If you’re tossing and turning all night, or waking with aches and pains, your pillow could be the culprit. After weeks of waking with neck and shoulder pain and stiffness, I finally made an appointment with my doctor who shared this priceless nugget of knowledge with me: people typically spend a great deal of time shopping for a good mattress, she said, but they invest very little time selecting the right pillow. Thanks to her advice (and a new pillow!), I sleep better and seldom wake with discomfort.
Why a good pillow is important
Using a pillow has two main functions: Comfort and support. Pillows create a feeling of comfort, both physically and emotionally, which aids in getting a good night’s sleep and feeling well-rested.
From a health perspective, a pillow should support the head and keep the spine in natural alignment. If the height of the pillow is too high when sleeping sideways or on the back, the neck is bent abnormally forward or to the side, causing muscle strain on the back of the neck and shoulders. This type of position may also cause narrowing of the wind pipe, resulting in obstructed breathing and sometimes snoring, which can hinder sleep. Conversely, if the height of the pillow is too low, the neck muscles can also be strained.
In addition to awakening feeling un-refreshed, sleeping on the wrong pillow can contribute to headaches, neck pain, shoulder and arm numbness and more, concede orthopedic and sleep experts at WebMD. Additionally, if your pillow is past its prime, it may contain skin cells, mold, mildew, fungus, and dust mites, which can result in a host of other health issues including allergies, sneezing and wheezing.
When to buy a new pillow
Experts say the general rule is to replace a pillow every 12 to 18 months, absolutely no longer than two years. Some suggest that if you can fold a pillow in half and it doesn’t start to unfold on its own, it is time for a new pillow.
How to select a new pillow
For adults, the pillow should maintain a height of 4 to 6 inches, properly supporting the head and neck when lying on the back. Here is some advice for specific types of sleepers:
- If you sleep on your side, look for a firm pillow to fill in the distance between the ear and outside shoulder, as well as keep the body in a horizontal line. A pillow between the knees is good for hip alignment.
- If you sleep on your back, opt for a medium support pillow; one that will cradle the head but not tilt the head so far forward that the airway folds and becomes obstructed. Firm support, such as memory foam or down, is a good option for both back and side sleepers.
- If you’re a stomach sleeper, look for a very thin, almost flat pillow. Select a less resilient pillow that is not as fluffy to avoid hindering breathing. You may not even need a pillow for your head, but consider tucking one under your stomach to avoid lower back pain.
- For travelers and those who nap in unconventional places, such as a car or couch, a firm U-neck pillow is perfect for supporting the neck.
Other considerations when choosing a pillow:
Fillers. There is a plethora of material. The key is to select the one that provides the comfort and support you need.
Natural fill is feather, down, or a combination of both. It is excellent for conforming to your head and neck.
Synthetic will not conform to the head and neck as well as a natural fill pillow. Is it hypo-allergenic and, overall, the most affordable type of pillow but typically has a shorter life span.
Poly cluster fill contains polyester clusters coated with silicone to feel and move like down. It is great for allergy sufferers and gives the softness and appeal of a true down pillow without the cost.
Memory foam is a dense, sponge-like material that molds around the head and neck for extra support. It is ideal for sleepers who prefer a firm pillow, and is good for people with neck and spine issues.
Try before you buy. If you’re in a store and there’s no option to lie down, stand next to a wall in the position in which you like to sleep, put the pillow between your head and the wall and lean your head against it. Your neck should be in line with your spine. To test resiliency of the pillow, give it a hug and see how quickly it re-fluffs itself.
The key to a good night’s sleep is to take a few minutes to select a pillow that’s comfortable and provides the support you need. Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kbuydbuY00 for a video tutorial with additional information on selecting the best pillow for you.
Finally, to increase the lifespan of your pillow, fluff it each time you make your bed and placing it in an area where there is fresh air will increase its lifespan. Happy Zs!