Our sleep is so very important to our health. So it makes sense that having the right pillow so that we can sleep comfortably is very important as well. Beyond just being comfortable, we want to give our spine and nervous systems what they need to be healthy, creating the optimal conditions for wellbeing.
Part of pillow choice is a personal preference, but we also must consider our anatomical and physiological needs. I have some basic recommendations to guide you in your choice of a pillow, plus one type of pillow I ABSOLUTELY want to warn you against.
1.Keep your posture in mind
Remember how when you started care I analyzed your standing posture? One of the things we look at as an important indicator of spinal and nervous system health is something we call “forward head posture.” If your head, as measured by the center of your ear, is positioned any amount in front of your shoulders, this indicates that the nervous system is in a stress-based “fight or flight” pattern. These patterns, much like old computer operating systems, limit your functioning and experiencing on a deep level and create blockages between the brain and the body in the spinal cord.
For a link to the abstract of an important study that demonstrates the dangers of forward head posture awake or at rest, go to this URL http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15450042
If you are using a pillow that brings your head forward of your shoulders, you are basically re-creating this stress-based program in the body by putting a constant flexion tension into the nerves and tissues at the top of the spinal cord near the brain stem. While we are in this stress-based program and the nerves are under tension it is impossible for your system to be at peace. If it’s not good when you’re awake and standing, it’s definitely not good when you are sleeping!
You want a pillow that allows the peace that we create in the spine and nervous system through your care by both supporting your neck and allowing your head to extend backward.
Here’s a simple test. When you lay back on your pillow, imagine yourself standing. Would this pillow be pushing your head into forward head posture?
Many memory foam pillows and pillows made with synthetic fibers can be too puffy to allow for this extension. My top recommendation is a down pillow because the weight of your head will naturally press the down toward your neck for gentle support while allowing that important extension to take place.
2. DO NOT use any type of corrective pillow
I am going to depart from many of my peers in chiropractic here and tell you that I do not recommend any type of pillow that is aimed at “correcting” or forcing your neck and head into an artificial alignment. This includes all wedge shaped pillows, “contour pillows,” or the like. Many chiropractors actually sell these types of pillows to patients as a means to help them “correct” their spines at home. Your spine is out of alignment, so the thinking goes, so why not use the time when you sleep to try to correct it?
Even after 3 years of being a practice member in Network Care, I fell victim to this sort of recommendation shortly after I started chiropractic school. A doctor at the clinic in my school actually told me to sleep with a can of soda under my neck to encourage a curve in my cervical spine (and I actually followed his advice!). I continued to do this for months despite tremendous discomfort!
Even in the best case scenario, where many of these pillows are marketed that they will be comfortable and may indeed feel that way at first, they are still forcing you into an artificial position and locking you into it for your entire night of sleep. As we Network Spinal Analysis practitioners would say, “Without connection, there can be no correction.” True change comes from within, as your brain and body change in their connection and awareness, allowing for structural changes to happen as a natural consequence.
3. Connection, not correction
I often get a lot of great questions at New Day about what sorts of exercises, movements, ways of sleeping, ways of driving, ways of working at a computer, etc, that a person should or shouldn’t be doing to support their spinal health. While I love giving advice on these topics, there is one guiding principle that is relevant for all of these questions.
If your brain and body are not communicating because your nervous system is in a stress based program with tension in the nerves and blockages through the spine, you could be gently leaning over to pick up a FEATHER and you would hurt yourself. You could be sleeping on the most lovely pillow in the world and you would hurt yourself. You could be doing the most gentle yoga in the world and hurt yourself. Ever wonder how it’s possible to “sleep wrong”? Now you know!
Without connection not only can there be no correction, but this is how we also get hurt sometimes. This is the body giving a loud and clear signal that there is something interrupting the flow of information to and from the brain. Chiropractic care– your sessions of Network Care at New Day– give your brain and body the routine re-connection necessary so that change can occur. Due to the stresses most of us encounter on this planet, you are likely to benefit from having your spine and nervous system worked with on a regular basis so that you can function and feel your best.
4. If it doesn’t feel good, question it
In a connected, peaceful spine and nervous system, it becomes easier and easier to know what we need. It might be different now than it was a month ago. And it may change again. Be in an open dialogue with your body and be open to change when it comes to a pillow or anything else.
I don’t believe that getting healthy always feels good, at least not right away. It’s not always appropriate to only do what feels comfortable when what feels comfortable is not healthy. While I don’t want you to force anything, I want you to keep that in mind.
The best time to shop for or try out a new pillow is after you’ve been getting regular care for your spine and nervous system. Your nerves will be sensitized to the healthiest way to be in rest. If you notice that you still crave a thicker, puffier pillow, go easy on yourself and don’t force a change. Continue getting your Network Care and be on the lookout for changes to what would feel best to you, while keeping in mind my first point about the importance of an optimal posture.