April 03, 2020
When it comes to getting great sleep, your mattress plays a large part in your comfort, but do you ever think about your pillow? Even with a great mattress, the wrong pillow could still cause you to wake up with aches and pains all over your body. Unfortunately, too many people don’t know how to select the right pillow, so we’re providing some guidance for those seeking the best sleep… starting with a pillow.
Why is a Pillow So Important?
Pillows offer the most immediate comfort that you feel when you lay down to sleep, making them crucial parts of your bed. Your pillow supports your head and neck, helping your spine stay in line down your entire back. Because of this, choosing the wrong pillow could cause headaches, neck pain, and even back pain.
But how do you know you have the wrong pillow? What if the pillow you have feels comfortable, but you still have pain in the morning? Frequently, people choose pillows based on initial comfort, not lasting comfort, which can lead to neck and back pain if the pillow does not support you through the night.1
When choosing a pillow, here are a few things to keep in mind: the height of the pillow, what it’s made of (pillow fill), and general comfort.
Pillow Height (Loft)
The pillow you sleep with plays an integral part in keeping your spine aligned through the night. If your spine is misaligned, it could cause neck pain, back pain, general soreness, and exhaustion from a lack of good sleep. The misalignment is often a result of using a pillow with improper height. Because of this, the height of your pillow should be sufficient to support your head and neck without painful results.
In a 2017 study, researchers found that the “perfect” pillow height came out to around 7cm, or 2.76 inches.2 Keep in mind, this study was performed using solid one-piece pillows, meaning the compression of the pillow was minimal. Because of this, pillows made with other fills can be more supportive at different heights.
We don’t recommend selecting a pillow that is too lofty, especially for children, as pillows with a higher loft can cause young people to experience more severe lower back pain as time goes on.2 High pillows can also pose a problem for breathing. As stated in a 2015 study, “… high pillows excessively bend the curvature in the normal cervical region, which reduces the airway space through which air flows into the laryngopharynx; this structural change reduces the capacity for ventilation.3” This can have negative effects on anyone, but it could cause more issues to those with sinus, lung, or general respiratory issues, such as sleep apnea or asthma.
Most studies on pillow height focus on those who sleep primarily on their backs, causing the data to be shaped solely for back sleepers. For side and stomach sleepers, the perfect height of a pillow may be taller or shorter than the recommended loft for back sleepers.
When it comes to pillow fill, there are hundreds of different types available. With so many options, it can be challenging to select the right fill. Some of the healthy pillow fill options to consider include solid latex, shredded latex, wool, cotton, PLA, and kapok.
A pillow made from natural latex, formed into a solid shape, is a much healthier alternative to memory foam. Memory foam pillows can be very toxic, as they are made from petroleum and loaded with chemicals. Natural latex is chemical free. Natural latex comes from rubber trees and can be formed into different shapes and sizes. A solid latex pillow can be made to feel soft or firm and is available in a variety of lofts. Contour shaped solid latex pillows, AKA ergonomic latex pillows, have been proven to significantly reduce neck pain, especially in those with previous injury or related illness.4
Another popular pillow fill is shredded latex. Shredded latex is the same natural latex that you find in a solid latex pillow, but it’s been cut into small pieces. Some shredded latex pillows are adjustable which allows you to remove as much latex as you want to adjust the firmness and height of the pillow. With an adjustable latex pillow, if you keep the latex that you removed, you can always put it back in the pillow if you think you removed too much.
Not only is wool a great part of mattresses, it’s great in pillows too. Wool is naturally resistant to dust mites, mold, and mildew. Wool will help keep you cool - eliminating overheating and night sweats which are common with down, feather, and memory foam. Wool will cradle your head to help keep your spine in its natural position while you sleep. Wool pillows can be firm or soft, depending on how much wool is in the pillow. Some wool pillows are adjustable, allowing you to adjust the height and firmness of the pillow.
Wool is also a healthier option than down pillows. Down pillows have a tendency to flatten significantly over a short period of time, causing them to lose their initial support. Down feathers are a known attractor of dust mites, which can trigger allergies or aggravate existing respiratory issues.
Pillows made with an organic cotton fill are a healthy choice for individuals who like a firmer pillow with a lower loft. Cotton pillows are an excellent choice for those with wool or latex allergies.
PLA is a non-toxic, sustainable fiber derived from sugar cane plants. PLA is resilient and has wonderful moisture wicking properties. When used as fill in pillows, PLA provides a healthy, supportive feel with no harmful chemicals.
Kapok is a fine, fibrous material that grows around seeds of the cieba tree found in tropical climates like Central & South America and West Africa. Kapok-filled pillows offer luxurious softness and come in different lofts. They are a healthy, plant-based alternative to down.
In addition to choosing the right loft and fill, make sure you select a pillow that feels comfortable when you lay down as would when you sleep. If your head doesn’t feel comfortable, then your sleep will be disturbed no matter how supportive your pillow is. The comfort of your pillow is primarily driven by firmness, weight, and how much you sink into the pillow. The combination of comfort and support for your body will help you rest much better.
So Now What?
We encourage you to use the information to help you find your perfect pillow. If you would like some help selecting a pillow for you or someone else, give us a call at 919-521-5566 or stop by our showroom located off Glenwood Ave in Raleigh, NC. Sleep Healthy!
1Ren, S., Wong, D. W.-C., Yang, H., Zhou, Y., Lin, J., & Zhang, M. (2016). Effect of pillow height on the biomechanics of the head-neck complex: investigation of the cranio-cervical pressure and cervical spine alignment. PeerJ, 4. doi: 10.7717/peerj.2397
2Li, X., Hu, H., & Liao, S. (2017). Can Pillow Height Effect the Body Pressure Distribution and Sleep Comfort: a Study of Quinquagenarian Women. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, 128. doi: https://doi.org/10.1088/1755-1315/128/1/012128
3Seo, K., & Cho, M. (2015). Analysis of the pulmonary functions of normal adults according to pillow height. Journal of physical therapy science, 27(10), 3085–3087. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.27.3085
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