Did you know that neck pain is one of the most common chronic ailments in America? The American Osteopathic Association found that over 77 million Americans are afflicted with neck pain each year.
In addition, sleep expert and psychologist James Maas laments that over 200 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder every week.
Because of all those sore necks and torments, there are some key lifestyle choices you need to make if you want to avoid or alleviate neck pain. A good place to start is with your pillow. That’s right, your pillow.
If you are like most people, you don’t realize how vulnerable your neck is when you sleep. Normally the seven bones in your neck are cushioned by spongy cervical discs. They are also fortified by neck muscles and tendons. When you sleep, those bones and muscles can get flexed too far for a long time. They may get twisted out of line when your muscles relax. When that happens you wake up with neck pain or stiffness. Ouch!
The right pillow properly supports your neck while you sleep. It will adjust your head so that your neck stays in a perfect alignment with your spine. Your neck then retains its gentle curve.
Do you know how to choose the best pillow to avoid neck pain?
Everyone is different so the choice of pillows will be very personal. No one pillow size fits all. There are several things you need to consider when you choose the right one.
The first thing to look at is the comfort and support of the pillow. Comfort should be your top priority. Yes, you need to support your neck and your spine. However, you want a pillow that has the right amount of softness. It needs to move with you when you roll over into a new position.
This can be like a “Goldilocks” choice where you want something that is neither too soft or too firm. To be just right, the pillow should not be too squishy so that it loses its support. It should not be too firm so that it aggravates the neck. Most people will want a pillow that is not too thick and a density between a medium and firm.
The next important factor to consider is what body position you normally sleep in when you settle in for the night. Professor Chris Idzikowski from the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service reports that four out of ten people sleep in the fetal position. Some 15% of all sleepers lay on their side like a log when they sleep. Another 13% of side sleepers have their arms out in front of them. Almost everyone else sleeps on their back. Different sleeping personalities require different pillows.
If you rest on your side, get a pillow that won’t push your head out of true. It should pad the space between your neck and your mattress so that you don’t stress or bend your neck muscles.
If you sleep on your back, get a pillow that does not slant your head forward. You don’t want a pillow that places pressure on your back or on the joints in your vertebrae. You want a pillow that conforms to your neck’s natural curve.
If you sleep on your stomach: stop. There is no pillow that can help you because you have to twist your head around to breathe. That means your neck will be stretched out and twisted for a long period of time. It will put stress on your lower back.
The third thing to do is choose the right filling. For instance, memory foam will mold to the shape of your head and neck.
A water-filled pillow can be adjusted to get the perfect thickness. A 1997 Johns Hopkins University study concluded that water-based pillows can relieve chronic neck pain by the way they support your neck muscles.
A feather pillow conforms to the contours of your neck and there is something satisfying about punching a pillow into shape. However, it may aggravate your allergies. There are natural alternatives to feather pillows that are also dust-mite repellent. Lamb’s wool and silk fillers come to mind.
Finally, do you want a fat pillow or a skinny one? Do you want a large one or a tiny one? Size matters. This is a personal choice so you will want to make sure that you snuggle with a test pillow in the store before you buy. There is no hidden secret about how to choose the best pillow to avoid neck pain. It is just a matter of personal comfort and careful selection.
Go ahead and be picky. You can’t get a great night’s sleep if you have the wrong pillow under your head. A good pillow should last 4 to 5 years before it needs replacing.
Once you find the right pillow you will probably want to have it with you when you travel. That way you can always be sure of having sweet dreams.