Health & Wellness

Cheaper memory foam pillows can be just as good as pricey ones

Today
The $399 "GrandPillow" by Tempur-Pedic

Memory foam pillow prices can be anything but a dream, so how do you know you're getting a good deal?

According to the experts, a cheap memory foam pillow can offer just as much satisfaction as an expensive one. But when it comes to something as personal as sleep, some customers swear by their pricey pillows.

Technically, "memory foam" is open-cell polyurethane-silicon plastic and is known for its "viscoelastic" properties. That means it’s super soft, absorbent and bounces back to its original shape after compression.  

First invented by NASA scientists in the 60's, the squishy material is found in shoes, motorcycle seats, helmets, wheelchair seats, mattresses and pillows—pillows in every imaginable shape and size: snuggle side pillows, dual sided, Euro style, arc shaped, side cut, anti-snoring. 

There’s even a special memory foam pillow just for naps. And they cost anywhere from $20 to more than $200. One brand, Tempur-Pedic, sells their "GrandPillow" for a whopping $399.

On average, owners paid $40 for a memory foam pillow, according to SleepLikeTheDead.com, an independent sleep product research site. A Consumer Reports buying guide found little difference between the high-end and low-end brands in terms of comfort, sleep and construction quality.

That hasn't stopped some customers from shelling out big bucks to get their sweet dreams.

Northern Virginia stay-at-home dad Brian Holoubek, who stands 6’6” tall, admits he got hooked 15 years ago on the entire foam system: bed, pillows and a knee pillow.

“I have four different styles of memory pillows just for the guest room,” said Holoubek. The total cost? North of $2000.

Other sleepers have found they're just as happy with their pillows at lower price points.

Jodi Helmer, a North Carolina-based writer, bought a cheap brand at first to see if she liked the firmness and contours.

“It was a baby step before investing in a brand name pillow,” said Helmer. She fell in love and stuck with the knock-off brand.

“It’s great so I never traded up,” she added.

Dr. Karen Erickson, a member of the American Chiropractic Association, urges consumers to think carefully about the postural effects.

“The pillow has a lot to do with how you rest so choose a pillow that is designed to fit the way you sleep,” said Erickson.

But some pillows don't seem to work no matter what the price.

When Sara Lafe bought a memory foam pillow she hoped it would be a “cherry on top of a cloud-like sleeping experience.”

After all, the health research scientist said, her memory foam mattress topper “changed my life,” so a similar pillow seemed like a no-brainer.

Lafe spent around $40 on her first foam pillow and woke up with neck pain. She upgraded to a fancy, expensive brand but found it was just as uncomfortable. 

Nowadays, she says, "I just move the pillow and sleep straight on the mattress.”

Molly Blake is a California-based freelance writer. Find her online at mollyblake.com.

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