by Brent Hearn •
We ask a lot of our necks during the day. They have to support our noggins while we’re at work, which for many of us involves sitting behind a computer in various degrees of slouch. They have to deal with unnecessary strain as we look down at our phones to send the seventy-fifth text of the day or scroll Pinterest for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. (Hint: Always use browned butter!) They bear the brunt of what, for many of us, can be a lackadaisical approach to good posture.
You’d think that with all the constant abuse and neglect we heap on our necks during the day, we’d give them a break at night. But noooo. Instead, we continue the offensive with unhealthy sleeping positions and subpar pillows that only increase the strain. It’s no wonder so many of us suffer from pain and soreness in our necks—not to mention all the secondary issues that neck pain can cause.
So, what can we do about this nocturnal assault on our necks? There’s a hint in the preceding paragraph: The right pillow can work wonders. As is the case for many of life’s important questions, the answer to what constitutes right is, “It depends.” A host of factors must be considered: What’s your natural sleeping position? What’s your build? Do you have allergies? How much money are you able to spend for a good night’s sleep? The goal of this article is not to offer solutions—there are simply too many variables at play—but to give you things to think about so you can make an informed decision.
Your choice of pillow can be determined—or at least influenced by—your sleeping position. No matter the position, one key word to remember is “alignment.” According to David Perna, a chiropractor with Back & Body Medical, “You want to see the center of your head line up with the center of your sternum and the center of your pelvis.” This is most easily achieved for back or side sleepers. (As a rule, the word on stomach sleeping seems to be “don’t.” There’s just too much opportunity for unnatural strain and twisting, both of which are at odds with the concept of alignment.)
If you’re a back sleeper, your pillow needs to be at an elevation that won’t push your head too far toward your chin. Conversely, if you’re a side sleeper, you’ll likely need extra elevation to keep your head from drooping.
Pillows are made using a variety of materials, and it’s important to take a number of factors into consideration before making a decision. Memory foam is a strong option, but it can retain heat. Latex foam is great for offering support and doesn’t “run hot” like memory foam but is obviously not so great if you have a latex allergy. Buckwheat is an economical option that offers support and cooling, but the noise of the hulls when you shift around may be a turnoff.
Though some people prefer feather and down pillows, they seem to be weaker options from a neck health standpoint. In addition to offering less support than other options, they, too, come with possible allergy issues. If you insist on using them, though, fluff them often and replace them when they no longer retain their shape. (That said, you’re looking for great options, right?)
If you’ve been waking up with neck pain and suspect that your choice of pillow and/or sleeping position may be contributing to the problem, talk to your chiropractor about possible solutions. They’ll be able to help you make the best decision based on your specific circumstances, habits, and physiology.
Product recommendations listed in our sources do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ChiroHealthUSA or its member chiropractors. No compensation has been received for product advice or referrals.