When was the last time you thought about your bed pillows? If your answer is “it’s been a long time,” or “not at all,” you’re not alone. Mattresses get a lot of attention, for good reason. Your mattress is the largest, most important financial investment you’ll make in your sleep. But when it comes to sleep quality, pillows are almost as important as your mattress.
If you’re sleeping on a worn-out pillow, scrunching and folding it up every night to get comfortable, that’s a red flag that it’s time to update. Even if your pillow isn’t old and deflated, it might not be the best choice for your comfort and support.
A good sleeping posture is key to sleeping soundly, night after night, and to waking without pain and stiffness. Your pillow helps to support a healthy sleep posture. What does that posture look like? A body in alignment, from the knees and hips, through the spine to the chest and shoulders, head, and neck.
If your neck and shoulders don’t get sufficient support, or are propped at an angle that causes twisting, craning, or crunching, this puts your spine and body out of alignment, leading strain and discomfort in your neck, shoulders, and back, as well as sleeplessness.
As with your mattress, comfort and support are both important in selecting the right pillow. The best pillow for you is one that feels comfortable to rest your head on, and supports your head, neck, and shoulders and matches your mattress.
There are several factors that go into choosing a pillow—so let’s do some pillow talk.
Does sleeping position matter to pillow choice?
The answer is: YES. There are general guidelines that match the sleeping position with pillow type, but they are not hard and fast rules. Why? Because nearly all of us switch sleeping positions throughout the night. You might be a side sleeper who also spends some time during the night on your back. The same goes for the stomach sleeper who shifts occasionally to one side. You want a pillow that works for you in all your sleeping positions.
That said, here are some broad guidelines:
Side sleepers may need a firmer pillow and a pillow on the thicker side. Look for one that’s as thick as the distance between your ear and outside shoulder.
Stomach sleepers may need a soft pillow—or no pillow at all—underneath their head. A pillow under your stomach and pelvis may help prevent back pain.
Back sleepers may need a flatter pillow, to keep your head and neck in alignment. Back sleepers may want a softer pillow—but if you have neck pain and sleep on your back, look for a pillow that provides additional support, while maintaining the softness that’s comfortable for you.
Does your mattress matter to your pillow choice?
Another YES. If you use a firm mattress, then a softer pillow may be better because the pillow is lying on a firm surface and needs to adapt to the pressure of the weight of your head in your starting sleep position. If you have had a softer mattress, then a firmer pillow may be better to keep your head and neck aligned.
Don’t ignore your pillow! It’s such an important element of your sleep environment and having the right one under your head can make for more comfortable, restful nights.