Pillows make for fascinating study. They serve practical and aesthetic purposes when they’re placed on a bed. If you are looking for this soft and fluffy sleep accessory, you may already be basing your choice on functionality standards: what loft is right for your head and neck, what size will give you superior support, etc. At the same time, you are concerned about the color, design, and material of the pillow.
This guide will walk you through the steps on how to choose a pillow. We will consider factors such as sleeping position, pillow types, and pricing. However, this won’t be an article tackling the decorative features of a pillow.
So, before you proceed, think about what you already know about pillow shopping, and incorporate the ones you haven’t thought about before. Read on to learn how important spine alignment is, as well as, which pillow types can help you achieve it for your sleeping position.
Table of Contents
- How to Choose A Pillow
- Pillow Types
- Pillow Covers
- Other Factors
How to Choose A Pillow
When shopping for a new mattress, you are advised to consider support for your spine. This means your sleeping surface should allow your spine to align naturally. If it doesn’t, it can cause a strain on your back. And you may feel sore and stiff when you wake up. The same thing is required when you are looking for a pillow. Your sleep accessories should complement the benefits your bed provides.
Your pillow should then have the right loft, allowing your neck to curve naturally. This alignment extends to the spine. If it’s too bent, it can put stress not only on your neck but your back as well. Depending on your sleeping position, it can strain your muscles or block your breathing.
Your position while snoozing is an important factor in picking the right pillow. If you don’t know your sleeping position, continue reading for a better understanding of your type.
Many people sleep on their back, which makes this the most common position. It benefits your spine alignment and keeps your skin less prone to wrinkles. Those with acid reflux should also consider drifting off this way.
However, it is not as enjoyable for individuals suffering from sleep apnea. It can increase your chance of snoring due to the chances of the tongue falling back toward your throat. In turn, this is not only a condition that affects your sleep but also a regular occurrence that can annoy your co-sleeper.
In this regard, find a medium-firm pillow with just the right thickness to elevate the head without straining the neck’s natural curve. A pillow placed under your knees can also help in the alignment and strain management, causing you to wake up refreshed and well-rested.
Recommended pillow: There are several options that are good for your sleeper type. Choose from among pillows with stuffing made of latex, buckwheat, or synthetics.
The second common position is sleeping on your side. Here, you are turned to your left or right, with knees slightly bent. It’s almost similar to the fetal position. In fact, some side snoozers can curl up and end up in this pose. This can put a strain on the spine, so avoid curling up excessively and keep your knees bent only slightly.
A few benefits of side sleeping are the prevention of acid reflux, where stomach acid can flow up to the esophagus. It is also beneficial for the comfort of pregnant women.
In any case, you should shop for a pillow that provides ample space between your neck and the mattress. Look for a pillow with the right loft, which lets you align your head with your spine. It should also be firm enough to support you. A too-soft surface can cause your head to sink, leaving your neck and upper back stressed.
To feel more comfortable, you can get an additional pillow and place it between your legs. This can lessen the pressure on your hips and knees. To support your joints, consider using a body pillow as well.
Recommended pillow: Memory foam pillow is perfect for its firmness and conformity. It offers the right loft with a little give.
Diving into your mattress tummy first may feel super comfortable. A portion of the population prefers it after all. However, it is not the best position for promoting proper spine alignment. It can also make your head turn sideways, which can strain your neck. Another byproduct of stomach sleeping is that it makes you susceptible to sores on the facial skin.
On the bright side, it can reduce snoring among stomach sleepers who are afflicted by this symptom. You should still find support for your backbone, shifting to this pose from time to time.
A good pillow for tummy snoozers is actually no pillow. You can use a pillow that’s flat and soft if the former is a no-go for you. Remember, you are after minimal effect when turning your head toward the side. Not paying attention to the loft can affect your spinal health. Also, to help your spine and prevent soreness, you can slip another thin pillow under your belly.
Recommended pillow: A model with minimal padding should work. Try pure down or synthetic down. You can also go for buckwheat as long as you can adjust the loft.
Your pillow options are primarily classified according to the materials used as fillers or inserts. Here are the common and preferred ones:
Polyester fiberfill, more popularly known as polyfill, is the traditional choice for a pillow filler. It’s cheap and lightweight, so it’s easy to source. It’s also convenient to use because you can clean it yourself. However, drying it out can pose a problem as it tends to get flat and lumpy after several rounds of washing.
Over time, some manufacturers have innovated on this material, with hypoallergenic versions appearing on the market. However, fiberfill still lacks breathability. So it can feel warm when you’ve been lying on it for hours. If you sleep hot, better yet affordable options await you.
Soft and lightweight, cotton is another common pillow insert option. It is bio-based and deemed safe overall. It feels cooler, unlike foam and polyester, although the latter can be blended with cotton in some cases. Standalone or not, this natural filling is hypoallergenic and easy to clean.
The quality of cotton pillows will depend on the company that produced them. These may differ in style, size, and loft. So make sure to check the brand and product details before buying. Also, cotton is prone to clumping after a while. Expect to replace your pillows in a few years.
Down and Feather Blends
Down actually refers to the soft underside of a bird’s feather. It’s fluffy, cuddly, and durable. It’s no wonder this is the preferred material inside premium pillows. Feather is the cheaper version and can lower the quality when mixed with down. Without feather blends, it can retain its loft for years. So check for pure down and blended down to ensure you have the right quality.
This stuffing is supportive. But it is also an expensive item. If you think long-term, though, you will be able to extend its use for over a decade. At the same time, it is a sustainable pick for eco-aware people. Just take note that it can retain heat like memory foam.
Meanwhile, feathers are prone to flattening. So they are blended with down clusters when they need a little boost, longevity-wise. Like the latter, they’re lightweight and cuddly. They also share the heat-absorbing properties of down. Maintenance is a big deal as you have to re-fluff and clean them regularly.
This versatile material is a favorite among manufacturers of clothing, upholstery, and of course, bedding. In some cases, it is natural and/or organic. It is safe and hypoallergenic, but you should test it first if you have sensitive skin.
One noteworthy thing about it, among others, is its breathability and temperature regulation. Wool can insulate heat well, which makes it ideal during winter. But it can also cool you down when the temperature rises. So it also works during summer or any month for that matter.
For all its excellent qualities, wool also has a few downsides. For instance, it does not hold its shape and may form clumps over time.
Polyurethane foam or polyfoam is probably the most recognizable foam out there. It can be used in the form of thin sheets, together with other materials. But it’s also soft enough to be molded on its own.
Memory foam and latex foam are two other types of foam found in beds and bedding. They are tapped for their contouring and responsiveness, often working as a standalone insert. Yet, they can also be shredded and mixed with other materials in adjustable pillows.
Proper care is advised when dealing with foam. And it is not recommended to wash it.
Cooling gel is a component typically infused in mattress foam layers. The same technology is applied to polyfill and foam, which can absorb and trap body heat after several hours. Cooling gel wicks heat away from the sleeper to keep them cool at night. It can bump up the prices of polyfill and foam pillows, though.
Kapok is a natural fiber derived from the kapok tree, which is pretty similar to cotton. It is just as soft but more breathable and durable. It is usually mixed with firmer fills, such as shredded polyester and memory foam, for an overall softer feel.
Buckwheat is a plant with multiple uses. Grown in Asia, its grain-like seeds are turned into food. The hulls can then be converted into inserts. The resulting filler has a similar firm and contouring effect as special foams, making it a good choice for relieving neck pain.
While the stuffing defines feel and support, the pillow cover is the first you come in contact with. And for some people, the fabric they touch affects the whole experience. So, let’s look at some choices and what they offer. A few of them also serve as raw materials for inserts.
Linen commands a high price whenever it is used. It is the standard when it comes to sheets. If you need bedding items for your mattress, you may refer to them as linens. So, why exactly is it a choice fabric?
The fibers that make up linen are derived from stalks of flax. This is achieved through retting, a process of soaking flax in water to make the material smooth. This will create partial rotting, which will then facilitate the separation of the fibers from the woody tissue.
And that’s how you get a fine and smooth fabric for your pillow cover. When cotton became common, linen achieved an even higher status because of its look and feel and quality.
Speaking of cotton, it’s the same easily sourced and affordable fabric that dominates the bedding scene. Its large-scale production, thanks to the creation of cotton gin, has made it much less expensive than linen. Its application is vast. And it carries the characteristics of reliable material.
Like its insert counterpart, the cotton pillow cover yields a soft and cooler feel. It’s also lightweight, so it’s easy to clean. The fabric is derived naturally, specifically from the cotton plant, making it relatively safe from toxic or harmful chemicals. As a pillow cover, it can come in many colors, designs, and sizes.
Considered the first synthetic fiber, rayon traces its origins in France back in the 1800s. It’s produced by dissolving wood pulp to form a viscose solution. The fine fibers of rayon are developed into bedding items while strengthened rayon features in belting and tires. As pillow cover cases, rayon is soft, breathable, and absorbent.
Rayon, however, is a bit more expensive to produce than cotton and other naturally sourced fabrics. So if you want this multitasking material, prepare to shell out some more cash. With regard to care and maintenance, it can shrink in water, so items made of this fiber are normally dry-cleaned.
Polyester is often blended with other fabrics, as shown in the previous section. But it can also be used as a standalone material. And while rayon is the first man-made fabric, polyester seems to be the most popular. Rayon is also akin to silk as polyester is similar to cotton.
In some ways, though, polyester is better than cotton. It is wrinkle-resistant and more elastic. The latter quality boosts its longevity. It’s more durable, according to some. And it pretty much delivers at a lower cost. It’s not surprising that this soft fabric is the go-to choice for many manufacturers.
Sometimes, there’s no need to compare. Polyester and cotton do not have to be pitted against each other. In fact, they are blended to offer more benefits. Combine the softness and breathability of cotton with the wrinkle-resistance and durability of polyester. Usually, poly-cotton has a ratio of 65-35 and 50-50.
Aside from natural fibers, polyester is also blended with other synthetics. Common examples are rayon, bamboo rayon, and lycra. Blending is preferred to take the best features of both materials, which usually cancels out their respective weak points. For instance, rayon can withstand more moisture when it is mixed with polyester.
You may be familiar with this fabric because of its wide range of use. It is what cleaning cloths and mops, as well as towels, are made of. Although not as common as the others, it is still a material of choice for pillows. Microfiber is a synthetic fiber that is split down to the smallest strands, which can clean the smallest crevices.
Microfiber applied in pillows as a combination of polyester and nylon. It’s soft and comfortable, so sleepers may get what they pay for. At the same time, it is easy to clean. It is also machine washable and hypoallergenic.
Fleece can insulate and cushion users, especially during the cold months, making for a good choice during the winter. It is made of piling that resembles the pelt of a lamb. However, using fleece for human pillows may cause you to feel warm. This material is not absorbent and breathable. And odor can cling onto it, staying until your next wash cycle.
While it’s usually featured in winter clothing, it does not seem to be a smart pick for pillows. It is recommended for use in pillows for pets instead. The small fibers may trap animal dander effectively. Thus, regular cleaning and care must be observed.
Bamboo is classified into two fabrics, bamboo linen, and bamboo rayon. The cellulose used to make rayon can be made from materials derived from this plant. It is preferred for its softness, as well as antibacterial, absorbent, and insulating properties.
Bamboo linen, on the other hand, is similar to that of flax linen in silkiness and sheen. Intact fibers from the plant are drawn to produce this type. Bamboo is a tall plant mostly grown in the eastern parts of Asia. Sourcing this plant is sustainable, so it’s an earth-friendly choice for eco-consumers out.
Not a typical choice for sleep accessories, nylon can look similar to satin. It is resistant to liquid, which can actually be good for mattress covers and protectors. It can be used as a pillow cover as well. But it is not moisture or sweat absorbent. Nylon is easy to clean, though, so regular washing should not be hard.
Nylon is not as soft as other pillow cover fabrics. It is also prone to wrinkling. But when used in ticking, it can make pillow covers durable and breathable.
Pillow sizes are similar to mattress sizes. You can choose from King, Queen, and Full, among others. To decide which size works for your mattress, consider the size of your bed, the number of pillows you need, and the purpose of your pillows. Some pillows can be added purely for decorative purposes.
Design-wise, you can be free and flexible to decide which pillow size should go with your mattress.
Firmness levels differ a little from those associated with mattress. For the latter, the layers and their arrangement can affect the feel of the sleeping surface. For pillows, whether the filling is synthetic or natural, the firmness or softness is defined by how the stuffing is packed inside.
If the insert is stuffed too tightly, the pillow will have a firm feel. If the insert is loose, the pillow will yield a soft feel.
Loft refers to the height of the pillow. If it is a high loft, the pillow is thick. If it is low, the pillow is thin. Materials can deliver a certain loft quality. But over time, some of them may lose their loft. So make sure you choose a material that can retain its loft for a long time.
Picking the right loft means your neck is not unnaturally bent. Otherwise, it can put a strain on other parts of the body, including your spine.
How to find the right pillow when you are on a budget? Start with the pillow type that is right for you. Naturally, polyester is less expensive than down. But the good quality of any pillow type can be priced between $25 and $100. Adjust your budget, if needed, to score a pillow that will last.
At the same time, you need to consider your sleeping position, size requirements, and firmness wants. These are mostly related to your mattress priorities as well. If possible, include pillows when you’re buying a new mattress.
Now that you’ve gone through steps on how to find the right pillow, do you already have something in mind? What is the type you are eyeing? What loft, size, and firmness options are you going for? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section.