Sleep Care

Pillows and Sleep

When creating an ideal sleep environment, many people often think of bedroom temperature, amount of light present, or sheets and blankets as the immediate issues to address. However, according to a recent poll, one item was rated as having a bigger impact on sleep than all of these: pillows.

Pillows and Sleep

For most people, the main consideration for a good pillow is the support it provides, which typically depends on the position in which a person tends to sleep the most during the night. People who usually sleep on their back or their stomach, for example, will find flatter pillows provide ideal cushioning for sleep. For side-sleepers, on the other hand, a larger, more firm pillow provides better support—specifically, between the shoulder and head, which is elevated some compared to the back and stomach positions.

In accordance with the poll findings above, research has found that pillow type can make a significant impact on sleep.  A 2006 study investigating the use of neck pillows for 52 patients suffering from chronic neck pain, headaches and poor sleep compared three different kinds of neck pillows to a normal pillow.  A significant majority of patients using the neck pillows found it had a positive impact on their neck pain, headaches, and improved their quality of sleep.  Another study compared the effects of a special pillow made of a cooling material to a normal pillow.  Researchers in this study found the cooling pillow kept forehead temperatures significantly lower, and all participants reported sleeping better with it versus the normal pillow.

Various Pillows for Various Situations

Choosing the best pillow depends on a person’s specific situation and needs.  As discussed earlier, a good place to start is body position during sleep:  back and stomach sleepers will find a flatter pillow more helpful, whereas side sleepers will benefit from a firmer, thicker pillow that provides better cushioning between the head and mattress.  Full-length body pillows may also be useful—the key for these is for the pillow to fit the body naturally and be roughly similar in size.

Cervical, or neck, pillows typically are shaped to provide better cushioning for the neck by having a raised bottom that follows the neck’s natural contour.  As noted previously, some research has found that these pillows can be of significant benefit to people who routinely wake up with a sore neck.

Water pillows provide flexibility in cushioning since they can be filled with water to various levels for different amounts of support.  This feature makes them popular with some physical therapists.

Anti-snore pillows are a newer pillow option on the market, and essentially work by forcing a person to avoid sleeping on their back, where snoring tends to be the most prominent.

Regardless of the type of pillow a person is looking for, a trial period can be very helpful, particularly for pillows that are more expensive.  If possible, sometimes laying down with a pillow on a display bed in the store can give a more immediate approximation of how it will feel at home.

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