By Oktay Ozadam
For many people, feeling too hot in bed is a problem all year round. The truth is that we need our body temperature to drop by a degree in order to sleep, and unless this happens, it can be hard to drift off and to stay asleep. A clinical study has established that just cooling your head at night reduces body temperature and improves sleep patterns.
There are many different types of cooling pillow on the market. Although the primary aim is the same, they all work in slightly different ways thanks to their different cooling properties.
Breathability is an important factor to look for when buying any type of pillow. A breathable cooling pillow enables the air to circulate so that you don't wake up stuck to the pillow and bathed in perspiration. These types of breathable pillows are extremely comfortable and usually have a microfiber filling with a natural cotton cover, which will wick away any sweat. According to consumers, the Pure Living breathable pillow is very comfortable, and although it does not cool you down, it does prevent you from feeling too hot while you are in sleep.
Latex Breathable Pillow
The breathable latex pillow generally offers firm support for the head and neck, and because the design features a honeycomb of air vents, it enables the air to circulate. This type of cool pillow is generally firmer than other pillows, but it does keep its shape better than fiber pillows. These work best for back sleepers or side sleepers. But it won't suit you if you are allergic to latex and many people complain of the odor.
Bamboo is a breathable fiber, so a bamboo pillow works in a similar way to the Buckwheat pillow. However, if you are trying to stick to natural ingredients, you do need to be careful when you buy because cheaper models are filled with shredded memory foam. A bamboo pillow does offer neck and head support, but although it is comfortable, it is not particularly cooling for all night's sleep.
Buckwheat Pillows offer a more natural alternative to the many other cooling pillows on the market, and we love the way they work because it is so simple. The pillow is filled with buckwheat hulls, and because these are dense material, they can provide great support to the head, neck and shoulders.
The great thing about this cooling pillow is that the triangular shape of the buckwheat hulls enables plenty of airflow through the pillow, so you don't overheat. This is an inexpensive cooling remedy that will suit people who are trying to keep cool with natural materials, but it is not an active cooling solution. If the ambient temperature is too hot to sleep, a buckwheat pillow will not cool you down.
Gel Cooling Pillows
The gel pillow goes further than a breathable pillow because it actively cools down your head, rather than just allowing air to circulate.
Gel cooling pillows are constructed from gel-infused memory foam, usually on one side of the pillow. When you rest your head on the cool gel memory foam pillow, it feels cool to the touch, and so keeps your head cool as you sleep. According to the manufacturer of the Classic Brands Cooling Pillow, the cold gel memory foam pillow disperses heat and improves airflow.
These are also available as gel pads that you place inside your ordinary pillow. These are the most common type of cooling pillows and usually the cheapest. The downside is that they don't stay cool all night as the temperature from your head warms them up.
Cooling Water Pillows
This kind of cooling pillow is another simple idea. Essentially the cooling effect is achieved by water; you fill a pouch with cold water and insert it into a specially designed pillow. These types of cool pillows may have a top layer made of memory foam fabric or polyester. The Mediflow Water Pillow is a good example. You can adjust the water level to your desired firmness and make it firm or soft, depending upon preference.
Phase Change Cooling Pillow
PCM materials are typically fatty acids, paraffin, or salt hydrates, but can be any material that changes form and produce energy when transitioning between forms such as liquid, fluid, or vapor. If you have ever used one of those hand warmers which stay warm for hours, thanks to the chemical reaction of the cooling gel layer, you have already used PCM technology.
These fabric materials absorb your heat, making you feel cooler, and they can also heat you up if you feel too cold. Phase Changing Materials are being researched for a range of purposes, including household objects such as pillows.
We looked at the Malouf Z Carboncool. This PCM pillow is constructed of an (unnamed) phase change material that absorbs and releases heat energy to maintain an optimal sleep temperature. It also uses graphite particles to remove body heat and features honeycomb memory foam to improve airflow. Consumer feedback is positive regarding the cooling aspect of the pillow, indicating that this new technology works but unfortunately the blue coating material flakes off with time, and it loses its cooling feature.
Smart Cooling Pillows
This is a new development in pillow design, and so far, only one manufacturer is producing it. Still, the Moona is described as the only active cooling pillow pad for sleep on the market today.
The Moona is a thermoregulated pillow pad that you control via an App. It gently pumps water into your pillow, and because the water is continuously circulated, the perfect temperature for sleep is maintained.
When we are ready to sleep, our body temperature reduces by a degree, and we need this temperature drop to sleep. Previously this was associated with core body temperature, but scientific studies have shown that lowering skin temperature is just as important.
Surprisingly you don't need to cool down your whole body to cool down. Because the neck and head are an area of the body that is very sensitive to heat and cold, cooling this area means that your whole body is affected. The Moona will regulate your head temperature based on your personal preferences for sleep. It will also gently increase the heat when it is time to wake up.
Some cooling pillows can be used for different purposes, and have extra benefits. The Chillow is a cooling water pillow designed to be used for the menopause when night sweats and hot flashes make sleeping a problem. It can also be used as a compress for aching muscles or for when you have a migraine. This was the first cooling pillow on the market in the 90s, but there have been customer complaints about since including the pad having a strong plastic smell and the pillow not working.
Many other cooling pillows have an orthopedic use, offering support to head and neck muscles, using ergonomically designed memory foam. The Supportiback Comfort Pillow is an orthopedic pillow that also has a cooling function thanks to the gel coating on one side of the pillow.
Some Common FAQs about Cooling Pillows
Why do pillows get hot?
Pillows get hot because the heat retention of your body warms them. All pillows get hot, including water pillows where the water does not circulate and gel foam. The only exception is a smart pillow that uses water that circulates. A breathable pillow will help airflow and help prevent sweating, but it will still get hot thanks to your body temperature.
Is there a pillow that stays cool all night?
The only pillow that stays cool all night is a smart cooling pillow. Because the water is gently circulated, the optimum temperature is maintained. The smart pillow is regulated by an App, and you can program it to just how you like. This is the only pillow that is guaranteed to stay cool for all night's sleep.
How long do cooling pillows last?
Most cooling pillows will stay cold long enough for you to fall asleep. Durability depends on the type of pillow you buy and the quality. It is worth bearing in mind that you will be using the pillow every night, so buying better quality means that it is more likely to last. A great point about buying a cooling pad is that you can change your pillow if necessary without having to replace the pad. The downside is that once you warm up in bed, your pillow warms up too.
Do cooling pillows lose their cooling property over time?
Yes, they do. A gel layer or pillow will feel cool at first because it remains at room temperature, but your pillow will warm up in about 10 minutes, so if you are not asleep by then, it is probably too late. The Chillow was the market leader back in the 90s, but customer complaints included the pillow warming up more than a conventional pillow. Other makes suffer from the same issue.
Can you put a pillowcase on a cooling pillow?
Yes, you can. It makes it easier to keep the cooling pillow clean, and it can feel more comfortable, especially if you are lying on a gel pad or a breathable latex pillow. Breathable pillows such as Buckwheat or bamboo pillows are the same as conventional pillows so that they will need a pillowcase.
Alternatives to Cooling Pillows
There are alternatives to cooling pillows. Cooling bed sheets made from breathable natural materials will help prevent sweating. You can also find lightweight comforters for hot sleepers that won't aggravate heat sensitive skin.
As with the cooling pillows, there is a range of mattress cooling products such as cool gel topped mattresses and memory foam toppers.
There are also smart bed cooling solutions:
The Chilipad Sleep System is a hydro-powered mattress pad. It gently pumps water into the pad, and the temperature is fully controllable via the simple control unit or the App.
The Ooler Sleep System is also a water-based bed cooling option and comes from the same company as Chilipad. It works by hydropower as the Chilipad but is a more luxurious version and comes with many extras, including duo function.
The Bedjet sleep system is based on air power and can regulate bed temperature for one or two sleepers who require different sleep temperatures; it is ideal for hot sleepers and cold sleepers alike! You can read more about the new version of Bedjet 3 here.
bFan is a sleep system that uses a fan blowing cool air into your bed. It looks fairly basic.
EightPod Sleep is a smart mattress constructed from layers of material, including a water layer. Because these are divided into separate pods, you have ultimate control over bed temperature
Scientists have proved that keeping your head cold decreases overall body temperature, so a cooling pillow may be a good option if you are a hot sleeper. If you want to check out the top cooling pillows in the market, you may want to have a look at this review page.
Cooling pillows can work, but there can be issues. A pillow with a cool gel pad or a water pillow, for example, will help you feel instantly cooler when you get into bed. The downside is that these types of cool pillow warm up overnight because of your body temperature.
A breathable pillow can be a good option. This will help you stay cool because of improved airflow, which helps prevent sweating. Besides, a PCM pillow can absorb your body heat, keeping you cooler. Although neither kind of cool pillow will really cool you down, they will help prevent you from becoming overheated and maybe a good choice for some users.
The exception is the Smart Cooling Pillow. After all our research, we found that this is the only cooling pillow that cools you down when you get into bed for sleep and actually stay cool all night long. Because it uses continuously circulating water, you can regulate and control the temperature yourself, so it is not affected by body heat or ambient heat.