Perhaps you don’t give it much thought and think any old one will do, but how should you choose a pillow? What factors should you consider when selecting a place to lay your head at night? Are there certain health conditions where it may be worth spending more to aid your sleep?
The Philosophy of Pillows
First, take a moment to become philosophical and consider what exactly a pillow is. At the most basic level, it is a thing that you place your head on so that you might go to sleep. Ideally it would be comfortable and, if you should move about during the night, it wouldn’t become uncomfortable and disrupt your ability to stay asleep. What this means for you, and even for different cultures, likely varies.
There is a Westernized ideal of the sleep environment. It is a quiet, dark place that you can go to retire and slip into quiet and restorative sleep. You may have a bed partner, or you may go it alone. There is a comfy mattress and no doubt a selection of pillows. Perhaps you get by with one. You may have a sandwich of two. Or, you may be someone who has more pillows on your bed than fingers on your hands. They may be strictly functional, but they also can be decorative. And these roles may be filled by different players.
Not everyone uses pillows, however, either now or in the past. If you wander through the Egyptian exhibit at your favorite museum, you may notice a decorative head rest. It may be carved from wood, metal, stone, or any imagined material. It firmly supported the neck and head, like a strange pedestal, and it looks completely alien to someone who seeks a modern ideal of the pillow. Yet, it was likely used by the affluent for this purpose, while those who built the pyramids had nothing of the sort.
Many cultures today have simple sleeping materials: a pile of straw or leaves, a simple woven mat, a fur, a rumpled and gathered bit of fabric. Indigenous people had modest sleep surfaces and not a pillow in sight. So before you set off to determine what pillow is best, it is helpful to consider a broader context, and re-evaluate your understanding of what you may ultimately need.
The Perks of Pillows
Pillows are pretty wonderful. Perhaps because they are such an intimate part of our lives, they have a special place and are given a similar measure of consideration. You won’t put a more delicate part of your body anywhere for a longer part of the day (or night) than when you plop your head down on your pillow. This can have some unexpected benefits.
There are specialized pillows that can actually enhance your health. If you have obstructive sleep apnea or heartburn, you may want to use a sleeping wedge pillow. If you have neck pain (often associated with problems in the muscles and bones of the cervical spine), a pillow may be of paramount importance. Someone who is prone to headaches, especially upon awakening, might also want to cast a suspicious eye toward their pillows. A pillow might not cure what ails you, but it could certainly be an unlikely contributor to health problems.
This is most especially true for those with environmental allergies. The wrong pillow could lead to nasal congestion, sneezing, red eyes, and a runny nose. Anyone who has discovered an allergy to goose feathers by sleeping on a down pillow can quickly identify with this phenomenon. In this case, a hypoallergenic pillow (or simply washing or replacing the pillows regularly), may be a godsend.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Pillow
Ultimately, your pillow selection will largely dependent on your preferences. As described above, there are people throughout time and space who have gotten by sleeping on far less. You might consider the materials that make up the pillow as well as the fabrics that envelop it. The construction is key as you decide the degree of firmness you enjoy. Many pillows are stuffed with artificial materials such as polyester batting, but they might also be filled with natural elements like cotton or feathers. Some are made of memory foam or even gel, meant to maintain a shape to conform to your head and face. Others may be filled with materials likely to be found in a bean bag chair.
The outer layer may be similarly and divergently composed. The fabrics used may run the gamut, and one consideration may be the thread count (though this is typically reserved for other bedding such as your sheets). Most functional pillows are white or cream in color, but decorative pillows come in every color and pattern you can envision. Ultimately, most people tuck the pillow in a pillow case, so this surface may not be as critical.
Aside from the various materials used in the production, you are most likely interested in considering the size. Most people choose the size based on their mattress size, as larger pillows fit more easily on a king-size bed. However, this does not necessarily need to limit you, as long as you have pillow cases that fit appropriately.
Finally, you may consider the price. Pillows can be as inexpensive or as expensive as you wish. An expensive pillow is not necessarily better, and you ultimately must select a pillow that is comfortable and is not disruptive to your sleep. The choice is not meant to be a lifelong commitment, and if you are not happy with your selection you may try again. By regularly replacing your pillows you not only get to indulge in an adventure, but you may in fact be aiding your health and facilitate a good night’s sleep. The lowly pillow may, in the end, be just the thing to help you sleep better.