Russ Batenhorst Exhausting pillow shopping calls for a nap


The March edition of Popular Science magazine landed in my mailbox a few weeks ago and boasted a pretty pretentious headline for its main story: Sleep. You’re doing it wrong. Science can help.

Obviously as a subscriber I’m a big proponent of scientific advances. But, for me, sleep comes down to one thing: comfort.

My queen-size bed offers plenty of room for me to stretch out and my flannel sheets keep me cozy and warm, but I haven’t been terribly comfortable lately. Pain and stiffness in my shoulders, neck and jaw spurred a recent pillow-shopping spree.

It sounds like a mundane, 20-minute task, but I found myself surrounded by stuffing, foam and feathers, feeling overwhelmed.

I was like a modern-day Goldilocks. One pillow was too firm and another was too soft. One pillow offered a fancy “gel cooling center” and a price tag to match. Where was the one that would be just right?

Since I’m not a snorer, I walked right past the variety of foam that looks less like a place to rest your head and more like the inside of a recording studio.

Not all pillows are created equal. Some are better for side sleepers while others offer support to stomach or back sleepers.

After using my hands to push on most display pillows, I decided to grab five under each arm and make myself at home on the store bed. Chances are good I looked ridiculous, but what else is a girl to do with so many choices?

And so it began. I tried a hypoallergenic model. Until that moment I only knew dogs and makeup could tout the hypoallergenic label. Way too soft.

The next was supporting my head quite well as I lay on my back. When I rolled to my side the $64 sale tag caught my eye and I immediately began my reject pile. The third was labeled as “extra firm,” which is apparently code for “hard as a rock.” The memory foam types that were developed by NASA are nice and supportive, but I’m no astronaut and don’t feel the need to have my face imprinted in my pillow.

Even though I was certain I was looking for something on the firm end of the spectrum, I was already waist deep in stuffing, so I tested some soft options. My head hit the middle of the pillow and immediately sank. Both ends folded toward my face and I suddenly felt confined.

All feather options were out. They’re just too crunchy and pokey. Those are not adjectives to describe a pillow.

I kept hoping to turn the corner, have the clouds break open, a choir of angels begin singing and a beam of light to stream in on the pillow I’ve been dreaming of. Perhaps I set the bar a bit high.

A couple of friends have sworn off pillows altogether. And, at this point, I was feeling like maybe I needed to test that option.

My reject pile was growing taller and my maybe pile was down to three. I made it this far but I knew what had to come next: a blind test. With my eyes closed tightly, I tested each pillow. After picking the same one twice in a row, I knew it must be love — or something like that.

With one pillow under each arm, I proudly walked to the cash register. Once home I put my snowman pillowcases on and waited for bedtime. They didn’t even look right in my bed. I was pretty attached to my old, flat-as-pancakes pillows. I knew just how to stack them and arrange them.

When I hit the sheets a few hours later, my new pillows seemed much poofier than at the store. Had I made the wrong choice? While I worked to get comfortable, I remembered the last time I got new pillows. I finally drifted off to sleep thinking about how my old pillows were way past due for replacement.

The whole thing became quite the ordeal, but knowing I’m not the only one to face this dilemma helps me sleep at night. New pillows don’t hurt.



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