The Pillow Cure

neck painMy neck is killing me. Isn’t yours? My shoulder hurts, too. Not always the same one, but always in the morning. Herniated disks, spinal stenosis, bone spurs: It’s a mess in there. As for the shoulders, one gave out with a horrible popping noise in a yoga class a few years ago; the cause of the other’s decay remains a (very dull) mystery.

These were the afflictions that sent me pillow shopping last week, and for which, on one particularly frigid evening, Saroya Garcia-Ladiana, a sales associate at Hastens, the Swedish mattress company, prescribed what she called “a whole-bed pillow cocktail.” Ms. Garcia-Ladiana, whose nickname is Soy, was not referring to the handful of Advil washed down with a Bud that would be my go-to palliative. It’s the relationship, she said, between my head, my bed and my pillow.

I had come to Hastens first because it is the purveyor of the $100,000 mattress, an artisanal object made from wool, horsetail hair, cotton and mohair. (Like condo sales topping $100 million, this number sets a benchmark for a certain kind of lunatic luxury purchase.) And I knew I would find a pillow there to elevate the whole category.

For years, the standard pillow for those with neck issues has been a crudely formed foam number, which is about as sexy as the cervical collar that is its daytime mate. Orthopedic bedding is not a style you want to cleave to, at least not for any length of time. You can’t mask an orthopedic pillow in a hand-blocked print from John Robshaw, and its skate-park-like contours throw the armada of the “dressed bed” into disarray.

Hastens Anatomical Pillow is an unlovely name for a pretty object. At least, it comes with a case made from the company’s signature blue-and-white check. pillows

It is made of down and feathers, and shaped like a padded O, or a Leigh Bowery headdress (yes, I did stuff my head into it later). Inside the O is a pocket into which you slip a neck bolster, made from the same proportion — 15 to 85 percent — of down to feathers.

For side or back sleepers like me, the bolster-end of the pillow is designed to fit under your neck and support its natural curve.

Ms. Garcia-Ladiana had me unwrap myself from all my layers so she could see my neck, and led me gently to what she said was Hastens’s best seller, the 2000T ($38,000). “This is a medium-tension bed,” she said, “that’s really great for side sleepers.”

Tucking the pillow under my head, she traced my spine from mid-back to my hairline with her fingers to make sure it was straight. My shoulders unscrunched, my eyelids fluttered. Reader, I went home with a $330 pillow.

These are boom times for the luxury bedding business. Hastens has been expanding exponentially, having opened two new stores in Manhattan last year; now there are four locations in the city where you can buy a mattress that costs more than your car, and another Hastens store is to open in two weeks in Greenwich, Conn.

But entire fortunes are being made in pillows, too. Consider the success of the My Pillow founder, Michael J. Lindell, a Minnesota-born former cocaine addict and inventor whose chopped-foam-stuffed pillows, which sell for about $50, brought in more than $100 million in sales in 2012, according to The Star Tribune of Minneapolis.

No doubt you’ve seen his infomercial. He, too, had neck issues. He, like you, would “flip-flop all night long like a guppy,” as he puts it, until he developed his patented pillow filler, a stew of interlocking foam chunks.

There are a few data sets to roughly gauge the size of the market for a product that would address the sleep/pain nexus. In 2012, according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, and made available by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons last week, 14 percent of adult Americans said they had neck pain within a three-month period; in 2010, another N.C.H.S. survey noted that there were more than 10 million visits to doctors’ offices for complaints related to neck pain.

As it turns out, said Dr. Robert Gotlin, director of orthopedic and sports rehabilitation at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, we are designed for failure.

“The fact is, from age 25 on, this process of failure begins,” he continued cheerfully. “The analogy is this: You go to a bowling alley and you hold a bowling ball over your head, and what happens is your arms gets tired. Basically, your head is that 18-pound ball. And over time, two things happen: your muscles get sore and your disks wear out. Or you get arthritis. We’re all going to wind up with at least one of these conditions at the same time we are still holding up this 18-pound object. I, like you, would love to go to bed and wake up without feeling any pain.”

As far as pillows are concerned, he said: “The real answer is, there is no answer. Foam or any of these pillows with the divots, the cutout supports, these are marketing items that have their own research attached that supports their claims. The best advice is to just pick one that feels good. The pillow should basically be one that keeps your head over your shoulders. Rather than spend all this money on the fancy things, see what’s comfortable. That could be the cheapest one.”

At the Clean Bedroom in Brooklyn Heights, which sells organic bedding (natural latex and no-genetically-modified-organism cotton sheets, for example, in beige tones) and eco-friendly bedroom furniture like dressers made from sustainable maple from the parlor floor of a brownstone building, Luis Camejo was explaining the niceties of grain-filled pillows. He was trying to locate a millet-hull one for me.

Grains are good for support, he said, and because millet is a smaller grain than buckwheat, it’s less noisy — less crunchy — if you move around when you sleep. But he was sold out of the millet, and so were his company’s six other stores. It turned out that the seamstress at Sachi Organics, which makes the pillows, had a pinched nerve and was a week behind on their orders. Now that’s kind of ironic.

“I’m an English major,” Mr. Camejo said. “So I’m not sure of the correct meaning of irony.”

How does an English major get into the bedding business?

“Craigslist,” he said, as he rang up a buckwheat pillow ($80) and a shredded organic rubber contour pillow covered in beige wool ($199).

If you are suffering from neck and back pain, it could mean you need a whole new sleep solution. At Mattress Depot USA we are your sleep experts. We can help match you to the right sleep system for your body. A pillow might be a quick fix but your mattress, if it’s older than 10 years, could need replacing as well. Both you pillow and mattress place an integral part in sleep quality and how our bodies feel when we wake up. A pillow and your mattress should go together like peanut butter and jelly. We have a wide variety of pillows by brand like Malouf and Easy Rest, made with hypoallergenic and natural materials, even calming lavender.

So what are you waiting for? Don’t lose another valuable night of sleep and come visit us today. Shop for a new pillow HERE.

 This article was originally published by the New York Times, “the Pillow Cure” by Penelope Green. This blog was published on and does not provide medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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