The average pillow is worn out after about two years, according to Consumer Reports. Once your pillow reaches the point where it won't spring back into shape after being folded in half — or into thirds for king size — it's time to start looking for a new one. You spend a full third of each day in bed, so it makes sense to invest in a pillow that provides you with quality, restful sleep.
You probably put a lot of thought into your last mattress purchase, since it was likely a big expense. Put just as much thought into your next pillow buy, even though it's a much smaller expense. From popular materials to when to get the best discounts, here are some things you should know about pillows before you start shopping for a new one.
4 Popular Pillow Materials
Pillows come in all shapes and sizes, but the most important consideration is material. Finding the right stuffing for your sleep style can help you get a better night's rest. The four common types of pillow fill material are down, down alternative, memory foam, and latex.
These pillows are stuffed with real feathers, often from geese or eider ducks. Since down is a natural insulator, down pillows are a nice option for the winter. However, if you tend to overheat while sleeping, you might dislike using a down pillow year-round. Additionally, down pillows are prone to mold and dust mite infestation over time. Down pillows can get mildewy if they get wet and aren't properly dried, which can cause an unpleasant smell.
If you love down, know that products labeled as "100% down" contain only down feathers, while products labeled as "down" might contain a mixture of feathers and fibers. Whatever the label, down pillows are generally pricey.
This type of pillow aims to provide a sleeping experience similar to down, using materials like cotton, rayon, or polyester. Those with feather allergies or dust mite allergies may find that down alternative is preferable to true down. Down alternative pillows are generally less expensive than true down, but they're also likely to be less fluffy.
These pillows do a nice job of cradling your neck, though they may not appeal to those who like a more "moldable" or flexible pillow. They also tend to hold heat, making them somewhat sticky in the summer.
Quality varies a lot from brand to brand. While some memory foam pillows are designed to retain their spring for years, others lose their supportiveness after a relatively short period of use. Compared to down pillows, these pillows are less likely to aggravate allergies.
Latex pillows are great for those with severe neck pain, and tend to be less expensive than 100% down pillows. There are two big cons with latex pillows: the strong smell, and the potential of an allergic reaction for those with a latex allergy.
Other Pillow Types
Not sure about these common materials? Other pillow materials are out there, such as buckwheat, microbeads, or even bamboo-based memory foam. If none of the main four pillow materials work for you, one of these less common alternatives might be appealing.
5 Questions to Ask Before You Buy
Before you hit the stores to hunt for a new pillow, take a personal inventory. Spend some time thinking about your lifestyle, body, and sleep style. Here are five questions to mull over as you hone in on your ideal pillow.
Do You Snore?
There are lots of reasons you might be snoring, but it's possible the main culprit is a bad pillow. Contoured pillows or wedge-shaped pillows can help reduce snoring, and give your throat a much needed rest.
Do You Have Allergies?
If you have allergies, look for hypoallergenic pillows. Also consider special covers or cases that further minimize allergens.
How Do You Sleep?
The position you fall asleep in, and the position you stay asleep in, have a big impact on the style of pillow you should buy. Stomach sleepers, for example, can benefit from a slimmer pillow, or no pillow at all. Side sleepers need a pillow that has the right combination of height and firmness to prevent aches in the morning. Back sleepers may benefit from using a pillow that has extra loft in the bottom third, to keep the neck in proper alignment.
Have You Always Hated Your Pillow?
Changes in your lifestyle can impact your comfort in bed. If you have gained weight recently, you may find you require a different type of pillow, or need to sleep in a different position. Try to think about pillows you have loved in the past. If you've never found one that was just right, consider trying an entirely new style.
Do You Move in Your Sleep?
Consider a pillow with fast spring-back when pressed gently, to ensure you get continued support as you move around. You may even want to have two pillows on your bed, to keep you comfortable as you change position in the middle of the night.
Narrow Your Focus
Once you've given some thought to your needs, start looking up reviews online. Search for things like "best pillow for stomach sleepers" or "best hypoallergenic pillow." A little research can help you narrow your focus, which prevents you from getting overwhelmed by too many options in a store. Thankfully, many pillows are clearly labeled with their suggested use. When in doubt, look for a pillow labeled as a "side sleeper" if you're a side sleeper, or "neck support" if you're a back sleeper.
If possible, go pillow shopping in a place where there's a bed you can lie down on. This will give you a more accurate impression of how the pillow will feel as you're trying to sleep. If this isn't possible, test the pillow at home (before you remove the plastic wrap, of course). Prior to buying a pillow, make sure you understand both the warranty and the return policy.
Proper Pillow Care
Take care of your pillow properly if you want it to last for years. Before you buy a pillow, carefully read the care instructions. Some pillows can be machine washed, while others should only get spot cleaning. Consider purchasing a pillow protector to conserve your investment. This prevents stains, and can help minimize the chance that allergens will come in contact with the skin.
Don't Sleep Through the Perfect Time to Buy
If you're shopping online, it should be easy to snag some sort of discount year-round. To find really deep discounts, shop on a holiday weekend, like Memorial Day or Labor Day.
"White sales," traditionally scheduled in January, can also occur year-round, so keep an eye out for those as well. In addition, consider shopping in July. A lot of home decor and linens go on sale in July, right in the middle of wedding season.
Pillows for Special Purposes
Sometimes, you just need a special pillow. Pregnant women may find they require a curved body pillow to get the correct support. Those who have trouble falling asleep might appreciate a "sound therapy" pillow with a built-in speaker. Menopausal women suffering from hot flashes might like a pillow with a built-in cooling panel. And those with sleep apnea may benefit from special contoured pillows.
There are even unique creations like the "Power Nap" head pillow or "Ostrich Pillow," which are designed to wrap around your whole head to create an ideal napping environment.
While the sheer number of choices may be overwhelming, the good news is that it's easy to get a pillow that's uniquely tailored to your sleeping style. With a little research, you can find the pillow that gives you the perfect balance of softness and support.
Readers, what kind of pillow do you sleep on? Tell us about your favorite fill, or share your bad pillow experiences in the comments below.