Why You Should Never Buy a Pillow Standing Up

Photo: Stocksy/Studio Firma

Bedgear founder Eugene Alletto lives (and sleeps) by one simple rule: “Never buy a pillow standing up.” If this advice runs contrary to your experiences with purchasing one—your pillow-testing method consists of a few good fluffs in the aisle of Bed Bath & Beyond—you’re likely not alone.

Alletto explains that your pillow and mattress work together to align your spine while you sleep, which is important if you want to optimize the quality of your zzz’s. Doctors agree. “Poor spinal alignment can contribute to flexion or rotation of the head, which may affect airway patency and breathing, which has a significant impact on sleep quality,” cautions Adam Lipson, MD, of IGEA Brain & Spine.

Michael Perry, MD, of The Laser Spine Institute, takes it one step further: Not only will the right pillow make you feel better in the morning, it "plays an important role in helping you get to sleep.”

"The right pillow plays an important role in helping you get to sleep."

Bedgear is one of an emerging cadre of companies working to address the issue of poor spinal alignment and its effect on sleep by revolutionizing the pillow, a formerly simple product that, it turns out, should probably be more complex. Alleto’s solution to finding a more supportive pillow takes its cues from an unlikely industry. “The bra industry...realized that one size does not fit all,” he says. Inspired by the measurements used to fit a bra, Bedgear’s Pillow ID test asks for dress size, preferred sleep position (back, side, stomach), mattress type (e.g. memory foam) and whether you run hot, cold, or neutral while sleeping. Once you’ve answered those four questions, the website will recommend specific pillows meant to optimize your sleep environment. “70 percent of people don’t sleep deep. Our goal is to get you in that recovery stage longer," Alleto says.

Eight Sleep is similarly seeking to improve your quality of sleep vis-à-vis your pillow. “Everything started because we noted that our customers sleep in very different positions,” says Eight Sleep founder Matteo Franceschetti of his company's origins. “Through our data, we saw that the different types of pillows were having a huge impact on the sleep of our customers. So we said, 'What if we built a pillow that is adjustable?'"

They did just that, and the resulting Ultimate Pillow is customizable based on the position you most often sleep. “You can create almost 10 different combinations from the same pillow, depending on how you sleep. This will help you to get deeper sleep,” Franceschetti says. 

Is your current sleep environment, assembled without much thought, sabotaging your slumber? It might be time for an update—and your pillow, Franceschetti says, is the easiest place to start.

Keep reading for the 3 main things to consider when purchasing a pillow.

Best pillow for your health
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1. Sleep position

Both Bedgear and Eight Sleep consider sleep position one of the most important factors in pillow selection. Says Franceschetti of his adjustable pillow, “If you sleep on your side, you should adjust the pillow to maximum height. If you sleep on your back or face down, you should take out two layers and sleep on just one layer.” 

If you don’t have an adjustable pillow, you can translate this advice to your own search by choosing a flatter pillow if you sleep on your back or stomach, and a fuller or fluffier pillow if you sleep on your side.

Best pillow for your health
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2. Mattress type

If you can’t buy an entirely new sleep environment (pillow, mattress, bedding—the whole shebang), you should still think about fitting your pillow with your mattress. Not doing so, Alletto says, is “just like if you don’t wear the proper socks when you run, and you get a blister. Are you going to blame the shoe? Similarly, the pillow needs to fit the mattress.” Do you have a memory foam mattress that conforms to the shape of your body, for instance? A pillow that does the same could be the right idea.

If you happen to be in the market for a new mattress, take your pillow (which you carefully selected according to your sleep position) to the mattress store and test the two together. 

Best pillow for your health
Photo: Stocksy/Trinette Reed

3. Climate

Alletto and Franceschetti both stress the importance of climate control when it comes to the quality of your zzz's. Bedgear offers pillows specifically designed to keep their cool using something called Ver-Tex technology. And while most other pillows won't do much to regulate temperature, Alletto does caution against use of the traditional cotton bedding most of us sleep on, which traps in moisture, making for a clammy eight hours. To this end, Bedgear makes pillowcases specifically designed to help your body regulate its temperature while you sleep, but you can also look for heat- and moisture-wicking fabrics. (Thanks for the inspo, leggings!)

Looking for more from your pillow than just a good night's sleep? Maybe this avoca-dude pillow is right for you. Or, perhaps you need to sleep with crystals, like Miranda Kerr does, to supercharge your sleep with healing energy.

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