We've come a long way since our cave-dwelling ancestors piled up moss or grass to create the first pillows, if indeed
they did. Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans all used bed pillows and decorative pillows to cushion
themselves from hard stone and wood furniture. Today, you can buy a pillow for a few dollars at your local superstore
or spend several hundred dollars at a high-end specialty bedding store. The same is true of decorative throw pillows
for your living or family room. What you pay depends on what you want; if you are happy with cheap pillows, buy cheap
pillows, use them until they wear out, then replace them. If, instead, you want you want something durable,
hypoallergenic and soft as a cloud, buy what you want and don't worry about the price.
Bed pillows or sleeping pillows have one primary use (besides pillow fights at sleepovers): They support and cushion
your head while sleeping, giving you a better night's rest. The pillow material most directly influences how well it does
Down pillows are generally considered the ultimate in pillow luxury. ''Down'' is the small feathers that keep birds warm,
geese and ducks in particular. Down pillows (all down bedding, in fact) are renowned for their softness and warmth.
Down pillows may have silk or satin pillowcases to add even more comfort. Another natural pillow filling is buckwheat
hulls. Traditional in Japan, they provide firmer support than down by conforming to your body shape, so the weight of
your head and neck is evenly distributed. Buckwheat hull filling is resistant to breakage, deterioration and burning and
is not treated with chemicals. Polyester fibers are the inexpensive alternative to natural materials and polyester
probably fills more pillows than anything else these days.
Memory foam pillows are a by-product of the space age, developed by NASA to cushion astronauts during take-off.
Memory foam is created by mixing chemicals that expand as they react, forming tiny air bubbles in the material--like a
chemical Swiss-cheese. Stiff foams do not allow air to circulate between cells, and some are actually strong enough to
use as building materials. Memory foam, by contrast, is very flexible, especially when it is warmed by a human body.
Also known as contour pillows, they mold themselves to the shape of your head but spring back to their original shape
when you get up. The memory pillow has a natural resilience, so it won't ever go flat. Many believe that contour pillows
provide better support for your head and neck than other materials.
The amount of material determines pillow firmness. Down or polyester pillows are simple; for a firmer pillow, the
manufacturer simply puts more material into the pillow covering. A memory foam pillow uses differing chemical formulas
to create foam that is more or less dense.
There are also a few specialty pillow types: A backrest pillow can be a wedge that keeps the head raised above the
body while sleeping (very helpful for asthma and acid reflux sufferers) or a small, saddle-shaped pillow supporting the
lower back while sitting. Frequent travelers are especially fond of the neck pillow; it's U-shape wraps around the neck,
cradling the head and keeping it upright while driving or flying. On long trips, it helps prevent the sore muscles common
after falling asleep sitting up.
Decorative pillows come in an almost limitless variety of sizes, shapes and styles. A needlepoint pillow is ornamented
with hand stitching. Toss pillows are small enough to fit a couch or chair and are usually displayed in groups of so
many you can barely find a place to sit on the couch. Larger floor pillows are descendants of nomadic tribal furniture
that had to be light enough to move every few days. These weren't too popular in America until the bean bag chair
craze of the 1970s.
The most serious pillow care problem is also a health issue--dust mites! They thrive in warm, humid climates and feed
on dead skin cells shed by people. That means your bed is dust mite heaven, and 10 percent of people are allergic to
proteins found in these tiny creatures. However, a few simple steps can be taken to minimize their effect. First, get
allergen covers between the mites and their habitat--your pillows and mattress. Second, regularly wash all bedding in
very hot water (anti-dust mite laundry additives are available). Third, give a thorough, regular vacuuming of bed and
bedroom. Finally, put a dehumidifier in the bedroom. You have now turned your dust mite heaven into dust mite hell.
Even if you aren't allergic to mites, these steps will be beneficial to your bedding; after all, what's better after a hard
day than lying down on freshly laundered sheets?
Standard or twin pillow: 20 inches high x 26 inches long
Queen pillow: 20 inches high x 30 inches long
King pillow: 20 inches high x 36 inches long
Body pillow: Of particular interest to stomach sleepers, this pillow is long enough to reach from your head to your feet.
Density: A memory foam pillow is rated by density in pounds per cubit foot; 3 to 5 lbs. are the most common densities.
Hypoallergenic: Designed and constructed with materials that minimize the potential of allergic reactions.
Maternity pillow: Actually two pillows sewn together to provide support to the back and abdomen when lying on your
side or back.
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