I've been on a quest for the perfect pillow for years. My mattress game is on point, but the same cannot be said about my pillows. I've tried memory foam, contoured memory foam, down varieties (not for me…too much fluffing), down-alternative, gel-fiber, polyester fluff—you name it, I've slept on it. As a back sleeper plagued with lower back issues, I'm always looking out for something that'll align my spine and ail my aches and pains, so when I saw a commercial for a "miracle" pillow filled with buckwheat hulls, I was intrigued to say the least. A "miracle" huh? "Yeah, freaking, right," I thought upon hearing the (probably) hyperbolical advertisement. "This is truly the last pillow you'll ever have to buy," they said. Well…we'll see about that.
Though dubious, I decided it might be worth the try, so I started reading up. Evidently, this alternative pillow has been used in Japan for centuries and is heralded for its ability to confirm itself to your head and neck (thanks in part to the hulls that move around easily inside the pillow case), providing relief of neck pain and aligning your spine. Oh, also, it supposedly doesn't get hot. Some reports brought up icky warnings of dust mites and other bugs, but others said to take that with a grain of salt. If you're purchasing from a reputable source, sounds like you should be okay.
Now, it was time for purchasing. There were many buckwheat-filled pillows available online, but I decided on the Natures Pillow 20" x 15" Sobakawa pillow because it was the exact one I saw on the infomercial and I didn't want to take any chances that I was testing a buckwheat pillow that wasn't as miraculous as this one claimed to be. As I previously mentioned, I'm a back sleeper through and through, but I wanted a fair and balanced review, so I rounded up a stomach and a side sleeper to also snooze test this thing in case it was better for one position over another.
- Price: $19.99
- Claims: The Sobakawa Pillow is filled with 100-percent buckwheat hulls. It has been used extensively throughout the Orient for hundreds of years and is still the pillow of choice in Japan. Buckwheat hulls are believed to offer therapeutic benefits far superior to traditional foam and feather pillows. In terms of Oriental medicine, the Sobakawa Pillow offers an important element of human health—having a cool head. The healthiest state of the body is called "ZU-KAN-SOKU-NETSU", meaning cool head and warm feet. Once these elements are out of balance (like warm head and cool extremities), the body is out of sync and hence suffers from a variety of ailments including insomnia, headache, irritability, stiff neck and sluggishness. The 100-percent cotton fabric casing offers maximum air circulation, is very durable and, above all, is comfortable for sleeping.
With an average 4-star rating out of 1,300 reviews, the buckwheat pillow had potential, but of those reviews, 1/3 of them were "critical". People either loved or hated this pillow, with little middle ground. Here is a sampling of the polarizing emotions this pillow has evoked.
What people are saying on Amazon:
"I was super excited to finally get my first Sobakawa Pillow, just to realize: this was the most uncomfortable cloud I've ever laid on. It's really stiff and noisy, and the beads feel more like tiny pebbles! And don't even get me started on the weird smell...I first accepted these flaws until I finally realized that there were no redeeming traits about this bag of rocks. Do NOT recommend!!"
"This is the best pillow I've ever owned. I would buy the bigger one next time though."
"I will not sleep on anything but a Sobakawa pillow. This was a replacement because the one I had previously was soiled in a way that couldn't be cleaned. I only wish it was a little big longer (maybe 23 or 24 inches) with the same amount of filling. My brother introduced me to this type of pillow and I'm so glad he did. I've purchased other pillows, including expensive down pillows and they do not compare to the Sobakawa pillow. I like that it remains cool throughout the night and I can mold it to my liking. I tuck it to support my neck and can even make little craters so that my ear is not crushed."
"This pillow did NOT work for me. It was very small, and not at all comfortable. I am a side sleeper, and I felt it was too low. My head seemed to tilt down. It would probably be perfect if I slept on my back."
Meet the Apartment Therapy Testers:
Caroline Biggs, Contributing Writer
- Sleep Position: Side
- Normal Pillow Preferences: Nothing too flat; with a good amount of fluff.
Katie Holdefehr, Associate Editor, Design & Projects
- Sleep Position: Stomach
- Normal Pillow Preferences: Flat without a ton of fluff, yet still supportive.
Arlyn Hernandez, Design Editor
- Sleep Position: Back
- Normal Pillow Preferences: Just fluffy enough with a little mush to it. I like something I can easily tuck into my neck and shoulders when sleeping.
Here's What We Thought:
- First thoughts upon arrival: This pillow is tiny, flat and filled with tiny crunchy balls—either it's going to be awful or a total game changer!
- Fluff level: 1
- Let's talk about the fill: As mentioned above, this unique pillow is filled with all-natural, hypoallergenic buckwheat hulls that are supposed to contour to your neck and spine for added support.
- Pillow pros: For as odd as it may appear—and feel—this pillow provides a decent amount of neck support. Plus, it's small enough to travel with.
- Pillow cons: Upon first use, you can hear the hulls crunching and popping as they contour around your head and neck, which is kind of annoying when you're trying to fall asleep.
Overall thoughts: Call me old-fashioned, but I need at least a little fluff in my pillow to get comfortable enough to pass out. While this pillow is comfier than it looks—it still lays fairly flat (and fluff-less), making it a lot harder to fall asleep than usual. However, I did read that it's great to use for neck support while doing yoga—which I tried out and fully agree!
Overall grade: C - (for sleep), B+ (for yoga)
- First thoughts upon arrival: Fascinating—I have never tried a buckwheat pillow before, but I'm very curious. It smells faintly of wood chips (which I don't hate).
- Fluff level: 3 (it's overstuffed, but not a traditional soft and fluffy pillow)
- Let's talk about the fill: The buckwheat feels crunchy, yet is easy to move inside the pillow, similar to sand, so you can "dig" a space for your head.
- Pillow pros: The gentle crinkling of the fill reminds me of the sound of waves rolling in, which felt soothing as I was trying to fall asleep.
- Pillow cons: It was a little too firm and elevated my head too high. After about an hour sleeping on it, my neck started to hurt and I tried to carve out a spot—an experience akin to when you fall asleep in the sand at the beach.
Overall thoughts: This pillow is interesting, but just not for me. If you get your best sleep at the beach and want to drift off to the sound of waves (or buckwheat) crinkling in your ear, then this one's for you.
Overall grade: C
- First thoughts upon arrival: WTF is this thing? Why is this so tiny? I could fit two of these in one pillow case.
- Fluff level: 1.5
- Describe the fill of the pillow: Imagine a bag full of beans that have sharp edges. Okay, stop imagining, because you now know what this pillow feels like.
- Pillow pros: You can move around the hulls to shape the pillow however you like (except, for me, they just kind of fell back into place).
- Least favorite part about this pillow: Where do I start? It's so tiny, I felt like my head barely fit on it. I'm curious if this is any better in the "jumbo" sized offered (really, just a queen-sized pillow), though that was an additional $30.
Overall thoughts: This is certainly not the last pillow I will ever purchase, as the commercial claims. In fact, I couldn't wait to buy something other than this pillow. The beads inside were crunchy and hard, and the sound of the hulls was so distracting. It felt like someone was munching on potato chips (or possibly pistachios) right in my ear while I was trying to fall asleep. I didn't really notice whether my head was hot or cool, to be honest, because I was too busy trying to get comfortable (which never happened). It was simply too small, too flat, too firm for me. It's a miracle I slept through the night with this "miracle" pillow.
Overall grade: D-
Have you slept with a buckwheat pillow? Love it or hate it?