Is Your Pillow Causing Neck Problems?

We spend a third of our lives asleep, yet, compared to our waking existence, we give our sleep time little thought.  Sleep is, of course, vital to our well-being and health, just as important as diet, exercise, and hydration.  We need the respite that sleep offers to recharge our bodies and mind, unwind from the stresses of today, and prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.  So it’s critical that we make sure we’re getting high-quality sleep and, of course, not doing our bodies any harm during sleep.

Quantity and Quality

Eight hours is often quoted as the optimal amount of sleep per night, but this varies from person to person.  Some people can get by with less time while others may need a few hours more.  But even more important than the amount of sleep we get is the quality of that sleep.  Ten hours spent tossing and turning from back or neck pain won’t be very restful, nor will you feel refreshed in the morning – just the opposite, in fact.   Good quality sleep should leave you feeling energized and ready for the new day.  This is mainly achieved during REM sleep, the deep sleep we enter when we dream.  To start and maintain the REM phase of sleep, we need to be comfortable, relaxed, and pain-free.

The Role of a Pillow

Along with a mattress, a good pillow is critical to quality, restorative sleep.  Even more importantly, the wrong pillow can cause neck and back pain and other chiropractic issues.  Any existing spine issues are exacerbated by poor pillows or sleep positioning.  When you’re comfortable and supported by the right pillow, you sleep better, deeper, and longer.

What’s the Right Pillow?

A good pillow will fit the curve of your neck, with no space between the pillow and your neck.  You don’t want the pillow to elevate your head above the top of your spine, though.  The pillow should fully support your neck while still allowing your head to fall to the same level as your spine.  If your head is perched too high on a very thick or stiff pillow then your neck and head muscles will be flexed during the night.  This results in stiff muscles, headaches, and neck aches in the morning.  The above is true whether you sleep on your back (supine) or side.  Side sleepers should keep their head and spine aligned in a neutral position.  It should be noted that sleeping on your stomach (prone) puts more stress on your spine and should be avoided.

Remember, the pillow should conform closely to you and follow the natural curve of your body.  If you find you need to place your hands between your pillow and your head as you sleep, that’s a signal that your pillow is not firm or high enough.  Before buying a new pillow, it might be helpful to try different heights by simply using rolled up towels.  This way you can adjust your pillow positioning over several nights and try out new heights without making a commitment.

A pillow should be replaced about every six months to two years.  When the time comes to purchase a new pillow, look for quality.  Remember, you’re going to be spending a third of your life on your pillow.  Although cost doesn’t always equal quality, don’t skimp on price.  Look for good materials.  Memory foam can be a great choice for many people.  Feather pillows should usually be avoided as they don’t provide much support and can exacerbate allergies.  The most important factor is comfort.  Try out any potential pillow before you buy.  Your chiropractor is an excellent source for recommendations based on your individual needs.

 We are committed to educating and inspiring individuals and families to cultivate health and healing throughout their lives.

Dr. Erik and Dr. Patricia


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