Pillow Talk – Is your pillow like a bag of chips?
Pillow Talk – Is your pillow like a bag of chips?
Lately, I’ve been asking a lot of patients if they are sleeping on a good pillow at home. Surprisingly, the most common answer I get is: “What do you mean a good pillow? Aren’t all pillows the same?”. To that I answer, “Absolutely Not!”, and this made me realize how little most people know about the topic of pillows. After telling my patients what a good pillow is supposed to provide for them, their eyes widen at the possibility of spending those 8 hours sleeping on something that doesn’t resemble a hotel pillow.
As a chiropractor, our profession spends a vast amount of time looking at the ideal curves of the spine, why that’s so important, and how much better people function when those ideal curves are maintained. Due to our ever-changing technological world causing us to lose our curves by sitting, looking down at technology, or driving in traffic, it makes it even more vital to help our spines out in whatever way we can. In fact, I’m seeing this phenomena so much, there’s a term that’s been born out of it, “tech-neck”.
Good Pillows vs. Bad Pillows
A bad pillow can be best described as one of those hotel pillows you get that look super fluffy on the bed, and once you put your head on it, you find out it was similar to those bag of chips you bought in the lobby; filled with 75% air, and only 25% substance.
The problem with pillows like these, besides the deceiving promise of fluff and comfort, is that it provides absolutely NO support to your cervical spine. The other type of pillows that patients tend to describe to me are the ones that are very firm, or even two of those firm pillows stacked on top of each other. I tend to think these are worse because it just exacerbates what you’re doing all day to your neck with “tech-neck” as described above. With high-stacked firm pillows, you’re putting your neck into a forward flexed position, eliminating your curve even further. The spine responds to the stresses put on it, and if you’re doing anything similar to this, I can guarantee you that you’re fast on your way to having “tech-neck”.
Good Pillows & What makes them good?
Now that we’ve defined a bad pillow, let’s talk about what constitutes a good pillow. As long as we stay with some basics, I think the important factors described below will best allow you to know how to shop for your next pillow. The most common names I see with pillows are memory foam, gel memory foam, latex memory foam, down pillow, dream science, down alternative, and more. I can’t say I’ve tried all of these materials, but I would say whatever feels best for you is most important, and materials-wise shouldn’t get you into too much trouble.
When your pillow performs the following functions: cervical spine lordotic support while sleeping on your back, maintaining a straight horizontal spine when side-lying, from your cervical spine down to your low back, and no compression of your thoracic outlet a.k.a squishing your shoulder between your head and the bed. You’ll know this happens if you wake up with arm/hand numbness. Lastly, make sure the pillow isn’t “turning off” the muscles supplied by the nerves in your neck. This last part is something we’ve started to incorporate into our pillow fittings with patients who buy pillows in the office.
Manual muscle testing is used to make sure the pillow isn’t doing more harm than good and reducing the ability of the nerves to communicate with the rest of your body while you sleep. Sleeping is one of the most important aspects of maintaining health, recovery, growing, and allowing us to get the most out of our days. In fact, I think I just realized what my next blog will be about Sleep! and boy do I love my sleep!
The best way to shop for your next pillow is to physically “try them on” in person.
Before I wrap this blog up, if you don’t have the ability to come into the office for one of our pillow fittings, the best way to shop for your next pillow is to physically “try them on” in person. If you buy online make sure you have a good return policy and don’t be shy about ordering a handful to compare against each other.
I find that whatever your first intuitive impression about the pillow is will usually be a good indicator for you. When a patient lays down on a pillow, before I even do my muscle testing, I look at their face. The best face is the “Ahhhh!” relaxed/happy face, which funny enough, coincides pretty accurately with a good muscle test. The worst face is the scrunched “Ehh!” not-impressed face, which also coincides with a pillow that turns off quite a few muscles. So if you are out there on your own, the best thing I can say is to try is trust yourself and that first instant impression you get when you first put your head down on the pillow. If it follows the above guidelines regarding proper support than you have my pillow-purchase blessing. Hope this helps and was informative, feel free to send me any questions or comments you might have. Happy Healthy Sleeping!
Put yourself in good hands!
Dr. Sterling Petersen
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Dr. Sterling Petersen DC
Doctor of Chiropractic
Dr. Sterling is passionate about optimizing the health of his patients through chiropractic and physical fitness. Dr Sterling shares his knowledge and inspiration with a growing Instagram community.