Finding the right pillow and mattress can be really hard work, or a real pain in the neck! The average person spends on average between 7 and 9 hours sleeping so theoretically it is just as, if not more important to ensure good sleeping postures and habits as it is work ergonomics.
Choosing the wrong support can be the difference between a good night’s sleep and a restless night, which can then result in neck, back and hip pain and tension. Here we will go through a few of our tips which will help you choose something that is going to be comfortable and supportive to help you have a better night’s sleep!
The most important function of a pillow is to keep the neck aligned while you sleep and a mattress should support the spine, hips and pelvis; keeping everything in alignment. When a pillow or mattress becomes used and unsupportive, it can no longer keep the body aligned correctly, which can lead to postural related injuries and be aggravating for many conditions including discogenic injuries, bursitis and shoulder impingements.
When choosing a pillow, consider your sleep posture, neck and shoulder position and alignment, softness/firmness of your mattress as well as personal preference with materials. Select a pillow that supports your head and fills in your neck curve in the position you spend most of your time sleeping in (on your back or side). Ideally, it is a good idea to have someone observe your lying posture to determine what works for you but here are some key points to consider when choosing your pillow:
- Back sleepers – the pillow should fill in the space between your neck and the bed – so it is going to be a lot thinner than others. If you can see your feet, your pillow is probably too high
- Side sleepers – the pillow should fill in the space between the ear, shoulder and bed. Select a thicker pillow – it will be thicker than what a back sleeper would need. To keep your whole spine aligned you can also bend the legs and place a pillow between the knees to prevent rotation from the pelvis
- Stomach sleepers – this is not recommended due to the full neck rotation, which can cause compression and straining, but if you find you keep ending up in this position – use a small pillow to level your head when sleeping. Try and change this habit by falling asleep on your back or side (you may need two pillows until you master this)
There are many types of pillows on the market and sometimes the most expensive is not necessarily the best. Take your time in trying one out and make sure it’s going to suit your needs. Currently latex and memory foam pillows are the most popular, which are both forms of contoured pillows. Latex pillows are made of natural latex and never require fluffing, they maintain their shape and provide maximum air-flow, preventing moisture and heat build-up. They are hypoallergenic and chemical free which is very suitable for asthmatics and individuals who suffer from allergies. Memory foam pillows are made from a high quality manufactured foam and generally have more variation ability with adjusting the height by taking out or adding sections of foam, in addition to being able to flip and rotate them.
When choosing a mattress the same fundamentals apply. If you are in the position when you are looking to update both, please choose the mattress FIRST and then select the pillow to fit you on the new mattress. This is because the softer the mattress is, the lower the pillow will need to be because of how much your body sinks into it.
There has been a lot of research into mattress science and there are hundreds of varied types out there including many versions that can be individualised for different supports on each side, temperature controls and zero partner disturbances. As mattresses can be made out of many different materials and support systems some may have a stronger chemical smell than others or be hotter to sleep in, which may be an important deciding factor for some of you.
To choose the best mattress for your sleeping posture is quite simple, you basically want something that supports your spine, depending on if you are a side of back sleeper and is your preferred firmness. If you are a side sleeper it is recommended that you look for a mattress that has different “zones” of support, which means you will be able to sleep comfortably on your side as they allow for your shoulders and hips to sink in slightly compared to your spine. Many of the new mattresses have great support right to the edge of the mattress which means when you get in and out of bed there is no dipping on the edge. This makes it MUCH easier to get in and out of bed especially when you have an injury or are pregnant.
Most people chose mattresses that are too soft or hard for them as when you are initially trying one in store they feel comfortable for the 2-3 minutes you lay on them. This can lead to a lot of issues and injuries, especially for side sleepers. So when deciding please try them for as long as you can and try lots of different types and brands. Mattresses vary significantly in price so more often than not the price is one of the biggest deciding factors. I am a strong believer in trying before you buy when it comes to a mattress and always opt for one with a good warranty period for peace of mind. Take your time choosing what suits you best as they can be an expensive investment. A good quality mattress can make a huge difference to sleep quality and back support!
After finally finding the right one, it is important to look after your mattress and pillow. Some brands will give you a protective cover, although if it doesn’t it is important to get one. This protects the mattress and pillow from chemicals from your face creams, hair serums, sweat etc, which can damage the fibres and lead to a loss of integrity and support. From a hygiene standard, studies have shown that replacing your mattress every 7-10 years and pillow every two years is best for our overall health. Breathing in nasties that collect within these fibres from our skin cells, hair and sweat can negatively impact our health and wellbeing, let alone the wear and tear that occurs from a support point of view.
At VSRC we have chosen to stock a specific range of pillows that we believe are the best choices for our patients starting from $80 (some can be prescribed as a medical aid, which you may be able to claim through your private health fund depending on your cover). A supportive, therapeutic pillow is a great investment for spinal health so if you have any questions about whether your pillow is suitable, or whether it may be time for a replacement feel free to ask us at your next appointment. We can also order travel pillows and pillows for children upon request.