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Pillow Buying Guide

Pillow Buying Guide

Buying a pillow today is not quite as simple as it once was. With multiple materials, fills, fabrics and even technology options, there is a wide range of choices available. This guide was created to help you navigate the many pillow options, understand the differences in material and find the best fit for you. After all, we spend 1/3rd of our lives in bed and finding the right pillow can mean comfort and support for years.

Types of Pillows

The pillow market is filled with many options, with each pillow type providing its own set of features and benefits. The following is a reference guide of several of the most popular types of pillows to choose from when deciding on the best pillow for you:


Memory Foam Pillows

There are many types of foams used in pillows, each offering unique benefits. Memory foam pillows are favored by many due to their ability to improve sleep quality. They provide neck and back support, mold to your shape and increase overall comfort far beyond the traditional pillow. However, one of the drawbacks is that memory foam retains heat, making the pillow feel warmer and potentially increasing sweating throughout the night. Luckily, cooling pillow cases with heat-dissipating and moisture-wicking features help to draw heat away from sleepers.

Memory foam has evolved and been innovated in the following ways:

Cooling gel memory foam – infused gel that reduces heat retention. When coupled with cool pillow cases and moisture-wicking pillow covers, these pillows can mitigate heating issues.

Natural foam – is used in hypoallergenic pillows, which feature a higher percentage of natural ingredients. This provides an eco-friendly pillow that is durable, eliminates any sinking feeling and can be cooler than traditional memory foam.

Multi-foam pillows – these memory foam pillows utilize multiple types of foam in combination to amplify the beneficial points of each pillow (ex. cooling, conformity), while reducing the negative points (ex. warming, sinking).

Shredded memory foam pillows – a pillow with shredded pieces of memory foam clusters as the fill, which makes it more flexible and moldable. These shredded memory foam pillows are easy to shape and conform to your desired sleeping position. They have improved breathability over solid memory foam.

Memory foam pillows cost anywhere between $10 and $150 depending on the pillow shape, foam type and brand.


Latex Pillows

Latex foam pillows are made out of either natural latex or synthetic latex. Natural latex comes from a rubber tree, which produces a white, sticky fluid. Synthetic latex is a man-made composition of various chemicals. A blend of natural and synthetic latex is most commonly used in pillows and mattresses.

Latex pillows are softer than memory foam pillows, have pressure point support, and are more breathable than traditional memory foam. Some users complain that this increased pressure point support makes the pillow too firm. Additionally, some sleepers complain that latex pillows are heavier than other foam pillows.

Latex pillows cost anywhere between $10 and $150 depending on the pillow shape, foam type, and brand.

Down and Down-Alternative Pillows

Down pillows are made from a fluffy undercoating located beneath the feathers of a goose. This filler is very soft and light, which allows the pillow to be cuddly, breathable and malleable. Despite its luxurious comfort, down pillows do have some drawbacks. They require constant fluffing to maintain loft, are difficult to clean, clump when exposed to moisture, and lack options for firmness. Additionally, some users might be allergic to down.

Down-alternative pillows were created to mimic the characteristics of down pillows, but are made out of synthetic materials like polyester. Although they cut down on allergies and provide options for firmness, some say that these down-alternative pillows lack the comfort and cuddliness of a regular down pillow.

These two pillow types have similar price ranges of $10 to $200 depending on the quality and manufacturer.

Feather Pillows

Feather pillows are similar to down in terms of comfort, breathability, price range of $10 to $200, and also being from geese. However, feather pillows seem to have more drawbacks than down. Some users have complained about the feathers giving off an unpleasant odor. Additionally, the feather quills not only poke sleepers, they also flatten and require a constant fluffing and molding of the pillow. Feather pillows, like down, are also difficult to clean and clump when wet.

Polyfill or Microfiber Filled Pillows

Polyfill is short for polyester-filled pillows, which are usually hypoallergenic pillows. Polyfill may also be described as microfiber fill or down-alternative fill. This budget-friendly pillow is easy to wash, maintain and typically resists flattening over the duration of its life. Polyester pillows can rival cotton pillows in softness, but don’t quite measure up to memory foam pillows in terms of support, comfort, and breathability.

These hypoallergenic pillows typically fall in a price range of $10 to $75 depending on size and brand.

Innerspring Pillows

Innerspring pillows have a core of steel springs that are covered in a layer of memory foam or polyester to provide users with the most comfortable and ergonomic sleep experience possible. Innerspring pillows may offer ergonomically certified spinal support for your head and neck, making it the best pillow for neck pain. The spring core allows the pillow to remain cool throughout the night due to enhanced airflow and is highly responsive to any sleep position you prefer. Innerspring pillows range from $119 to $159.


Smart Pillows

A new addition to the pillow market are smart pillows. These pillows often combine high-quality fill and performance fabrics with built-in technology and provide sleep monitoring through the use of a sleep app. The ZEEQ Smart Pillow is an example of a smart pillow that features built-in speakers, streaming audio, sleep tracking through built-in sensors, and anti-snoring technology. As a snore solution, ZEEQ “listens” as users sleep and gently encourages snorers to change position in order to stop snoring. Smart pillows range from $299 and up.


Pillow Firmness Levels

Once you choose the right type of pillow for your preferences, the next step is finding the ideal level of pillow firmness or density. The most significant factor for determining the proper firmness level is your sleep style. Each sleep position can require a different level of firmness in order to provide the proper spinal alignment needed for comfort. Choosing the correct pillow firmness for your sleep position will help determine the best pillow for neck pain.

Typically, firmness levels are classified as soft, medium or firm, tailored to common sleep positions. The firmness is an indicator of the pillow’s loft, or the height from the bed to a person’s head when laying on a pillow.

Back Sleeper, or Medium Density Pillows

Back sleepers typically require a medium to medium-soft level of firmness for their pillows. This provides a thick enough pillow to provide a cushion for the head and comfort or support for the upper spinal region.


Side Sleeper, or Firm Density Pillows

The best pillows for side sleepers are a firm density pillow. Side sleeper pillow fill is thicker than other pillow types to cover the distance between a side sleeper’s head and neck to the edge of their shoulder on the mattress. This requires a firm pillow, which is the thickest density or highest loft pillow. Firm pillows provide the necessary support and alignment for one’s head, neck, and spine while keeping the body in a horizontal position.


Stomach Sleeper, or Soft Density Pillows

Stomach sleepers are best suited to use soft pillows, which are thin and very comfortable. Soft pillows allow the head to sink in while providing enough cushion and support to maintain a flat position of the upper torso, head, and neck.

Multi-Position Sleeper Pillows

For those that switch positions throughout the night, a pillow with the firmness level of medium to medium-firm would be ideal. These pillows provide the necessary support for side positions while being comfortable and soft enough for stomach and back positions.

Adjustable Pillows

Adjustable pillows offer a versatile comfort solution that allows users to adjust the pillow’s height and density by removing or adding foam fill. This allows users to customize the feel and fit of the pillow to their specific needs. This is a popular option offered in premium pillows. Adjustable pillows come in a variety of fill types, including adjustable shredded memory foam and adjustable microfiber fill.


Pillow Covers and Protectors

Pillow case covers and pillow protectors are an essential component to a pillow’s comfort and your health. Standard pillowcases provide a fabric pillow cover that can easily be removed and washed, however waterproof pillow covers and pillow protectors with advanced fabric technology are ideal for maintaining a healthy sleep environment while reducing pillow wear and tear. Pillow protectors prevent dust mites from entering pillows, as these allergens irritate skin and induce asthma and hay-fever like symptoms. They also keep dander, sweat, bed bugs and other contaminants from penetrating your pillow.

Pillow covers and protectors are offered in a variety of fabric options offering waterproofing, sensitive skin benefits, warming or cooling enhancements, moisture-wicking, odor control and more.

No matter which type of pillow you are interested in buying, remember that every pillow, just like every mattress, needs protection to offer you the best night’s rest possible. Follow the links below to learn more.

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