Dr Declan Hofbauer
How to Buy a Pillow
Buying a new pillow can be a daunting task with so many options on the market and horror stories of needing to spend hundreds and hundreds before finding the right pillow for you. But fear not, the best pillow you can buy is made easier with a few basic criteria.
- Do you sleep side, stomach or back?
- How broad are your shoulders?
- Do you have any current neck conditions?
- Am I prone to overheating in bed?
This can be answered simply as: I sleep on my side and back, I’m moderately broad and I have a small disc injury in my neck. So right away I know more about the shape and profile and because I have an injury, that I need a quality product that’s going to fit me properly.
So what is the best pillow you can buy? Let’s start with material…
There are four basic materials: polyester and down fill, memory foam, latex, and gel fusions.
Firstly, we are never ever going to sleep primarily on a down or polyester fill pillow. EVER. They offer no support and should be reserved for your display pillows exclusively.
Can be both natural and synthetic (altho you will never be able to buy pure latex, it is too crumbly and must be blended with synthetic. Legally, you only need 95% natural latex in a product to be labeled ‘100% natural latex’). It is naturally hypoallergenic and provides a firm feel with a moderate degree of pushback.
This is a synthetic material that provides an ultra-soft to firm feel. Memory foam does NOT remember your body, it remembers its original shape. It squishes and compresses (unlike latex which provides a rebound of sorts) and it “remembers” its original shape when not in use (unlike down pillows).
Latex and memory foam don’t generate heat per se, but they can retain your body warmth better. As such, gel fusion pillows can be used. A gel is inserted into the sleep surface of the pillow, retaining less warmth. However, they do firm up the feel of the pillow and make the pillow very heavy.
Side note on Bamboo. Bamboo is NOT blended into the pillow and is generally only ever in the covering of the pillow. It’s largely a clickbait term.
Shape & Profile
Three profiles; low, medium, and high. These are going to be based on your shoulder width.
Shapes are divided into traditional or contoured. Contoured pillows are very particular, but once you are used to that shape, it can be difficult to find anything better. Particularly good for those with wide shoulders and long necks. It fills the nook of the neck and cradles the head. Generally, I recommend that unless you’ve tried one or are willing to adjust to one, stick to a more traditional shape. But like I said, some people can’t sleep without them and if you’ve been struggling to find a fit, this could be for you!
For the tummy sleepers amongst us that use a pillow, you will ALWAYS be recommended to get the thinnest profile possible with a traditional shape - to avoid hyperextending your neck.
Generally speaking, for a good pillow, you want to spend anywhere between $110 to $200 dollars recommended retail price.
The $300 pillow may not be the better pillow for you, as price does not dictate suitability of shape, material, or profile.
So how to choose?
Go to a store and find a mattress that is the closest version of your current mattress - take a photo of the label and show the assistant so they can direct you to the closest match. This is really important as the pillow will compress differently on different surfaces.
- Once you have figured out what profile height you need based on your shoulder width, then narrow down the shape to either traditional or contour. Remember, if you’re a stomach sleeper that uses a pillow, low profile traditional shape is your recommended option.
- Grab a latex version, a gel, and a memory foam version of that particular shape and contour and try it on the specific mattress in your sleep position. Now don’t worry, as someone that has worked in that space, I’ve seen it all. So if you need to do the running man sleeping sideways at the bottom of the mattress, you do you! It’s your pillow after all. It’s more important to try the material and see what is immediately comfortable for you.
- Narrow that selection down to 2 pillows and spend some time.
- I would recommend laying on each pillow for a good 10 minutes. The materials will change slightly as your body warms the pillow up.
- As long as the pillow is addressing profile, shape and price then it’s just a personal preference of feel from here on out!
If you are buying online, like many of us are, ensure you can return or exchange the pillow. Many companies offer a 90 or 120 night no questions asked, return guarantee. This way, you can try the pillow without any worry of having selected the wrong material or shape.
Pillows can be difficult. The neck is deeply linked to our brain’s balance system. The neck is densely supplied with specialised cells that relay a monumentous amount of positional postural information to our brain. So it’s no wonder that what we choose to lay our head and neck on, makes a big difference to our sleep quality and recovery. But hopefully, with this guide, you can more easily select the best pillow for you.
Finally, it can take up to 5 weeks to adjust to your new pillow in my experience. So the longer the home trial period, the better.
If you are experiencing Neck problems consider booking an appointment with one of our practitioners.