Wake Up in Comfort: 3 Steps to Choosing a Pillow That Fits

One of the most common questions that I’ve been asked is how to choose the correct pillow.  If you find yourself waking up in the morning with neck, shoulder or upper back stiffness or soreness, an unsupportive pillow may be contributing this discomfort or even headaches.  Here is a primer what to take into account when choosing a new pillow.

A one-size-fits all solution is not possible in the world of pillows since our body dimensions and sleeping positions differ.   Regardless or your sleeping position, the goal is to ensure that you find a pillow that conforms to your body shape, so that your head remains level with your upper back in order to distribue the weight evenly along the spine.  A proper pillow, when compressed will make up for the distance b/w the ear and shoulder (side sleepers), or back of head and the back (back sleepers).  The good news is that there are a 3 key steps that will make your selection much easier.

Step 1:  Identify Your Sleeping Position

SIDE SLEEPERS

Side sleeping requires an individual to turn more frequently as there is greater pressure per square inch of body contacting the bed.  As a result, a thicker pillow is necessary for this sleeping position, and avoid sleeping with a hand or arm under the pillow.  If you find yourself needing to do this, it usually means that the pillow is too thin.  Instead, the bed side arm should be placed slightly forward on the mattress at ~ 44-60 degree angle from the body, with the upper resting on the side, or draped across the abdomen.  Knees should be bent 30- 90 degrees, stacked upon each other with a pillow between the knees to maintain pelvic/hip alignment.  Avoid scissoring the legs as this strains the low back region.

BACK SLEEPERS

Back sleepers should ensure that the head is nestled into a relatively soft and thin pillow, and not tilted to one side.  The pillow should not tuck your chin or tilt your head backwards.  If lower back pain in experienced in this position, simply placing a pillow under the knees should alleviate this discomfort.

STOMACH SLEEPERS

This sleeping position is not recommended as it tends to strain the supporting musculature of the neck, especially those of the upper shoulders.  Furthermore, the underlying spine tends to ‘corkscrew’ imposing undue torsion to the spine.  But if position is absolutely necessary, the pillow should be relatively slim or the head should rest directly on the mattress, to avoid excessive turning of the head on one side.  Another relatively flat pillow should also be placed under the stomach to maintain spinal alignment.

STOMACH SLEEPERS

This sleeping position is not recommended as it tends to strain the supporting musculature of the neck, especially those of the upper shoulders.  Furthermore, the underlying spine tends to ‘corkscrew’ imposing undue torsion to the spine.  But if position is absolutely necessary, the pillow should be relatively slim or the head should rest directly on the mattress, to avoid excessive turning of the head on one side.  Another relatively flat pillow should also be placed under the stomach to maintain spinal alignment.

Step 2:  Determine Required Pillow Thickness

Sleeping Posture

Pillow Material Taking the Measurment

Pillow Thickness (after being compressed by the weight of the head)

Side Only Feather (not down) or fiberfill or foam/polyester, if suitable thickness found Standing upright, lean toward wall with shoulder touching and measure the distance from the ear to the wall Usually 2-4 inches
Back Only Feather (down OK) or fiberfill Lean back against a wall with the head in its upright posture.  Measure the distance from the wall to the back of the head. Usually 2-6 inches
BOTH Side and Back Fiberfill or feather (not down) Follow same measurements  for side-sleeper  

 

Step 3:  Choose Your Pillow Filling

The most common types of pillow fillings are:  feather, fiberfill, and memory foam.  Some have great adaptability such as feather or fiberfill, and others have limited adaptability such as memory foam or foam rubber (polyurethane) – combination sleepers need the molding capability of the feather or fiberfill pillow to pump the thickness when on one’s side, compress when sleeping on one’s back.  Your comfort and personal preference will determine the best pillow filling for you.

Feather – very pliable, and soft.  The stuffing can be moved around to accommodate areas that require more support

Foam – firmer, sturdier pillow.  The higher the density, the less breakdown and greater support achieved.  Foam rubber tends to be more cost effective compared to memory foam, and in many cases works just as well.

Memory foam  – suited for those looking for additional neck support as they reduce pressure points if changing sleeping positions frequently.  Tendency to retain heat, so may get uncomfortable as the night progresses.

Latex- the firmest type of pillow, and very hypoallergenic

Water – supports head and neck in any sleeping position, customized support by adding/removing water

Buckwheat hull- suitable for sleepers who enjoy a firmer pillow, th e hulls conform to the exact contours of the head, neck and shoulders, the filling stays cool when sleeping

The acclimatization period for a new pillow can be around a couple weeks, where, during this time period, you may experience mild discomfort in the neck/shoulders, as your body gets used to the new position.  If however, this discomfort still persists, it may be time to experiment with another pillow and visit your local chiropractor to ensure that your joints are in their optimum positions to prevent strain of the supporting musculature.

Sweet Dreams, and as always, if you have any questions about this article or have a topic suggestion, feel free to e-mail us!