One of the most important and yet overlooked components of health is the kind of pillow you choose rest your head on at night. When it comes to sleeping conditions the bed takes priority for most. We want our beds to be comfortable and supportive. People spend a long time researching what type of mattress to buy. When they decide on the bed they typically buy a pillow from the same store. Not really putting too much thought about the why they should or shouldn’t purchase this pillow other than its convenience.
In my unofficial poll of patients throughout the years the most common answer to why they decided to buy that pillow was money. The second most common answer is that it felt good when they laid on it or when they squeezed it. Not exactly scientific. So how should we decide on an optimal pillow?
According to sleep experts we should be sleeping on an orthopedic pillow that conforms to orthopedic guidelines to ensure the right support of the cervical (neck) lordosis (curve). That would indicate us needing to fit the pillow to our neck when lying on our back. By supporting the natural curve of the neck you will sleep cooler and with less pain. [Link]
One interesting study found that supporting the natural curve of the neck improved Heart Rate Variability and enhanced vagal activity promoting deeper stages of sleep.[Link] Heart Rate Variability is an important indicator of overall health of the nervous system, in particular the Parasympathetic Nervous System. It is this segment of the nervous system that is in charge of healing and other automatic processes in the body.[Link] An optimum pillow will also reduce pressure upon spine by distributing weight efficiently. This will also reduce the chance of airway narrowing. This can help the individuals who suffer with sleep apnea and to those individuals married to a snorer!
So far you need to have a pillow that is contoured to the natural curve of the neck. But there are many pillows with a contour. You could spend weeks searching and reading reviews on which pillow you should go with. Fortunately I am going to make it easy on you and tell you that a pillow that is 10cm high is preferred. [Link]
Below is an example of an optimal pillow. This pillow has a contoured head rest that keeps the head and neck level while also supporting the natural curve of the neck. The wedge extension supports the upper spine.
Now this is great information for all of the back sleepers out there. But what if you sleep on your side? The answer is simple…you need to start sleeping on your back. Alright, I kid..I kid. The 10cm height is optimal for side sleeping as well. [Link]Check out a previous [blog] about how sleep positions affect brain function.
Every one of our new patients are given a pillow recommendation (look up!) upon them starting their Initial Phase of Care. It goes without saying if you are having recurrent neck or back pain you should get it checked by a professional since this is an indication of an underlying problem. Also, sleeping on an orthopedic pillow will not correct the underlying cause of your pain. That would be the equivalent of wearing a retainer on crooked teeth. It only helps slow down the damage.