There are many fills available, with varying degrees of firmness. Prices can range from a few dollars to hundreds of bucks. It can be difficult and expensive to find the right one.

5 Things to Know Before Buying a Pillow

Consumer Reports’ pillow experts share the essential information you should know before buying a new pillow. Our extensive pillow tests combine technical assessments–including measuring 1,600 pressure points for proper head support–and real-world evaluations from a panel of human subjects on factors such as a pillow’s feel and comfort level. Our pillow buying guide will provide more information about how we test pillows.

  1. You should be very particular about the firmness of your pillow. If you are a side-sleeper, a thicker pillow will be more comfortable than one that is too thin. Joel Press, M.D. is the physiatrist in chief at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. He says it will help align your neck with your spine and not angled to prevent strain. Back-sleepers require flatter pillows because the gap between the shoulder blades and the upper back is smaller. A thin pillow will keep your neck natural curve if you sleep on your stomach.

    Don’t rely solely on the label of the manufacturer to determine how firm a pillow will be. To gauge the firmness of the pillow, press down on it. To get a feeling for the pillow, shake, fluff, squeeze and lay down on it. If you are buying wholesale pillows made from loose filling, rather than a foam slab, make sure it holds its shape and doesn’t have any lumpy areas. A pillow should have a consistent shape and thickness.

  2. Be aware of your mattress. Your pillow must work with your mattress in order to support you during sleep. A thinner pillow is better for a soft mattress. This applies regardless of whether you are sleeping on your back or side. Chris Regan, Consumer Reports’ pillow tester, said that a firmer mattress allows your body to sink into it. You will need a thicker pillow to prevent your mattress from sinking too much.

The No. Regan says that the number one criteria for choosing a pillow is its firmness. A pillow that is too full or too firm can put your head at an awkward angle, which can lead to restlessness and strain.

These are some other things to keep in mind when looking for a comfortable place to rest your head. You can find CR’s pillow ratings for more information about how the pillows performed in our support tests.

  1. Breathability is important. It doesn’t make for a great night’s sleep if you feel hot and sweaty. A pillow should allow air to flow through it, not trap heat. As a rule of thumb, the more dense the pillow filling is, the less it will be breathable for your neck and head. The pillows that stayed cool were made from polyester or shredded foam. The pillows made from one slab of foam were least breathable.

Cooling gel pads on pillows? These pillows initially gave our subjects a refreshing feeling, but this quickly faded and they were some of the most breathable pillows in our tests.

  1. Care labels are important. Some pillows cannot be washed. The majority of pillows that we tested can be washed in the machine, usually on a cold setting. According to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, you will need to wash a pillow in hot (130°F) water once per month if you have an allergy. How about changing a pillow? According to the National Sleep Foundation, a pillow should be replaced every one to two years.
  2. Ask about return policies and trial periods. Many pillows we tested cost between $60-$80. Check to see if the pillow can be tested at home before you make a purchase. Sam’s Club and Walmart offer a full refund if you provide a receipt within a certain time frame. Casper and Coop Home Goods offer a 100-night trial that allows you to return the pillow to get a full refund.


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