Sleeping with the enemy

We spend the largest part of our lives sleeping, and we know that getting enough sleep is crucial for our wellbeing.

While we often focus on the quality of our sleep and look to avoid the big sleep, No no’s such as coffee, stress, and switching off technology before bed. These are all important, however just as important and slightly less obvious is the attention we pay to our pillow.

But what actually makes a good pillow, and how do you know what to look for when choosing a pillow? We asked our friend and expert Chiropractor Catlin Lewis a few questions to help make the decision easier.

Is it common for people not to think about the right pillow?

Yes, it is very common for people not the think about the right pillow until they get symptoms such as a sore or stiff neck and even then a lot of people don’t relate these symptoms to their pillow. I will tell a lot of my clients if they are waking with a sore neck frequently, it’s a sign they probably need a new pillow, especially if its more than 2 years old.

Why the right pillow is important?

It’s important for a number of different reasons. Of course, the first reason is its more comfortable and your far more likely to have a great nights sleep, which our bodies requires for recovery and health. The second is your spine contains your nervous system, which is a direct extension of your brain. Your brain controls how your whole body works. It’s constantly adapting to changes in your environment – whether you are doing Pilates and working up a sweat to stretching some tight muscles, your brain will increase your heart rate, breathing rate and tell you when you if you are over-stretching without you needing to think about it. Your spinal joints need to be moving properly in order for there to be clear communication between your brain and body so your body can always be at its best. When you have the right pillow, it prevents unnecessary stress and strain in the neck joints, which means a freer, happier neck and a happier body.

How do people know they have the wrong pillow?

For most people, a telltale sign their pillow is wrong is when they wake up with neck pain for more than 5 consecutive days. If you want to be more proactive – get your partner/housemate/family to see if your head is in alignment with your body while lying on your side on your bed. The base of your spine should line up with the top of your head – as though you are standing upright. If you’re headed is tilted up or down in relation to the rest of your spine, it’s the wrong pillow.

What to look for when selecting a pillow?

The first thing to figure out is whether your mattress is soft or hard. What I mean by this when you lay on your side in bed, does your shoulder sink into the mattress? If yes – you will require a much lower (thinner/softer) pillow compared to someone who’s mattress is firmer, as there is a smaller space between your neck and your pillow. Next is to select a pillow that supports your spine in a side-lying position and lying on your back. The best type is the contoured pillows, which encourage the natural S-shaped curve of the spine. If you are used to the fluffy feather pillows, the contoured pillow may take a week or so to get used to but once you do you won’t be able to sleep without one. It’s best to trial the pillow before you buy one. You can do this in most mattress shops or any health professional that sells pillows.

Where else can we get help?

There are many health professionals who sell pillows and a lot of them will have them on display in their reception area. If you already see a Chiropractor/Osteopath or Physiotherapist make sure you ask them for a recommendation. You can also trail them at Mattress shops. Take your time figuring out what is comfortable for you.

What else do we need to know about Pillows?

There are so many different materials used in pillows. The best ones are Memory Foam, Latex or one with water on the inside that can mould to the shape of your head and neck to give you the best support. For anyone who is a tummy sleeper – this is the worst position for your neck at night. As you must turn your head to breathe, staying in this position for hours puts a lot of stress on the neck joints and tissues.

So hopefully this great information will help us all sleep a little easier.


Caitlin graduated from RMITin 2007 with an Honours Degree and Master in Chiropractic. She currently works in South Melbourne. She’s passionate about holistic health and providing proactive health care. She’s a keen netball player, runner, gym enthusiast and pilates advocate.