The choice in pillows significantly affects sleep quality in particular and quality of life in general – and, thus, making the right choice is of utmost importance for everybody!
Pillows aren’t just for a comfortable place to lie your head on but, more importantly, these are useful in preventing and alleviating neck and back pain. These are also helpful in reducing the risks of pain in the muscles and joints of the shoulders, hips and legs when used in these areas.Why is this so? Pillows aid in keeping the upper body in neutral alignment while sleeping and, thus, in relieving stress on the body’s pressure points from the neck to the legs.
But pillows can also be among the causes of disrupted sleep during the night! We aren’t just talking about lumpy, flat and smelly pillows, which should be immediately replaced. We are also talking about pillows that become too warm, even slightly hot, as the hours go by, perhaps in the middle of the night or in the early morning hours before your usual wake up time.
We also want to point out that over a 24-hour period, the body’s temperature goes up and down naturally. The highest body temperature happens in the early afternoon and the lowest occurs in the early morning (i.e., around 5 a.m.).
During sleep, the body cools off to encourage deep sleep. But environmental factors, such as the room’s ambient temperature, the support and comfort provided by the mattress and pillows, and the light and sound levels, also influence it. These factors must then be adjusted so that the body can cool off faster and easier – but too cold or too hot will be detrimental to it, too.
Fortunately, there are many ways to aid in your body’s cooling off process before and during sleep. These include turning the air-conditioner or fan, sleeping with fewer clothes (i.e., less insulation), and using the best cooling pillow.
Why do you need a cooling pillow?
Think of the cooling pillow as a two-in-one sleep-related product – first, it provides the necessary support for your neck, shoulders and head; and second, it keeps your head cool during sleep so you don’t wake up before your alarm goes off. When used properly and regularly, it can contribute to better quality of sleep, which has numerous positive effects on physical and mental health.
Studies have also shown that the head emits more heat than any other body part. This is especially true during the summer months when the head is instrumental in cooling off the body – and that’s exactly why people in hot and humid conditions will pour cold water over their heads to cool them off.
But during sleep, pouring cold water over your head isn’t obviously a viable option. Constant flipping over and rearranging of your pillows aren’t viable options, too, because of the sleep interruptions.
According to research conducted by the American Academy of Sleep, furthermore, people with insomnia can benefit from using cooling pillows because these can ease the transition from wakefulness to sleep. In these individuals, cooling down their brains’ prefrontal cortex plays a vital role in sleep; the prefrontal cortex is the area behind the forehead.
In both cases, cooling pillows will definitely aid restless sleepers, insomniacs, and everybody else to get to sleep faster and stay asleep for the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep every night. These pillows are becoming a must-have item for hot sleepers, too, during the summer and spring months when the ambient temperature increases.
Numerous studies have shown that improved sleep patterns can result in the following health benefits:
• Decrease the risk for metabolic diseases like diabetes
• Improve athletic performance during training and competitions
• Increase cognitive function and working memory
• Enhance performance of day-to-day tasks including work tasks
• Speed up weight loss and aid in the maintenance of healthy weight
• Stabilize mood including the alleviation of symptoms related to anxiety and depression
While other factors influence your sleeping patterns and quality, you will agree that the best cool pillow is part and parcel of it. You must then find the best one for your needs in it and start using it regularly. You will soon enjoy the benefits that come from getting 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night.
How do cooling pillows work?
The manufacturers of cooling pillows use several types of cooling technologies on their products. But these technologies can be divided into three major classifications, namely:
• Gel or water filling
Cooling pillows with either gel or water as part of their filling use the principle of conduction in maintaining their cool temperatures. The gel or water adapts to the ambient temperature while the pillows aren’t in use. But when the pillows come into direct contact with the head and neck, their gel or water filling absorbs the heat from their body parts.
The result: Your head enjoys a cool feeling throughout your sleeping time.
• Breathable materials
Cooling pillows can also be filled with breathable materials, such as buckwheat, resulting in improved ventilation in and around them. Instead of the buildup of heat in their interiors, these pillows promote better air circulation and evaporation resulting in a cooler feeling around the head.
• Phase-change materials
Cooling pillows with phase-change materials (PCM) are the latest of its kind. Basically, the materials changes from its liquid to its solid state and, in the process, absorbs heat from your head.
Which of these technologies is behind the best cold pillow? We have to say that all of them are used for the best cooling pillows! In the end, the best cooling pillow will be the one that addresses your specific needs and wants in it, from its comfort, cool sensations, and support provided to its price, style and color.
Types of cooling pillow
From the above mentioned discussion about the technologies behind cooling pillows, we can identify several types.
• Memory foam pillow with gel pads
Memory foam was originally developed by NASA but it has been applied to numerous consumer products, such as mattresses and pillows. While many people complain about its slight chemical smell, which can be removed just by airing the pillows after getting them from their plastic packaging, memory foam pillows offer the best support and comfort for the head and neck areas. The foam reacts to heat emitted by the head and neck, conforms its shape to the unique contours, and provides a cloud-like experience.
But such heat reaction is also the root of the most common complaint among consumers about memory foam. After a few hours, the buildup of heat can contribute to the body’s increase in temperature when it should stay cool for deep sleep.
Such heat-related issue can be counteracted by adding water or gel padding to the memory foam pillow. The water or gel pads provide the cooling sensation via conduction (i.e., the heat transfer from your body to the pads).
• Ventilated pillows made from natural materials
Instead of synthetic fibers, ventilated-type cooling pillows are filled with buckwheat or goose down, which promote maximum air ventilation within the pillows. These pillows work in two ways – first, their materials prevent warm air from accumulating within the pillows; and second, the improved airflow promotes moisture evaporation resulting in the desired cooling effect.
• PCM cooling pillows
These pillows can be used in both warm and cold weather because of their innovative design. The science behind the phase-changing materials can be difficult to understand but it can be simplified as follows: When the materials change from liquid to solid, it absorbs heat; when these change from solid to liquid, it releases heat.
These materials then can transfer heat from and to your body! You can then use them year-round so that you will get a cooling effect in summer and a warming effect in winter.
We have to say that in many a cooling pillow review, PCM-based cooling pillows are considered as the best in terms of overall performance including durability and versatility. But these pillows can be expensive so consumers have to decide whether the price justifies the performance in their opinion.
Cooling Pillow Pad
If you already have excellent pillows that you want to keep instead of buying brand-new cooling pillows, then you will find the cooling pillow pads to be an excellent alternative. These are more affordable, too, yet provide similar benefits as the full-sized cooling pillows.
These have a relatively simple concept: Just slide the water or gel pad into the pillow case where your favorite pillow is already encased. You can then use the modified pillow for resting and sleeping, which will have the added benefit of sustained cooling effect lasting anywhere from 3 to 5 hours.
Most of these cooling pillow inserts have a soft textured side that aids in keeping it in place (i.e., no sliding around), as well as standard sizes and thickness that fits well with most pillows. The common 1/2–inch thickness shouldn’t increase the height of your favorite pillow too much so your head, neck and shoulders are still in their neutral alignment.
Cooling Pillow Cases
If you want to skip the pillows and pads yet you still want the cooling sensation, then you should consider cooling pillow cases. The technologies used include:
• Fabrics that wicks away sweat so that the head and neck stays relatively cool and dry
• Textiles with nano crystals that absorb excess body heat and release it into the air resulting in a cooler sensation
• Fabrics made from breathable natural materials like bamboo, which may be designed with micro-vents for improved air circulation and, thus, body temperature regulation
But if you have the budget for it, or you want to get the best cooling experience from your pillows, then we suggest getting both the cooling pillows and pillowcases. After all, you spend a third of your day sleeping so it makes perfect sense to invest in excellent pillows!
Things To Consider Before Buying A Cooling Pillow
With the increasing popularity of cooling pillows, manufacturers are offering a wider range of choices resulting in confusion among consumers. Since these pillows are typically more expensive than their standard counterparts, these must be chosen with care. Here are a few things that we consider as the most important in making the right choice in cooling pillows.
First, you have to decide which of the three types of cooling pillows that you can actually benefit from, sleep-wise. Each type has its pros and cons briefly described below.
• Gel and water-based pillows
These pillows are the most affordable of the three types yet these also provide cooling comfort. Gel-based pillows are easier to use because the gel pads can be immediately placed inside the pillowcase; the water-based pillows require preparation, usually in filling the pad with water.
Many of these pillows also have memory foam or latex foam as the base pillow coupled with the gel or water pads. The comfort and support provided are among the best although the size, shape and style of the pillows will influence these aspects.
But there are downsides to water and gel cooling pillows, too. These can be relatively heavy and noisy, especially for light sleepers, although we have to point out that air removal usually does the trick making them more lightweight and less noisy.
Gel pillows cannot be washed in the machine; hand-wash and air-dry them instead. Water-based pillows can be washed in the machine and air-dried.
The best gel pillow should last for several years, too, with proper care.
• Breathable cooling pillows
Buckwheat-filled pillows provide a refreshing cooling effect for several hours. The processed husks as fillings cannot be easily depressed even after hours of using it so these pillows also offer both superior comfort and support. These can be fluffed, too, so that they can be restored to their nearly-original size (i.e., height).
These are also hypoallergenic, thanks to the use of natural materials instead of synthetic ones. People with allergies to memory foam or latex foam can then benefit from using these cooling pillows.
Buckwheat pillows, however, cannot be washed by machine or by hand because the processed hulls can be damaged resulting in the loss of loft. But the pillowcase itself can be washed for hygiene purposes.
• Pillows with PCMs
These pillows are also oftentimes used with memory foam as the base material. Pillows with PCMs are excellent choices if you’re looking for cooling pillows that can be used from summer to winter. It can help in keeping your head in the right temperature so that you can sleep for the next 7-8 hours with little to no interruption from a too-cold or too-warm pillow.
PCM pillows with memory foam can only be washed by hand; washing them in the machine can ruin them irreparably. There’s also the matter of their expensive price.
We mentioned that many gel-based, water-based and PCM cooling pillows have memory foam as their base materials. Just because it’s a common material doesn’t mean that it’s the right one for you either. You have to consider other factors, too, such as your sleeping habits and your tolerance for smells.
Second, you should consider your sleeping style using these rules of thumb:
• If you sleep on your back or stomach, a thinner pillow with soft to medium-firm firmness level will work best. High pillows will put your head, neck and shoulders out of their neutral alignment, thus, increasing your risk for back pain.
• If you sleep on your side, a higher pillow with extra-firm density will provide better neck support.
• If you have neck, shoulder, or back pain and you are either a side or back sleeper, then you can benefit from contoured cooling pillows (e.g., wave-like design). You will benefit from the neutral spine alignment and cooling sensation, both of which are essential in a good night’s sleep.
We suggest getting cooling pillows that will fit well with the size and shape of your head and neck, such as the contoured pillows. Your head rests in the valley between the crests while your neck is supported in the lower crest. Your head and neck are then as relaxed as possible yet still supported in their pressure points.
Third, you should ask about the warranty. Keep in mind that a warranty is an indicator of the product’s quality – the manufacturer stands behind the quality, if you will. The best cool gel pillow has a 3-year warranty.
Fourth, you have to weigh the costs of the cooling pillows with their expected benefits. These products have a price range from $30 to $50 with many of the best from reliable manufacturers selling for even higher prices.
You may want to stay within your budget yet still get a great cooling pillow. You may also want to spend a few more dollars so that you can get the best features, such as year-round use, medium-firm density, and low height of a PCM pillow.
In the end, the best cooling pillows are the ones that you will be comfortable using day in and day out. While the matters of materials, firmness or softness level, and style and size are important considerations, your own feelings of support and comfort are your best indicators. You should also decide the level of cooling sensation that you want in a cooling pillow – it may be cooler or warmer depending on your personal preference.