As we mentioned in our last blog posting, pillow ergonomics and having the right pillow helps to maintain a healthy spinal alignment while you’re sleeping. A pillow, both positively and negatively, affects how well we sleep, how long we sleep, and how well we wake up. When we have the right pillow and mattress combination, we sleep longer and more comfortably, and we wake up more refreshed, less stiff, and in less pain.
That’s not to say that sometimes we won’t find ourselves in a contorted position in the morning when we wake up, in which case, we obviously feel the cause of our neck or back pain.
An ideal pillow supports not only your head, but also your neck. When you are sleeping on your side or back (remember our last blog…don’t sleep on your belly!), the pillow should be under your neck with no gap between your neck and the pillow. The height of the pillow should also keep your head and neck/spine in a relatively straight line. If you sleep on your side with a thin pillow that is only under your head, or a pillow that is too thick and elevates your head, your head is allowed to fall/rise into a sideways bend. This lateral bending in your neck vertebrae, however slight, can cause a mild strain in your neck muscles, as well as create some compression in the joints in your neck. This can result in neck stiffness or pain in the morning. If you sleep on your back, the pillow should again be under your neck and supporting it in its’ natural, lordotic curve.
As for ergonomic pillow styles, that is a very personal fit. Some people prefer water-filled pillows, while others prefer a type of memory foam that is u-shaped when viewed from the side. Whatever you want to try, the best thing to do is ask at the store if they have a demo pillow for you to try before you buy. At Chiropractie Noordzee, we don’t sell pillows but we do have a demo pillow that we lend to patients to try out from Ligwijzer, a local pillow company. Their website can better explain their products, and it also has some good videos explaining the importance of sleeping posture. As with a new mattress, new pillow, or new shoes, there is a “breaking in” period where your body has to adjust to the change. Be patient and don’t give up on your pillow too quickly. Give your body a few weeks to get accustomed to the change, and then decide how it feels.
As we mentioned in our last blog, we can spend nearly as much time sleeping as we do working (8 hours per day), so finding a neutral spine position for your neck is very important in preventing nagging neck pain. It’s important to evaluate your sleeping posture for hidden causes or returning neck irritation. If you have already tried changing your pillow and/or mattress and your neck pain hasn’t decreased, it is a good time to give us a call.