For a lot of folks, “The Princess and The Pea” is not purely fiction.

While it seems improbable that anyone can feel a pea through a pile of mattresses like the princess in the fairy tale, there are those who swear they can’t sleep unless their pillows are just so. They need a pillow that’s just right — not too firm, not too soft — placed in the exact same position every night. Some people place their pillow on top of one or two of the same pillows each night, in the same order.

To complicate matters, today there is a large range of pillows available for folks looking for that “just right” one.

Is the right pillow synthetic, down or some blend of both? Is it soft as air or hard as foam rubber? Is it shaped like a cloud or like a cinder block? Should it be made to cradle your head or support your neck?

Also, how much money should you spend? Pillows in department stores can run $10, while those at a pillow store can cost $100 or more.


The first thing you should consider before pillow shopping is the position in which you usually sleep. People who sleep on their backs probably need thinner pillows so their head is not pushed forward, according to the medical Web site There are also pillows with a little extra weight and mass in one third of the pillow to cradle the neck of a back sleeper.

Even though the pillows might be thinner for back sleepers, it’s important they get at least “medium” support in the pillow to help cradle the neck. You don’t want a pillow that’s so soft your head and neck sink right to the mattress.

If you sleep on your side, you’ll want a fairly firm pillow that can basically fill the space between your ear and shoulder, according to WebMD. Or, as the pillow-buying guide from Bed Bath & Beyond recommends, side sleepers should get a pillow that provides “an even sleeping surface” and cradles the neck.

A stomach sleeper probably needs the softest of pillows. Cuddledown, a pillow and comforter maker based in Portland, suggests extra-soft pillows for stomach sleepers to allow the head to sink in and be an even level with the neck.

WebMD suggests stomach sleepers might not want any pillow under their head, but maybe one under their stomach to prevent lower back pain.


Another choice to make is what is inside your pillow — what the “fill” will be. The traditional fill is usually down or feathers from a goose or duck. And down, just for the record, is not feathers. It’s the fluffy insulation that geese and ducks have under their feathers.

If you feel like you have to have real down, Cuddledown is one place where you can choose from lots of different down — white goose down, European duck down, feather and down blends, or “rare Eiderdown” collected by hand from abandoned nests in Iceland.

But some folks are allergic to feathers and down, so they’d have to choose something synthetic. There are many synthetic pillows that feel very much like down, and usually cost less. Cuddledown, for instance, makes a 5-foot-long body pillow for $149 with down, but it’s $59 with synthetic fill.

Synthetic pillows, many manufacturers will tell you, don’t generally last as long or conform as well to the head and neck as a natural fill pillow.

Then there are foam pillows, often called “memory foam” because the sponge-like pillows mold to one’s head and neck over time. These pillows are for people who like a very firm pillow, and are sometimes recommended for people with spine problems.

Latex pillows are generally considered the firmest pillow, and can resist mold and dust mites, according to WebMD. These pillows are often contoured for neck support, and can help people who have back and neck alignment problems.


Then there are specific pillows designed for specific uses. The body pillow, for instance, is long and is meant to help support the body and take some pressure off the head and neck. Cuddledown makes a neck support pillow — with either natural or synthetic fill — that is designed to cradle the curve of your neck.

Poly cluster pillows at Bed Bath & Beyond are designed to feel and move like down, for people who are allergic to down. They’re coated with silicon so they move around in the pillow like down.

One way to see if the pillow fits — literally — while shopping is to stand next to a wall in the position in which you sleep. Then put the pillow between your head and the wall, and ask someone to tell you if your neck and spine are in line.

Just don’t fall asleep while doing it.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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