When doctors talk about neck or back pain, they often mention the eight hours a day that people sit at their desk, hunched over a keyboard. The time we spend at work usually takes up a third of our day, so it certainly has a huge impact on our posture and our spinal health.
In this post, however, I want to address another (hopefully) eight hours a day that has a huge impact on your spinal health: bedtime.
Have you ever woken up with a crick in your neck so bad that you couldn’t go to work, or a pain in your back that wasn’t there when you were awake? Sleeping a funny way, or having a certain pillow, can exacerbate pains throughout the spinal cord and the rest of your body. Finding a better position for your body and head, however, can help to alleviate pain and promote healthy alignment.
If you are experiencing neck pain from sleep, it’s time to get a new pillow. In fact, it’s probably time to get a new pillow regardless. If you have been sleeping on the same pillow for 12-18 months, it has probably been suffused with dead skin cells, mold, and dust mites. If you have indoor or seasonal allergies, your pillow may have a big impact on your sinuses and sneezing, too.
So let’s get started.
How to Choose a Pillow
The correct pillow for you depends on how you currently sleep. In any case, you want your pillow to help your neck stay within the natural alignment of the rest of your spine.
If you sleep on your back, you will want a pillow that is typically thinner than others. Adding extra support under the neck through a rolled-up towel or by purchasing a curved pillow can also help. You may also feel more comfortable placing your pillow lower, so that your shoulders are supported.
If you sleep on your stomach, you may not need a pillow at all. Though if you prefer sleeping with one, purchase a thinner pillow. Your pillow can also go under your stomach to support your low back. In general, this position is not the greatest for alignment and alleviating back pain. While it is not always easy to change the way you sleep, you may be surprised at how much better you feel in the morning.
If you sleep on your side, you may want to stick to a larger or higher pillow. This will help to maintain a good distance between the shoulders and the ears. Allowing yourself to sleep with your shoulders hunched will only lead to more tension, and poor posture, throughout the day. When you are sleeping on your side, you may want to consider putting a pillow between your knees, or resting an arm on a pillow as well. A body pillow may be useful for side sleepers.
If you sleep upright (like in a car or on a plane,) grab one of those horseshoe-shaped pillows for the trip. This will help to keep the head in place and prevent it from bumping around or you from slouching to one side.
Is Memory Foam Worth It? And Other Types of Pillows
Size does matter, but consider the type of pillow you are buying as well. In general, you want to have a pillow that will conform to your head while you are sleeping (especially if you fidget or move around while you sleep). Some of the best pillows for sleeping include:
Memory Foam. When you look through the lists of the best pillows on the market, the majority of pillows are memory foam. Memory foam is wonderful for contouring to your head and neck and reducing pressure points around that area. There are some disadvantages to memory foam. A new pillow may smell a little strange, and people who sweat easily might not find relief in this pillow.
Down/Feather. In addition to feeling luxurious, down feathers allow sleepers to move the material around and get the most comfortable sleep. These pillows provide support, but in a more gentle fashion.
Specialty Pillows. If you are looking to address a certain issue (neck pain, snoring, and so on), specialty pillows are available on the market that are designed for your particular needs. Specifically for neck pain, many people enjoy cervical pillows. The neck is supported by a higher area of the pillow, dipping down where the head begins. These pillows bring mixed reviews, but are worth a shot.
Pillows are just one piece of the neck pain puzzle. If you would like more information on how to alleviate neck pain, talk to a Florida chiropractor.
About the Author:
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.