How to buy a pillow

pillow

You might wonder how complicated buying a pillow could possibly be. Surely you just rock up to the shop – perhaps Kmart or Target – and pick something within your budget?

However given it has the important task of keeping your head and neck aligned with the rest of your spine for the third of your life that you’re asleep, it’s worth spending some time getting the right fit.

Short of staying at a ritzy hotel and working your way through the “pillow menu” night by night, how can the average buyer make the best choice?

Physiotherapist Phebe Liston says the first factor to think about is your sleeping style. Do you prefer to sleep on your back, your side or your stomach?

“If you are a back sleeper you should look for something that fills in the curve of your neck while keeping your neck neutral (so not tilted back or forcing your chin towards your chest),” says Liston. “This often means a slightly lower pillow with a small contour will suit you best.”

For side sleepers, a pillow that’s a bit higher is often more suitable because your shoulders are wider than your neck and head, she says.

“The goal is still the maintain your spinal alignment so you need a pillow thick enough that there is no space between the mattress and your head and neck, but not too thick that it tilts your head sideways.”

If you can, try to test your pillow before you buy.

If you can, try to test your pillow before you buy.

If you can only fall asleep on your stomach, there’s bad news. Liston doesn’t recommend this style of sleeping, saying it puts your neck in an awkward position by compressing one side and straining the other, which can leave you in pain.

“It can also increase pressure on your lower back,” says Liston. “However, if you can’t help but find yourself opting for this position, a lower pillow for your head and a pillow under your hips – to support your lower back – is often recommended.”

Another factor to consider is your physical build. If you’re a larger person, you’ll generally need a higher pillow to support your neck.

Same thing goes if you have a rounded upper back, which can often increase as you get older, causing your head to be in a more forward position, says Liston.

Then there’s of course your personal preference. What’s going to be most comfortable and relaxing, so you can get a rejuvenating night’s sleep and be ready to take on the next day?

There’s certainly no shortage of pillow materials on the market, including synthetic, wool-fibre, feathers, down, latex and memory foam.

According to consumer advocacy group Choice, synthetic, wool-fibre, feathers and down are all good options for tummy sleepers.

For back snoozers, Choice recommends a medium-to-firm pillow, perhaps made from foam. And for side snoozers, latex and foam are the most likely contenders.

What your pillow's made of can make all the difference.

What your pillow’s made of can make all the difference.

As for lifespan, Choice says foam, memory foam, latex, feather and down pillows are the most durable, lasting anywhere from about five to 10 years.

Polyester will likely have a shorter lifespan from about six months to two years, while cotton and wool are reported to generally last three to five years.

Whatever type of pillow you choose, buying a pillow protector will help things fresher, and help to prevent unwelcome stains.

Liston says it pays to remember that price is not always going to be the best indicator when shopping for a pillow.

“Just because a pillow is expensive, doesn’t mean it is the best choice for you, so spend some time trying different pillows if possible.”

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