Alaska Sleep Education Center

To Pillow...or Not To Pillow?  That is the question.

Posted by Stefanie Leiter

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on May 4, 2019 6:22:00 AM

There are many options that go into the perfect night sleep especially when you need to reevaluate restless nights. The mattress is one of the staples to a restful sleep, but for many who still toss and turn, a new pillow could be the inexpensive change needed in the bedroom. Considering each year you lay your head on your pillow 3,000 hours, it is important to get it right. Today we will look at different pillow options along with pillowcases to try.

According to Sleep Doctor, “pillows collect dead skin cells, mildew, mold, fungus, and dust mites” so think about the last time you purchased a new pillow. Do you have stains or noticeable odor on your pillow?

“Over time, as much as half the weight of a pillow can be attributed to these unwelcome organisms, which can trigger allergies, interfere with breathing during sleep, and put out odors that make it harder to sleep well.”

First the pillow itself is an important decision so it is best to think about what options you are looking for in a new pillow. Not certain the last time you purchased a pillow? Try this simple test: fold the pillow in half. It lays folded without popping out to its original form, it is too old for use.

With the amount of options, it is helpful to read reviews online to see what is on the market that year. Most pillows bought from a traditional retail store cannot be returned so choosing wisely is key to not break the budget.


Memory Foam. Contouring to your body, the memory foam pillow is one of the most popular choices when searching for a new pillow. Either full memory or shredded foam are options depending on the adjustments and flexibility the sleeper is searching for in a pillow. Both provide a contouring shape perfect for those looking for a firmer option.


Latex. Whether naturally sourced from tree rubber or made synthetically, from chemicals, latex is a durable material. Sleeping cooler than memory foam or feature, your neck and shoulders won’t sink in too far, promoting airflow. One positive is they are resistant to dust mites and mold.


Feather. Although fluffy and soft, a feather pillow is not the right choice for allergy-ridden sleepers. Firmer in nature than most know, the lightweight material is easy to structure as needed to the user. Outside allergies, feather pillows are hotter than most and may cause irritation if the quills poke out.


Microbead. Most common in neck travel pillows, the beads give a squishier feel that is mold-able to conform with your body. One negative is if a rip occurs extracting the polystyrene beads from its covering, it is not a fun mess to clean. These are also filled with the least biodegradable filling.


Gel. A popular pillow for hot, sweaty sleepers, the gel pillow is cool at all times and all seasons providing extra firm support to the head, neck, and shoulders. If contouring and bending is important in a pillow, gel is not the choice for you.


Down. Ever wonder where it gets it name? “Down is a soft grouping of fibers that lay closest to a bird’s skin and are located primarily near its chest.” These pillows tend to last longer than other pillows on the market. They also can heat up faster providing full insulation.


Apnea.Sleep apnea pillows are designed to accommodate the octopus tubes and cords of the CPAP machine. This kind of pillow is made with polyester fiber fill or foam.” Before trying it out, make certain it is at the right height with the machine to provide maximum comfort.


Now you know the differences between the different pillow fibers, it is important to know which size is right for you. With so many options, here is a quick look at your choices.

  • The most common of the sizes for pillowcases, a standard pillow averages 20x26 fitting all standard case options.
  • Super Standard. Fitting across a single or twin-sized bed, the super standard stretches 20x28 becoming a perfect pillow for rollers and tossers. They also fit standard pillowcases.
  • The next most popular size in the pillow family, queens measure 20x30 and fit a queen or double bed best. Loftier queen fillers can be hard to fit in a standard pillowcase so it depends on the fullness of the pillow.
  • Proven to help larger and taller individuals with lumbar and muscle support, the king pillow will require a special king pillowcase measuring 20x36.
  • European or Square. At 26x26, the European pillow is best for back support versus neck and head pillow2support. These are most often used as decorative pillows.
  • Measuring 20x54, the body pillow is designed as an alleviation pillow for joint pain while influencing better sleep positions. These are commonly used along headboards for decor or to support the top of the head for those restless sleepers.
  • Designed to wrap around Mommy, pregnancy pillows help prop Mommy up during side-sleeping in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. The flexibility of the pillow help with lower back and stomach pain as Mommy can wrap the pillow as needed around her growing body.
  • Small in weight and size, these 12x16 pillows are not only used for travel but in toddler beds or for those who suffer illness and need to sit in an upright position. The design of the pillow is to wedge between the neck and shoulders to provide extra support.
  • Perfect for ailing patients, wedge pillows provide lumbar support or can prop up a pregnant belly while side sleeping. A wedge is also small enough to use between your legs underneath or in the center of the knee for lumbar support.

Though no pillowcase is the wrong choice, think about your sleep positions. Cotton is the most breathable and luxurious choices due to the thread count options. Flannel could be a good option in the cold winter months along with your flannel sheets. For some, silk is a good pillowcase that also keeps your hair in place during any type of restless sleep.

For some, silk means more trips to purchase pillow cases as they stain easily from oils and are less breathable than cotton's natural materials.

How often should you change your pillow? Many argue every 18 months while others state finding a machine-washable option provides more life to the pillow. Look at the label and try washing your pillow on hot throughout its relationship with your body.

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