As a chiropractor, one of the most common questions I am asked is: What kind of pillow should I get?

I always feel that question is a little difficult to answer since a new pillow can not only affect the quality of sleep but the quantity as well. My disclaimer to patients is always this: If I recommend a new pillow that is good for your spine, and you don’t sleep well on it, then you may have to put some extra effort into it. Practice sleeping on the new pillow an hour at a time and work up to sleeping on it all night. Just like training for a marathon, you can train your body to get the best sleep!

I recommend firmer pillows with contours to provide support to the head and the neck. These are the pillows with different sized contours and a central cavity for head support. Sleeping with a good pillow and in the proper position can provide relief from neck and low back pain, headaches and numbness and tingling in the arms and hands.

If you are a side sleeper: Your pillow should fill in the space between your ear and the bed. Your head and neck shoulder be in a supported, neutral position, with your chin in line with your belly button. A second pillow should be placed between your knees with the top leg even, or slightly behind the bottom leg. The purpose of the second pillow is to help prevent low back, hip and even knee pain. While sleeping on your left side is typically recommended to help with digestion and blood flow, switching the side you sleep on can be beneficial in preventing neck and low back strain.

If you sleep on your back: Your pillow should fill in the space between your neck and the bed. Your ears should line up with, or be slightly behind, the tip of your shoulders with your neck supported. (If you can see your feet, that means your pillow is too big and this could compromise your airway.) A second pillow can be placed under the knees to provide low back support.

If you are a stomach sleeper: Sleeping on your stomach puts an unavoidable amount of stress on your neck, removing the curve from your neck and increasing the pressure on your brainstem. I recommend you break the habit and try sleeping on your side instead.  You can start the change by wedging a pillow between your stomach and the bed, but ultimately it is up to you and your determination to fully make the change to improve your sleep.

Considering you spend a third of your life sleeping, it is important to replace your pillow yearly to prevent illnesses from bacteria, mold and fungi that can grow within the pillow. Washing your pillows twice a year is beneficial as well; just make sure to check the pillow tag for the washing instructions!

Dr. Sandra Nelson, DC

Whole Family Healthcare