Do you wake up in the morning bleary-eyed, groggy and unrested with a crick in the neck? About 75% of Americans suffer from one or more sleep disorders at least a few nights a week, says James Maas, Ph.D, sleep expert, psychologist and author of Power Sleep. You might think the reason you don’t get a good night’s sleep is because you lack a good mattress (which is vital and true), but the pillow you rest your head on at night is equally important.

The adult human head weights between 10 and 12 pounds, depending on the person and how much body fat they have. If you don’t find the right pillow to support the weight of your head in all the right places including the neck through the night, you are likely to suffer from sleep disorder(s). It is critical that you find a pillow that keeps your head in line with your back and spine to prevent potential neck pain and other health problems. Beyond that, your pillow should not lose its fluffiness or deflate quickly.

But, like most things out there, there is a wide range of pillow options in the market. The choice of the pillow you use is also a very personal matter. Many of us are quite picky when it comes to the pillow we use. So, how do you find the right pillow for you? Sleep experts say there are several factors you should keep in mind to ensure you not only find a comfortable pillow, but also a pillow that suits your sleeping style. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind when shopping for the perfect pillow.

Your Sleeping Position

The way you position yourself in your bed when you go to sleep determines the type of pillow that is perfect for you. If you sleep on your back, a medium to firm pillow that is not too high is right for you. Look for one that molds to your neck’s curve and provides firm support. A water pillow is a good option in this case.

If you sleep on your stomach, a very slim pillow (or none at all) is perfect for you. Pick a soft one that absorbs the weight of your head, eases the strain on your neck, and reduces stress on your lower back. This helps mitigate many potential health issues and helps you enjoy a good night’s rest.

If you sleep on your side, you need a pillow that wraps around the shape of your neck comfortably. Look for a pillow that provides proper support and keeps your head aligned with your spine.

Your Size

Pillows are sold in stores in a wide variety of sizes, ranging from small, medium, standard and large. The standard pillow is about 20 inches by 26 inches. If you are six-foot-tall, you will find the pillow a five-foot-tall person finds comfortable does not suite you. So, choose the right sized pillow for you. Your pillow should keep your head and neck well aligned as if you were standing up.

Pregnant women must get the right pillow. This is especially true because most women experience back pain around the eighth and ninth month of pregnancy, says Thomas Holtgrave, N.P., a nurse practitioner specializing in obstetrics and gynecology in Long Beach, California. Thomas recommends a full-body pregnancy pillow shaped like a giant “C” or “U” for women in the middle to late stages of pregnancy. He also advises expectant moms to avoid sleeping on the back because the gravity of a pregnant uterus obstructs blood flow. Sleep on your left side instead to improve circulation.

Your Pillow Material

Pillows are made from different materials, including polyurethane (memory foam), polyester fiber, and organic products like buckwheat hulls. If you have an allergy, avoid pillows made or filled with material that you are allergic to, such as feather pillows. Feather pillows can worsen allergies and cause you to wheeze and cough at night, says Ronald Kotler, M.D., the medical director of the Pennsylvania Hospital Sleep Disorders Center in Philadelphia and author of 365 Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep.

Choose a hypoallergenic pillow made with synthetic material like polyurethane or polyester fiber if you have asthma or allergies. Hypoallergenic pillows are those pillows least likely to cause allergic responses. Buckwheat hull pillows and some memory foam pillows are hypoallergenic. Check the pillow label or packaging to be sure.

Your Personal Preferences

I use two memory foam pillows in bed because I like to read at night. I find two memory foam pillows remain cool throughout the night and provide the best back support when I am reading. However, I only use one pillow when it is time to sleep. How about you? What are your personal preferences for a pillow? Do you like a squishy, feather pillow for the greatest level of comfort in bed? Maybe you prefer a pillow with the same feel as a wool-filled pillow, but with the firmness of a latex pillow?

There is no single pillow that works for everyone. Identify your personal preferences on pillow firmness, flatness, fluffiness, and size and go for the pillow that meets your needs. Dr. John Corrigan, a chiropractor from Weyburn in Saskatchewan, Canada, advises that you check the support it gives you and make sure that it maintains a proper posture. Try different pillows at the store and experiment with various types of pillows at home to find the perfect one that provides you with the best night’s sleep.

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Featured photo credit: King sized bed in a business hotel room. via Shutterstock

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