[Paleopsych] NYT: Who Stole Sleep? The Pillow as Perp

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Who Stole Sleep? The Pillow as Perp
New York Times, 5.7.7


    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
    [3]Dreamessentials.com) to white noise machines like the Marsona Sleep
    Mate 980 ($52.95 at [4]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 [5]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 [6]Livingincomfort.com's hypoallergenic pillow
    ($17.88). Or maybe the answer is a synthetic pillow from
    [7]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 [8]thecompanystore.com, [9]Landsend.com,
    [10]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
    damask stripe."

    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 [11]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: [12]slatalla at nytimes.com

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