The pillow may have been the first human sleep aid ever invented. Sleeping on the hard earth back in prehistoric times, it would have been only natural to collect a pile of soft leaves on which to rest one’s head.
Before the days of mass manufacturing, pillows were filled with whatever natural materials were available locally: plucking feathers from chickens and ducks was a common farmyard chore for children.
Today, natural pillows are a good choice for a good night’s sleep.
Take good care of your pillow.
- Use a pillow cover to shield your pillow from humidity and body oils. Covers designed as dust mite barriers can give relief to people with allergies.
- Whack. Fluffing your pillow each morning as you climb out of bed will help it maintain maximum loft.
- Wash. If your pillow is washable, what are you waiting for? Check the label and follow manufacturer’s instructions.
- Freeze? If you have a small pillow (or a large freezer), you can put the pillow in a plastic bag in the freezer to get ride of dust mites. The best pillows for keeping dust mites low? Wool and latex. The worst? Down.
- Choose organic cotton. Regardless of what the stuffing is, look for pillow covers made with cotton that isn’t farmed with a load of pesticides.
- Go for the goose. When shopping for feather or down pillows, look for top-quality white goose down if you can afford it. Duck down is a slightly less expensive and less soft alternative to goose down. Pillow feathers, which are even less expensive, come from the bodies of turkeys and chickens. They are stiffer, harder, and less resilient than the fluffy “down” feathers from geese and ducks. Pillows are made in many combinations of feathers and down to accommodate various price ranges and firmnesses. While people with allergies were once told to avoid down, more recent research has shown that reactions to down are most often related to dust mites, which infest other stuffings, too.
- Count your threads. Choose a cover made from 300+ thread-count natural cotton. “Thread-count” refers to the number of threads in a square inch of fabric. A higher count means a tighter weave, which keeps the tips of feathers from poking through.
- Determine your sleep style. Do you lie on your back, side, or stomach? The position in which you find yourself most frequently when you wake up is your “sleep style.” Then determine which pillow best fits your sleep style. A side sleeper, for instance, needs a thicker pillow because, when resting on a shoulder, his head will be farther from the bed. Soft down pillows do not offer much support, so they are better for a back or stomach sleeper.
- Synthetics. Good-quality polyester-filled pillows (also called “poly fill”) and synthetic foam pillows can be comfortable although they may not be as breathable as the natural fiber pillows. If you overheat at night or are trying to reduce your petrochemical consumption, these aren’t for you.
- If you want a pillow with natural fiber stuffing, there are plenty of options to choose from, although they may cost more than synthetic pillows.
- Most wool pillows are made with sheep’s wool, there are also pillows made with a blend of sheep’s wool and alpaca, which have all the advantages of sheep’s wool but are noticeably softer. The wool fiber is a curly coil, which makes it naturally resilient. It doesn’t mat down and won’t clump or shift, offering good support while still being soft. Other virtues include: it’s breathable, non-allergenic, and naturally resistant to mold, mildew, dust mites, and bacteria. Some people who are allergic to wool may, in fact, tolerate and enjoy a wool pillow. Encased in its cover, the wool in a pillow does not come in contact with skin.
- Cotton fibers are straight and do not have much resilience, so cotton pillows tend to mat and get hard fairly quickly. But if you want more support in a pillow, cotton is a good green choice–so long as you choose organic cotton. Non-organic cotton is grown with large doses of pesticides. While fabric processing removes those contaminants, pesticide residues remain in the cotton used to fill pillows.
- Kapok is made from the silky, hollow fibers of the seedpod of the silk floss tree, which grows in the Tropics. Kapok performs much like down–it’s resilient and can shape to the body and then rebound to its original fluffiness.
- Hemp fibers are long and coarse, which make them less comfortable. But if you prefer less loft and fluff, pillows made from hemp might suit you.
- The benefits of natural latex are similar to those of wool. Latex has a good resilient “spring,” naturally resists mold, mildew and dust mites, and provides efficient air circulation and excellent heat and moisture regulation. If you like sleeping on a foam pillow, this is a good natural alternative. But some people have allergies to latex, or dislike the odor of the foam. If you suspect this might be a problem for you, ask for a sample of the latex foam before ordering a pillow.There are three types of latex foam pillows: molded, shredded, and contour. Each serves a different need, so you should be able to find one you like. A word of caution, though: latex can be labeled “100% natural” and contain up to 49% “other materials,” so buy from a dealer who knows what’s in the latex you’re considering.
- Buckwheat hulls are a paperlike “waste” material produced from the milling of buckwheat flour. The hulls are so small that they can easily move around to conform to the shape of your body, and are often used to alleviate headaches and neck and shoulder discomfort. Two different processes are used to mill buckwheat flour. The one that produces the cleanest, sturdiest hulls for pillows is called “roasting.”
Natural-fiber pillows are comfortable and healthy. They emit no unhealthy fumes, and are breathable, so your head stays cool throughout the night.
…to your wallet
It’s not hard to find moderately priced feather pillows, but goose down, wool, organic cotton, and other pillows made from natural materials will cost more. The least expensive pillows are synthetics: poly fill and polyurethane foam.
…to the Earth
Natural pillows are made from renewable resources rather than nonrenewable petrochemicals. Organic cotton pillows keeps harmful pesticides and synthetic fertilizers out of the environment.
Buying fuel-guzzling imports. Some natural pillows are imported from faraway places, producing more CO2 during shipping than pillows made closer to where you live. All types of natural pillows are made in the United States, so look for and choose these.
Bury dead pillows. If you fold your pillow in half and it just lies there, it’s dead. Time to send it to the landfill and get a new one.