There are many factors that affect the quality of the sleep you get each night. Most of us will immediately think about our mattress and whether or not it is appropriate for our needs, but what about your pillow? Choosing the wrong pillow can exacerbate headaches, neck and shoulder tension, arm and hand numbness, and create posture problems. Taking time to determine what the best pillow is for you based on your sleeping habits and personal needs will help ensure that you wake up refreshed and ready for your day.
1. Think about your most preferred sleeping position.
Some people sleep primarily on their back, some sleep primarily on their side and some prefer to sleep on their stomach. Knowing which position you tend to sleep in is important for picking the correct pillow. As a chiropractor I would strongly advise against sleeping on your stomach as it puts the neck and spine in an awful position. Keeping the spine neutral is important when lifting and important when resting. That is why the right sleeping position and the correct pillow are essential to improving your health. Sleeping on your back or on your side with your legs in a lengthened position are preferred sleeping positions.
2. Choose a style of pillow that fits your preferred sleeping position.
If you are a 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 creating bad posture. You also don’t want it to be too soft, or your head will simply sink down to the mattress leaving your neck unsupported. In this case, you may want a pillow which has a firm rounded area to support the neck and thin area for the head to rest in. This will produce a proper neck curve and help to bolster proper posture while the neck muscles get a much needed break when you’re sleeping.
Side sleepers will need a thicker, firmer pillow to help support the neck in the side lying position. You need enough pillow to fill the space between your shoulder and your ear keeping the cervical spine in line with the rest of the spine.
If you find that you are a mixed sleeper you may find many positions comfortable throughout the night. Look for a pillow that is of medium thickness, and a bit softer so that it can be used comfortably in different positions. You might also like the D-Core pillow, which we use here in the office. It is specifically designed for back, side, and back-to-side sleepers. This pillow contours to the neck when you are on your back and is able to support the head in neutral posture when sleeping on your side.
3. The filling of the pillow might need to be considered.
Down or feather pillows are typically made from the inner plumage of geese or ducks. More firmness, or loft, suits side sleepers while less loft is better for back or stomach sleepers. They can last up to 10 years and are resilient and breathable because they are made of a natural material. Some people do complain that down or feather pillows exacerbate allergies or asthma, so you might wish to avoid them for this reason. Likewise, the filling of these pillows can shift so if you toss and turn frequently they may lose their support of the head and neck during the night.
A wool or cotton pillow might be particularly suitable for you if you suffer from severe allergies, as these pillows are not susceptible to dust mites or mold. Be aware that these pillows tend to be quite firm, so back sleepers might wish to avoid them.
Latex pillows are made from the sap of rubber trees, making it elastic and resilient. These pillows are good for allergy sufferers, as they are mold resistant. They tend to be cooler than memory foam and can form to fit your head and neck. Latex pillows come in all shapes and sizes. Consistencies vary as well, some use shredded material while others are made of solid cores. They do not offer as much ‘give’ as a memory foam pillow and can be quite heavy, and expensive. Also, their artificial feel annoy some people. These pillows are made of polyurethane, which is then mixed with additional chemicals. Memory foam pillows come in all shapes and sizes including an S-shaped version. They provide good support, especially if you have neck, jaw, or shoulder problems. They are long lasting and are good at forming to the contours of your head and neck. High density is best in order to avoid the material breaking down. Be aware that this material can make you hot, as it doesn’t “breathe.” If you tend to move around a lot, these pillows may be uncomfortable since they take a bit of time to mold into different shapes.
A new memory foam pillow may have an unpleasant odor which will go away after a short while. Some of the chemicals in the memory foam have been linked to throat irritation, headaches, feeling dizzy, forgetfulness, and thyroid dysfunction. Memory foam has been shown to have the chemicals formaldehyde, toluene, and benzene found within the foam. If this a concern to you stick with a more natural material.
Above all remember that your pillow should be working for you not against you. It should help you remain in a comfortable position all night long allowing for your neck and spinal muscles to relax and recharge. If your pillow is not suited for you or if it has been awhile since you replaced your pillow you might need to consider an upgrade. Sleep is essential to your health and a good pillow can be a major help in keeping you healthy each night.
Don’t forget: stop in our Roanoke, Virginia chiropractic office to receive 10% off D-Core pillows now through November 2!
Daryl C. Rich, D.C., C.S.C.S., A.R.T.