Mistakes People Make When Buying Pillows

When it comes to staying healthy, sleep is a top priority. According to MedlinePlus, sleep is essential for recharging our bodies as well as our minds after a stressful day. We prepare for a good night's sleep by creating the right atmosphere in our bedroom, limiting caffeine during the day, and making sure we get enough exercise. Still, we may be forgetting an essential piece for a dreamy slumber — the pillow. Knowing what to consider when buying a pillow — such as your sleeping position, how much you should spend on a pillow, and understanding what certain pillow terms mean — is a great start to ending up with the right one for your bed.

Most people shop for a pillow when their old one has seen better days and it's time for a replacement. It's easy to tell when a pillow is no longer doing its job, but a bit harder to know what to choose next. For many, that means grabbing whatever is on sale or taking home the one that looks the prettiest. Unfortunately, the cheapest or prettiest pillow won't necessarily lend to a good night's sleep. Let's look at the mistakes people make when buying a pillow so you can shop wisely and start getting the rest you need.

Not considering sleeping position

Are you a back, tummy, or side sleeper? It's one of the most important things to consider when buying a pillow. Everyone has a position they favor while sleeping, and according to Healthline, each position offers its own benefits. Side sleeping is better for digestion, laying on your stomach is best for those with sleep apnea, and sleeping on your back works well in supporting the spine and relieving hip and knee pain. 

Maybe you start the night on your back as you doze off but always wake up on your side. Or do you start on your stomach and never move until your alarm goes off? Either way, be certain of the sleeping position you most often end up in to choose the right pillow. If you don't, you may end up with a sore neck, headache, and a night of unrestful sleep. Look for firm pillows if the fetal or side position is your go-to. The firm pillow helps align your neck and spine properly as you lay on your side. A soft, flat pillow is perfect for tummy sleepers. Something in between, such as a medium density, thin pillow works best for back sleepers.

Buying a pillow that's too tall or too short

After determining your most common sleeping position, it's time to choose the right height for your pillow. Don't assume "the fluffier, the better." According to Spine-health, the right pillow correctly supports the head, neck, shoulders, and spine. The height of a pillow makes a difference in that support. Ads and commercials sometimes depict pillows as billowing, fluffy clouds, offering a place to allow our heads to disappear in luxuriousness as our minds drift off to dreamland. For some, the soft cloud pillow is fabulous, but it leads to a fitful night of sleep rather than pleasant dreams for others.

Remember your sleeping position again when looking at the height of a pillow. Don't assume a flat pillow won't be as comfortable as the overstuffed one that's nearly 12 inches high. If you're a tummy sleeper, a flat pillow is perfect. It's best to try a few pillows out until you find the right height. Choose companies that allow a trial period so you can return or exchange the pillow after trying it out while you sleep.

Fitting pillows to the size of your bed

We get it — you love sprawling out on your California King. Still, your perfect pillow needs only to cradle your perfect head, not cover the mattress. Decorate with pillows all you like, in many different sizes. However, when it comes to the one you'll sleep on, choose according to what fits you, not the mattress.

According to The Spruce, sleeping pillows come in six sizes: standard, queen, king, European, body, and travel. If you wake up each morning in the same position you started when you went to bed, you'll do fine with a standard pillow. If you switch positions now and then, you may prefer a queen to give you more room to flip back and forth easily. If you're a wild sleeper, enjoy the king-sized pillow. The king is the largest at 36 inches in length. Twist, turn, and flip as much as you need. The Euro is a square pillow, and although it's used in Europe for sleeping, it's most often decorative in the U.S. A body pillow is comforting for those who like to snuggle and works well for side sleepers. However, if you move your head during the night, your head is likely to fall off the body pillow. And, of course, travel pillows are conveniently small for travel purposes. 

Your mattress is firm but your pillows are soft

According to Consumer Reports, your pillow needs to work with your mattress to support your body while you sleep. If you prefer a firm mattress, you'll enjoy a full, firm pillow as well. Whether your back feels best on a soft or firm mattress or something in between, don't forget your neck may have the same needs. As we discuss what to consider when buying a pillow, keep in mind that a mattress and a pillow are a team, working together for the sake of your back, neck, and sleep.

Pillows come in four types of density: soft, medium soft, medium-firm, and firm. If you're uncertain which is best for you, take a look at your mattress. Do you sleep best on one that sinks in as you lay down? Then a soft to a medium-soft pillow might make a great addition to your already pillow-like mattress. However, if you prefer a mattress that doesn't budge when you hop into bed, look for a medium-firm to firm pillow.

Assuming therapeutic is best

Don't let the word "therapeutic" fool you. These pillows have their place and are very helpful for some people, but they aren't designed for everyone. Therapeutic pillows are usually quite firm because they're made from memory foam and may even cause headaches for some people. Stomach sleepers, especially, won't fare well on a therapeutic pillow, as it will force their neck into an uncomfortable position.

According to WebMD, memory foam sometimes contains chemicals called VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These VOCs can give off a foul odor when new (called off-gassing) and may even cause nausea, headaches, and other irritations. This off-gassing usually dissipates after a while, but at first, can be quite strong. If you think a therapeutic pillow is the right choice for you, look for one from a company that allows you to try it before buying. Also, more pillow companies are finding ways to create therapeutic/memory foam pillows with low VOCs, so make those your first choice.

If it's soft and squishy, you'll have a cozy night's sleep for sure

It seems to make sense: Sleeping on a billowy cloud of soft goodness would lead to a dreamy night of sleep. Unfortunately, extra soft pillows aren't for everyone. It's frustrating, right? As you hug a soft, squishy pillow, they feel wonderful. One squeeze, and you want to take a nap. Still, now that we've discussed sleeping positions, the different heights of pillows, and the ranges of firmness, we know that soft doesn't always mean "the best." According to The Bedding Planet, a sleeping position should determine the firmness of your pillow.

If you're a "curl up on your side" kind of sleeper, you probably have the best chance of enjoying a firm pillow. For back sleepers, they may not work in getting your spine aligned correctly with your back as you lay flat on your back, so something softer, like a medium-firm pillow, is needed. And for those tummy sleepers, a pillow that's too high because of filling may feel like it's swallowing your head as you sink into it (not a comforting way to go to sleep). Go for a soft, thinner pillow.

Higher price equals a better pillow

We do this with many things in life, don't we? If it's expensive, it's got to be good. Not when it comes to pillows (and many other things). According to SFGate, price doesn't always matter, and a reasonably priced pillow can be just as good as an expensive one. A high price tag doesn't guarantee a perfect pillow. That being said, a good pillow is worth the money if you find you're sleeping great because of it. Still, don't assume while pillow shopping that if you simply pay the highest price possible, you'll be done pillow shopping in no time and off to lunch.

Check out pillows in every price range until you find the one that suits you. An expensive down pillow can be heaven to one person and make another sneeze all night. Just as a simple foam pillow gives the back sleeper a restful night but possibly the side sleeper a fitful one. You don't want the cheapest pillow out there. Your health is worth more than that. However, you also don't want one that requires you to take out a loan. Compare and compare again, then choose a pillow that works in your price range.

Too much penny pinching

Just as assuming an expensive pillow is better, it's also not wise to skimp on the pillow that affects your sleep. According to Pure Healthy Living, if you spend a little more on a pillow, you're likely to have it longer than cheaper ones. The double-packaged pillows that are a bargain may be okay for a short time but may need replacing within months. There's no need to break the bank for a bedtime pillow, but you shouldn't hit the bargain basement.

On average, you'll pay anywhere from $25 to $200 for a pillow, whether foam, down, cotton, or another variety. That's quite a range. So how do you know if you're being too cheap? The truth is that the only way to know is through trial and error. If you find a pillow designed exactly for the type of sleeper you are but don't like the price and go for the clearance-priced pillow instead, you might still get a good night's sleep. You also might wake up with the stiffest neck of your lifetime. The middle of the road is a good rule of thumb for most of us.

As long as it feels good in the store it will feel great to sleep on

We've all done it. You're walking down the pillow aisle at the store and grab the fluffiest option to squeeze it. It feels fabulous, so why not bring it home? Slow down and remember your sleeping habits before making a decision.

This is why, according to Consumer Reports, it's best to see if you can try a pillow out at home before you buy it. Not all, but some companies allow it. We test-drive our cars and return clothing ordered during a late-night "can't sleep shopping spree." So why should we stick it out with a pillow doing us more harm than good? You don't have to. When it's time to get a new bedtime pillow, don't just hug a few in the store, fall in love, and claim it as forever yours. No. Choose a few that are returnable, don your favorite pajamas, and take turns inviting each to slumber with you. The one that offers the best night's sleep wins.

Pillow protectors are a waste of time

Please don't skip the pillow protector. They are absolutely not a waste of time. That extra little step may lead to a long-term relationship with your pillow. Neil Kao, M.D, an allergist-immunologist, tells Consumer Reports, "Over time, hair, dead skin cells, sweat, and drool build up on the pillow." On top of that great news, those things all attract dust mites. Are you feeling a sudden urge to wash your pillow cover? Please do.

That's why a pillow protector is so helpful. They are washable and can be washed often. Even though some pillows can be thrown into a washing machine, they can't take as many washings as the protector. The pillow protector blocks those yucky things from getting directly onto your pillow. And the best part is you can simply zip it off and throw it into the wash with hot water, killing those dust mites and cleaning off what was attracting them. After a pillow investment, invest in a pillow protector.

High thread count is important

Don't believe the hype. A high thread count seldom makes a difference and is unnecessary for your pillows. The term "high thread count" means more yarn per square inch. We assume this design creates a dense, smooth finish, and therefore high-thread-count sheets should feel smooth and soft because of it. However, Pillow Guy says higher numbers shouldn't persuade us because they aren't an indicator of better quality. Manufacturers might label something as a 500-thread count, but that might mean it has a 250 count width-wise and a 250 count length-wise. 

A new pillow will feel smooth as you rub your hand across it, but you don't sleep directly on a bare pillow. It should be protected with a pillow protector and then covered with a pillowcase. Basically, even if it made a difference, you won't be feeling the thread count of your pillow. It's another area where you can save money. When it comes to what to consider when buying a pillow, rest assured, there's no concern for thread count.

A high fill number makes a better down pillow

Like a high thread count, some companies want to convince consumers that the higher the fill count, the better the down pillow. The truth is, although fill count matters significantly for a down coat, a high count isn't necessary for a pillow. High fill refers to the density of the down. According to REI, high fill indicates higher insulating efficiency. However, low fills are often the down of younger geese and, therefore, smaller (via Plumeria Bay). It takes more of that down to fill a pillow, so it may have a lower number such as 600 as its fill power. That doesn't mean it can't fill the pillow as well as a down with a higher fill power. A higher number, such as an 800 fill means the down probably comes from larger geese and has greater fill power.

Here's why high fill numbers are good and bad. They may create a denser pillow that stays at its height longer because of the denser fill power. However, higher fill power means greater warmth. That's why when it comes to your excursion to Antarctica, you want the highest fill you can get. If you're a warm sleeper in the comfort of your suburban home, though, the higher fill may make you too warm.

Choosing a pillow because it's pretty

We like pretty things. However, pretty doesn't always mean comfy. Don't be tempted by a pillow simply because the outer covering depicts unicorns running through a field of tulips. Choose according to comfort and a good night's rest (even though unicorns are darling). Companies and their marketers know how to attract consumers. Look around the pillow aisle of a store, and you'll see the designs on pillows competing for your attention. But are those elaborate designs necessary? Not at all. Think about this: According to Good Housekeeping, we spend 1/3 of our lives in bed. That's a lot of time. So, forget pretty designs, and remember, comfort and the proper support for your sleeping position are number one when considering what matters when buying a pillow.

After choosing the right one, a pillow is then covered with a pillow protector and a pillowcase. So, as you can see, the design on the original pillow plays no role at all except to convince you it's dreamy and belongs on your bed. There's no need to search for an unattractive pillow, but there's also no need to concern yourself with what the cover looks like.

Brand names are obviously better

Just because someone makes beautiful clothing or purses doesn't necessarily mean they know how to make a pillow. There's no need to avoid brand names, but don't feel you have to have one to enjoy an excellent pillow. In other words, impress friends with your expensive car, not an overpriced pillow. Many brand-name products are of excellent quality, even when it comes to pillows. Still, there are off brands that make great pillows too. If brand names are important to you, consider what's needed for a pillow to be the right one before zeroing on a brand. According to Sleep Foundation, experts say we should replace our pillows every one to two years. That's pretty often, so consider the price of brand-name pillows when shopping.

In conclusion, understanding the mistakes people make when buying pillows is helpful as you go out shopping for your own perfect pillow. Remember what's important when purchasing a pillow: sleeping position, height, the type of mattress you prefer, staying within your budget without being too cheap, and ignoring all of the bells and whistles that tempt you into spending too much. Remembering this is your safest bet to finding your pillow and finally getting some sleep.