Are you having difficulty getting to sleep at nights because of a sore neck? Are you waking up in the morning with neck pain or a headache? Or are you just restless and can never seem to get comfortable in bed? Neck pain, shoulder pain, headaches are just a few issues that can arise from incorrect sleeping posture. The number of pillows, type of pillow, size and firmness of your pillow are all dependent on the individual. Your age, height, weight, posture, and many other health issues all affect your sleeping posture and correct pillow selection. Well, in today’s blog, Matthew is talking all things pillows… a pillow talk that looks at common mistakes people are making, which pillow suits you the best and how to introduce a new pillow. Hopefully with a few simple changes, you will be having a better night’s sleep in no time!

FACT: Recent studies have shown that individuals with neck pain, suffering from poor sleep quality, are less likely to have their symptoms improve. Those with improved sleep quality had improvements in pain and related disability. Also found: of people with chronic neck pain, over half suffered mild to severe insomnia!

People suffering from chronic pain often have reduced sleep quantity and quality. The following factors are all negatively impacted on by a poor night’s sleep:

  • alertness
  • awareness
  • attention span
  • normal reaction time
  • judgement
  • decision-making skills
  • memory
  • concentration
  • mood and temperament
  • work efficiency
  • motivation

Sleeping posture

Your spinal condition and other co-morbidities will determine which posture is best for you to sleep in. Although the best sleeping posture may not always be the easiest one to fall asleep in. For example, many tummy sleepers will say it is impossible for them to settle on their backs, despite sleeping on their stomachs causing them some discomfort.

Improper sleeping posture can cause prolonged stress on the body that can lead to neck pain, shoulder pain and headaches. A person who reads in bed every night with their head bent forward may unknowingly create a disruption of the normal curve in the neck. This is similar to sleeping on your back with a pillow that is too high and forces the head forward. This position hyperflexes the neck – or pushes the head forward – disrupting the normal curve and stretching the muscles and ligaments in the back of the neck. The longer you sleep like this, the more damage can be caused, furthering neck pain and sleeping problems.

Sleeping posture - Sleeping on your Back

Image credit: Posture Direct

Similarly, sleeping on your side with a pillow that is too high or too low can cause problems with the muscles, ligaments and nerves through the side of your neck. For example, with sustained stretching of the muscles while sleeping, the muscles must work harder to prevent instability in the spine… and they become fatigued. This can lead to loss of strength in the muscle and make spinal instability more likely, which can have negative effects on the deeper tissues like the discs between the neck bones.

Sleeping posture - Sleeping on your Side

Image credit: Posture Direct

The 3rd improper sleeping posture, with or without a pillow is on your stomach. This posture basically results in the neck resting twisted all night. The stretch and compression of the muscles, ligaments and joints in your neck overnight is unavoidable when sleeping on your stomach and hence is not recommended for any individual, especially those with known neck pain and headaches.

Which pillow is for me?

The simple answer is the one that maintains your spinal alignment as best as is possible and provides you with a pain free, restorative sleep. For most people we would recommend sleeping on your back, but if you have respiratory issues or co-morbidities that preclude this, then the next best option is side-sleeping.

Back sleepers:

The ideal pillow for a back sleeper should support the natural curvature of the spine, with adequate support under the head, neck, and shoulders. The neck and head should be supported in a position that remains level with the upper back and spine. Back sleepers should choose a pillow with a low or medium profile.

Side sleepers:

You’ll need a pillow that conforms to the shape of the neck and supports the head in a high enough position to ensure that the spine maintains a straight and natural horizontal line. Medium or firm support pillows are an ideal choice for side sleepers depending on the person’s size. Larger people or people with broad shoulders should opt for a high-profile pillow.

In addition to the profile of the pillow, we also recommend opting for a pillow with contoured support. A contoured pillow is one that gently supports the natural curvature of the cervical spine. This feature is imperative for those with, or a history of, neck pain, shoulder pain or headaches!

New pillows may feel great when you first lay your head down on them, but commonly people find themselves waking throughout the night, reaching for their old pillow. This is normal! It may take you a few nights to a few weeks to totally become accustomed to your new pillow.

Posture Pillows - Getting used to a new Pillow

Image credit: Fairydown Bedware

What else can help?

Some suggestions on how to get more sleep include:

  • don’t smoke or drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages in the hours before bedtime
  • keeping your room as dark and quiet as possible
  • don’t use any digital devices in the bedroom such an iPad, laptop, or TV
  • read a book in bed to unwind
  • use relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep quickly
  • seek professional assistance for any sleep disorders such as snoring

Dentons Pillows

At Revive Physiotherapy and Pilates, we stock a full range of Dentons contoured pillows. If you are unsure whether you are sleeping on the right pillow, or you feel your pillow might be making your symptoms worse, please speak to your Physiotherapist at your next appointment. We’ll give you tailored advice that not only suits your neck, but your whole body!

Dentons pillows - Available at Revive Physiotherapy and Pilates

Image credit: Dentons