Friday, March 17, 2006

If body aches, consider buying a better pillow

Odds are, you're not paying too much attention to the pillow you cradle your head on night after night. But maybe you should. Using the wrong kind of pillow or one that is just worn out not only can lead to a poor night's sleep, but also can contribute to body aches, allergies and asthma.

"When people come in and say they have neck and shoulder pain, the first thing I ask is what (pillow) are they sleeping on," says Sandy Colley, director of sales at Joanne's Bed and Back, a Washington-area chain. (Often, she says, it's a down pillow bunched up for support, which can result in tension to neck muscles).

Colley says factors to consider when pillow shopping include: sleep habits (whether you lie on your back or side), length of neck and width of shoulders, personal preferences and budget. While the idea of spending more than $20 on a pillow may seem extravagant to some, the health benefits may be worth it.

Having a soft spot to rest one's head while sleeping is important, but "the goal of a good pillow," she says, "is to keep your neck in better postural alignment."

Hollander Home Fashions, manufacturer of one of every three pillows sold in the United States, offers more tips:

Determine your pillow style: Stomach sleepers need a soft pillow with little elevation; back sleepers need a medium pillow with moderate elevation; side sleepers need a firmer pillow with higher elevation.

Keep it fresh: Pillows should be replaced every one to two years. A pillow past its prime could contain a high level of dust mites, which can increase breathing disorders, asthma or allergies.

The telltale signs: Pillows that have reached the end of the road will often feel lumpy or flat and will not re-fluff very well.

Take the test: To determine whether your pillow needs replacing, Fold your pillow in half. Place a tennis shoe on top of the folded half. If the pillow throws the shoe off, it still has some life. If the pillow remains folded with the shoe on top, it needs to be replaced.