Finding the Perfect Pillow

I happen to be a light sleeper and very fussy about my pillows which can either hinder or enhance my night’s sleep. Below are my personal tips and preferences on finding the perfect pillow.

Get Rid of Old Pillows

The average department store pillow lasts about 18 months. If you fold your pillow in half and the poor thing just lies there, you have a dead pillow; time to replace it. On a visit to my childhood home, I swear the pillows on the bed were over 20 years old! They were flat, hard, discolored and smelly. What’s worst, I know this is not an isolated incident and that there are plenty of households who are still using pillows like this!

Get a Dust Mite Cover

Most pillows are the harbinger of dust mites (millions of them) and we bury our noses in those little critters every night! You can kill the little beasts by putting your pillow in a plastic bag and freezing the pillow in the freezer for a while. I recommend using a steam cleaner to kill the dust mites. Many people drool at night, so it is a good idea to use some kind of pillow cover. Encasing a new pillow with a dust mite cover is a great way to keep the pillow clean and prevent dust mites from infesting it. Covering an old pillow with a dust mite cover can help reduce nighttime allergies as it creates a barrier between you and the dust mites, as well as other allergens such as mold that may be inside the pillow.

Pay Attention to Your Pillow Habits

Do you scrunch up your pillow? Fold it in half like a neck roll? Or otherwise paw all over it like a cat or dog trying to get it to fit comfortably underneath your head? This type of behavior is a sure sign your pillow and you are not compatible and it’s time to search for a new pillow.

Find a Hypoallergenic Pillow

Some pillow fills are hypoallergenic. If you suffer from allergies you should look for a pillow that has a hypoallergenic fill because it will be less likely to trigger an allergic reaction. My recommendation for hypoallergenic fills are super-cleaned down, pure wool, organic cotton or natural latex.

Some pillow fills are naturally resistant to common allergens such as dust mites, mold and mildew. The best allergen resistant pillows are filled with pure wool or natural latex. The worst type of pillows for attracting mold and dust mites are feather pillows as they do not dry out easily.

Beware of Off-GassingĀ 

The most disappointing pillow I have tried was a memory foam contoured pillow. To begin with I thought I was in pillow heaven until I woke boiling hot every night for a week. It also had a very unpleasant odor and clearly had an off-gassing problem. This is not to say that all memory foam off-gasses but the one I tried did and many other people have reported the same problem.

Consider a Wool Pillow

Wool, and its softer cousin Alpaca, is the longest lasting and healthiest kind of pillow fill you could hope for. Wool pillows hold their shape for years and are naturally inhospitable to dust mites. They also wick away moisture and will keep you cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Side sleepers are most likely to like wool pillows as a firmer pillow suits them best. But be warned, these pillows can feel like a rock if you prefer a squishy down pillow. Wool filled pillows are great for support but they totally lack in the “cloud-like, sumptuous, luxury feel”. A wool pillow is healthy not sumptuous.

Consider a Latex Pillow

I tried the Sleepland Head & Neck support contoured latex pillow. This is another firm feeling pillow and only comes in one size: approximately 18″ x 14″. Though it is made from a rubber material, this pillow is healthy and offers firm support. Being used to huge, fluffy looking pillows this looked darn small to me when I took it out of the package. I almost felt ripped off but I dutifully gave it a whirl for a week. So here was the big surprise – while I couldn’t scrunch it up like I was used to I did not need to because the contour fit perfectly underneath my neck. What’s more, I slept beautifully and had no neck or back pain. I just have to get used to its appearance as this pillow looks very small and is not a decorating asset.

Select the Right Firmness

Soft, Medium or Firm – which pillow firmness is best for you? Well, here it gets interesting. Side sleepers do best with a firmer pillow because they need to fill the space between the neck and shoulders to get proper alignment. Stomach sleepers like the softest pillows. Soft to medium is best for them because they do not want their head to be raised too high and cut off circulation. Back sleepers like the happy “medium”. I have to say that the Hypodown 600 pillows in soft are quite exquisite for a soft pillow lover like myself; not too plump and infinitely malleable.

Select Your Fill

Now onto the mysterious thing called “Fill Power”. The easiest way to understand fill power is to think of it as a quality rating. Higher fill powers contain more down clusters and less down pieces and feathers. Down clusters make a pillow lighter, loftier and more comfortable. As the numerical fill power increases so does the quality and life of the pillow. Higher fill powers are more expensive but like anything else, you get what you pay for. Our best hypoallergenic down, Hypodown 800 fill pillows, will last 10 years. We tested a range of down fills from 600 to 800 fill power. To be honest, most people had a hard time distinguishing between the 600 and the 800 fill power although the purity of the down increases with the fill number. Forget pillows with a fill power less than 550.

What makes a down pillow hypoallergenic? Here the answer surprised me. The stuff that people are allergic to in down is due to the down cleaning process or lack thereof. Companies that offer hypoallergenic down pillows follow stringent down cleaning processes. These rigorous cleaning processes usually includes multiple washings of the down to make sure all dirt and dander is removed.

Goose Down Fill

Goose down is much more expensive than duck down and offers a softer more luxurious light, lofty feel. If you really get into it, the location of where the down comes from in the world makes a difference. All geese do not produce the same type or comparable level of soft down. In pillows I discovered a labeling problem. An ‘all down’ pillow may contain quite a significant percentage of feathers or other fill. Our Hypodown pillows contain a small percentage of Syriaca clusters (milkweed fiber) which have some properties to enhance the hypoallergenic nature of these pillows. However, I was astonished to find ‘pure down’ is an incredibly loose term and one widely abused in my opinion.

Alternative FillsĀ 

Now onto synthetic down alternative pillows. The most popular brand of synthetic down alternative fill is Primaloft. I confess that when I first tried a Primaloft Pillow I was very enthusiastic. At last, a big squishy, soft pillow that felt as nice as down. They really are comfortable and soft. The price was right too. I have to say that after about 18 months of use these pillows are not dead but the fill has compressed and the pillows are not nearly as plump as they were. The bottom line is synthetic down alternative pillows are less expensive than allergy-free goose down pillows (about 1/4 of the price) but they do not last as long. They are a nice choice for the guest bedroom or the college dorm. Recently we added a new line of synthetic down alternative pillows. They are part of the White Mountain Bedding Collection and I must say they are pretty fantastic; soft, silky, non-clumping and very durable.

Cotton Fill

Cotton pillows are another natural fill choice and provide firm support. An organic cotton pillow is simply the best choice for someone with multiple chemical sensitivities. There is nothing in these pillows that could trigger a reaction even in the most sensitive. They are also a vegan choice. However, be aware that a cotton pillow has the tendency to become flat and hard with use and does not have the loft or recovery response of a down, down alternative or latex pillow.

Final Thoughts

So what turned out to be my favorite pillow? The one which I bought for all the beds in my house? I fell in love with our latex pillows in soft firmness. These pillows are to my mind a wonderful value, will last for years, and are scrunchably-soft. Even better, they are both dust mite and mold resistant and are unlikely to need dust mite encasings. As a special luxurious treat for yourself, there is nothing like a soft Hypodown pillow, or perhaps several of them, to make oneself feel pampered!