I am often asked by patients, "what kind of pillow should I be using?" This question generally comes after someone has been suffering from neck pain, and is having trouble getting comfortable, falling asleep, or staying asleep.
The simple aswer to that question is: there is no such thing as the magic pillow. You have probably seen hundreds of different types of pillows for sale, all offering you the best sleep you have ever had. A lot of people end up spending too much money trying, and then discarding, various wonder pillows. To find the right pillow, you need to take into account your sleeping position.
- Back Sleeper: sleeping on your back is the optimal position. This distributes weight evenly along the spine and allows your muscles to relax. The best pillow for this position is a softer pillow that will support the natural forward curve (lordosis) of the neck. You definitely do not want a thick or firm pillow that is going to push your head forward and put your neck into flexion. This will stress the muscles and joints of the neck and lead to increased pain.
- Side Sleeper: while not the best position for your body because it puts added pressure on your shoulders and hips, a lot of people are most comfortable on their side. A slightly firmer pillow that provides gentle support to the neck and keeps the spine stright is best for this position.
- Stomach Sleeper: don't. Just don't. This is the worst position for your body. Sleeping on your stomach forces you to turn your head and neck to one side or the other in order to breathe, and will put a lot of stress on your neck. Stomach sleeping causes a lot of neck pain complaints.
At the end of the day, the best pillow is the one that makes you the most comfortable and helps you sleep. Personally, I prefer goosedown pillows. They can be squished-down to gently support the neck when you are on your back, or fluffed-up to provide added support for side sleeping.