The right pillow can improve your sleep
If you wake up with headaches, neck or shoulder pain, or just toss and turn all night, you may want to try changing your pillow. Although most people probably just grab a likely-looking pillow from the department store, a more careful choice may give you a better night's sleep.
The right pillow will support your head and neck, keeping your spine properly aligned as you sleep. Pillow comfort also depends a lot on personal preference -- a pillow that is too soft for one person can be the perfect loft for another. Some sleep experts put a lot of stock in how pillows relate to sleep position, that is, whether you're a back sleeper, side sleeper or stomach sleeper and what type or firmness of pillow is best for each preference, but, quite frankly, those recommendations are often diametrically opposed from one "expert" to the next. In fact, most pillows aren't specifically made to target a particular sleep position; although a few do bill themselves as such. What's most important is to find the pillow that supports your head comfortably and comes in the loft that you prefer: If you like a soft pillow, someone telling you that you need a firm pillow probably won't help you sleep better -- get the soft pillow.
Of course, a pillow isn't the only component of a good night's sleep. The right mattress may be even more crucial in helping you rest well since it supports your entire body. If your mattress isn't all that great, but you can't afford a new one, a mattress topper can transform an old or worn mattress at a fraction of the price of a new mattress. We cover both mattresses and mattress toppers in separate reports.
Types of pillows
While there are many kinds of pillows available, these types are by far the most popular:
Memory foam pillows are usually made of polyurethane-based memory foam or natural latex foam. Both materials will mold themselves to the shape of your head, constantly adjusting their shape as you move. They provide a good balance of softness and support, and both experts and users say this type of pillow can help ease head and neck pain. Memory foam also won't shift or clump like down or synthetic fibers can. In addition to traditional bed pillows, the most popular wedge pillows and travel pillows are made from memory foam as well.
Down and feather pillows are made from the soft, fine feathers found on a baby bird or beneath the outer feathers of an adult bird. Pillows may be stuffed with just down, all regular feathers, or a combination of the two. Down and feather pillows are soft, cuddly and easy to mold to a desired shape. However, they compress easily and need to be regularly fluffed or shaken to restore their loft. These pillows are generally durable, and some are machine washable; others must be dry-cleaned. Down pillows tend to be the priciest, although the price range can vary widely.
Down alternative pillows offer the soft, fluffy feel of feathers at a lower price. Polyester-filled pillows are the least expensive type and are easy to find in your local department store. They are also easy to care for, as most can be machine washed. However, their contents tend to shift around over time, becoming lumpy and less supportive. A newer alternative to this type is pillows filled with polyester gel fibers. These are less lumpy than polyester and mold better to the shape of the head. However, like feather pillows, they require fluffing and may not be supportive enough.
Body pillows are a full-body pillow that, rather than just supporting the head, are designed to cradle and support the entire length of the sleeper's body. Some of these look just like regular pillows stretched out to full-body length, while others are specially shaped to support specific parts of the body. The latter type are particularly helpful for pregnant women, but they can also be used to help with problems such as back or hip pain.
How we found the best pillows
While there are no recent professional tests of pillows, there's an abundance of user feedback at sites such as Amazon.com, Overstock.com and Linens-N-Things. Moreover, editors at SleepLikeTheDead.com analyze thousands of owner reviews and break down the data to provide specific information about different pillow types and brands.
Pillows are a pretty straightforward purchase, but there are two main factors to consider when picking the right one: Comfort and durability. The best pillow for you has to have the right thickness and softness, or firmness, to keep you comfortable all night. It also need to be durable enough to last for a reasonable amount of time, as well as survive a number of washings or airings. Based on these factors, we identify the best pillows of each type; one is sure to be the perfect choice for your best night's sleep.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Memory Foam Pillows | Best Down and Down Alternative Pillows | Best Full-Body Pillows | Buying Guide | Our Sources