How to Choose a Pillow for Your Sleep Needs
Table of Contents
- Signs you’re sleeping on the wrong pillow
- Important facts about pillows
- Health benefits of the perfect pillow
- How to choose the right pillow for you
- Pillow shopping tips
- Integrating your sleep with a pillow, mattress and frame
Maintaining the natural curve in your neck and spine is critical to getting a full, restful sleep. The wrong pillow can strain your neck and shoulder muscles and, instead of recovery, it can create more pain while you’re sleeping.
On the other hand, a perfect pillow can help you maintain correct body alignment, relieve pain and prevent injury. Today, there are more choices than ever in pillow styles and materials. While this means you have more options to find the perfect pillow for you, it also makes choosing the right pillow a confusing decision.
Getting fitted for the perfect pillow ensures you get the correct solution for your sleep style, body size and other needs, such as thermal control or specific health concerns. By speaking with a sleep expert, you’ll be sure to get the perfect pillow fit for you.
7 Signs You’re Sleeping on the Wrong Pillow
Most people spend much more time thinking about what mattress to buy, and less time wondering if their pillow is right for them. But many people suffer needlessly from sleepless nights or wake up in pain simply by using the wrong pillow. Because sleep is a critical health issue, using the wrong pillow every night can lead to chronic problems over time.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, it could be a sign you’re sleeping on the wrong pillow.
1. Neck Pain
The wrong pillow can stretch your neck muscles and cause your head to be out of alignment with your spine. If the pillow is too plush or too thin, it can’t adequately support your head and keep it in alignment with your spine. When you spend 7-9 hours in this unhealthy position every night, spinal misalignment can result in chronic neck pain. Additionally, if you already suffer from neck pain caused by problems like injuries or improper workplace ergonomics, your range of motion will be limited, causing you to experience a painful sleep.
Depending on your sleep position, you may experience increased neck pain if your pillow isn't supportive enough. Side and stomach sleeping can significantly contribute to neck pain when your pillow isn’t designed to support these sleep styles.
2. Back Pain
Back pain, particularly low back pain, can be an indicator of an unsupportive pillow. Low back pain occurs when the lumbar (low) spine is out of alignment with the thoracic (mid) and cervical (high) spine. When the head and neck are elevated too high, they won’t be in alignment with the rest of the spine. Misalignment causes the low back to overcompensate with an unnatural curve, and it won’t get the support it needs to alleviate pressure points.
On the other hand, a pillow that’s too low will cause the head and neck to sink below the rest of the spine, creating added pressure on the thoracic and lumbar regions. Stomach and side sleepers tend to experience more low back pain when sleeping on a pillow that doesn’t cradle the head and neck in proper alignment. Back sleepers may experience low back pain if their knees aren’t supported with additional support pillows.
Stiffness occurs when your range of motion has been limited by muscles that have stretched unnaturally for prolonged periods and then contracted and tightened when released. When the head and neck aren’t properly supported by the right pillow height and comfort level, neck and back muscles may stretch out during the night rather than be held in a neutral position.
When you wake up, stretched neck muscles may contract and tighten, causing the neck and back to feel stiff and tense. Stiffness can range from mild—where it disappears after a few morning movements—to severe—where it continues well into the day, even with lots of movement.
Choosing the right pillow can ease neck tension and give you a better range of motion when you wake up.
Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint an exact cause of headaches. But in many cases, headaches can be associated with neck pain and tension. The base of the neck contains a group of muscles called suboccipital muscles, which directly refer nerves to the skull, including the front of the head and the eyes. When these muscles tense up from poor alignment, they refer pain into the head, resulting in tension headaches.
Pillows that are too high can cause the head and neck to round forward adding tension to the suboccipital neck muscles. Too much tension in these muscles may result in you waking up with a headache or developing a headache in the morning once you’ve gotten out of bed.
5. Breathing and Digestive Problems
Many people require the right pillow for addressing underlying health issues. Sleep apnea is a breathing condition where the person experiences repeated interruptions in their breathing throughout the night. Certain pillows can aggravate this condition because they don’t support the head at a proper angle to prevent airway blockages between the throat and palate.
People with acid reflux disease experience a weakening of the muscle between the throat and stomach, causing acid to back up into the throat and mouth. Acid reflux causes a painful burning sensation that significantly disrupts sleep quality. Pillows that are too thin don’t elevate the head and neck high enough to prevent the acid backwash from reaching the chest and throat.
People who suffer from either sleep apnea or acid reflux should consider getting fitted for the right pillow to help manage these symptoms.
6. Restless Sleep
The wrong pillow can cause discomfort throughout the night, resulting in you tossing and turning to find the most comfortable position. While it’s normal to change positions throughout the night, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your sleep quality. If you find yourself frequently waking up throughout the night, it may be due to an uncomfortable and unsupportive pillow.
People with chronic pain often find it hard to achieve a sleep position that will alleviate pressure points well enough for them relax. If you’re uncomfortable throughout the night, your body won’t be able to relax and you may not get the deep sleep your body needs to repair itself. Poor sleep quality can negatively affect your daily life and increase the risk of chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes.
For people who suffer from restless nights, getting fitted for the right pillow is critical to long-term health.
7. Better Sleep When Away From Home
One of the key signs that you may be sleeping on the wrong pillow is that you get a better sleep when you’re traveling and using another pillow. When you’re away visiting family or staying at a hotel, you have a different sleeping experience. By comparing your sleep quality at home to your sleep quality while you’re away, you may be able to tell what type of pillow is better for you.
Hotels, for example, often invest in luxury pillows. However, they are typically designed for side sleepers and usually have a medium firmness level. If you tend to have a better sleep when away at a hotel or someone’s home, determine what about their pillows is different than yours. It may be the firmness, the amount of filling or even the material.
Facts You Might Not Know About Pillows
Many people overlook the importance of their pillow when it comes to getting a good night sleep. If you’ haven’t recently changed your pillow, you may not appreciate the difference that the right pillow can make in your sleep quality.
To highlight just how important it is to your health, here are some facts you might not know about pillows and sleep quality:
- Your pillow contributes to one-third of your sleep quality, in addition to your mattress and frame. Investing in the right pillow can improve your sleep quality by at least 30%.
- Most people don’t know when it’s time to change their pillow. A good rule to follow is to invest in a high-quality pillow with good support and replace it every two years.
- Inexpensive pillows made from polyester and other synthetic materials may need to be replaced as often as every six months.
- You should change your pillow type whenever you change your mattress. For example, if you switch from a soft to a firm mattress, it will affect how your pillow supports you and you’ll need the right pillow to maintain your spinal alignment.
- Many people think only about their main pillow for their head. However, additional support pillows can improve sleep quality and protect spinal health. These include pillows for under the knees, between the knees or under the arm and shoulder, depending on your sleep style.
How the Perfect Pillow Improves Sleep and Health
Though your pillow is one of the most important factors for a good night’s sleep, like most people, you may have no idea how to select the right one. When walking through the aisles of a store, you may likely feel overwhelmed by all the options. You might squeeze a few different pillows trying to figure out what feels the best. But what you may not realize is that different pillows are designed for different people. When choosing a pillow, you need to consider your sleeping style, body type, mattress and health conditions first.
The perfect pillow can improve both your sleep quality and your physical and mental health. The more rested you are, the better you’ll feel. Many experts now agree that sleep is as essential to your well-being as diet and exercise.
How pillows affect your sleep quality is key to knowing what pillow is right for you. When choosing the perfect pillow, it’s important to understand the function your pillow plays.
Your pillow has two main functions:
- Support—Providing support for your neck, upper back and spine allows for rest and recovery
- Comfort—Allowing a higher level of comfort to rest and sleep deeply
The perfect pillow is not only comforting and helps you sleep better, but it’s also beneficial to your spine health. It plays an important supportive role for your entire body head to toe, including your spine, neck, shoulders and back. It helps to keep your entire body in alignment. The right pillow should relieve pressure points and prevent pain—not cause it.
Your spine is naturally curved. Having the right support for your neck, head and upper back helps your body to maintain proper alignment without causing stiffness or pain. The shape, height and firmness of your pillow are all essential to finding the right one for necessary spine support.
A proper pillow allows restorative sleep that helps your body correct postural, physical and nervous system challenges throughout the day, to prevent, reduce or even eliminate pain. A good pillow can allow comfortable rest even when not sleeping deeply and just taking a short nap or simply relaxing.
Soft pillows may feel like a comforting hug at first, but choosing the right pillow is far from choosing the softest and fluffiest one in the store. Chiropractors, physical therapists, body workers and health professionals agree that the right pillow can make a true difference in your health.
The comfort factor of your pillow is fairly subjective, depending on your personal preferences, body size, sleeping position and health conditions. Of course, the right support plays an important role in finding the right comfort level.
Factors to Consider When Choosing the Perfect Pillow
When learning how to choose a pillow, you first need to know what factors to consider in your buying decision. Some factors to consider when choosing the ideal pillow include:
- Sleep Style—Are you usually a side, back or stomach sleeper?
- Unique Needs—What pillow materials or styles will support your ideal body temperature or a sleep disorder you may have?
- Overall Comfort—Do you need supportive pillows for more than just your head?
Best Pillows for Side Sleepers
If you are a side sleeper, a firm pillow is your best choice. Select one that helps to bridge the distance between your ear and your shoulder. To allow more comfort, encourage proper alignment of your spine and prevent rolling on your stomach, you may want to add a pillow between your knees.
Our ContourSide Pillow is specifically created for side sleepers. It combines the shape-conforming benefits of a memory foam contour pillow with a unique airflow system to improve your breathing. It helps with proper spinal alignment, neck comfort and head support.
Best Pillows for Back Sleepers
As a back sleeper, you may benefit from a pillow with an extra loft that helps to cradle your neck. Choose a memory foam pillow that provides consistent support and alleviates pressure by molding to your body.
The TEMPUR-Neck Pillow at Relax The Back is our best pillow for back sleepers and for maximum pressure relief. It supports your neck, allows your shoulders to relax and prevents snoring and sinus issues that may disrupt your sleep. It has a firm feel and is available in multiple sizes.
The TEMPUR-Neck Pillow works not only for back sleepers but side sleepers as well. We recommend this pillow for those who may sleep on their back one night but on their side another.
Best Pillows for Stomach Sleepers
Due to the twisting of your neck and the pressure on your lower back, we do not recommend stomach sleeping. If you must sleep on your stomach, try an extremely thin pillow or no pillow at all. It is better to teach yourself to sleep on your side.
Try our ContourSide Pillow—specifically created for side sleepers. Put another pillow between your legs and hug a third one with your hands. Or try our Dreamweaver Body Pillow—a versatile option for shoppers looking for the best pillow for stomach sleepers. With the right pillow, practice and patience, you can transition to being a side sleeper.
Best Cooling Pillows for Hot Sleepers
If you are someone whose body temperature naturally increases during sleep, try our Technogel ContourGel Pillow. We have one for back sleepers and one for side sleepers. A cooling pillow, complete with top-to-bottom air tunnels, the Technogel ContourGel Pillow helps you stay cool and get a comfortable, sound sleep. The best cooling pillows offer ergonomic support for your neck and spine and provide pressure relief while allowing natural movement.
Best Pillows for CPAP Users
If you are a CPAP user, you have nothing to worry about. The CPAP pillow is specifically designed for those who sleep with OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) during CPAP therapy. The best pillows for CPAP users support your neck and spine, provide breathability and have a cooling effect to encourage a comfortable sleep in your preferred position.
Best Support Pillow Options
Sometimes you just need a little extra support. In addition to your head, extra pillows can help support other parts of your body such as:
If you are looking for the best support pillows to use between your knees, hug while side sleeping or need a soft, supportive cushion, our Tempur-Pedic BodyPillow may just be your solution.
For something more versatile, our peanut-shaped TEMPUR All-Purpose Pillow has multiple uses. It can turn into a leg spacer, lumbar cushion or a neck roll. It offers comfort and pressure relief and is the perfect size for travel. Speaking of travel, this Tempur-Pedic U-Shaped travel pillow offers comfortable support while traveling or even commuting.
If you are not looking for sleep but want to take a small rest or need extra support while sitting, this Neck Sofa is your best option. It can help with stiffness, tension, muscle pain and fatigue by stabilizing your neck, offering comfort and providing support.
Pillow Shopping Tips
Your sleeping position is one of your best guidelines when beginning to look for a new pillow. However, there are other personal considerations not to be overlooked.
To recap, here are the top tips to keep in mind when browsing online or in-store for the perfect pillow:
- Make sure to get the right head and neck support.
- Know your sleeping position and select your pillow accordingly.
- Consider a hypo-allergenic pillow, especially if you have asthma, allergies or sensitivities.
- Consider your body size and choose an appropriate pillow—if you have a larger frame, you likely need a firmer and possibly larger pillow than smaller people.
- Try a memory foam pillow that conforms to your body, eliminates pressure points, allows proper spine alignment and can benefit sleep apnea.
- Replace your pillow regularly, or when you notice it has lost its structure and no longer offers support.
- Consider size adjustable pillows, especially if you are unsure what height you may need or you change sleeping positions often.
- Buy a high-quality pillow that offers good support and is durable.
If you are unsure about what pillow is right for you, visit your chiropractor or physical therapist for an assessment. Relax The Back spinal health experts can also fit you for the right pillow. By assessing your sleep profile, our associates can determine which pillow solution is best for your sleep style, body size and personal health needs. Getting fitted for the right pillow is the best way to ensure you’re investing in the right solution for you.
Achieve a Fully Integrated Sleep With the Perfect Pillow, Mattress and Frame
Remember, the perfect pillow is not enough—your mattress and bed frame matter just as much.
If your mattress is too firm, it can be hard on your main pressure points. If it’s too soft, your mattress won’t support your pressure points fully. Neither scenario keeps your body in alignment and can lead to restless sleep and achy mornings. Finding the right mattress for your needs can change your sleep and better your health.
Your bed frame supports your mattress, providing support for your body while sleeping and resting. It helps keep everything steady and secure. You don’t want a squeaky or unstable bed frame. Instead, you want to invest in a high-quality, supportive base.
Keeping your sleep style, body size, personal health and other preferences in mind can help you select the right mattress, frame and pillow to allow for good sleep. A fully integrated sleep system prevents, improves or eliminates pain and betters your overall health.
Knowing all this information, you are ready to find ‘the one’—the perfect pillow that can change your sleep for the better. Which one will you select? Shop Relax The Back’s selection of high-quality, specialty pillows today.
From now until June 30, 2019, visit a store to take advantage of our Perfect Fit Pillow Event and take 20% off a pillow that fits you. Stop by your local Relax The Back today and get fitted for your perfect pillow.