The average American sleeps about 7 hours per night according to estimates. That is a long time to be in a relatively still position on a mattress and pillow. Is it bad to sleep in a position that compromises your spine all night? Evidence suggests that poor sleeping habits may negatively affect your health.
One of the most important and yet overlooked components of health is the kind of pillow you choose rest your head on at night. When considering a supportive sleeping environment, most people look to their bed, first. We want our beds to be comfortable and supportive. People spend a long time researching what type of mattress to buy. When they decide on the bed they typically buy a pillow from the same store without putting much thought about why other than convenience.
In our unofficial patient poll, the most common answer to why someone decided to buy a pillow was money. The second most common answer is that it felt good when they laid on it or when they squeezed it. Not exactly scientific.
How should you decide on an optimal pillow?
According to sleep experts, choose sleeping on an orthopedic pillow that conforms to orthopedic guidelines to ensure the right support of the cervical (neck) lordosis (C-curve). That would indicate us needing to fit the pillow to our neck when lying on our back. By supporting the natural curve of the neck you will sleep cooler and with less pain.
One interesting study found that supporting the natural curve of the neck improved Heart Rate Variability and enhanced vagal activity promoting deeper stages of sleep. Heart Rate Variability is an important indicator of overall health of the nervous system, in particular the Parasympathetic (Rest & Digest) Nervous System. It is this segment of the nervous system that is in charge of healing and other automatic processes in the body. An optimum pillow will also reduce pressure upon spine by distributing weight efficiently. This will also reduce the chance of airway narrowing. This can help the individuals who suffer with sleep apnea and to those individuals married to a snorer!
So far you need to have a pillow that is contoured to the natural curve of the neck. But there are many pillows with a contour. You could spend weeks searching and reading reviews on which pillow you should go with. To save you some research, a pillow that is 10 cm high is preferred.
What if you sleep on your side?
If you’re a side sleeper, your pillow should be thick (around 10 cm height) enough to fill the entire gap between your neck and your mattress. This allows proper support your head and neck so it remains in line with the rest of your spine and reduces the strain on the ligaments, muscles, and other tissues.
It turns out that side sleeping can alleviate acid reflux and heartburn, boost digestion, stimulate the drainage of toxins from the lymph nods, improve circulation, and help your brain filter out waste. Due to anatomy and the location of your body’s organs, these amazing benefits only come from sleeping on the left side.
Below is an example of an optimal pillow. This pillow has a contoured head rest that keeps the head and neck level while also supporting the natural curve of the neck. It also has good height on the sides for comfortable, supportive side sleeping. There’s no having to fluff it up because it keeps going flat. It’s crucial to make sure that you’re measured for a pillow that fits to YOU (we can help).
A proper pillow may not seem like a big deal, but weeks, months, and event years of sleeping on the wrong pillow for your body, can contribute to big changes on spinal structure, nervous system function, and can lead to a number of secondary problems. That’s why each patient that begins corrective care is measured and given a pillow recommendation and/or has the option to have their current pillow evaluated by either Dr. Adam or Dr. Megan. Your results are as important to us as they are to you.
Our goal is to help you address as many factors that contribute to structural shifts of the spine as we can. After all, structure determines function.
If you are having recurrent neck or back pain, make sure to be checked by a professional since this may be an indication of an underlying problem. Changing to an orthopedic pillow will NOT correct the existing issue and underlying cause of your pain. This would be the equivalent of wearing a retainer on crooked teeth. It only helps slow down the damage.