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How to Pick the Perfect Pillow

Sometimes, when I can’t get to sleep, I play the blame game. I make lists of all the reasons why I’m not yet asleep, be it that Diet Coke I had late in the afternoon or the window blinds that don’t block all the light coming into my room. Lately, I’ve been blaming my pillows. I just can’t get comfortable!

Whenever I shop for new pillows, however, I get very confused. And angry—I feel any self-respecting store that sells pillows should include trial beds where shoppers can take a practice nap. After all, purchase the wrong pillow, and WebMD points out that you’re at risk for headaches, neck pain, shoulder numbness, and sneezing. Still, no matter how often I bring this up, Target refuses to put beds in its stores. Until they straighten up and fly right, here’s what we should be looking for in the pillow aisle.

A good pillow keeps your neck in line with your head—that’s why there’s so much to do about what position you sleep in (which I find to be a very personal question from a pillow manufacturer). If you sleep on your back, you only need a thin pillow to maintain alignment, while side sleepers need a little more plumpness to keep the neck from resting on top of the shoulders. Stomach sleepers fall into the flat pillow camp; some stomach sleepers may not even need a pillow. If you change positions in the night, you might want to consider buying more than one style.

But wait! Our decision-making isn’t done yet. Much like when considering which jelly doughnut to buy, we must think about the filling. Again, like doughnut fillings, this is mainly a matter of preference and allergies. Some people are allergic to feathers and down, so they should stick with a synthetic pillow. Some people prefer the squishiness that a down feather-filled pillow can provide, while others like the firm support of a synthetic-filled pillow. Some folks like a contoured pillow that will always fit the shape of their neck and head, while others like to move all the down around so that the pillow can be as thick or as thin as they want. Obviously, this matter will require some soul-searching before you pull out your wallet.

Once you’ve found the perfect pillow, make a note of the style. Even if it sends you right off to dreamland, you’ll still need a new one in twelve to eighteen months. Old pillows are usually full of skin cells, mold and dust, and thinking about all that stuff right under your pretty little noggin will just make it harder to fall asleep.

By Molly Edmonds for HowStuffWorks