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Hitting the Sack

The Importance of Pillows

Unfortunately, there are people, companies and manufacturers out there that will scare us into believing that if we don’t do what they say bad things will happen.

An example of this is pillows.

A pillow manufacturing company, that will remain nameless, say this on their website:

‘bad sleeping positions can cause pain, lethergy and even nerve damage’ & that their pillows:

‘Slows down aging of the spine’ & ‘Prevents sleep wrinkles’

To me, this all sounds... ridiculous.

As we age, we do tend to suffer from more morning stiffness and pain which could be attributed to our sleeping behaviour. But nerve damage, slowing down spinal aging and wrinkles? Ermmm…. I’m more dubious…

Here is my advice on pillows in bullet point form. No nonsense, just pillow talk.

1. One size does not fit all

Some manufacturers say their pillows ‘contour to the natural curvatures of your spine’. Wow. Everyone’s spine in the world?! We all know we are all different so this is just not true. A memory foam pillow may be the way around this if you don’t mind how it feels!

2. Chances are you are going to move in the night anyway

Some manufacturers provide pillows that allow for particular sleeping positions. But you may move around in the night and the pillow ends up in a bizarre position with your arms spaghetting around it anyway! Unless you sleep like an Egyptian mummy, having pillows designed for specific positions may be unfeasible.

3. Lying on your front is not (always) bad

Don’t believe that lying on your front is bad. If it is comfortable for you and you have no conditions where you have been explicitly told by your Doctor not to, then it is fine.

A note on Diseases:

Reflux or Gastro-Oesophagal Reflux Disease (GORD) is a particular condition where you may need to be propped up a bit higher by pillows and lie on your back to stop stomach acid coming up your food pipe during sleep which may cause heartburn. With some heart conditions you may also be advised not to sleep on your front.

4. Comfort and Support are key

Whether that is one, two or even three pillows. As long as you feel your head is supported enough so it fills the space between the edge of your shoulder and head/neck, then you are good to sleep. If you suffer with back pain and like to lay on your side, a pillow under your bent knee provides support and comfort.

5. Trial and Error

Try using a soft towel and fold and place under your normal pillow. Gradual increase the folds increasing its size until you are happy with the size. Then you can buy the appropriate size pillow without spending a vast amount on trialing pillows.

6. Which Material?

This Which? guide provides a no-nonsense independent approach to the different types of pillow and which one might be best for you depending on how you tend to sleep, what you like the feel of and price.

7. Got the pillow, what about the mattress?

Hard? Soft? Memory foam? Pocket-sprung? Another Which? guide to the rescue! The best tip I found was that good mattress stores will always allow you to ‘try-before-you-buy’ and don’t be influenced by the seller! After all, how they sleep is not how you sleep!

I hope this guide has been helpful and reassuring. Don’t let the scaremongering affect your judgement and if neck, shoulder or back pain continues to affect you, seek professional help!

Keep on sleeping well. Nathan

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Osteopath

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