I cannot recall (no, not because of failing synapses), how many times I have been asked, "What kind of pillow should I be sleeping on?" It methodically follows the query "What bed should I buy?" (See earlier article "Take it to the mattresses").
While many pillows may resemble each other at first glance, styles and the gamut of pillows have included everything from stone,wood and porcelain in ancient times to a saddle or rolled up blanket in the more recent century, to the contemporary feathers, foam and similar man-made materials, buckwheat hulls and even tiny plastic tubes, resembling a ditalini macaroni, for those of my Italian friends and family. There are similarities in these nocturnal headrests, but the uniqueness of your body type and sleep positioning emphasize the differences. So, what is right for you? That depends on how you sleep.
First off, stomach sleeping is a position that will assuredly, eventually bring you to my office, mainly because in order to breathe, the neck has to twist to one side or the other for a prolonged time, causing a strain to the surrounding muscles, possibly even a degree of spraining to the involved ligaments of not only the neck, but to the integrated tissues as well. Women have the additional concern with prolonged pulling on the ligaments behind the breast tissue, which can lead to early sagging. Back and side positioning are the preferred sleeping postures, with the OCCASIONALLY recommended temporary stomach sleeping in some lower back situations. But, beyond the posture concern, it's all about the support. Back sleepers need the support to lift the neck and not the head. If the head is lifted, the posture then resembles looking down at a electronic devices or craned forward as when at a work station. Side sleepers need the head to be level to the floor, with the pillow adjacent to the shoulder (think of the neck "sagging" if there is a space between the head and shoulder). It's that simple! Now, what are the choices?
These pillows are filled with everything from a mixture of feathers that will provide nightly acupuncture treatments from the quills that will be an ever present reminder that you got the inferior product that you cheaply paid for, to pure eider down taken from the breast of female eider ducks. If you're concerned about pure whiteness, then the Polish-Hungarian version might be for you. My feeling about this type of pillow is "what goes up, must come down". As these pillows look "poofy", they just don't have adequate volume; I remember purchasing a pair of these expensive headrests only to shortly experience buyers remorse. I also remember opening the cases to combine them and get a bit more elevation, which was a regrettable, time consuming mistake (I did eventually get the majority of the contents together). Down, in my professional opinion, is a wonderful insulator as a blanket, vest or coat, but would be best avoided if you are anything more than a back sleeper. Supine sleepers will enjoy the ergonomic support of their cervical spine, unless allergies are an issue, which then down "alternative" may be your best choice. These pillows are filled with cotton, silk, polyester, Dacron or even spun bamboo fibers. Other than the bamboo, which I have yet to experience, my opinion stands in that there is not enough elevation for side sleepers, allowing the head to drop and kink the neck. For those who have a hard time parting ways with their heirloom, or even the guilt of lost Ben Franklins, I have suggested if side sleeping is the predominant posture, fold up a bath towel to the size of the pillow and place it inside the pillowcase under the pillow. Depending on the thickness of your towel, some experimenting may be necessary to get your head level in the recumbent side sleeping posture.
Foam Contoured (sometimes referred to as orthopedic) pillows:
These are the pillows that have two humps, usually one larger than the other, for individual comfort. The plus side is that they give good support for back sleepers, but create a kink in side-lying. Also, the density of the foam can widely vary; a very thick looking pillow may collapse more than half if the density is low). These pillows definitely need to be replaced approximately every one to five years, depending on the quality.
Memory Foam pillows:
These pillows are made of polyurethane with additional chemicals to increase its density and viscosity, which gives it that "bounce back" quality. Unfortunately, there are varying qualities of this material and the collapse for side sleepers is a concern. As with standard foam and down pillows, back sleeping would be the preferred posture with these. As with any polyurethane products, combustibility is a concern, as is "off gassing" of methylene chloride and other chemicals. Always check the manufacturer's disclosures and warnings, as well as any reliable internet sites for additional safety information.
These pillows are supportive, but heavy, noisy and potentially an allergy risk. They do offer much better side sleeping support than the others, but time and friction do wear the hulls down. Also, some reports of Indian moths, which are remedied by simply contacting the manufacturer for a properly hulled and cleaned one. Another plus is that in the unfortunate case of an unwanted intrusion, you could probably knock the culprit out cold!
This has actually been my pillow of choice. The ability to adjust the air volume in two separate chambers makes for a more personalized pillow, allowing for better support, comfort (due to the cotton velour cover eliminating the feeling of lying on a raft), and packing-transportation ease with deflation.
My pillow is from a company named "Sleepmatterzz". I do shy away from a complete endorsement due to some issues with valve stem leakage, and, prices nowadays can vary according to where you look on-line. That being said, I have used mine for over a year now and feel comfortable in suggesting it. Bear in mind that I have had a closet full of various pillows that I've ordered and tried, most of which have either been discarded or used for packing stuff away in!
It has been shown through studies that lack of sound sleep can lead to a number of undesirable issues, not the least being flat out tiredness. High blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, as well as forgetfulness, weight gain, decreased sex drive, impaired judgement and learning and even skin damage via increased cortisol breaking down proteins that keep skin smooth and elastic.
So, make a new commitment to improved sleep habits, beginning by checking your pillow and posture. Call our office if you need help with correcting what's gone awry and remember that Yogi said, "If I didn't wake up, I'd still be sleeping!"
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified health care provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition. Any attempt to diagnose and treat an illness using the information in this site should come under the direction of a trained medical practitioner.We accept no responsibility for any adverse effects or consequences resulting from the use of any of the suggestions or procedures in this site or related internet links. By using the information in this web site you are confirming that you understand this statement and that you accept all risk and responsibility.
All matters regarding your health should be supervised by your health care provider. All information provided in this site is for the purpose of education, not treatment.