How to choose a pillow for a pain-free, restful sleep

Want to be well-rested and not waking with aches and pains in your neck? Maybe it’s time to change your pillow.

A sore or stiff neck in the morning can leave you feeling pretty miserable.

It’s a common issue, and it’s likely your pillow might be playing a role in your discomfort.

Specialist musculoskeletal physiotherapist Professor Trudy Rebbeck says it’s essential to get checked out to find if you’ve an underlying condition – but it’s also worth taking a look at your pillow.

What neck pain means

A sore, stiff neck in the morning is often a sign of strain in the neck, Prof Rebbeck, of the Australian Physiotherapy Association, says.

The pain may go away after you get up, but it may also continue during the day and lead to more tension in the neck and upper shoulders and even cause dizziness, she says.

Sleep expert Jane Wigglesworth says neck pain can have flow-on effects and create long-term sleep problems.

“Neck pain has a direct impact on sleep, with pain and insomnia often intertwined,” says the How To Sleep Well founder.

“But it’s not always just a physical connection; the relationship between neck pain and poor sleep can be a mental and emotional one too. Pain causes stress, and stress can inhibit sleep.”

How to find the perfect pillow

Prof Rebbeck says your pillow should keep your neck in a “neutral position”.

“It’s a little bit more comfortable when you’re neutral – the position where your head sits straight on your shoulders,” she says.

If you’re waking up with a stiff neck, it’s likely your pillow is too high, too low or too hard, Jane says.

She says generally speaking, this means broad-shouldered people should opt for a high-profile pillow to keep their neck straight, while people with slighter builds and front-sleepers should choose a low-profile pillow.

Get the right pillow fit

Lots of companies market the one-size-fits-all pillow, but the experts disagree.

“It would be lovely if there was a magic pillow out there, but there’s not,” Prof Rebbeck says.

This means you should consider the shape firmness, and material that’ll make you most comfortable.

Here’s some things to consider when pillow shopping.

Feather pillows 

These are luxurious and comfortable and can accommodate more sleeping positions.

However, they collapse over time and may not be suitable for those with allergies.

Latex pillows 

These are designed to mould to the shape of your head, and support your neck all night long, says Jane.

“They’re immediately soft to the touch and quick to bounce back.

“A bonus is that latex foam does not heat up like memory foam, so if you often overheat at night, latex foam may be a better option for you.”

Cotton polyester pillows  

These are a common variety, which tend to come in all shapes and sizes. They are cheap but also tend to flatten over time.

Memory foam

Reacting to body heat and pressure, memory foam moulds to your head and neck when you lie on it and offer good support.

“It can feel hard at first, until the heat from your body softens the foam,” Jane says.

Over time the foam may lose its ability to regain its shape.

Written by Alex White.