I often talk to my patients about pillows especially if they are seeing me about neck or upper back pain.
Chances are you rarely give any thought to your pillows unless you develop pain. If you are sleeping on a worn-out pillow, scrunching or folding it up to get comfortable this is usually a sign that it needs to be replaced.
Why is it important to find a good pillow?
Ideally, we all want to sleep soundly and wake up rested, pain free and without stiffness. A good pillow will help to support your neck and maintain a neutral neck position. The best pillow for you is one that feels comfortable to rest your head on and supports your neck, head and shoulders.
How often should you replace your pillow?
As a rule of thumb pillows need to be replaced after about 2 years. Memory foam pillows typically last longer, up to three years. Higher quality pillows will last longer than inexpensive ones. So, if your pillow is over three years old you may not be getting the support you need. You may think this is not very long but if you calculate a pillow is used for approximately 7 hours each night that is a total of over 2500 hours a year!
A simple test to see if your pillow has enough support is the “Jill Drew” pillow test
Place your pillow on your outstretched arm – if it remains horizontal then it is good but if it flops in the middle it will no longer offer the support you need.
You should also replace a pillow if it is heavily stained or smells.
The size of the pillow is also important. If you lie on your side, it should fill the gap between the outside of your upper arm and the side of your face keeping the neck in a neutral position. For some of us this will mean more than one pillow and often a flat underneath pillow (this can be an older pillow that has lost its Mojo) and a more supportive pillow on top.
How do you choose a pillow?
Selecting a pillow is a very individual process. When it comes to picking the right pillow, there really is no one pillow-size, shape, or material that fits all. If you have been shopping for pillows you will know what a vast array are available.
There are several factors to consider.
Pillow filling and support
a. Down – this is very soft and light and can be made of a combination of down and feathers. Some people are allergic to feathers and down. Good quality down pillows are expensive, but worth it as they should last longer if this is the type of pillow you prefer.
b. Synthetic or polyester fillings – There are lots of different types of synthetic materials to choose from. This tends to be a less expensive option, but the flip side is they generally do not last that long. The GX pillow (see below) is a good choice.
c. Cotton – these are good for people with allergies as they are hypoallergenic. They tend to be firmer than other materials.
d. Latex – These pillows hold their shape well, are supportive and tend to be medium to firm. They are hypoallergenic. A good example is a Dunlopillow. They tend to suit side sleepers best as they are higher.
e. Memory foam – These pillows are designed to respond to the pressure of your head and soften and conform to your shape. They are supportive and again a good choice for side sleepers. Some people find they are warm as they retain heat and they are heavier. Examples include Tempur ,Casper and I also like the look of the Emma Pillow which has three layers that you can customise . They tend to be more expensive than other types of pillows but generally last longer.
f. Cervical and orthopaedic pillows – these are contoured to provide extra support. They tend to be hard and from a personal point of view the shaping can be too large for a smaller body. They also tend to be expensive. They may be worth considering if you prefer a very firm pillow.
With every type of pillow the quality will affect comfort, support, and longevity—and will be reflected in the price. Once you have decided on the type of pillow fill that is most suitable for you, select the highest quality pillow your budget will allow. Remember you will be spending 2500 hours a year lying on your pillow.
Does sleeping position affect which type of pillow to choose?
Most of us change position regularly throughout the night but there are a few guidelines depending upon which position you tend to favour most.
Side Sleepers – The height of the pillow(s) needs to fill the distance between the outside of your upper arm / shoulder and your ear and face. A firmer pillow may be a better option here.
Stomach sleepers – a softer thin pillow will be the best option for these individuals. Sometimes an extra, thin pillow under your tummy may also help ease back pain.
Back sleepers – A softer but supportive pillow that is not too high is generally a good option. The neck ideally should be in a ‘neutral’ position so again you will need to experiment with the height depending upon your build.
It is definitely worth spending time to find the right pillow for you based upon all the factors mentioned above.
If you are still unsure, I have been using a new type of pillow for well over a year now and have been very impressed. It is called The GX pillow and is a synthetic pillow with a unique suspension which means it feels soft but is still supportive. It is hypoallergenic. Unusually for a pillow company you can return it after 30 days if you are not happy (most pillows are non-returnable!) and if you use the code XCV8 you can have free delivery www.gxpillows.co.uk.