We spend up to a third of our lives sleeping (new parents – notice I said up to?) So, just like supportive shoes are important for our feet and our walking pattern, choosing the right pillow is just as important for our spinal health and quality of sleep. A pillow that is of poor quality or does not suit our body can cause all sorts of problems; from neck pain/stiffness in the mornings to headaches, shoulder pain and even arm tingling/numbness.

So what is the ‘right’ pillow?

There is no one ‘right’ pillow for every person, or for any one person. The market is flooded with a range of pillows; latex, memory foam, contoured, feather, pillows for ‘side sleepers’… if you decide to head out and buy a new pillow, you will likely come home feeling more confused than when you left, and maybe pillow-less.

The right type of pillow for you is one that supports your spine in the best possible way.

This is often dependant on the position you mostly sleep in.

Side Sleepers

In this position, it is important that the curve in the side of your neck is well supported. If someone was to look at your spine from behind, they should be able to draw a straight, horizontal line from the base of your head to your mid back. If you are broad across the shoulders you will need a higher pillow that someone who is narrow-shouldered.

side sleeping

It is also important to note that sleeping with your arm under your pillow will change your alignment, so it is best avoided if possible!

Back sleepers

For those of you who mostly sleep on your back, your pillow should also support the natural curve in the back of your neck, so that your head is not lifted up (as with a too firm/high pillow), or lowered down (as with a pillow that is too flat or has lost its support).

back sleeper

Tummy sleepers

This is a trick! It really doesn’t matter what pillow you use if you are a tummy sleeper, because this is generally a terrible position for necks. Tummy sleeping usually involves your head being fully rotated for long periods of time, which is a common cause of a stiff, sore neck in the morning. Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult positions to change, because it is a real comfort position for many people. All I can say is – do your best! Your neck will thank you for it!

So we’ve established that your pillow needs to support your neck properly, but what type of pillow does this in the best way?

Some of the materials you may have heard of are:
Memory foam pillows react to your body heat and so mould to your shape within a few minutes. They are either shaped like a standard pillow or are contoured to fit the head and neck more closely. Memory foam pillows can be quite warm as they don’t allow much air circulation, however they are very good for both back and side sleepers.

Latex pillows are long lasting and made from a natural material, so are often cooler than memory foam. They are firm but still supportive and often more expensive than the other options.

Feather and down pillows are the ones people seem to be most attached to! This is probably because they feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud… Unfortunately, this does not make for great support and they generally lose their shape very quickly.

How should you shop for a new pillow?

Take a friend! You really need to lie on a pillow before you buy it so ask your friend to check your alignment in the position you most often use to sleep. Comfort is important, but is more important that the pillow supports you properly. Often the pillows we like to lie on are not in fact the best ones for us.

How do I know if I have chosen the right pillow?

A new pillow can take up to 2 weeks to adjust to, so try to persist for at least this long. After this time (and sometimes immediately) you should find that you sleep a bit more deeply and that you have a significant improvement in morning neck pain/stiffness or headaches (if this was a previous concern).

How long should your pillow last?

Generally between 6 months and 2 years. A good quality pillow might give you the right support for a bit longer than this, however when factoring in pillow hygiene as well as support I prefer to stay within this timeframe.

GLOW Physio stock a range of pillows that we find suit most people. 
We can help you choose one to suit you and will always allow you to test before buying!

Recommended reading from Glow

3 signs your neck is giving you headaches
Which mattress should I buy?
5 habits for a happy, healthy spine!