Queen Size (20" x 30")
Amazon Price: $69.99 $44.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 23, 2014)
If you help the environment you sleep better...

Make an Informed Decision

What is the answer?  Pillows come in a variety of thicknesses and firmness.  The key is to determine which one will work for you based on your anatomy.  If you have unusual proportions, you may want an adjustable pillow such as a buckwheat pillow that will allow you to adjust the height by adding or removing more buckwheat hulls.  If the distance from your shoulder to your head is small, get a thin three-inch pillow.  If the distance from your shoulder to your neck is normal, a four-inch pillow will do.  If the distance is very great, look into a five-inch pillow.  Most people find a four-inch pillow to be ideal for a normally proportioned adult.  Look for a pillow that is medium firm to firm.

Take Sleep Seriously

  No matter how you choose it, you should invest in good bedding and improve your sleep.  The more we learn about sleep the more important it seems to be for our health, mood, and quality of life.  Take your sleep seriously, pay attention to any problems you may have when you sleep, and work to eliminate as many problems as possible.



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  1. SHEILA M. ELDRED "25 Best and Worst Cities for Sleeping." News Discovery. 20 /01/2014 <Web >

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