Pillow Talk: Which pillow is right for you?

25 October 2019

Pillow Talk: Which pillow is right for you?

person_outlineNicole Preskett
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Which pillow?

A question I get asked a lot in clinic, is which pillow do I recommend for a good nights sleep? Well I’m afraid there is no straight answer; in fact it raises many more questions……….

Firstly why are you having bad nights sleep?

  • Are you not able to get off to sleep
  • Are you uncomfortable in bed
  • Does your neck ache after being in one position for a while
  • Are you woken with pins and needles
  • Does a headache or a dead arm disturb your sleep? 
  • And what were you up to just before you turned off the light? Responding to a few emails on your laptop, finishing off the last few chapters of a novel. Watching YouTube videos whist drifting in and out of sleep! You might be setting yourself up for a difficult night from the moment you get tucked in?

On average we spend about a third of a day with our heads on a pillow! So its understandable that having the right support for your head and neck whilst sleeping, is just as important as having a good ergonomic set up at work.

So which pillow?

The right pillow for you is not necessarily the right pillow for someone else! And there are many things to take into consideration when making that choice:

Sleeping position:

Sleeping Position

The Side Sleeper:

When lying on your side, your head should not be tilted down nor should it be tilted upwards. The head and neck should be a continuation of a straight spine. This keeps your joints in a neutral position and does not put stress on the muscles of your neck and spine.

The Back Sleeper:

Get someone to observe your sleep position. If your chin is on or near your chest, then the pillow is too high. If your chin is pointing to the ceiling then the pillow is too low.

The Belly Snoozer:

Sleeping on your tummy is the worst position to sleep in!  WHY? Well in order to breath you have to turn your head left or right for prolonged periods. This creates muscular strain in the neck and irritation of the spinal joints. Instead try sleeping on your back with pillows under your knees or on your side with pillows between your knees. Both positions help maintain the spine’s natural curvature.

Bad habits can die hard ……. Persevering with these new sleeping positions will prevent you waking up with a stiff painful neck.

The length of your neck:

People with a short neck may find sleeping on an orthopaedic pillow difficult to get used to. This type of pillow normally has a bolster or raised area. The bolster has to sit in between the ear and shoulder and can feel uncomfortable for some.

Painful ears:

Waking up with a really painful outer ear is a strange phenomenon that is actually more common than we think. It’s most likely down to sleeping on the same side for too long, on a pillow that’s too firm. The ear cartilage gets a constant pressure or gets folded against the pillow and this irritates the pain receptors.

Light interrupted sleep:

A light sleeper will generally toss and turn a lot more than someone who deep sleeps. It can be quite irritating when the pillow starts to feel more and more uncomfortable as the night goes on. Try having a second pillow at the waiting to swap over for the rest of the night. A nice cold pillow with a different firmness could be just what you need to drop back to sleep.

Spinal Health:

As we age degenerative changes in our neck joints can become troublesome. Inflammation building when we are at rest can give rise to pain and stiffness. Going to bed with an already achy neck can make any pillow uncomfortable to sleep on. Try to alleviate the neck pain before going to bed. Do some gentle neck stretches and apply a heat pack to the neck. Perhaps ask a loved one for a quick neck and shoulder massage.

Pillow choices:

The most important thing to consider when choosing your pillow is the height. So whether you prefer feather, memory foam, latex core, orthopaedic or water filled pillows …. this is much more of a personal decision than a scientific one. If you have the correct height then the spine should be happy. But I will give you my opinion on the pro’s and cons of each type:

Water filled pillows:

This type of pillow is a great idea, and I have heard good feedback from patients who use them. The beauty is that you fill the waterbase layer with the amount of water you need for the right height for a neutral spine. The more water – the firmer and higher the pillow.

The waterbase layer is covered in soft hollow fibres for comfort. It’s a little heavier than a normal pillow but you cannot hear the water sloshing around when you sleep.

Mediflow pillows also offer a 30-day money back guarantee if you don’t get on with it.

Orthopaedic Pillows:

This kind of pillow is designed to correct body positioning in bed and conforms to certain guidelines. They are mostly made of foam and fibre with memory foam being the newest material to be used.

As mentioned I have found that the curved bolster can sometimes be difficult to get use to for short necked people. However claims have been made that they may help to relieve conditions such as snoring, breathing difficulties, sleep apnea, head aches and neck pain.

For those of you who suffer night sweats or get too warm in bed! The foam pillows can retain their heat and make it difficult to find the cold spot.

The Supportiback Comfort Pillow contains cooling gel to help dissipate the heat and they also offer a 100-day money back guarantee.

Feather Pillows:

A more luxurious pillow for those of you without too many neck problems. Or a good second pillow option to swap to in the night, if your first choice is getting uncomfortable. I would recommend buying a mix of goose and duck down, rather than feather. The softer smaller feathers in down allow for more support and comfort.

Overall these pillows are soft and not as supportive as the manmade fibres in other pillows. Also they are not hypoallergenic due to the feathers. However the beauty of a good goose or duck down pillow is that it can be molded into the neck for better support.

Latex Pillows:

The natural latex pillow is made from the sap of a rubber tree and is 100% pure, green and eco-friendly. The pillow is made up of three parts, a latex core, inner cover and pillowcase. The benefits of this type of pillow are that it is hypoallergenic and supportive but with a soft feel. It is also a cool pillow to lie on as it has tiny ventilated pinholes that keep it dry and breathable. The rubber plant proteins are also resistant to dust mites. It also retains it shape for up to 5 years, so you don’t have to think about changing every year.

How often should you change your pillow?

It all boils down to, support and hygiene. Spending a third of a day with your head on a pillow, means it’s going to get well used! The bacterial build up in a pillow and the presence of dust mites can make people suffering from respiratory issues, allergies and sinus problems worse. Every 12 months is recommended for most pillows. The natural latex pillows a little longer! But it is also important to remember that the support required for your neck changes as we age.


So if you are struggling with sleep and finding a comfortable position, firstly look at your pillow situation. But if pain is preventing you from sleeping, visiting an Osteopath can help to establish the cause of your discomfort. Osteopathy treatment can also help maintain your spinal mobility and alignment. It can also improve the condition of your muscles helping you to get into a more comfortable sleeping position.

For more information please call the clinic on 0208 394 0393 or book and appointment online.

Nicole Preskett

Nicole Preskett administrator

I am a registered Osteopath, MSK Sonographer and co-owner of the BodyFix Clinic.

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