WELLNESS
11/14/2014 08:28 am ET Updated Nov 14, 2014

What To Look For In The Perfect Pillow

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When you bought your mattress, you probably put a considerable amount of thought into the purchase. The diversity of size, material, comfort and cost means that there's a lot to consider -- and it's not always an easy decision.

But when was the last time you gave your pillow the same treatment?

While comfort plays a big role in how we choose the perfect pillow, there's more to consider, namely support and alignment of your neck and spine. "If you're on the wrong pillow ... you can actually present yourself with a sleep injury, like a pinched nerve, a kink in your neck or numb fingers," says sleep expert and chiropractor Rick Loos, the inventor of the Proper Pillow. "A lot of people think pillows are designed just for your head, but really a pillow needs to be designed to support your neck."

There are a couple of ways to judge just how supportive a pillow really is. First, when you lie down in your favorite sleeping position, you'll want that pillow to fill the gap between your head and your shoulders. Then, you'll want to take a look at your posture. If you're lying on your back with your head on the pillow, says Loos, your ear should be in line with your shoulder, not in front or behind it. If you're lying on your side, your spine should be close to horizontal; your head shouldn't dip down or be propped up too much. (He does not recommend stomach sleeping whatsoever, since it may lead to back and neck pain, but those who swear by it should only use a very thin pillow.) You wouldn't spend all day slouching, so "why would you want to support poor posture while you're sleeping?" he says.

Of course, comfort is highly subjective, so the material of your pillow is largely up to you. "The key here is the right material that works with you that keeps you comfortable but also in proper alignment," says Loos. And when it comes to the price tag, anything $20 or under is probably cutting corners. A mid-range pillow with "some form of a function" will probably run you $40 to $80, while anything over that mark is a high-end luxury, he says.

No matter the material, says Loos, a pillow is likely to "lose its integrity" within about two years, when it's a good idea to purchase a replacement. And considering the dirt, oil, dead skin cells and dust mites that can accumulate in your pillow, you might want to replace it even more regularly, anyway.

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