What difference does a pillow make anyway?
Choosing the correct pillow for you is a task to do today! We spend up to 9 hours a day lying on a pillow, if you are sleeping on a pillow that is of poor quality, or not the right shape or style for your body type, chances are you will wake with neck pain or stiffness, numbness in the hands, headaches or shoulder pain.
Everybody is different in their sleeping habits and their body type, therefore one pillow will not suit everybody.
How to choose the right pillow for you?
First thing to think about is what position you usually sleep in:
1. Side sleeper – generally you will need a higher, firmer pillow to support your shoulder so that your neck is aligned in a neutral position. If you have broad shoulders you will need a higher pillow than someone with narrow shoulders (who would need a low contour pillow).
2. Back sleeper – as you are not needing to support the height of your shoulder you can use a lower pillow as a back sleeper.
3. Stomach sleeper– stomach sleeping can be a huge problem for people with neck pain, since you need to have your head in a position of extreme rotation (to turn your head to the side to breathe) it can cause a lot of neck pain on waking. Generally stomach sleeping is discouraged, if you can not sleep any other way, try hugging a pillow and rolling half way onto your stomach (this way your neck is not rotated as much).
Types of pillow ‘fillers’:
1. Feather or down pillows – These tend to have the shortest usable lifetime of pillows as it tends to loose its shape very quickly, thus this pillow shape is not great for side sleepers who need a lot of support for the neck and shoulders.
2. Memory foam – Memory foam has an open-cell structure that reacts to body heat and weight by ‘moulding’ to your body, helping relieve pressure points, preventing pressure sores. Memory foam can come in a range of densities, with higher density foam being firmer, thus it tends to have a longer life. Memory foam is thought to be a good combination of comfort and firmness to support the neck, so depending on how dense your pillow foam is it can be quite supportive.
3. Latex – Latex is a firm substance derived from plants which can create a firm but comfortable pillow, ideal for side sleepers as it holds its shape well to support the neck and shoulders.
How to pillow shop
Take a friend or partner with you, especially if you are a side sleeper. Make sure you “try on” your pillow, lie down in your preferred sleeping position, make sure the pillow is comfortable to your tastes. Get your friend/partner to check your neck position while you lie on the prospective pillow – is the neck supported straight, or does your head look too high or too low? Try a few different brands in different styles and fillers. Also check the warranty on your pillow many pillows will have a year or two guarantee.
Remember when you have your new pillow, it can take up to two weeks to get used to, particularly if it is a big change from your previous pillow. If you wake with a little neck stiffness in the first week, this is common. After your initial two weeks or so of “getting used” to your pillow, you should find it is very comfortable, and that you have less neck and shoulder stiffness than previous. If you are still having neck stiffness you should seek assistance from your physiotherapist for further investigation.
You will also find pillows for sale at our Physiotherapy clinics – please ask our Reception staff for help.