Buying a pillow

Buying a pillow

The wrong type of pillow can contribute to neck pain, stiffness or headaches and lead to poor quality sleep. But what is the right type of pillow to buy?

The right type of pillow will depend on a few key points:

Your preferred sleeping position

A pillow’s role is to support your head and keep your neck aligned with the rest of your spine while you are sleeping.

If you are a back sleeper you should look for something that fills in the curve of your neck while keeping your neck neutral (so not tilted back or forcing your chin towards your chest). This often means a slightly lower pillow with a small contour will suit you best.

If you sleep on your side, something a bit higher is often more appropriate as your shoulders are wider than your neck and head. The goal is still the maintain your spinal alignment so you need a pillow thick enough that there is no space between the mattress and your head and neck, but not too thick that it tilts your head sideways.

I don’t recommend sleeping on your stomach as it puts your neck in an awkward position by compressing one side and straining the other, which can alone be the cause of your pain. It can also increase pressure on your lower back. However, if you can’t help but find yourself opting for this position, a lower pillow for your head and a pillow under your hips (to support your lower back) is often recommended.

Your physical build

If you are a larger person in general you will need a higher pillow to support the neck as described above and vice versa if you are more petite, or for children.

If you have quite a rounded upper back, which often increases as you get older, it can cause a more forward head position and therefore require a higher pillow.

Your personal preference

An important point in regard to what the pillow is made out of depends on your personal preference. If it feels comfortable you are more likely to relax and fall asleep easier. Just because a pillow is expensive, doesn’t mean it is the best choice for you, so spend some time trying different pillows at the store and lay on them for at least 10 minutes each. If you often change your sleeping position (for example you go from side sleeping to on your back) make sure it is easy to move on it and it is comfortable in all positions.

I mainly recommend foam pillows that you can adjust by adding or removing pieces to suit you using the above principles. I also often recommend memory foam pillows, as they mould to the shape of your neck and head.

Important to keep in mind

It can take a few nights for you to get used to a new pillow. However, if it doesn’t make a change to your pain after a week then there may be another underlying cause of your pain so I recommend you see a physiotherapist for an assessment.

Remember your partner may also benefit from their own pillow tailored to them, so be sure not to just buy matching pillows to suit your bedroom.

These are my tips for buying the right pillow. If you remain unsure or would like some more tailored input I recommend you see a physiotherapist who can guide you through the pillow purchasing process. You can find a physio in your area of Australia or NZ here.

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