[Paleopsych] NYT: Who Stole Sleep? The Pillow as Perp
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Thu Jul 7 22:19:34 UTC 2005
Who Stole Sleep? The Pillow as Perp
New York Times, 5.7.7
By MICHELLE SLATALLA
SHORTLY before midnight the other night, someone leaving the movie
theater a block and a half from my house dropped car keys on the
Actually, I don't know if the jingling came from keys or for that
matter if there even was jingling, because like most mortals I slept
through the incident. Even my dog Sticky, who has ears big enough to
interest NASA, continued to snore.
But not my husband. "What was that?" he shrieked, sitting upright as
if bitten by a snake.
The princess who could not sleep on a pea had nothing on my husband.
His rest is often disturbed by distant barking, other people's
air-conditioners and "something that sounds like a mosquito, only it
never stings me."
For years I snoozed through the drama. But recently neck and back
twinges have begun to surge through my husband like electrical
currents and have prompted him to jump out of bed, switch on the light
and hop around. Even I can't sleep through that.
I'm not the first spouse to stumble blearily toward the computer at 2
a.m. in search of a solution. But in the lonely predawn hours, as I
considered the Internet's various suggestions - from sleep masks like
the foldable Dreamlite Relaxation model ($6.95 at
Dreamessentials.com) to white noise machines like the Marsona Sleep
Mate 980 ($52.95 at Naturestapestry.com) - one possibility
intrigued me above all others.
Maybe we needed better pillows. Ours, old and flat and musty, provided
about as much neck support as a saltine. Could the pillows be
sabotaging my husband's sleep?
"A pillow is important if a person has poor sleep to begin with," said
Dr. Clete A. Kushida, director of the Stanford University Center for
Human Sleep Research. "The environment is important."
But which pillow? There are no official standards for pillows and no
research to prove that one type is better than another.
"The studies haven't been done," Dr. Kushida said. "Basically it comes
down to what is the most comfortable."
Depending on who you are, that might mean llbean.com's goose down
damask pillow (in sizes from standard to king and in fills ranging
from soft to firm, $49 to $99). Or Overstock.com's Circle of Down
pillow ($29.99). Or Livingincomfort.com's hypoallergenic pillow
($17.88). Or maybe the answer is a synthetic pillow from
Bedbathandbeyond.com (from $7.99 for the Jumbo Gusset to $79.77 for
the standard-size Indulgence Supreme Thermo-Sensitive).
I needed guidance. "How can I tell if my husband is a Thermo-Sensitive
type or a Circle of Down man?" I asked Dr. James Maas, a professor and
sleep researcher at Cornell University. "Given all the options, I
wonder if anyone is sleeping on the right pillow."
Professor Maas said that pillow issues affect a great number of
Americans. "Somewhere near 50 percent of the country is sleep
deprived," he said during a phone interview. "This country is a
country of walking zombies, mostly due to sleep length but also to
poor quality of sleep."
Professor Maas recommended that my husband cut back on his caffeine
intake and that we create a bedroom that was cool, dark and
comfortable (which I figured was a nice way of saying our 95-pound dog
should get off the bed).
As for pillows, the difference comes down to down versus synthetic
fill, Professor Maas said. A good pillow of either stuff should last
up to 10 years, he said. You can test your pillow to find out if it's
past its prime. "You take your pillow," he said. "Fold it in half. If
it doesn't spring forward and open instantly by itself, you've got a
dead pillow. Replace it."
Professor Maas said he liked the quality of pillows manufactured by
United Feather and Down, an Illinois company whose products, both down
and synthetic, sell under various private labels. For instance United
Feather and Down's Insuloft down and PrimaLoft synthetic-fill pillows
are for sale online at thecompanystore.com, Landsend.com,
Potterybarn.com and llbean.com.
"We do a wide variety of fills," said Becky McMorrow, United Feather
and Down's marketing manager. "Every retail customer tweaks the pillow
to have an exclusive style. Restoration Hardware and Williams-Sonoma
use the same fill but not the same fabric cover. Pottery Barn used a
No matter where you shop, expect to pay from $29 to $59 for a good
synthetic pillow and from $59 to $129 for a goose down pillow with a
minimum of 550 fill power, Ms. McMorrow said.
"Fill power is a measurement of how lofty an ounce of down is and how
high it comes up on a beaker after it's compressed," Ms. McMorrow
After ascertaining a few facts about my husband - mostly sleeps on his
side, switches back and forth between a flat pillow and a fluffier one
as the night progresses - Ms. McMorrow mailed me four models to test.
I did not feel it necessary to mention the experiment to him; he has
enough on his mind.
The first night, I discreetly slipped a PrimaLoft synthetic-fill Side
Sleeper into his pillowcase. Gusseted to provide an even sleep surface
and neck support for a side sleeper, it was similar to a $39 model
from Bedbathandbeyond.com. Then I turned out the light and lay poised
to take notes as he fell into an immediate deep sleep. Thirty minutes
passed without a peep out of him. Then 60. Then I fell asleep.
The next night I introduced the fluffier Insuloft down-filled Side
Sleeper (very like a $99 version at Realgoods.com). After 30
minutes he sat up and asked suspiciously, "Do I hear a raccoon?"
From this I deduced that while both Side Sleepers provided neck
support, he preferred the denser texture of synthetic fill.
The third night he also slept well on a down-synthetic blend called
the Lyocell (similar to a pillow sold at thecompanystore.com for $89).
By the fourth night I was the one who had earned the right to sleep on
the Face Saver with "aloe-soft fabric" to prevent wrinkles. The pillow
is to go on sale this fall on the Home Shopping Network for about $35.
The conclusion? I bought all the pillows, because all four were an
improvement over our old ones. The dog thought so, too.
E-mail: slatalla at nytimes.com
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