There are three main sleeping positions—on back, on stomach and on side. The pillow has a lot to do with each sleeping position, since each position needs a different level of neck and head support.
- On back: Those who sleep on their backs need a pillow that will support the head, neck, shoulders and spine. Your cervical spine has a natural curve and the pillow should conform to that curve for maximum support and relaxation.
- On side: If you sleep on either of your sides, use a pillow that supports your head in line with neck. You should maintain a horizontal posture so that the weight is naturally distributed without exerting undue pressure. The pillow should fill the spaces between your ear and mattress. If your head or neck is tilted, and is not aligned with the rest of the spine, it leads to neck or back pain.
- On stomach: This sleeping position is not good for your spine, especially during the corrective stage of your care.
Back or side sleepers need a firmer pillow. Pillow firmness depends upon the density of a pillow filling—the more the filling, the firmer the pillow. To test the firmness of a pillow, put it on a flat surface and bend in half. If it folds easily, it is soft. If you need to put some force into folding a pillow in half, it probably has a good amount of support.
Types of fillers
The fillers used in the pillow determine its firmness. These play an important role as they perform functions like taking shape as per weight distribution, heat exchange between body and pillow material and temperature monitoring. Here are some popular filler options.
- Cotton and wool pillows: These are traditionally used in most of the pillows but must be replaced often since they deform quickly.
- Feather and down: Feather and down pillows have been used across the ages and are still popular. Down is more expensive. It is soft, easy to shape or mould onto your head and body, and locks in temperature.
- Natural Latex: Talalay latex is a naturally derived and renewable resource from the milk of the rubber tree and is produced using a solvent-free process.
- Buckwheat: These are a breather for those who are allergic to down. Buckwheat pillows are filled with little buckwheat husks. They are variable and adjustable and allow your head and neck to be comfortable. Technically, a buckwheat pillow would benefit all sleeping styles because of the adjustability. These can also be cooled or heated for additional benefits to reduce pain.
- Polyester: Polyester is comfortable and less expensive depending on the quality. It does not fluff up the way down does. This is a petroleum based product and not recommended.
- Foam: Foam pillows tend to last longer, are firm and cheap. New foam items do not likely contain toxic PBDEs; however, mattresses, mattress pads, and foam pillows (including breastfeeding pillows), and other foam items purchased before 2005 are likely to contain them. Additionally, foam is petroleum based.
- Memory foam: Memory foam is made from polyurethane, but has a different cell structure than other foams. This structure makes it less ‘springy’ and slower to recover—hence the memory foam as it ‘remembers’ your shape for a while after you’ve moved. Memory foam pillows leave an indentation where the head has been for some time and hence is not recommended for those who move a lot in their sleep. These are expensive; costing up to five times the cost of a polyester-fill pillow.
- Water-filled pillows: Water-filled pillows gently adjust to constantly support the head and neck in correct posture in side and back sleeping positions. However, water based pillows are plastic which is petroleum based.
Tip: If you are allergic, a down or buckwheat pillow may not be suitable for you. Go for a hypoallergenic natural latex.
Chemicals used in pillow manufacturing evaporate and enter into the air which we breathe all night long. Some of these are documented carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds. Common petroleum based chemicals have been clearly shown to have the ability to weaken or damage the immune and nervous system. Autoimmune disorders have also been linked with exposure to petroleum-based chemicals and have been found to be the underlying cause of many common health problems today (soft tissue damage, organ and brain damage, arthritis, etc). If you have had any new health problems immediately after purchasing a new bed or pillow it is essential to remove the bed or pillow from the living area (ie. to the garage) and seeing if health problems stop. The permanent solution to the problem is to purchase a natural or organic bed from one of the increasing number of stores selling these types of products.
Mattress wrapping is an option for non-organic mattresses for those of you not able to replace your mattress. More information is available at babesafe.com. This is especially critical for infants and children.