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Making the case for a more perfect pillow

By: Lindsey M. Roberts The Washington Post
February 3, 2018 Updated: February 3, 2018 at 4:10 am
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V&R Naturals' Latex Kapok Blend. (MUST CREDIT: V&R Naturals)

If you dream of a better night's sleep, you're not alone. Americans don't get eight hours of sleep, though they're close. At seven hours 19 minutes in 2017, the total is a four-minute improvement from 2016, researchers for the Sleep Cycle app found.

To make sleep even better, a good place to start is a new pillow. "A pillow is a bed for your head," says Michael Breus, a California clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders. "If you spend $1,000 on a mattress and use a $10 pillow, you just turned your bed into a $10 mattress."

Researching the right pillow can be like staring down the toothpaste aisle, however. The options are endless. But pillow testers like Breus can help narrow it down.

The first thing to consider is the type of sleeper you are: back, side or stomach. Back sleepers may need a flatter pillow, to keep the head and neck in alignment. Stomach sleepers may need a soft pillow, or no pillow. Side sleepers may need a firmer pillow on the thicker side.

Then there's fill - wool, cotton, latex, memory foam, feathers, down - that often depends on whether you prefer squishy or firm pillows. If you have back or shoulder pain in the morning, it's a sign of using the wrong type of pillow, Breus notes, though it's always good to check with an orthopedic doctor.

Above all, just do the best you can, says Rebecca Robbins, a sleep adviser to the Benjamin Hotel in New York. "Invest at the highest level your budget can afford. We sleep for one-third of our lives. Why not make it the most amazing, comfortable room in your house?"

Sleep is a performance activity, says Breus, known as the Sleep Doctor. So just as a runner invests in shoes, you'll want to choose the best pillow for your sleep. His favorite, and the one he sleeps on, is V&R Naturals' Latex Kapok Blend because the stuffing can be removed as needed for sleep preference ($129, vrnaturals.com).

At the Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab, senior product analyst Lexie Sachs and other analysts look at how well pillows keep their shape, withstand laundering and fit into a pillowcase. Consumer testers rate pillows for comfort and support. One pillow that has come out on top is the Sleep Number ComfortFit Pillow ($89.99-$149.99, sleep number.com).

Sachs uses the "classic" model ($89.99). "I love how it's both soft and supportive," she says. "Most foam pillows feel too firm for me, but this one is a combination of foam and down alternative fiberfill, and it feels like I'm getting the best of both." Because it's not washable and has no removable cover, she uses the AllerEase Maximum Pillow Protector (Target, $7.99-$8.99).

"Our clients prefer bed pillows with a natural cotton cover and either a soft-yet-supportive mix of feather and down or a feather-and-down alternative," says Seattle-based Michelle Dirkse, an interior designer whose projects have appeared in design magazines Luxe, Rue and Domino. Parachute's Down Alternative Pillow is one she's picked for her clients and herself ($59-$89, parachutehome.com). "I just finished remodeling my entire condo, and the new pillows are a cozy final touch for my new bed," she says. This would be a good fit for a guest room, too, because it's allergen-free.

After designing for celebrity after celebrity, Los Angeles interior designer Adam Hunter knows that everyone is different and "clients need to love their pillow and find the one that provides proper support and alignment." He often uses the Anti-Allergy Down Pillow in his projects, especially for kids' rooms, because of the simple maintenance ($80, usa.yvesdelorme. com). They're "easy to clean" and "so soft," he says.

Robbins, a side sleeper, uses the Beautyrest Black Ice Memory Foam Pillow ($129, mattressfirm.com). "Temperature plays a huge role in our sleep," she says, and the Black Ice is made of a cooling, breathable foam.

"The bedroom is the gateway drug to get more sleep," says Robbins, a postdoctoral fellow at New York University. "We drink coffee, we drink wine, we get stressed about our careers. Some of those things are hard to modify, but the bedroom is something we can often control."

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