How to Choose the Most Supportive Pillow for Better Sleep
The perfect pillow can make a huge difference in how you sleep and how you feel throughout the day. Are you waking up with neck pain or struggling with headaches / migraines? You might be blaming your mattress or yesterday’s rigorous workout, but the culprit could be something as small as your pillow.
Is It Time to Replace Your Pillow?
How long has it been since you replaced your pillow? If it’s been more than 2 years, that sore neck and recurrent headache could be caused by your pillow.
Try the fold test to see if your pillow has outlived its usefulness. Take the pillowcase off and fold the pillow in half. What happened? If it stayed folded, it’s most likely not providing the support and alignment that your neck and spine need.
It’s important to keep in mind that the 7-8 hours of sleep you (hopefully!) get each night adds up to over 2000 hours spent with your pillow every year. Just like your mattress, your pillow rarely gets a night off.
Signs It’s Time to Go Pillow Shopping
Because your head rests on your pillow every night, it collects bacteria, allergens, dust mites and other organisms. Discolouration and a musty scent is a sure sign that your pillow is no longer the healthiest sleep prop. Here are some signs that it might be time to change your pillow.
- The fabric is discoloured
- Flat in some areas and not in others
- The fabric is torn or stained
- The pillow doesn’t smell great
- You’re waking up with a stuffy nose or sore throat – this can be a sign of allergens
What is the Perfect Pillow?
Short Answer – whatever you are the most comfortable with. You want to be able to keep your head in a neutral position while sleeping. The type of pillow you need will depend on your preferred sleeping position, body type and your personal preferences for materials and size. Just like choosing a mattress, it comes down to your sleep style. Some combination sleepers may cycle between different types of pillows. When shopping for a new pillow, consider the items below:
- Head and neck alignment. While you sleep, it’s important that your spine is kept aligned with your head.
- Comfort. If you can’t get comfortable, you won’t be able to sleep well. Even if a pillow is marketed to your favourite sleeping position, it might not be the right pick for you.
- Health requirements. If you have any allergies to specific materials, opt for hypoallergenic materials that will let you get a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling great.
Choosing the Pillow Filling
A large part of choosing the perfect pillow for you depends on whether you like soft pillows, thinner pillows, or overstuffed pillows. Another thing that factors in is whether you have any allergies or sensitivities. Most latex pillows and mattresses are manufactured to be hypoallergenic. A good quality pillow protector can also help to guard against allergens while prolonging the life of the pillow.
Water Pillows – These are great for people who experience stiff necks and sore backs in the morning. Here’s why:
Usually called water pillows and branded as Chiroflow pillows or Mediflow pillows, water pillows contain a separate water bladder or core layered underneath cotton or memory foam. This allows you to adjust the firmness by adding or removing water. The water moves as you change your sleeping position, keeping your head and neck supported. A good-quality water pillow will not leak at all and can be emptied and washed periodically. Manufacturers recommend washing the pillow every 3 months and emptying the water bladder once per year.
Cotton Fibre Pillows – Ideal if you have sensitives or allergies, cotton is naturally hypoallergenic and is a good choice for those who like a standard, cheaper pillow.
Feather Pillows – The best choice for feather pillows are pure down pillows. These are light, soft and are filled only with high-quality down and minimal other feathers and fillers. The filling may also have been cleaned to reduce potential allergens. Lower quality down pillows typically have more miscellaneous fibre fill and more feathers than down.
There’s also a product called “Hypodown” or hypoallergenic down, which is a clean blend of down and a natural filler called Syriaca (Milkweed). The Syriaca helps to boost the hypo-allergenic quality of the down and can help the pillow to last longer. These pillows are much more of an investment but can last quite a bit longer than a typical cotton pillow and are ideal for people with allergies.
Latex Pillows – A contoured pillow that’s resistant to dust mites and mold, natural latex are firmer pillows that hold their shape. Unlike a down pillow, they can’t be squashed into shape, but they’re said to be very comfortable particularly for those who want extra head and neck support.
Memory Foam Pillows – Like the name suggests, memory foam molds to the shape of your head and neck, letting you “melt” into the pillow. Like latex, these are good for those who suffer from head and neck pain since they reduce pressure points. Memory foam tends to retain heat, so it’s not ideal for those who sleep “hot.” A newer alternative is shredded memory foam, which lets the sleeper adjust the fluffiness and “loft” of the pillow.
Polyester Pillows – Polyester and synthetic pillows are those ones you see for $10 in the big department stores. They do the job but need to be replaced often, since they do flatten with time and are not hypoallergenic. These are the perfect pillow if you want a no-nonsense, cheap option.
Buckwheat Pillows – Less commonly talked about, buckwheat pillows are said to be excellent for temperature regulation and wicking away moisture. They’re becoming a popular choice for people who like a firm pillow that’s still squishable. The method itself is nothing new, since buckwheat pillows have been used in Asia for centuries.
Choosing the Size of the Pillow
A standard size pillow should be all that most sleepers need but some do prefer larger king-size pillows. To properly align your head, back and neck, the pillow should be the right size and thickness. It should also fit snugly in your pillowcase. For people who suffer chronic neck pain and chronic back pain, a body pillow can be a good way to maintain spinal alignment through the night.
There are some specialty-shaped cervical pillows marketed to provide contoured support and pressure relief, but experts are unsure whether these really help with sleep quality. According to Harvard Health News, your pillow or sleep position won’t “eliminate health problems such as restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea — even though some pillows are marketed as solutions to snoring and sleep disorders.”
Choosing the perfect pillow can help with back and neck pain and improve your quality of sleep. If you need personalized support for back or neck discomfort, our team at Mind Body Spine can get you feeling like yourself again. With our total body approach to mind and body health, we’ll work with you to find and treat the source of your pain. We’ll also provide dietary and exercise advice to keep it from returning. To schedule your initial appointment, call or email our clinic in Victoria, BC today.