They're fat, flat and feathered, and some are made of space-age memory foam. Practically everyone has pillows on her bed, but are yours the healthiest ones for you?
According to the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 80 per cent of Canadians will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. Sleeping with the proper pillow is a simple way to relieve – or even prevent – such problems.
But how do you choose that perfect pillow? The answer, according to some experts, depends on several factors.
Your sleep position
If you sleep on your back, you need a pillow that's not too firm or too high. Your neck should not be raised, but supported so that it and your head remain level with your upper back and spine. A side-sleeper needs a pillow that conforms to the shape of the neck, provides proper support and keeps the head high enough to ensure that the spine is aligned. A stomach-sleeper needs the slimmest of pillows or none at all under her head, but she may benefit from a flat pillow under her hips, says Sarie Engelbrecht, a physical therapist in Fort McMurray, Alta.
A physical condition may help determine the ideal pillow, too. The Canadian Chiropractic Association advises anyone who suffers lower-back pain to further support her spine by placing a pillow under her knees if she sleeps on her back, or one between her knees if she sleeps on her side.
A six-foot-tall man isn't going to find the same pillow as comfortable as his five-foot-tall wife. Most retailers sell pillows in a variety of sizes: small, medium, large or standard, queen and king. Start by choosing the size that best suits you. The pillow should be aligned with the spine, and the spine should be supported in a neutral position.
Pillows are made from a wide range of materials: feathers, down, polyester fibre, polyurethane (memory foam) and buckwheat hulls (or other organic products). Most pillows made with polyester fibre or polyurethane are hypoallergenic, but you should always check the packaging to be sure. Buckwheat hull pillows are hypoallergenic, too, along with some memory-foam pillows, such as HoMedics' Pillow Rx Cradling Comfort Pillow.
Do you like a cool pillow? Buckwheat hull pillows and many memory-foam pillows remain cool throughout the night. Do you like the feel of a down pillow but need the support of memory foam? Some memory-foam pillows are constructed with polyester microfibre to give the same feel as a down pillow, but with the extra shape to provide the support you need.
Choosing your perfect pillow
Try the pillow out in the store, says Dr. John Corrigan, a chiropractor from Weyburn, Sask. "Check the support it gives you and make sure that it maintains a proper posture," he says. Irene Foley of the Perfect Pillow Co. in Kanata, Ont., makers of buckwheat hull pillows, recommends giving a new pillow a try for at least a week.
"Remember there is no one product out there that works for everyone, so it may take a little experimentation," says Corrigan. "Try borrowing different kinds of pillows from friends and family," says Judy Hunt from Athabasca Alta., who recently found her perfect pillow – a formed-foam pillow with a dent in the middle, the rounded edge of which fits just under her neck – and now sleeps much better at night.
Read about Canadian Living's top 10 secrets to a good night's sleep.