Choosing a pillow is not as easy as it appears to be. The primary reason for using a pillow is to support the neck in a comfortable posture to allow for a restful night’s sleep. Patients often comment on problems they have sleeping because of neck pain. The first question they should be asked is what type of pillow they are sleeping on. The usual response is foam, feather or “I don’t know for sure”. This article discusses why good posture for the neck is important for a restful night’s sleep and offers some suggestions on choosing a good supportive pillow.
Why Does My Neck Hurt In The Morning?
Poor neck position during sleep has the same effect on the spine as sitting with poor posture in a chair for a lengthy period of time. Pain and stiffness can develop in the neck and it may be severe enough to wake you up during the night. Should the pillow be soft or thick? It should be neither too soft or too thick and here are some of the reasons why:
- Soft Pillow – If a pillow is too soft it allows the head and neck to tip towards the mattress. If lying on the right side, the posture will put a strain on the right side of the neck. Furthermore, if there are narrowed spinal nerve openings on the right side of the neck, this posture will close the openings even more by compressing and irritating the spinal nerves. Lying on the left side creates the same effect on the left.
- Thick Pillow– When a pillow is too thick it allows the head and neck to be pushed away from the mattress. Lying on the right side creates the same results as a soft pillow does, but affects the left side. Sleeping with more than one pillow has the same effect.
There are medical conditions such as GERD or acid reflux that do not allow for sleeping with the neck straight. The head and upper back have to be elevated. Check with your doctor and see if elevating the head of the bed by placing some blocks of wood under the legs to elevate the bed itself might be helpful. This is an excellent option to avoid using two or more pillows.
How Should I Choose A Pillow?
The following suggestions will be helpful in choosing the right pillow. Like shoes, one size or type will not fit everyone. Taking some extra time to do research will provide you with the necessary information to select the most supportive pillow for you. Simply selecting a pillow out of a large stack of pillows in a bin will more than likely not end satisfactorily.
Here are some recommendations:
- Test the Pillow – Lay on a mattress that is similar to the firmness that you are currently sleeping on. Choose a pillow and test it by having someone observe your neck from behind to see if it is straight and in alignment. If not, keep looking.
- Pillow Firmness – If you are also choosing a new mattress, select a pillow that matches the firmness so your neck alignment remains straight. There are sleep stores and merchants that have devices to measure the space between the neck and mattress to aid you in proper pillow selection. Whether you sleep primarily on your side or your back can determine which pillow will provide the best support for you.
- Pillow Content – The consistency of the pillow is your own preference. Air, foam, feather, water or fabric are available. Feather pillows seem to cause the most difficulty in maintaining a good sleeping posture.
- Pillow Construction – Pillows are available with ridges and dips built in that are designed to support the neck. The goal is the same, proper alignment and support of the neck to minimize pain and discomfort during the night or upon arising.
- Pillow Replacement – Periodically pillows will need to be replaced; they can wear out like shoes. An indication a pillow should be replaced is a return of prior neck, headaches or upper back symptoms. If symptoms reoccur a determination needs to be made to discover if they are caused by the pillow or a bio-mechanical problem with the neck and upper back. You may need to see your chiropractor to help in this determination.
In addition to finding the right pillow for you, preparing for sleep every night will give you the best opportunity to obtain a good night’s sleep.
The doctors at Coon Rapids Chiropractic Office have experience in assisting patients with pillow and mattress questions.