What to Look for in a Pillow

We commonly get asked about what can be done to get a better nights sleep. It’s usually a question about mattresses, positioning or pillows. Today, I will cover positioning and pillows, because how you sleep can determine what type of pillow will work best.

Ideally, when sleeping, your body should maintain a neutral spine. You can do this by sleeping on your back with support under your neck, or on your side with a supportive pillow that will allow you to keep the proper position (see picture to the left). If you have low back and sleep on your back, you can place a pillow under your knees to take the pressure off of your lumbar spine. If you sleep on your side, you can place a pillow in between your knees so that your hips are in a better supported state.

You will notice that I did not mention sleeping on your stomach. There was a reason for this. The first reason is because when you sleep on your stomach, you place too much pressure on your lumbar spine and it affects the curve and musculature in your low back. The second reason is because when you sleep on your stomach, you need to breathe. Because of this, you have to turn your head to one side or the other and that places a lot of tension in your cervical spine and the muscles protecting it. If you are a stomach sleeper, please slowly try to make the switch to your side or back. Your body will thank you!

As for pillows, you want a pillow that maintains the curvature in your neck as well as maintains the neutral spine. If you are sleeping on your back, you will want a pillow with cervical support under the neck to support the curve while still allowing your head to rest comfortably on the pillow. If you are sleeping on your side, you want a pillow that it not too big or small that it puts an abnormal head tilt, but will keep your spine straight. (again, see picture to the left) As long as the spine is well supported, you can have a firm or fluffy pillow, depending on your preference.

In our office, we use the Tri-Core pillow and have since we opened the office. Both Dr. Bret and myself use them, and we have pediatric versions for both of our kids. We are both side and back sleepers, so these pillows accommodate both of our sleeping styles. I do not recommend this pillow for stomach sleepers. We replace our pillows every 6 months to a year. That may seem like a long time for some people, but consider that if you sleep 8 hours a day for a year, it is equivalent to 122 full days sleeping each year – wow!

Do you have more questions? Just ask!

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