The choice of a suitable pillow is crucial for quality sleep in view of the hectic lives of city dwellers. A test conducted by the Consumer Council on 15 models of pillows has found significant variations in their support and durability, and their prices also do not accurately reflect their actual performance. Indeed, the most expensive memory foam model turned out to score the lowest performance rating in respect of durability and support height in lateral position while the 7 models with equally high performance rating varied in price by as much as 6.5 times. As there is no unified standard on pillows, consumers choosing the product should consider their body built, weight, sleeping habits, as well as the mattress firmness and pillow material. They should also try out the pillow personally in different sleeping positions but not just rely on the hand feel and prices in choosing pillows.
In the test, 6 of the 15 test models were made of polyester, 6 were of memory foam (visco-elastic foam) and 3 were of latex with prices ranging from $139 to $1,558, a difference of over tenfold. Among models of the same material, memory foam models had the widest price difference of nearly 7 times between the most expensive ($1,558) and the cheapest ($200) models. Polyester models were comparatively affordable with an average price of about $200.
All 15 pillow models were tested by a laboratory in Europe specialising in anthropometry and ergonomics, based on the body features of Asian men and women with regard to height, weight and shoulder width. With the aid of a male and female test persons, scientific measurement and expert assessment were conducted on the pillow support performance. Other test items include durability and comfort, as well as fibre composition of the pillow cases. The results showed varying scores in overall performance, from 2.5 to 4 points. Among the 7 best performing models with 4 points, their prices varied by 6.5 times from $145 to $1,100, including all 3 latex, 2 polyester and 2 memory foam models.
The body’s cervical and thoracic spine all have a natural curvature, the main function of a pillow is therefore to provide support to the head and neck during sleep. The test results indicated that 2 polyester models had the lowest ratings on overall support performance of all samples, scoring 1.5/2.5 points (female/male test persons) and 2.5/3 points (female/male test persons) respectively because the pillow support height was too high that caused the head to overly tilt forward.
While the most expensive memory foam model ($1,558) received 3.5 points for overall support performance, its score on support in the lateral position test was the lowest of all models for both the male and female test persons, scoring 1 and 1.5 point respectively. However, the same model in the back position test was rated highly, scoring 4 to 5 points in both support height and the support angle effectively maintaining the natural curvature of the cervical spine for both the male and female test persons.
The comfort of a pillow is equally important for good sleeping quality. The test models were measured for contact area of the head when sleeping on the back, pressure distribution, and moisture and heat dispersion. The test results showed that 6 models had relatively little contact, scoring 3 points; 1 memory foam model with uneven pressure distribution received only 2.5 points; while the overall moisture and heat dispersion performance was deemed satisfactory, with all scoring 4 or more points. The temperature measured was close to the normal body temperature with all models being assessed to be the warm category.
For the durability test, the models were put through a machine pressure test to measure the changes in pillow height and firmness, and then simulated usage of several years. The results also varied, ranging from 2 to 5 points. Nearly half (7) of the models – 5 polyester and 2 foam models, were found to be unsatisfactory in individual test items, scoring only 1 point. 1 of the memory foam models was found to be unable to restore to its original condition, leaving behind indentation marks. All of the 3 latex foam models scored the full 5 points.
Pillow core and labelling
In general, polyester pillows are more price friendly with plenty of styles and choices available. Their pillow core can be washed and dried under the sun, and that makes them a better choice for those who are allergic to dust mites. However, affected by the way they are used, the pillows will be flattened over time, and thereby reducing their support. Although most of the memory foam pillows have a fixed shape and are easy to be taken care of, their prices vary quite a lot and cannot be washed; their heat dissipation is rather poor; and their hardness varies depending on the time of use or temperature. As for the latex pillows, their heat dissipation, moisture permeability and elasticity are excellent but they are relatively expensive and unsuitable for those allergic to latex.
Regarding product labelling, 3 models were not labelled with fibre content for their pillow cases, and in the 12 models with labelling, the pillow case of 1 latex foam model had a combination of polyester fibre and cotton, contrary to its label claim of 100% organic cotton. The test findings were sent to the Customs and Excise Department for follow up. Manufacturers are urged to ensure the provision of full and accurate product labelling to enable consumers to make informed choices.
When buying a pillow, consumers should consider the factors of their body built, sleeping habit and mattresses, and pay heed to the following when choosing and using pillows:
- Pillows once sold are generally not returnable on grounds of personal hygiene;
- Most of the pillows are not washable. Do not wash a pillow too frequently even if the pillow case or the core is washable to avoid loss of shape or damage to the fill;
- Pillows can generally be used for several years. Replacement of pillows should base on hygiene considerations, such as odor, discoloration and mold, or when pillow support becomes unsatisfactory, such as lacking resilience after pressure or occurrence of partial subsidence, making sleep uncomfortable;
- A suitable pillow should provide support to the cervical spine to maintain a normal physiological curvature when lying in the back position and to keep the cervical and thoracic spine straight as much as possible when lying in the lateral position so as to allow the muscles near the neck to relax and the cervical joints to withstand the least stress.
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