The perfect pillow allows both muscles and mind to relax. But snooze on one that fails to accommodate your unique anatomy, and you might earn more cricks and congestion than rest and relaxation.
For a better night's sleep, choose a natural fill. Synthetics, such as polyester, draw on nonrenewable resources and can be more hospitable to allergy and asthma triggers. Among natural fills, go organic when possible, as chemicals used in conventional fill production can contribute to headaches.
Even natural pillows can harbor allergens without proper care. Mindy Pennybacker of the Green Guide, a newsletter akin to Consumer Reports for the eco-minded, recommends trying a zippered protector made from tightly woven, untreated organic cotton. Placed under a standard case, it blocks allergens as effectively as vinyl alternatives without exposing you to formaldehyde and phthalates.
A quality pillow can cost anywhere from $40 to $200, but regular cleaning and a good encasement can help it last as long as a decade. Start your search online at ahappyplanet.com, allergybuyersclub.com, ecobedroom.com, or northernnaturals.com. Any investment in your health and well-being is certainly a worthy one, so go ahead -- pick a pillow.
One of the softest fills available, down is optimal for people who sleep on their stomachs. In general, doctors advise against this position, but a softer pillow with a low loft can help minimize neck and back strain.
Weather permitting, expose pillows to fresh air and sunlight for several hours a month. Machine wash sturdier pillows occasionally on a cold, gentle cycle. Tumble dry on low with a dry towel to help absorb water.
Dusty feathers can trigger allergic reactions. Hypodown, a popular combination of specially cleaned down and milkweed fibers, is a naturally hypoallergenic alternative.
Offering firmer support than most fibers, a high-loft wool pillow can provide maximum comfort to side sleepers or anyone who prefers more elevation. A natural insulator, it can also help regulate body temperature. Renew loft by tumble drying with a clean tennis ball for 10 to15 minutes on a cool setting.
Freshen in direct sunlight and open air for several hours once a month. For spot cleaning, spray on a solution of one part vinegar to three parts water.
Wool is inhospitable to dust mites. Its natural fire resistance allows it to go untreated, making it ideal for those sensitive to chemical fire retardants. Lanolin, an allergen for some people, can be found on wool.
A new cotton pillow with mid-range loft supports healthy alignment for sleeping on your back. Cotton fills tend to compress over time, however, shifting to an elevation better suited to stomach-sleepers.
Machine wash on a gentle, cool setting. Wash two pillows together for balance. Tumble dry with cool air, adding a tennis ball to break up clumps; also tumble dry with a clean, dry towel to reduce drying time.
Because cotton is fast-drying and easy to clean, it's less prone to mildew and bacteria than some natural fills. With fewer irritants than synthetic fills, organic cotton is often ideal for allergy sufferers.
Natural Latex Foam
Natural latex pillows are molded into varied densities and shapes to match and support the contours of your neck, shoulders, and upper spine. This helps reduce pressure points by distributing the weight of your head and upper body more evenly.
Hand wash periodically in warm water with a mild soap or detergent. Do not wring; press out water with a towel and then air dry. Keep out of direct sunlight.
Dust mites can't tunnel into latex foam, and mildew can't thrive in it, so natural latex presents a healthy alternative for many asthma and allergy sufferers. Avoid it, though, if you are allergic to latex.
Organic Buckwheat Hulls
Hulls allow the spine to release into alignment, helping to relieve muscle tension. But since buckwheat feels harder than other fills, you may need some time to adjust. Zippered cases let you control height and density; if a new pillow is uncomfortable, remove some hulls (they arrive loose in the case) and save them for refills.
Remove hulls from the encasement and rinse in a tub of cool water. Lay out to dry. Machine wash empty case in hot water twice a month.
Hulls' irregular shapes allow air to circulate, inhibiting dust mites and microbes from taking root. Look for a "triple cleaned" label to ensure that dust and mold have been removed.
Text by Josie Garthwaite; photography by Troy House