Ironically, the pillow fillings the most people associate with elegance and comfort -- down and feathers -- earn the lowest scores from sleep experts. Reviewers agree that down and feather pillows are the softest and most comfortable, but this softness and comfort comes at a price: a lack of firmness and neck support, which can lead to back and neck problems down the road. The exception to this rule is for those who sleep on their stomach; according to SleepLikeTheDead.com, down and feather pillows are "particularly well suited for stomach sleepers because they are soft and when laid flat will tend to allow the head to sink low."
In an interview with The Boston Globe, chiropractor and self-styled sleep expert Dr. Paul Bacon describes his findings about down, feather, and foam pillows after compressing them with a 10-pound bowling ball: ''It was astounding and discouraging... most every single one had foam or feathers that broke down quickly and weren't supportive. After a couple of months, even the pricey pillows were essentially useless -- 90 percent of them start breaking down within 90 days."
Bacon criticizes too-soft pillows in general, saying that users of these pillows tend to sleep incorrectly -- "on one's side with a too-flat pillow that scrunches up the shoulders and twists the head out of whack (if you find yourself sleeping with your hand under your pillow, your head and neck are crying out for more support)," as Globe reporter Deborah Fineblum Raub puts it. Other experts echo this dim assessment of down and feather pillows.
An additional issue to consider with down and feather pillows is their allergenicity (the tendency to induce allergies). It is possible to buy hypoallergenic down and feather pillows, but a quick check of prices at retailer AllergyBuyersClub.com reveals that this isn't a cheap investment. Hypoallergenic pillows can easily cost a $50 or $75 more than regular down and feather pillows, which tend to be pricey to begin with.
On the plus side, SleepLikeTheDead.com points out that down and feather pillows are much more durable than other types: A well-cared-for down or feather pillow can last for years, which goes a long way toward justifying its higher price.