Adopting a good posture is not just important for sitting and standing, it is also crucial for sleeping as it can affect your breathing and spinal alignment. Choosing a pillow will heavily influence your sleeping posture because using the correct pillow will prevent unnecessary pressure on your spinal discs, muscles, and nerves. Therefore, having the correct pillow will help reduce neck and back pain issues. This will in turn improve your quality of sleep. However, deciding on the height, size and degree of firmness of a pillow can be confusing for some. Physiotherapists are often asked this question: ‘What type of pillow should I be using?’
Before we go into detail, it is important to first understand the structure of a pillow and its purpose. A pillow should:
- Keep your head in neutral alignment with your neck and upper back
- Provide support for your head and take load away from your neck and spine
It is also useful to know that our back consists of three natural curves:
- The neck and lower back curves forward
- The mid back curves backwards
Pain and stiffness when you wake up are some of the telltale signs that you have lost your neutral alignment and your body is trying to fight gravity to keep you upright, thus placing more pressure on certain muscles in your neck, shoulders, and back.
Your preferred sleeping position will help determine the type of pillow suited for you:
The best pillow for back sleepers will adequately fill the space between yourself and the mattress, elevating your head only as high as needed to achieve a neutral position,
Back sleepers should find a pillow that supports your natural forward curve. To prevent your neck from sloping forwards or backwards, you should get a pillow with a thicker base to support the slimmest part of your neck. You may also find that a rolled-up towel placed lengthwise along the part of the pillow where you find your neck curving forward, will help with maintaining a neutral alignment.
In this position, you may also consider using a small pillow under your knees to support your hip and reduce pressure on your lower back.
Sleeping on the side is the most common sleeping position and is usually the most comfortable position for sleep. For individuals who suffer from a lot of pain, this position can help to reduce pressure on your spinal discs, ligaments, and muscles.
To keep your head in neutral alignment and prevent it from tipping up or down, the height of your pillow should be from your shoulder to your neck. For individuals with broader shoulders, stacking two pillows together might help. This will minimise pressure on your neck by reducing the compression of muscles and joints that were unwillingly moulded into a tilt by a pillow that is too thick or thin. A feather pillow which is more malleable can also be twisted into a bow shape. The slimmest part of your neck should rest in the middle to maintain neutral alignment. Furthermore, to help support your hip and lower back alignment, you may also place a small pillow between your knees. This will help to reduce any lower back pain.
Whilst it is not the ideal sleeping position, front sleepers are encouraged to position a pillow beneath their chest or rest with the shoulder slightly back to avoid over-extension of the neck, and to allow it to rest in a neutral position. Depending on the width of your shoulder, you may vary the type and number of pillows to achieve neutral alignment. Front sleepers tend to need a low pillow to keep neutral neck alignment. You may also choose to add a pillow under your hips to lessen the strain on your lower back.
Finally, a pillow should provide comfort. Always choose the grade of firmness that you are comfortable with.
Hope the above information can guide you to getting the right pillow. However, if your back or neck pain persists despite changing pillows, it is best to visit a physiotherapist for professional help. We can identify any complex issues early and focus on permanent relief of your pain. At Physio & Sole Clinic, we want to help you move beyond recovery. Whilst we cannot buy the best pillows for you, we have most certainly got your back!