Remember when a vigorous pillow fight could leave the bedroom strewn with feathers? That scene is much less likely to occur today.
Feathers and down are still used as pillow filling, but you're more likely to encounter polyester (also called poly fill), latex, foam rubber, wool, silk or combinations of more than one. Most coverings are made of cotton, but not all. Some contain polyester, even bamboo.
Peruse the pillow aisles of bedding departments and you'll encounter quite a variety of terms and descriptions.
"Cotton Plush Pillow" reads one label. "Beyond Down, Ultimate Synthetic Down Pillow" reads another. Then there's a "Bio Friendly Pillow" with covering made of organic cotton, and another called "Aller-Ease," which claims that its allergen barrier blocks microscopic particles such as dust. Still others are called "memory pillows" because they remember the contours of your body.
Some are light as a feather, while others — like the memory pillows — can be surprisingly heavy.
Which one is right for you?
"Look for comfort as you would in shopping for a bed," says Tina Hill, store manager at Beds for Less of Medford. "It is definitely a personal preference," adds Rhonda MacDermot, bedding manager at Linens -n-Things of Medford.
Dr. Marc Heller, Ashland chiropractic physician, says, "Pillows, like mattresses are very individual. There is no ideal pillow."
If you like a firm pillow, Dr. Heller suggests the memory pillows stuffed with foam rubber. But if you'd like more give, down is a favorite.
Our experts recommend the best pillow, based on your favorite sleeping position and some special considerations:
A memory pillow works well if you sleep on your back, says Hill. Many of the popular "orthopedic" pillows are built with more support under the neck, and a little less under the head, says Dr. Heller. "This places the neck in an ideal posture, maintaining the cervical curvature, when you sleep on your back."
"If you sleep on your belly, face down, the best pillow is a very small one," says Dr. Heller. "Belly sleeping is hard on the neck."
Down or polyester may be better if you sleep on your side because it's softer and gives more easily. Some people are allergic to down, or find that it has an offensive odor, in which case they can seek out pillows called down alternative or synthetic down.
Body temperature is another factor to consider, as MacDermot explains: "A down pillow will make you feel warmer. A polyester fill pillow will make you feel cooler."
Some pillows are advertised as "hypoallergenic," meaning they are believed to cause fewer allergic reactions than others. To qualify as hypoallergenic, a pillow covering's fabric must be tight enough to repel germs, says MacDermot.
Another detail you'll notice when shopping is thread count. Pillow covers will be advertised as having 210 threads, or maybe 300 or even 400, referring to the density of the cover's fabric. Some claim that a higher thread count will keep pollen and dust from getting into the pillow, like those designated as hypoallergenic.
But MacDermot believes that if you put a pillow case over the pillow and wash your sheets often, the risk of absorbing pollen and dust is diminished. What a high thread count does tell you is that the fabric is stronger than others and should last longer.
If at all possible, the best way to shop for the right pillow is to lie down in the positions in which you sleep and experience how the pillow feels, Dr. Heller suggests.
If you sigh, relax and say "Ahhhhh," buy it.