Dr. Allan Horowitz, published newspaper article, The Toronto Star, Copyright March 2, 1989

Most of us know that the way we sleep can have profound effects on the way we feel when awake. Length, quality, and position of sleep are all important, as is the type of bed you sleep on, but little attention has been paid to pillows. “Who cares about a pillow,” you might ask. You will, if you realize that your pillow might be the cause of your neck pain, headaches, upper back stiffness, or dizziness. Or it could be the reason you toss and turn uncomfortable for most of the night. Simply changing your pillow, or the way you use it, could significantly reduce discomfort.

A pillow is meant to do two things: provide comfort for head and neck and provide support for the structures of the neck. The aim is to find a pillow that does both and then use it correctly.

The first thing to consider should be allergies. Every pillow has a label attached. Make sure you read it in order to find any potential allergic materials before you bring the pillow home. You must find out if it is comfortable. A pillow should be soft enough to contour to the shape of your neck, and firm enough to support your neck properly. A pillow that is too soft will feel good for a few minutes, but after a few hours of sleep you will be forced to roll, bunch and fold your pillow to give better support.

Daytime problems

If all is well when you fall asleep, but you awake to find that your pillow is a pile of mush and doesn’t look anything like it did before, it is too soft. A pillow that is too firm will not be comfortable enough to allow your neck muscles to relax. This will probably prevent you from getting a comfortable sleep. Both these situations will lead to morning neck pains and headaches, and afternoon neck and upper back fatigue.

A synthetic pillow should be soft and resilient enough to allow you to leave a small indent in your pillow when you lift your head, but his impression should only be left for a few seconds, after which the pillow regain its shape. If the pillow is filled with feathers this indentation should vanish after “fluffing” it lightly only once. A pillow that springs back to showroom shape the second you life your head, or a pillow that leaves a perfect imprint of your neck for a long time will lead to problems. Avoid these. Squeeze the pillow a bit, or push your fist into it and then see how it meets the criteria.

A pillow, used correctly, should be placed only beneath the neck, the side of the face, or the lower skull. It shouldn’t be used under the shoulder arm or upper back. If it is, then the neck can’t rest in its natural position and problems result. If you sleep on your side, the pillow should fill the gap between your shoulder, your ear and the bed. If you sleep on your back, the pillow should go just under your neck, allowing part of it to support the lower part of the skull.

Daytime woes

Stomach sleepers can’t use a pillow properly because their head must be turned to one side, and their spines are always twisted. For this, and other reasons, stomach sleeping should be avoided. If you have neck problems or headaches, you might not have to look too much further than changing your sleep habits to get some relief.

With an aging population, most people working and a high-stress society, more and more people complain of neck discomfort. Wherever there is a large number of people with a problem, there is demand for a new product. Specialty pillows on the market are designed to do everything for your neck the way it should be done, but without you having to think about it. These pillows are shaped in a gentle curve. They are designed to allow your head to settle on them comfortably, while keeping your neck well supported. The curve approximates the natural curve of the neck. Some people have a difficult time adapting to it and find it causes more pain than it relieves. I suggest a trial period of approximately three weeks.