What is the Best Pillow to Sleep With?
Updated: Aug 20
If you have ever tossed and turned at night or woke up with what feels like a rock in your neck, you know the struggle with pillows. One of the most common questions we get from people in neck pain is “do I need a new pillow?” If you wake up with a stiff neck or are dealing with neck pain, it’s an obvious question to ask. In the right situation, changing your pillow can make a world of difference for neck pain but not everyone needs to, and once you decide to change your pillow it gets more complicated to pick your new one. In this blog we’ll talk about what pillow is right for you and some signs that you might want to think about investing in a new pillow.
Should You Change Your Pillow?
According to the Sleep Foundation, you should change your pillow every 1-2 years. If that seems like a lot to you, you’re not alone. Most of the people we help with neck pain have had their pillows 3, 5, 8 years or even longer. The problem is that after a while the pillow loses the support we all need with sleeping. Not to mention that your pillow becomes less clean and holds more and more allergens as time goes on.
One good sign that you need a new pillow is if you start waking up with a sore or stiff neck every morning. Your body will often give you some small warning signs before something becomes a big problem. One of our favorite tips to know if you should change your pillow is if you find yourself bunching the pillow up, doubling it over, or trying to find some other trick to make the pillow work for you. If you find yourself doing that when you weren’t before, that’s a sign that it’s time for something new.
What is the Best Pillow to Sleep With?
Let’s say you’ve decided to change pillows. Now the question is, what kind do you get? The answer really depends on what position you sleep with. Someone who sleeps on their back will need a different pillow from someone who is a side sleeper.
Pillows for Back Sleepers
If you are someone who sleeps on your back, you want a pillow that has enough support to keep your head in a comfortable position, but not as high as someone who sleeps on their side. If your pillow is too low then you’ll end up not having enough support, and if it’s too high it will feel like the pillow is putting extra stress on your neck. One good way to find out if the pillow is the right height for you is the eye test. When you are lying on your back and your head resting on your pillow, where do your eyes naturally look? If they look straight up towards the ceiling then it’s the right height of pillow. If you are looking more towards the front of the room or the ceiling in front of you, that’s probably too high. And, if your eyes are looking more behind you, the pillow isn’t giving you enough support.
Pillows for Side Sleepers
If you are someone who sleeps on your side, you want a pillow that fills up the space between your shoulder and your head when you’re lying on your side. The wider your shoulders, the more supportive and thicker of a pillow you will want. If the pillow is too low your head will end up falling towards the bed and if it is too high the pillow will push your head up too high. A good sign that you have the right pillow is when you are lying on your side that neither side of your neck feels “scrunched” (technical term) or has any tension in it. Another good tip is to make sure your neck is supported as well. Often, the pillow will only support your head and leave your neck hanging, literally. If you can position the pillow under your neck as well as your head, that is even better. One trick we often use for people with neck pain is to take a small towel, roll it up and place it under your neck once you are on your pillow. Then you get the support for both your neck and head.
Pillow for Stomach Sleepers
The majority of people sleep on their back or side, so it can be challenging to find a pillow if you are a stomach sleeper. In this case, often you will want to find the thinnest pillow you can find. With a pillow that is too thick, it forces your head to be raised too much, which can create neck pain. One tip we often give people in neck pain who sleep on their stomach is to position the pillow near the back of their head when sleeping on their stomach. This lets the front of your head rotate towards the bed which can put the neck in a less stressful position.
Finding a pillow when you are having neck pain can be frustrating. The biggest piece of advice we can give is don’t just assume your neck pain will go away. Even a nagging ache or tightness that has been there for a couple of weeks or even longer is a sign that there is extra stress on your neck. If your pillow is older than 1-2 years or you find yourself constantly trying to reposition it, it’s probably time for a pillow refresh.
We help people with neck pain every day. If you are stuck and want to find out if there’s an answer to your problem, we’re here for you. We are always happy to have a free 20 minute phone consultation to find out what a potential solution is for you. Contact us here and we’ll be happy to try and help you get rid of that nagging neck problem.