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Been pillow shopping lately? If not, get ready for a big array of shopping choices. You’ll find neck pillows, body pillows, memory foam pillows, anti-snore pillows, “cool” pillows, oxygen-promoting pillows, cervical pillows and blow-up pillows — to name a few. There are pillows made of foam, memory foam, down, cotton, latex, buckwheat hulls, wool and “down alternatives,” tiny pillows and huge ones, with prices that range from a few dollars to an Icelandic eiderdown pillow — on sale —for over $10,000.

How is a sleeper to choose? A wrong choice could mean you’re stuck with a pillow you don’t want, so be sure to check a store’s return policies before buying.

How Old is Your Pillow?

The headache of pillow shopping is enough to keep you snuggled up with your old one for years and years. But don’t do that. A rule of thumb says pillows should be replaced every 12 to 18 months. (Polyester and down pillows can go in the washer and dryer in the meantime.) By two years, your pillow should be headed to the dump. Good Housekeeping advises:

“If you have a traditional fiberfill pillow, fold it in half and place a book on top of it,” says Lexie Sachs, textiles analyst in the Good Housekeeping Institute. “If it springs back to shape, it’s still good. But if it stays folded in half, it’s time for a new one.” Memory foam pillows that are crumbly or no longer hold their shape also need to go.

The most important reason to dump an aged pillow is because of dust mites — the microscopic, creepy looking little bugs that take up residence in bedding and rapidly multiply in homes, especially when the humidity is high.

Dust mites don’t bite. The problem is the accumulation of their waste and carcasses. Many people are allergic to a substance in dust-mite waste that can cause rashes, asthma and sinusitis. If you’re allergic to dust mites, you can buy protective pillow covers made of tightly woven material (found in bedding stores and online) for your new pillows.

Unsure if you’re allergic? You can find out by getting tested by an allergist, a physician who treats people for allergies.

Need more reasons to trade your old pillows for new ones? Mold, mildew and fungus also build up in pillows. Not what you want to plant your face on night after night.

Shopping Tips

While pillow shopping seems daunting, you can keep it simple by focusing on basics: You want a pillow that’s comfortable, supportive and keeps your head and neck properly aligned while you sleep. If possible, lie down and try out pillows in a store. But that’s not often feasible, so lean against a wall using the pillow as you would in bed. Sleep expert and author Michael Breus tells WebMD that it’s a good idea to ask someone to tell you if the pillow keeps your neck lined up straight with your body.

As for cost, don’t feel you must spend big bucks. “Price isn’t necessarily an indicator of performance,” according to Consumer Reports. Take your time shopping, trying out a variety of types, shapes and sizes of pillows in your price range.

Consumer Reports also suggests:

  • Compare pillows for firmness: Put each on a flat surface and press with your palm until the pillow is squeezed to about half its original thickness. The harder you have to press, the firmer the pillow will be for sleeping.
  • Examine the construction: Look for tidy stitches and straight seams. The fill should be spread evenly, and the zipper should be strong and work smoothly.
  • Give it the sniff test: Buying a memory foam pillow? Put your nose into it and smell it. Some have a chemical odor, although it may disappear after a bit of use.

What Type of Sleeper Are You?

Here’s another approach to pillow-shopping: Match your pillow with your sleeping style.

Buying pillows is like buying a mattress: You can’t really tell by spending only a few minutes on a mattress or pillow whether they’re right for you. (Here’s how to shop for a mattress).

You can up your odds of success by noticing how you sleep. Predominately on your back? Your stomach? Your side? Each position benefits from a different type of pillow, Consumer Reports says. Some pillows are even labeled as best for a particular position.

  • Back sleepers: Look for a slim pillow so your head won’t be pushed too far forward, straining your neck. Some back sleepers like a pillow whose lower third is fatter than the rest of the pillow. The fat part fits snugly into the curve of your neck and supports it.
  • Side sleepers: Kammi Bernard, physical therapist at Baylor Health Care System in Dallas, tells Web MD that she advises side sleepers find a pillow firm enough to fill the space between the ear and shoulder.
  • Stomach sleepers: Use a very thin pillow or none at all for the head and consider also using a thin pillow under your stomach, which can help prevent back pain.

How Much Does Cost Matter?

Consumer Reports wanted to learn if cost matters when it comes to sleepers’ satisfaction with their pillows so the magazine gave 71 of its staff members two versions of their favorite (polyester, feather/down or memory foam) type of pillow, one a high-end product and the other an inexpensive pillow: Testers tried each pillow for five nights in a row.

Some sleepers preferred the more-expensive polyester-filled and down-filled pillows. But, CR says, their opinions on a pillow’s firmness, fluffiness, flatness and size mattered almost as much as price. As for memory foam, the testers reported not much difference between expensive and cheap pillows.

The Best Fill Material

The fill material you choose is a matter of personal preference. If you like a fluffy pillow, down’s probably the stuff you want. If down’s too expensive, look for a combination of down and feathers. Down alternatives are great for people with allergies who prefer a fluffy pillow.

Fans of memory foam pillows prefer the dense support this material gives. If you do buy memory foam, make sure the pillow fits your body well since foam won’t compact and become smaller as down and polyester pillows do.

If you are still undecided, consider the compromise that chiropractor Dr. Darren Pollack suggests, at Good Housekeeping:

“I like to recommend a hybrid pillow that has a memory foam core surrounded with a softer down or synthetic layer. This version offers support and comfort, and can adapt as you change position throughout the night.”

This post first appeared on Money Talks News.

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