Perhaps you’re one of the millions of Americans who experience chronic neck pain. It pains us to say this, but neck pain is all too common, and it can arise from any number of reasons. If this is something you experience regularly and you find yourself waking up with a sore neck, it may be time to start questioning your pillow.
If the purpose of a pillow is to support the neck and upper back, which it is, then why are so many pillows falling short on their only job of providing good sleep posture? With hundreds of pillows and a surprising number of variations on the market, it can be a little overwhelming trying to weed through all of the decision factors such as material (polyester, hyper-elastic polymers, latex pillows, etc), price, etc. But that’s where we come in, and we’re here to help. If you are getting pain constantly when you wake up then maybe its time to ditch your feather pillows, alternative pillows, or water pillows.
Providing comfort is our job, and we know how important it is to get a good night’s rest. Whether a less than optimal sleeping environment is the leading cause of your neck pain or it’s just an additional stressor, having proper pillows can make a world of difference, and we’re about to teach you how to choose them. Whether you are stomach sleeping or side sleeping, we've got the pillow for you.
Choosing the Best Pillow for Neck Pain
Three main factors will play into choosing the best pillow for neck pain: loft, shape, and fabric.
“Loft” is the sleeping world’s term for the angle of your head in relation to your spine alignment. Essentially, the loft refers to the height of the pillow. Ideally, your head, neck, and the rest of your spine should be aligned and parallel to your mattress and floor while you sleep. Some pillows are “thinner” while others are “thicker,” which is a perfect example of the loft factor.
A new pillow that is either too high or too low will hold your neck at an unnatural angle, and throughout the night, this becomes increasingly strenuous and can lead to neck pain and poor sleep habits. For the back sleepers out there, you may prefer a medium loft pillow that will cradle and “hug” your head and neck. For the side sleepers, a taller (high loft) pillow may be more comfortable to fill the area between your neck and shoulders to keep you feeling supported. Higher loft pillows with an adjustable loft can help get a more natural curve for your spine making a pillow loft extremely important in getting a good nights sleep without the extra strain on your body.
Attention, stomach sleepers, we’re here with some tough love to tell you that sleeping on your stomach is a very probable culprit of neck pain. Sleeping on your stomach forces your neck to twist at a harsh angle, straining your nerves and keeping them under pressure throughout the night.
A little tip to help you ease out of sleeping on your stomach: try the “running man” sleeping position. This position looks like lying on your stomach with one arm (the arm on the side your head is facing) and leg up and to the side, with the other arm and leg pointing downward, straight toward the bottom of the bed. Then, try placing a low loft pillow underneath your upper area of the side you’re facing. This position with this pillow placement is a step in the right direction for taking care of your neck. From here, you can try slowly easing into becoming a side sleeper with hopes of becoming a back sleeper later down the line. (We know how committed we all are to our sleeping positions, but trust us, neck relief is worth changing your ways for).
Shape, Curvature, and Contour
Some pillows are not just “pillow-shaped” but are designed with unique curves and contours to provide extra support. These specially contoured pillows can act as somewhat of a “template” for keeping you in a healthy position. Cervical pillow contours are designed for back sleepers and feature a curved design with a depression in the middle to hold your head, a slight slope underneath to support your neck, and a larger slope above to help keep you in place.
Another popular shape of pillow is a half moon bolster pillow, which can be placed under the neck, lower back, or between your legs. This type of pillow is for both back and side sleepers and indirectly prevents neck pain by keeping your spine and neck aligned and unstrained.
For our side sleeper friends out there, you already know this next one: a knee pillow. Knee pillows are contoured to allow each leg to fit snuggly into the pillow and keep them in place and parallel with the floor (aligned with your spine).
Material and Firmness
Firmness, fluffiness, flexibility, you know what we’re talking about. The desirable fluff or stiffness factor of a pillow can come down to personal preference, but it’s most important to ensure you’re choosing a pillow with sufficient support no matter the pillow firmness. This connects back to the loft factor as the “airier” the pillow is, the quicker and more likely it is to flatten with time (become too low to keep you in proper alignment).
Memory foam or gel is a favorite for many as it provides ultimate softness with a supportive foundation that helps your neck muscles. Memory foam uses body pressure and heat-responsive technology to help the pillow adjust to all of our unique shapes and contours, making for the perfect pillow material for everyone, and it gives you a durable design too.
By contouring the body and conforming to individual shape, memory foam pillows provide pressure relief, spinal alignment, and overall support by helping you reach a neutral position while speeing. This pillow material guides your neck to find a suitable and comfortable placement, and its embracing “sink factor” helps us stay in this healthy position all night long, expanding on quality sleep. In other words, memory foam pillows help prevent neck pain by supporting healthy positioning of the entire head, neck, and spine.
Neck Pain No More
Neck pain is all too common, but the good news is that most of the time, it can be managed by altering our habits and behaviors — and with the help of a proper pillow.
Sleep is a magical and wonderful thing, but neck pain and headaches can get in the way of you and good night’s rest. We hope this article has helped clarify your criteria for choosing your next pillow; you deserve to sleep soundly at night and wake up pain-free.
With the proper pillow supporting you throughout the night, you’re bound to wake up on the right side of the bed every single day. Happy sleeping!