Pillow talk

Last time, I put out my advice regarding purchasing a mattress, so I thought that I would now do a little bit about pillows.  I actually think that the pillow set-up you have is often more significant than the mattress, particularly in cases of neck and shoulder pain.

There are a few main things to think about with pillows:

  1. What position do I sleep in? The depth and type of pillow you should use varies according to whether you sleep on your side or your back. You will note I don’t mention sleeping on your front – this sleeping position potentially causes myriad problems whatever pillow you use, and is the only way of sleeping that I thoroughly do NOT recommend.  If you sleep on your side you will need a fairly deep height of pillows, whether this is achieved through a big, firm pillow or several smaller, squashier ones.  When you are settled and comfortable lying on your side, your head should remain in a straight line with the rest of your body, not tilting towards or away from the mattress.  If you sleep on your back, then in theory you don’t need anything at all behind your neck, just a small roll behind your neck for a bit of added support there.  Most people, however, find this very uncomfortable, so a thin pillow is acceptable, but you certainly don’t need anything deep.
  2. I move around a lot – what should I use? If you switch from side to your back, and generally fidget all around then there are two ways to approach this. If you spend most of your time flipping from side to side and only occasionally go onto your back, or vice versa, then choose a pillow to suit the position you are most often in.  If you really are an active all-over-the-place sleeper, then perhaps something like a feather pillow would be best – they tend to squash fairly flat if you have them on the bed in a normal arrangement (good for the time spent on your back), but can be pummelled into all sorts of shapes to keep your head in a neutral alignment with your body, whatever attitude you end up in!
  3. What should my pillow be made from? This is a personal preference issue, for the most part. If you have a dust allergy, feather pillows clearly aren’t the way to go; on the other hand, you might hate the feeling of memory foam.  There’s no point having the “right” pillow if you can’t stand to rest your head on it!  Don’t be afraid to mix it up as well – it could be that an artificial fibre pillow mixes well with a feather pillow to give you the support you need while also being flexible.
  4. What about orthopaedic pillows? Ah, where there’s an opinion on the “right” way to have something, there will be someone making money out of it. Don’t get me wrong – many people swear by orthopaedic pillows and wouldn’t use anything else.  But they are often expensive, and if you’re willing to put a bit more thought into things like the position you sleep in, you can probably find something just as suitable for a lot less money.
  5. I travel a lot – do I have to take my pillows with me?! This is another reason I tend to steer away from special pillows like those claiming to be orthopaedic. If you understand the idea behind a good pillow set-up, you can usually arrange the most horrific hotel pillows into a pretty good approximation of what you have at home.  Ok, if the hotel supplies feather pillows and you prefer memory foam there’s not much I can do about that, but you can at least make sure you don’t end up with a crick neck from having them too high, too low or generally in the wrong place.

Hope that helps a little bit – sweet dreams!