There are many factors that affect the quality of sleep you get each night. One of these factors is your pillow. Choosing the wrong pillow can exacerbate headaches and neck and shoulder tension. It is crucial to take some time to determine what the best pillow is for you based on your sleeping habits and personal needs. Remember choosing a pillow is a very personal decision so what is right for someone else will not necessarily work for you.
The most important factor to keep in mind is to make sure that your head and neck are in a neutral position so they are in line with your spine (as seen in figure 1).
Below are some handy tips to consider when choosing the correct pillow for you.
SLEEPING POSITION – find your preferred sleeping position:
- Side sleeper – you will need a thicker, firmer pillow to help support the neck
- Back sleeper – look for a medium thick pillow. You don’t want it to be too thick, or it will push your head too far forward. You also don’t want it to be too soft, or your head will simply sink down to the mattress
- Stomach/front sleeper – this is not an ideal sleeping position as it can place excessive stress on your neck and shoulders. If you are unable to break this sleeping habit then no pillow or a flatter pillow is recommended. Your Osteopath will advise you in the strongest terms to try and change this habit. It puts you out of “neutral” from top to tail and does no good and perpetuates the chronic complaint you are most likely presenting with.
PILLOW FILLINGS – when buying a pillow it is important to first understand the fibres used in the various products. Each pillow ranges greatly in price, materials used and quality
- Synthetic pillows – Synthetic pillows are suited to most sleeping styles. They can be relatively cheap, lightweight, and easy to care for. However they have a short life-span and can flatten quite quickly.
- Memory Foam pillows – Memory foam pillows offer really good support, as they mould to the natural contours and curves of your body, relieving pressure and maintaining correct spinal alignment. Unfortunately these pillows are not for everyone, especially if you tend to move around during your sleep. They can also be hot and relatively expensive.
- Latex pillows – Latex pillows are made of a very long lasting natural material. They are soft and supportive offering effective pressure relief, and the pillow holds its shape well. However the latex pillow can be expensive, heavy, and have a fixed shape that is hard to change.
- Down and feather pillows – These pillows are typically made from the inner plumage of geese or ducks. They are usually soft, light and durable. However they often do not offer a lot of support or height and thus are not suited for side sleepers. Furthermore these pillows are not ideal for allergy sufferers and the feathers can sometimes poke through the pillow cover
TRY THE PILLOW – It is crucial that you test the pillow out before you buy it. Remember you will be spending about 8 hours every night sleeping on it so it’s worth spending a little time in the store to make sure you get the right one. Also keep in mind that the price isn’t everything and the best pillow for you may not be the most expensive one. It may take about 5 days to get used to your new pillow, so give your body time to adapt.
CARING FOR THE PILLOW – A pillow will last longer if it is looked after. Flip and rotate your pillow regularly, so that you are not always sleeping on the same edge (hard to do if it is a contour pillow and you need the same edge but at least shift along the edge from spot to spot). Some pillows can be washed, check the label on your pillow for washing instructions. If it is not washable then air it regularly. A pillow protector will help to reduce mould and staining on your pillow, but make sure that the protector doesn’t reduce the comfort of your pillow by being too thick or rigid.
If you require any further information of pillow choices, please feel free to come in and discuss with myself, or one of our other Osteopaths. Our goal will always be to try and keep you “neutral”.
Dr. Shaun Coghlan