With all of my shoulder and neck pain as of late- I started out on a hunt to find that perfect pillow (and I thought I would share the knowledge I’ve garnered with you). Sleep is stupid important… and your body being supported properly during sleep is particularly important. So finding that perfect pillow for you is critical.
Quick note though- different pillows work differently for everyone. I’ll tell you what I’ve settled on- but also lots more information I’ve found since finding the perfect pillow is pretty dependent on a lot of personal preferences.
First let’s start with this- my mattress is a Tempur-pedic (honestly not sure which model exactly… one of the cooling ones). I have discovered that I need a slightly different pillow with different beds. The mattresses I’m usually sleeping on in hotels and at my parents house (for example) are spring mattresses versus my memory foam mattress at home. Now that’s kind of out of the way let’s talk about the pillows.
The Basics of Find the Perfect Pillow
Neutral neck alignment is the ultimate goal when sleeping. That way the neck muscles are feeling no strain so they can relax and recuperate fully. According to my chiropractor- a pillow can’t really cause issues (overall neck and shoulder pain, headaches, numbness, etcetera), but a pillow can certainly exacerbate them.
There are basically three sleep styles- back, side, and stomach. Pretty simple and pretty important. This will help you point in the right direction.
Back sleepers. For neutral neck alignment back sleepers need a thinner pillow so the neck is supported but the head isn’t being pushed up into an angle. Some sites recommend trying out memory foam or water pillows as they will contour to your neck as you move- and are often capable of being thinner. Mainly just keep in mind you don’t want your neck held up at a angle- if you like that lifted feeling you want to make sure it is coming more from a soft incline starting at your hips (like one of hospital beds that raises up to a reclined position. For even more support a pillow can be placed under your knees to relieve lower back pressure.
Side sleepers. I’m a side sleeper (almost exclusively)- I can’t fall asleep in another position and almost never wake up in any other position. Neutral neck alignment for me means that I need a pillow that fills the gap between my shoulder and my ear- but I need less support for the head then for the neck area. Side sleepers generally need pillows to be more on the firm side or that are specifically contoured for side sleeping (picture those s shaped contour pillows). A pillow is also recommended between the knees to align the rest of the spine.
Stomach sleepers. So from what I can tell – sleeping on your stomach isn’t really recommended since the neck is always twisted to the side to allow for breathing it is not in neutral neck alignment plus your lower spine is skewed. Some sites I found went so far as to encourage people to never sleep on their stomach and to find a body pillow that could potentially simulate the feeling of being up against the mattress. Other sites noted that it is hard to change a sleep habit like that and recommended that stomach sleepers instead just don’t use a pillow for their head at all and use the pillow under the stomach instead to relieve pressure on the lower spine.
pillow stuffing material
There are a lot of options for pillow stuffing- and again the material greatly affects how your respond to the pillow. I don’t feel qualified to talk about all of them in depth- so let’s do a simple run through (check out this article on WebMD though).
Foam / Memory Foam / Latex. Higher the density the more firm the pillow with be- but on the same token, the high the density the longer the pillow with last. Contoured pillows are often made of foam of some sort. Naturally these materials will be hotter to sleep on and can have a funky smell.
Cotton / Wool. Hypoallergenic and resistant to mold and bugs (ugh… gross). Naturally firmer- and not for those who love a squish-able pillow.
Down / Feather. Ultra soft and moldable- so the stuffing can be pushed around to build up area that need more support and lessen other areas. Of course- they naturally can poke you. ;)
The Pillows I Tried
Okay- so I’ve tried… a lot of pillows (its kind of sucks since some of them cost a pretty penny). It is a running joke now with my hubby. Let me run you through them.
Threshold Density Pillow – $12
To firm for my little stature- it stretched my neck and head up pulling at my neck muscles. I think this would work great for a side sleeper that is taller and bigger than me- worked well for my hubby (he’s also less sensitive to pillows than me).
This one worked very well for me for quite a while- it supported my neck without being too firm under my head. It did break down semi quickly. I had have to replace it frequently- which I found bothersome (while is wasn’t insanely expensive- it was too expensive to be replacing three times a year).
This one was much too soft (and a wee bit pricey – it came as a free gift though with our mattress). It was nice for my head- but didn’t support my neck at all. I wanted to love it though- as it worked soo well at staying cool at night. I think this would be fantastic for a back sleeper (and when I was in the store testing it- the sales lady kept making me try it as if I was a back sleeper… I should have known better).
This one was much too soft. It was nice for my head- but didn’t support my neck. I wanted to love it though- as it worked soo well at staying cool at night. I think this would be fantastic for a back sleeper (and when I was in the store testing it- the sales lady kept making me try it as if I was a back sleeper… I should have known better).
I love this pillow- and I still have it. I used it for about six months without any issues. I can move the shredded foam around in it so I have nice solid support of my neck and less filling for my head (which is perfect). Plus it’s not super hot and feels like a standard pillow (which is the shape I prefer).
It was the pillow I was using during the onset of my neck problems. My chiropractor believes pretty strongly the pillow was not the cause- but wanted me to try something really supportive during the healing process. So once I’m back to normal I think I’ll try it out again and use the contour ones when I have issues.
Tri-Core Cervical Pillow – $40
This one was a little weird- it was the first option my chiropractor gave for me to try when I first had my spasms. It’s shaped like doughnut- with no stuffing in the center part. Honestly- it didn’t work well for me- it feels a bit more suited for a back sleeper. Side sleepers are suppose to use the sides with all the stuffing to sleep- but I kept waking up in the the middle of the with my head completely unsupported and at a weird angle in the middle. In desperation I tried sleeping on my back with it- while I had a horrible time getting to sleep, my neck did feel a little better in that position.
Contour SidePillow – $120
This is the funkiest looking pillow… but it has been my favorite pillow so far while healing. I’ve been using it for two weeks straight and have started seeing the most improvement when I wake up. It’s nice firm- as a special little raised area just for my neck and a concave area for my head. It does get a little hot throughout the night (getting to hot will wake me up in the middle of the night) which is something I can live with for a while until I’m all healed up.
So far this one and the shredded memory foam are my favorites and will be my go-to pillows for quite a while.
I’m struggling to find a good pillow for between my knees… I keep kicking them away in the middle of the night. So I have no recommendations at the moment for that.
While on away for my brother’s wedding- I was using a pretty standard hotel pillow. It offered little to know support for my neck which caused some problems- so I’m currently looking into some options to help with that. Like this cervical roll that I would use while I’m sleeping at my parents or in a hotel or something. Next time I go away I will test it out.
Apart from sleep I found this super weird contraption– to help relieve neck pain and stretch out the muscles throughout the day. It is super awesome… and super weird… but if you struggle with neck pain I recommend trying it out (it feels pretty awesome).
And last but not least my hubby purchased this book for me– which contains a bunch of stretches and exercises for the neck that have also been super helpful.