Tips on getting spine-nourishing and pain free sleep!
We spend around 7-8 hours in our sleeping position each night, so it is no wonder our pillows impact on how we feel when we wake up. Using the wrong pillow can quite literally be a pain in the neck. Selecting the right pillow ensures a restful and recuperative sleep that promotes decompression and relaxation for your cervical spine (neck) after it has been fighting against gravity all day!
We know that a neutral spine looks different on everyone, and therefore there is no “one-size-fits-all” deal when it comes to pillows. We will leave you with some simple guidelines for selecting a pillow who’s size, shape and material is best suited to you.
Size matters when it comes to pillows. A pillow that is too thick or too thin will cause areas of compression and excessive stretch, which result in neck discomfort. It is ideal to find a pillow that encourages a neutral position, meaning your head and neck remain level with the rest of your spine.
The shape of your pillow has a large influence on the posture of your head and neck. The common “D” shaped pillow has a high centre an very thin edges. This shape has a tendency to lack support for the neck and lift the head too high. On the other hand, contour shaped pillows have a gentle “B” shape. The centre is slightly depressed to cradle your head, while the upper and lower borders are built higher to support your neck. This shape supports the natural spine position most effectively.
The material of your pillow will determine how well it supports the weight of our head. On average the human head weighs around 5kg, or 8% of your body weight. A low-density or easily “squish-able” material, will be easily flattened by the weight of your head. A more dense material like memory-foam will hold up your head’s weight while remaining comfortable.
Water-based pillows are another option, these consist of a cushioning material layered over a water-bladder. The bladder comes empty, allowing you to fill it to the level of support that you need. Water will mould to the shape of your head without loosing support for your neck.
Lastly, we can’t talk about pillows without also mentioning sleeping position. Advice on which sleeping position is best varies, however health professionals do agree that stomach sleeping should be avoided. When lying on your front it is necessary to twist your neck into positions which place stress on your neck.
Both side and back sleeping allow neutral spine positions, and each position is beneficial for its own reasons. Your ideal pillow will depend on which position you prefer. A side-sleeper will generally require a larger neck support region, depending on your shoulder width. A back-sleeper may prefer a pillow with less height, but a relatively firm centre to prevent their head tilting back too far.
The key take away:
You want your pillow to fit to your neutral spine position. A pillow that does this will support the weight of your skull, preserve your neck’s natural curve and take pressure off your cervical spine. My final tip is to look for pillows that are customisable (ie: removable foam sections or self-fill water bladders), this will allow unique support as you can adjust it to your own comfort needs!