How to Choose a Good Pillow

If sound sleep is eluding you, it may be time for a new pillow. Experts recommend purchasing a new pillow every 12 to 18 months as dust mites, dead skin cells and fungus all build up in your pillow over time, creating an unsanitary sleeping experience. Pillow filler materials also break down as they age, reducing the amount of comfort and support a pillow can offer. Picking a new pillow is a chore you might want to delay, however. Choose incorrectly and you could wake up with an aching neck and stiff muscles.

How to Choose a Good Pillow

With so many pillow types and choices on the market, it may seem like an overwhelming task to find the one that works for you. With a few tips, however, you can find a proper pillow for your sleeping style.

Know Your Sleep Style

Evaluate your sleeping position before you shop. This is the prime factor in choosing a good pillow for you. Take note of whether you usually sleep on your side, stomach or back, as this will affect the shape of your pillow. Back sleepers should opt for thin pillows that cradle the neck for the best support. Some prefer a wedge-shaped pillow that is long enough to support the head, neck and back. Side sleepers do best with firm pillows that support the area between the ear and shoulder. Stomach sleepers need flat pillows that don't push the neck and head upwards at an uncomfortable angle.

Choose a Filler

Memory foam pillows are a popular choice. These pillows continuously re-contour themselves to cradle and support you as you move during the night. Foam pillows are similarly adept at eliminating pressure points but don't conform to the body quite as well a memory foam. High-density foam lasts longer than low density, so check the numbers. Bear in mind, however, that you can spot treat foam pillows but you can't wash them.

Latex is another popular choice and the firmest material available, making it excellent for back and neck alignment. It is also resistant to mold and mites, thereby providing allergy relief. Wool and cotton filler materials also resist mold and dust mites. They are hypoallergenic, but they are also firm. Latex, wool and cotton pillows are all machine-washable. Polyester filled pillows are washable, too, but are prone to clumping and generally short-lived.

Those who like a soft and squishy pillow should opt for down or feather pillows. These pillows are soft but supportive, allowing you to push the feathers around inside the pillow to put them exactly where you want them. This feature lets you change the feel of the pillow and adjust the support so you'll stay comfortable even if your needs change. Down and feather pillows are good choices if you have allergies as down naturally resists dust mites. These pillows are machine washable as well.

Take a Test Drive

Online reviews and photographs only tell you so much about a pillow. Before committing, visit stores that sell pillows and mattresses and take some pillows for a test drive. Spend time lying on an in-store bed in your preferred sleep position with the pillow. Test at least three or four different pillows and choose the one that feels best to you. Sleep stores have a dizzying array of pillows to choose from, so take your time and try several options.

Consider Specialty Pillows

If you have a particular health issue, a specialty pillow might help you. There are actually several different types of pillows designed to combat physical ailments. Popular with physical therapists and chiropractors, water pillows are a highly customizable option that can change with you. You fill these pillows with as much or as little water as you like to create your desired level of support. If you struggle with night sweats or hot flashes, consider a cool pillow. Cool pillows pull heat away from your body, providing a cool surface on which to rest your head.

Other specialty pillows are the subject of some debate. One example is the oxygen-promoting pillow. After studying ways that certain sock fabrics increased blood oxygenation in diabetics, a few creative souls invented a pillow that increases the amount of oxygen in small blood vessels by 29 percent. Some people claim to experience less pain when sleeping on these pillows, but doctors are skeptical. Anti-snore pillows, too, have many fans but aren't yet backed by any scientific studies.