The surprising impact a pillow can have on your sleep – and how to pick the right one

The decision about where to rest your head at night should be about more than just comfort. Here’s how to pick the right pillow for you.

Over the last couple of years, there’s been an explosion of new products, routines and techniques designed to help us get a better night’s sleep. From fancy alarm clocks to dedicated sprays and meditation programs, more and more of us are choosing to invest in our bedtime routine in a bid to improve the quality of our rest.

But amid all of this innovation, there’s been one item that’s received little attention: the humble pillow. Despite how central a role our pillows play in our daily sleep routine, many of us put very little thought into where we lay our heads – instead opting for a new sleep mask or cosy pyjama set in a bid to improve our sleep quality. 

Unsurprisingly, the type of pillow you use is more important than you might think – and taking the time to find the right pillow for you can make a big difference to your overall sleep experience.

To find out more, we spoke to Martin Seeley, a sleep expert and CEO of the sleep company Mattress Next Day. Here’s what he had to say.  

Why is choosing the right pillow so important? 

Choosing the right pillow is more important than you might think.

There’s nothing better than getting into bed at night and sinking back into a soft, spongy pillow – but choosing the right one for you and your body is about more than just comfort.

“How well we sleep can often make or break our day, and if our bedding and pillows are uncomfortable or not suited to us, then this can often lead to a disturbed night’s sleep,” Seeley explains.

“Choosing the right pillow and positioning for you is crucial for the quality of your sleep – it provides vital support for your head, neck and spine and can actually help to prevent neck and back pain.

“Not only this, but choosing the wrong pillow for you could actually trigger headaches and muscle pain from incorrect positioning or lack of support, and for some, the material used could trigger allergic reactions.” 

What benefits can the right pillow offer? 

The benefits of a good pillow are about more than just feeling comfortable and supported – the right pillow can have an impact on your sleep and, as a result, your overall health.

“Our pillow can affect how much rest our bodies receive and whether we have a peaceful night’s sleep,” Seeley explains. “Often, those with the wrong sort of pillow or a flat, deflated pillow may find that they are disturbed more frequently throughout the night from discomfort and having to adjust the pillow many times.

“These frequent disturbances disrupt our vital sleep cycle and, in turn, stop us from falling into the all-important REM sleep (which plays a vital role in healthy brain development. This disturbance also has the power to affect our health and wellbeing, as sleep deprivation can lead to various health issues.”

Falling asleep without the proper support for your neck, shoulders and back can also take its toll, making finding the right pillow important for reducing any niggling aches and pains.

“While a bad pillow will not be the sole cause of any headaches, shoulder, neck or arm pain you may be experiencing, it can definitely worsen any underlying issues,” Seeley says.  

How to pick the right pillow for you 

There are a number of factors to consider when picking the right pillow.

When it comes to picking the right pillow for you, there are a number of things you should consider, including whether you have any allergies. However, the most important factor is your sleeping position. 

While it’s natural to change positions during the night, many of us will have one position we end up in most commonly – and it’s this position you should keep in mind when shopping for a new pillow.

The best pillow for back sleepers

If you’re a back sleeper, you’ll want to look out for a pillow that is firm enough and thick enough to support the natural curve of your neck and keep you aligned as you lie backwards.

“A pillow that is too thick or too thin could promote neck or back pain, so getting this right is crucial,” Seeley says. “Back sleepers should opt for medium-soft pillows, which measure between 3-5 inches thick.” 

The best pillow for side sleepers

Because of the space left between your head and neck while lying sideways, those who sleep on their sides need a thicker pillow than those who sleep on their back.

“I would advise a moulded support pillow, such as a memory foam or orthopaedic pillow, as their high raised curves provide ideal support for your neck and room for your shoulder without pushing your head up too high,” Seeley says. “This allows your body to rest in a more natural position without pushing it too far out of alignment.”

“A pillow that is too thin will not provide enough cushioning and support to the head and neck, while a pillow that is too thick can actually impede the spinal alignment and can lead to a stiff neck, pain and more pressure points.”

The best pillow for front sleepers

Front sleeping may not be as common as side or back sleeping, but there are still some of us who prefer it – and getting the right pillow to support your preference is important.

“Those who naturally end up sleeping on their front should opt for a soft to soft-medium pillow,” Seeley says. “Front sleepers often sleep with their arms wrapped around the pillow and head to one side, and so a pillow that is shallow and soft is the best choice as it offers comfort and the right amount of support for this position.” 

Images: Getty

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