If you’ve been waking up with a crick in your neck in the mornings, it might be time to have a look at that pillow of yours.
Is it too firm? Too soft?
Is it big enough for your head, or too thin for the way you sleep?
And just how are you supposed to go about choosing the right one, anyway?
Today on Ted and Stacey’s Mattress Guides, we take a look at the proper way to choose a pillow.
Do You Really Need a Pillow?
Funnily enough, there’s actually some degree of disagreement among experts today when it comes to saying whether or not you actually need a pillow at all.
To be clear, people have relied on pillows for less pain and better sleep since ancient times.
The earliest ones we have on record are from Mesopotamia some 9,000 years ago.
The Chinese used pillows of wood, ceramic or stone.
Pillows are even in the Bible—in Genesis the Israelite patriarch Jacob uses a stone for his pillow!
Despite that, though, some have argued that, for some people at least, modern pillows might actually do more harm than good.
What Are Pillows For?
To understand this argument, we’re first going to need to have a look at the purpose a pillow serves.
Basically, the whole point of a pillow is to give your neck the kind of support it needs to relax and heal from the strain it experiences throughout the day.
Especially among younger generations, a lot of us can experience what researchers are calling text neck from looking down too long at our screens.
No matter how much some of us might be prone to navel-gazing, your neck really isn’t meant to spend that much time staring downwards.
It puts a lot of strain on the muscles, and if you’re not giving those things the rest they need at night, you might cause yourself some pretty major problems in the long run.
When you’re sleeping, you want your neck to fall within a certain range of motion.
Not too far up or too far down, or you’ll be stretching and straining muscles in ways they don’t really want to go!
So if you have a really soft mattress that your whole body tends to sink into, a pillow might just be unnecessary.
Your neck will already be within the range of motion it needs, and by propping it up too high with a big pillow, you could be seriously hurting yourself!
If you think this is happening to you, try sleeping a couple nights without a pillow.
If your problems go away, fantastic!
You’ve found what works best for you.
Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether or not you need a pillow.
You need a pillow if your neck hurts without one, and vice versa.
Do Pillows Cause Wrinkles?
Unfortunately for the pillow enthusiasts among us, some studies show a link between pillow use to wrinkle accumulation.
These “sleep creases” naturally accumulate in your face as a result of prolonged pressure against another object (so you’d probably still have this issue if you slept with your face pressed into your mattress, too).
To avoid this, there are a couple wrinkle-reducing pillows out there, and some say that silkier pillowcases can reduce the accumulation of sleep creases as well.
These products aren’t extremely well-studied, though, and they may not end up doing you much good.
You can always try sleeping on your back to reduce your wrinkle accumulation, but of course no one can ever avoid wrinkles altogether.
How to Choose the Right Pillow
With all that said, most of still do need a pillow if we want our necks to get the right kind of support.
There are basically three factors you want to consider when picking a pillow: your sleeping position, the material of your pillow, and your mattress.
Pillows and Your Sleep Position
We’ve mentioned before that your sleep position can have a big impact on your life.
Poor sleep posture can lead to all sorts of chiropractic problems, while different positions can aggravate everything from sleep apnea to back pain.
(Some scientists have also even found some links between your sleep position and your personality, but that’s neither here nor there!)
Different sleep positions move your neck in different ways and twist your head at different angles.
The National Sleep Foundation gives the following suggestions for each of the three main sleep positions.
Most people are side sleepers, which means there’s a bigger gap between gap between your mattress and your head.
Side sleepers tend to need more support in this area than either side sleepers or back sleepers.
You can try using multiple pillows if you want, or you can or you can go for more of a specialty pillow (more on those later).
You can also try folding your current pillow in half sandwich-style, but that might get you some disapproving looks from pillow aficionados.
Back sleepers, on the other hand, typically need pretty thin pillows.
Your neck can have a tendency to crane up a little while you sleep, and you might want to consider a pillow with a little more thickness where your neck falls.
Stomach sleepers need the very thinnest pillows, or even no pillow at all!
Bear in mind, though, that stomach sleeping is pretty bad for you, as a rule.
You’re putting a lot of stress on your lower back, and your neck can easily end up twisted at an uncomfortable angle.
Choosing the Right Pillow Material
In addition to your sleep position, the material of your pillow should also play a big part in your purchase decision.
A lot of people like down or feather pillows, since these tend to be highly breathable and soft beneath your head.
The main problem with these materials is that they tend to get squished down over time, which can sometimes lead to them flattening out too much to still be useful.
Latex or memory foam pillows are often a safer bet, since they take a lot longer to wear down.
Natural latex in particular is also really environmentally friendly, which is a nice added plus.
The Role of Your Mattress
Your mattress can also play a pretty big role in determining the pillow that will work best for you.
If you’re sleeping on a super firm mattress, your body isn’t going to sink as easily into the materials of your bed.
That means you’re probably going to need a thicker pillow than on a softer mattress.
If your mattress is soft enough, on the other hand, you might not even need a pillow at all!
Choosing the right mattress can actually do a whole lot more for you than even the best of pillows.
While pillows can help with neck pain, the can’t do all that much when it comes to your back.
A lot of the best-rated mattresses, however, can work wonders when it comes to chiropractic issues.
The Amerisleep AS3, for instance, is both our top-rated memory foam mattress and one of the best mattresses out there for spinal problems.
All of these mattresses help maintain the spinal alignment you need, which means they help with neck issues, upper-back issues, and lower-back issues alike.
You can check out our full article on all that here!
When to Get a New Pillow
Of course, getting a new mattress is a pretty big investment, and it’s something a lot of us tend to drag our feet about.
Although a poor mattress might really be the root cause of that crick in your neck, we know you’re probably not super excited about buying a new one (even if you really should).
A new pillow is a lot easier, and chances are good you’re about ready for a replacement!
To play it safe, the National Sleep Foundation recommends replacing your pillow every one to two years.
In addition to getting flattened out and overall useless, old pillows also tend to accumulate nastiness like dead skin cells and the dust mites that eat them.
Pretty nasty stuff—and if you have a dust mite allergy, you might start experiencing some really unpleasant symptoms if you’re sleeping on Mite Metropolis.
Old pillows can also accumulate mold, while pillowcases can gather all your oils if you don’t wash them often enough, leading to greasy hair and breakouts on your face.
Wash your pillowcase frequently, and wash your pillow about every six months.
This can help extend the lifespan of these products, and also remove the danger of all that unpleasantness.
So, to sum it all up–pillows are to provide support for your neck so it can rest at night.
Some people don’t need pillows, but most do.
A lot depends on your sleep position, as well as your mattress.
Both pillows and mattresses can help improve your spinal health.
Care for your pillow properly, replace it regularly, and never forget to put your sleep high on your priorities!