Ok, I know this is supposed to be a blog about books and writing, but since I’m currently in the waiting-for-an-editor purgatory zone familiar to all authors, let’s talk about something else. How about pillows? 🙂
I am usually a pretty easy-going guy, and usually don’t have a lot of likes and dislikes to navigate in an average day. However, I tend to be awfully finicky when it comes to pillows. I have always had a ton of trouble finding a good one, and since I spend a third of my life with my head on one, it seems like sort of an important thing to get right. My last pillow was perfect. It was two-sided, with one side being cotton, and the other being memory foam. I loved that pillow. Unfortunately, after over a decade, it started to look awfully funky. Like embarrassingly funky, if I’m being honest. I procrastinated getting a new pillow for a really long time, but eventually the time came, and I tossed that old pillow, committing myself to what has (unfortunately) become an epic, never-ending search for a new pillow.
So, I figured I’d take the time to write a mini-review of all the pillows I’ve tried, in case someone out there finds themself in a similar situation. Let me just say that I don’t have any pillow deals pending, get no kickbacks from anyone, am not a paid pillow spokesperson, and bought all of these pillows myself with my own money. So this is my 100% honest opinion of all of these. Having said that, I do, obviously, have a bias in that I am shopping for myself, and am looking for the perfect pillow for me.
Without further ado, here are our contestants. (So far! LOL)
This was the first pillow I tried, and was also the most expensive at $159. I ordered it direct from Purple, and took advantage of their 100-night trial. That trial was key, and I can’t see myself buying a pillow over the internet without it. This pillow is latex, and made of an interesting grid arrangement to get airflow under your head and keep you from getting hot. I was actually super excited to receive it, and tested it for a couple minutes right out of the box, and was pleased to find it felt perfect. Unfortunately, after a night, I discovered something about that grid. Although it does work to keep you cool, it grabs onto the pillowcase and clumps it up, right under your face. I found myself waking up in the night and having to smooth the pillowcase out to get rid of the wrinkles. The other issue I had was that the pillow was 6.5″ deep, which was just too poofy for me. I had the foresight to measure my old pillow before I tossed it, and know that about 5″ seems to be my sweet spot, so I could definitely feel that extra inch-and-a-half on my neck after a few hours. For some reason, Purple suggests that if you’re a side sleeper (like I am), that you go up to their even more poofy 7.5″ version, which is the wrong direction in my opinion.
After a month or so, I started getting irritated with the clumping pillowcase in my face, as well as the kinked neck, and sent it back. Purple made the process super easy, and didn’t give me any trouble. So 5 stars for customer service, but unfortunately, no-go on the pillow.
Having struck out with the Purple Pillow, I figured I’d go take a look at Bed Bath & Beyond, and see what they had. I found this memory foam pillow, and the sample felt really good. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know if a pillow will work just holding a sample in your hands. You really need to test it out. So I took the sample and wandered over into their bedding area, and when no one was looking (or at least not anyone too close), I jumped up on one of their display beds and tried to get a feel for how this would work. It seemed great, at least in the 10 second test runs I felt comfortable doing. Some of those beds weren’t really even beds, so it’s a little weird to be trying out a sample pillow on top of a store display. But how else are you going to know?
Anyway, it was clear that after one night, this pillow really did have cool memory foam. I wasn’t hot at all, and never got hot. Unfortunately, the pillow was awfully more firm than I realized. A 10 second test run at the store is way different than eight hours in your own bed. Not only that, the shape of the pillow didn’t work. They made it into kind of a brick, with straight sides. I think they did that so your shoulder could go right up against the side without pushing into the pillow, but the problem is that a square shape has an edge, and that edge really began to make itself known. What happens is that the edge becomes sort of a pressure point, and makes you sore.
This was the only pillow I bought in a big box store, but Bed Bath & Beyond have a really great return policy, and I had no trouble taking this one back. I like memory foam, but I will never buy a brick shaped pillow again. You have to have a taper, or the pressure gets all whacked and will make you sore. I also was really surprised at just how firm this one was, especially since it felt fine during my initial experiments. I’m really beginning to understand just how necessary it is to get a trial period. Lesson learned.
Having been discouraged with my failures in the latex and memory foam categories, I went online and did some research. Bamboo caught my eye, but soon after I stumbled upon buckwheat. This pillow is basically a bag full of buckwheat hulls. That’s it! It comes a little overstuffed, so you have to take some of the hulls out, and find the correct level for you. It actually took me a couple weeks to zero onto that point, taking out a little here and there, and then going overboard and taking too much out, which forced me to put some hulls back in. Doing this lets you get to the exact right level for your taste, which eliminates any kind of issues like I had with the Purple pillow.
This is a really heavy pillow in comparison to all the others I tried. I mean like heavy enough where if you had a pillow fight with it, someone might end up in the hospital. Because of how the hulls get packed together over time, you have to fluff it to make a nice cushion under you before you use it. It’s not hard – just squeeze the sides together. When you wake up in the night, you’ll also probably want to do a quick fluff before going back to sleep. This isn’t really that big of a deal, and just becomes part of the process. In exchange, you get a pillow that conforms to your face in a really interesting way. A pile of buckwheat hulls might sound firm, and it is, but since it’s moldable, it fits you just right, and is actually super comfortable. It also smells nice in the beginning, the opposite of the nasty memory foam off-gassing.
There are three big advantages that this pillow has. First, it fits you perfectly, since it molds to your face. Second, you get a lot of good airflow under your head, and won’t get hot at all. Third, maybe related to that, is that I noticed that my dreams were better. Seriously. When using this pillow, compared to the next one down, I had significantly better dreams. More vivid, and more interesting. It was noticeable, repeatable, and not at all something I expected. I will also say, that out of every pillow I’ve tried, this one had the highest quality zipper, and seems to be the best made. It’s made in the US, seriously beefy, and definitely not anything that will break any time soon. Good quality.
I slept on this one past the 60-day trial period. Unfortunately, there’s one issue that eventually became a deal breaker. You know that firmness issue? It made my ears raw. At around 3am, I can count on waking up and having to flip over because one of my ears is sore. You can actually reach up and carve out a little cavity in the buckwheat right under your ear which takes the pressure off, but then you feel it more around the edge. I tried to love this, and wanted it to work, but that firmness finally did me in and caused me to resume my search. But, even with that downside, this pillow is still the overall winner, although I’m still actively looking for something better. Hopefully it won’t take me years to find it.
We have a Puffy mattress, which we LOVE. So, after striking out three times with pillows, I figured maybe just let Puffy give it a shot? If they put half the attention into the pillows as they do into their mattresses, it’s going to be awesome, right?
This pillow is basically a pillowcase stuffed with shredded memory foam. I opened it up and looked around a little, just to see. Not that this means anything, but I’d estimate it probably costs these guys $5 to make one of these pillows. At least, that was my impression when checking it out. Let’s just say, this is not the same zipper that we find on the Hullo. I’ve only unzipped it one time, but I’m pretty sure it will break the next time I try.
I didn’t like this. It was hot, and strangely lumpy. Maybe that was because of the shredded memory foam, rather than having a whole block of it. There’s also that annoying chemical smell to deal with for the first few days. Honestly, the biggest issue was that my dreams got clobbered, compared to the Hullo. I would spend a night on this, then a night on the Hullo, and would go back and forth. In the end, I found myself reaching for the Hullo even on days when I was supposed to sleep on the Puffy.
Having said all that, we kept this pillow. My wife uses it as part of a double-stack, and puts her down pillow on top of this. It’s very supportive, doesn’t get saggy, and does a perfect job. She’s very happy with it. But, like me, she doesn’t want to use it on its own, and only likes it in conjunction with her down. So it was a good purchase for that reason, and also because (just between the two of us), my wife’s snoring has dropped to 0% with her double-stack. So it’s a great pillow, just not for the reasons you might think at first.
This is my wife’s pillow. She let me try it for a night, just to see if I’d take to it. I didn’t. Goose down is just way too soft for me. It feels like my head is on the mattress, with two giant balloons of down on either side. Am I supposed to fold it in half or something? Also, you can make whatever arguments you want about goose down being harvested after the geese are already slaughtered, but I’m still pretty sure those geese aren’t treated very well while they’re alive. Does my need for a pillow have to require that a bunch of animals suffer? I’m not going to be weird about that part – heck, I have leather stuff too, and eat my share of meat, so I’m not anywhere near innocent in the whole realm of animal treatment, but it still comes up for me every time I consider down. (I will say, in my defense, that my cats are treated very well, and I have allowed myself to be trained by them to perfection. Dinner time? Let me provide your feast, your lordships! So at least those animals are doing just fine as a result of my actions.) Having said that, people that like down seem to really like down, so this is probably a pretty good pillow for that person. Not me though. But, it was good to have a data point to compare. I’m sure there’s an entire realm of completly soft, squishy pillows out there to investigate. Lucky for me, that’s not a path I’m going to need to tread.
The claim to fame for this company is their test that they give you before you order. Fill out your height, weight, what kind of sleeper you are (side/back/etc), tell them a little about your current favorite pillow, and they throw that into a computer that spits out your “ideal” pillow, which then ships to you with a personalized card by the person that built it for you. It’s very clever. What you get in the end is sort of a pillow-in-a-pillow, with an inner core made to a specific height/firmness, and then an outer sleeve, each designed according to your preferences as given by that questionnaire. But for me, mine sort of feels like a brick wrapped in a towel. The inner core is just way too hard, too thin, and it felt almost buoyant, as if it were pushing up into my face the whole night. You can contrast that to memory foam, which you sort of sink into. It’s a very different feeling. The outer case is quilted, and soft, so it takes the edge off the core, but I really had a hard time with this one.
I think maybe I screwed up on the questionnaire. For me, I already know that my ideal pillow height is right around 5″, but in the questionnaire, you get to pick thin (3-5″) or thick (5″ and up). So what do us exactly-5″ people do? We’re in both categories! I went with the thinner category, and maybe that’s why my core is too thin. I really want to try again, and change some of my answers. Or maybe just call them up and tell them to do it again, with a softer center this time, and one that is a little thicker. Or, maybe it would be better just to try another memory foam brand? I don’t know.
I think you could get a really cool pillow from this place. I just didn’t. I’m going to tough this out for a couple weeks, but my Hullo is already calling to me from where it’s watching the process unfold on the top of my dresser.
So there you have it. The ongoing saga of my never ending quest for the perfect pillow. Right now, Hullo is the one to beat, and I’m having trouble finding anyone to dethrone it. Who knows if I ever will? There are plenty of pillow companies out there though, and everyone does 100-day sleep trials now, so I don’t think there’s going to be a shortage of contenders for the crown. At least, assuming I don’t get tired of the whole thing and just give up. Can it really be this hard to find a good pillow? I will say, I do know of one that would easily take on the Hullo. I miss you, garbage pillow. I think we broke up too soon. If only I could remember what brand you were… 🙁