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Pillow Preference Is Very Personal

What Pillow Should I Use?

By Dr. Doug

Since I treat a lot of neck and upper back pain, I’m often asked about what kind of pillow people should use. This can be tricky, since everyone has a preference about pillow softness or firmness and everyone has a preferred sleeping position. The results of some new research about pillows for side sleepers, the sleeping position of choice, is available. Two features to look for in a pillow are "LOFT" and "SOFTNESS":

1) "Loft" indicates how thick a pillow is. For a side sleeper, it should be between 4 and 6 inches. The broadness of your shoulders will indicate if you need more or less height. When lying on your pillow, your head should line up with the rest of your spine; neither angled up or down.

2) "Softness" is a tricky specification to figure out for an individual. This is determined by what material the pillow is made of. On the extreme soft side there is down, which is soft and malleable. On the far firmness side there is memory foam, which is harder and can be less variable in its shape. In between, there are many options.

Some memory foam pillows have a gel pad, which helps reduce the heat build-up that often happens with memory foam pillows. The gel also adds a layer of softness to the top of the pillow. If you need a lot of firmness, this may be a comfortable option. There is also “shredded memory foam.” This allows you to shape the pillow to a comfortable height. The ability to adapt the pillow’s shape to what you need is often mentioned as a good feature. There are pillows that combine the shredded foam with some fill component so you can maintain some of the loft that is lost in other types of pillows. If you are looking at memory foam pillows, remember that some come with a strong chemical smell, which may be a deterrent to using the pillow. You should investigate this and see if you can tolerate the scent. A good pillow can be an expensive purchase. Some pillow stores may offer a return policy or let you try one out for a few weeks. Ask about this when you are looking at getting a new pillow, because “test driving” a pillow gives you a better idea what you think about using it for longer than you will experience in the store.

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