3 Steps for Choosing the Perfect Pillow
The right pillow can start your day off right by allowing you to get a good night’s sleep.
We’ve all woken up with a ‘kink’ in the neck that really gets us off to a bad start. The wrong pillow can also worsen headaches, shoulder and arm numbness, and negatively impact quality of sleep. But what pillow is right for you?
Read on to find out how to choose a pillow that will provide ultimate comfort and ensure you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready for your day.
Step 1: Determine Your Sleep Position
The goal of using a pillow is to keep your spine in neutral alignment, meaning that your head should be in the midline and not too far back or forward.
Back sleepers: you need a pillow that will support your neck but not push your head too far forward. Those that experience neck discomfort may want a pillow that is more firm in the bottom third of the pillow to cradle the neck more effectively.
Side sleepers: you will need a thicker, firmer pillow to help support the neck and head in alignment with the rest of the spine. The goal here is to fill the distance between the ear and the outermost part of the shoulder.
Chiropractors generally advise against sleeping on your stomach as it does not allow proper spinal alignment and often leads to problems in the neck and low back. That said, if you are unable to change this habit, the best pillow for you is a very thin pillow or no pillow at all under the head, but instead under the stomach/hips to avoid lower back pain.
Step 2: Choose Your Fill
Down/feather: Down is very light and soft versus feather which is harder and stronger. A combination of 50% feather and 50% down is often preferred because you get both the support of the feathers and the softness of the down. Also, the fill can be moved around to your preference to give you more support where you need it and eliminate pressure points. These pillows often last for several years and are resilient and breathable.
Wool/cotton: These pillows are quite firm so they provide very good neck and head support and resist flattening. Wool draws moisture away from the skin and is also a good temperature-regulator for those who find some synthetic pillows to be too hot. These pillows are also not susceptible to mould and dust-mites, making them a good hypoallergenic option.
Memory foam: Made of dense sponge-like material that conforms to your individual body shape, these pillows come in various shapes which make them even better at conforming to the contours of your head and neck. The downfall of memory foam is that it is synthetic, so it doesn’t breathe and some sleepers complain that it makes them hot. Also, new memory foam pillows may often have an unpleasant chemical odour.
Latex: These pillows are made from a rubber polymer, which makes them elastic and resilient. They are sometimes contoured like memory foam pillows and also conform to fit your head and neck. They bounce back much more quickly than memory foam and may be better suited to sleepers that move around a lot during the night. An added benefit for allergy sufferers: latex pillows are hypoallergenic.
Synthetic: these fills are also good for allergy sufferers and they are machine washable and often more affordable that other fill-types. However, they do not conform to the head and neck as well as other pillows and have a much shorter life span.
Step 3: The Test Drive
Armed with your knowledge of what fill might be your top choice, it’s now time to try out several different pillows. There is no one pillow that will work for everyone. It is a very individual choice and can take a fair amount of experimentation.
This is an important purchase and often an expensive one so when you’re ready to buy, opt for a store that will allow you to try out the pillow to make sure it is right for you.
Lie down and place your head and neck on the pillow. Take note of the pillow’s support and whether it maintains the normal/comfortable alignment of your spine. There should be no tension in the neck or back and no excessive pressure on the shoulder or any other part of the body.
Pillows can be expensive, but remember that a more expensive pillow is not automatically the better pillow. What matters most is how it feels to you. If possible, try borrowing different kinds of pillows from friends and family to keep costs down. Ideally, you would try a pillow for up to a week to see whether it seems to be a good fit.
How often should you replace a pillow?
The general rule of thumb is to buy a new pillow every 12 to 18 months. However, some down/feather pillows can last a few years and some synthetic pillows may not last much more than 6 months.
A quick test is to fluff up your pillow and then fold it in half and hold for 30 seconds. When you let go, if it doesn’t readily spring back to it’s original shape it is probably time to go through steps 1 to 3 above to find a new pillow.
- Back sleepers may benefit from putting a second pillow under their knees to reduce tension in the low back whereas side-sleepers may be more comfortable with a pillow between their knees to keep the hips and pelvis level.
- What is right for you on a regular day may be different than what you need on a day when you’re experiencing pain. Consider having more than one pillow to choose from.
- Use a pillow protector to prolong the life of your pillow by keeping out dirt, oils, skin cells, and dust mites.
Written by Dr. Lisa Clarke. Dr. Lisa Clarke is a Chiropractor at Back in Balance Clinic in Toronto. She has a special interest in perinatal care and looks forward to helping all of her patients achieve their best health.