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3 Keys to Finding the Perfect Pillow

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When it comes to a good nights sleep, comfort is key. If neck pain, back ache, stiffness, or headaches creep up, you can’t wake up feeling refreshed and restored. So, when it comes to sleep and neck pain it’s no wonder we get a lot of questions . . .

“Would a different pillow help my back?”

“I was sold this special pillow at the store, why do I still wake up stiff and sore?”

“Could my pillow be causing my neck pain?”

Let me start off by saying, there is no one perfect pillow for everyone, the best thing you can do is find the best pillow for you and your body.  Most people know that their current pillow is not doing the trick because they wake up with a stiff neck, neck pain, or a headache. If this sounds familiar, your pillow could absolutely be to blame.

I’ve been a physical therapist for nearly 15 years now and I have dealt with my fair share of neck issues and headaches in myself and clients.  So believe me when I say, that I have searched far and wide for that “perfect pillow”. Over the years I have tried a cervical roll, gel pillows, feather pillow, Tempurpedic pillow, buckwheat pillow, and my current pillow (read to the end to find out which it is).

There are a ton of pillow options on the market, but unfortunately, most people take a trial and error approach or assume the pillow that their friend loves will help them too. It best to get a professional opinion about how to go about finding the right pillow, instead of relying on the opinion of friend or family member with different sleep habits and body type.  

That may not be what works for you, because a pillow needs to fit your body (just like a pair of shoes) to do the job properly. There are a few things that need to be considered when it comes to figuring out if a pillow would work for you.

  1. Alignment

When we are not moving, our joints prefer a neutral position.   A neutral position minimizes stress on certain parts of the joint and minimizes the potential for muscles surrounding the joint from becoming overloaded and tense.  Whether you sleep on your side or on your back, your head needs to be in a good alignment in relation to the rest of your spine.

If you are lying on your back and your pillow is too high, it will excessively bend your head forward, which may lead to more stress on your spinal, as well as overstretching of ligaments and muscles in the back of the neck.  

If the pillow is too low and doesn’t provide enough support for your head, it will excessively bend your head back leading to overloading of the neck joints. To understand the influence of the pillow height, take a closer look at these pictures.

If you are lying on your side and your pillow is too high, it will excessively side bend your head leading to overloading of the neck joints and excessive muscle tension.  The same is true if your pillow is too low and not giving adequate support.

2. Support

The second important consideration when it comes to finding the right pillow is finding one that adequately supports the entire contour of your neck. If the entire neck is not supported by your pillow, it will be difficult for your neck to be fully relaxed during a full night’s sleep.  

There are many factors that contribute to whether or not a pillow is giving adequate support.  The shape of the pillow, the density of the pillow and the height of the bottom part of the pillow will be a factor.  As well as, the size and shape of a person's neck and shoulders. If your hand or someone else’s hand can easily fit between your neck and the pillow, the pillow is not giving you adequate support.

3. Comfort

Lastly, you must take into consideration the overall comfort of the pillow.  What is the material made of? What is the quality of the pillow? Is it noisy when you move around? Does it breathe or will it make you hot?  If you compare pillows in your normal sleeping position, tt should be clear if you are listening to your body.

However, a comfortable pillow at bedtime may not turn out to still be the most comfortable when you wake up in the morning. Gauge how you feel in terms of pain, stiffness, fatigue, or headaches when you wake up in the morning.

So as you can see there are a lot of considerations to take into account when it comes to finding the “perfect pillow” for you.  It really comes down to the size and shape of your body and finding a pillow that will contour to your specific body type. The best pillow that I have found that will do this for most people is The Pillowise Pillow.  It was actually introduced to me by a colleague to help me with frequent headaches I was waking up with. It’s the pillow that I use at home and even when I’m traveling.  

The reason why I love this pillow is that a person’s body measurements and preferred sleeping position are taken into consideration to determine the best pillow match. These pillows currently cannot be found in stores and are only found through health professionals who carry them.

If you are waking up with a stiff neck, pain, or headaches,  that is probably a good sign that you don’t have the right pillow.  Keep alignment, neck support and comfort in mind when you are shopping around for pillows.  I hope this advice helps you in your search to find the “perfect” pillow for YOU!

You can find more information on our website at www.peakpotentialpt.com/pillowise

A big thanks to my colleague Dr. Tamer Issa for the picutres!