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Do You Need to Invest In a Fancy Pillow?

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Sleep is important—duh. It literally makes you more beautiful, and it's more important for your diet and fitness routine than you may realize. So it makes sense that everyone freaks out over finding the perfect mattress, whether that means ultra-firm, ultra-soft, foam, spring, pillow-top, or even organic. But pillows often fly under the radar. It used to be that you grabbed whatever felt okay from some bin at T.J.Maxx, then slept on it until it was flatter than Jen Widerstrom's abs, and repeated the cycle again.

Recently, the pillow market has exploded. There are options for everyone: pillows made from cooling materials for people who tend to run hot when they sleep; pillows made specifically for different sleeping positions; pillows made from all-organic materials (to match your organic mattresses); pillows made for back pain; pillows that play music and vibrate to help you fall asleep. And for someone accustomed to grabbing something out of the $9.99 value bin, these pillows are pricey—like over $100 for some of them.

Blame this trend on our growing awareness about the importance of sleep. "Consumers are looking for ways to enhance their sleep and wake up feeling rested," says Jennifer Martin, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles. "And companies are capitalizing on the sleep conversation and developing products that interest consumers looking for a good night's sleep."

So are they worth it? To some extent, yes. "A high-quality pillow is likely to last longer and remain comfortable for a longer period of time," says Martin. "A good pillow can also help with comfortably orienting the neck and spine. Especially for people with back pain, that can be very important."

Still, Martin says, a more expensive pillow isn't always better for everyone. "There's no perfect pillow for everyone." She suggests considering your typical sleeping position. "Side sleepers may prefer a firmer, higher-volume pillow. Back sleepers may prefer a softer pillow. People who change positions at night may want two pillows," she says. People with sensitive skin or allergies may want to be careful with the materials their pillows are made of, she adds.

With her advice in mind, I decided to try one of these newfangled pillows. I went with the Bedgear Performance Bedding PillowID. I chose the Dawn 1.0 ($199, bedgear.com), designed for small body types or stomach sleepers (I'm 5'2", and I typically shift between stomach and side throughout the night). I was especially interested in the climate control fabric that makes the pillow feel cool all night—and it delivered, really feeling cool to the touch, a huge plus for someone who seriously overheats all night long. The only downside? The pillow felt a little too squishy for my taste, especially when I turned on my side.

So I added a second pillow to the mix: the Tri-Core Cervical Pillow ($42, amazon.com). This guy resembles a rectangular doughnut, with a flat section in the middle. If you're lying on your back, the cutout lets your head tip back so it's closer to the mattress while keeping your neck supported, and if you roll to either side you'll move onto a cushioned edge. This ended up being my favorite, though I kept the Bedgear option for warm nights or just when I wanted to switch it up.

While I can't say whether either pillow drastically elevated my sleep quality (I'm a pretty good sleeper overall), they did add a little extra luxury to my nighttime experience and certainly made me feel more comfortable. Worth replacing my bargain cushions? For sure.

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