5. Select the right material! Feathers? Too soft, they lose their shape and support and bottom out in the middle of the night. Memory foam? Typically, too stiff and rigid, making them uncomfortable for a full night of zzzz’s.
4. Determine your sleep position. On your side or on your back? On your stomach? Figuring out what position you spend the majority of the night in will help determine the perfect pillow for you, as the correct pillow height will vary based on which position you are sleeping.
3. Choose the correct pillow height. For the majority of us who sleep on their sides, select a pillow with a smashed down height equal to the distance from the side of your head to the outer edge of the shoulder. Don’t forget to use a pillow between your knees as well to maintain the rest of your spine in a healthy and comfortable neutral position all night long. For back sleepers, the pillow height will be slight for younger folks, but gaining significantly with aging changes that change the shape of the upper back to a more rounded position. Kids really don’t even need a pillow for the curve in their spine, so keep their pillow height low. Young adults benefit from 1 pillow. Middle aged adults may have 1-2 pillows, and older adults may need 2 pillows, again depending on the curve of the spine. You will know you have the right height when the ear, outside tip of the shoulder, and the hip form a straight line when lying on your back with your head on the pillow. Remember to place 2 fluffy pillows under your knees in this position to keep your low back happy. For prone (stomach) sleepers, use a moderate height pillow to place just 1 cheek against as you attempt to look as straight down as you can (and still be able to breathe). Try to keep your head in neutral as much as possible to prevent morning kinks in the neck.
2. Choose the appropriate bonus pillow features such as a built-in neck roll for those with active neck pain, cooling material for those who tend to get hot flashes or just plain hot at night, and a hypoallergenic pillow case for all.
1. Money doesn’t guarantee a perfect pillow! Don’t let the price or slick marketing fool you. There is no such thing as one perfect pillow for everyone. It simply does not exist, because just like pillows, people come in all different shapes and sizes and what works magic for one of us does not extend to all of us. I frequently recommend patients purchase their first pillow at a local big box or department store, looking only at pillow height smashed down, making a very small investment. Once a patient has found the pillow with the right height, but the pillow is starting to lose that height, I suggest the patient look for the same type of pillow with a heavier, denser fill that will stand the test of time. It is typically better to spend $30 for a pillow every year or two, then to buy a pillow for $100 or more only to hate it for one reason or another and end up buying another one.