THE PERFECT PILLOW FOR A PERFECT NIGHT SLEEP
written by Natalie Rinaldi
I have many clients asking me about their pillows and correct and incorrect heights. Believe it or not your pillow is a big cause of pain. Sleeping with a pillow that is not the right height for you can lead to pain in the neck and shoulders, spine, headaches, tingling down the arms and into the hands and fingers (nerve compression) and just an uncomfortable night sleep. We at Melbourne Muscular Therapy specialise in pain management and the cleaning out of blockages in and surrounding the spine. We are experts at targeting acute and chronic blocks and build ups in the spine and surrounding musculature caused by poor sleep posture and poor functional movement and aim to target and eliminate all areas that are causing discomfort. Below, you will find information about how a pillow can affect your sleeping and tips on how to pick you perfect pillow and avoid endless nights of no sleep and waking up with pain.
Sleeping with a pillow that is too low:
People that sleep with a pillow too low forces the head into an extension position. This extension of the neck forces a heavy compression through the spine compressing on disks and nerve structures and is extremely strenuous to the musculature both anterior and posterior to the neck and cervical region. With the head in this position, the vertebrae is forced into a closed compression position which could last anywhere from a few minutes to hours in one set position depending on how long you may be asleep for at a given time. You may wonder, what if I don’t sleep on my back, I sleep on my side? Well, when turning to your side, the issue in fact is worse. Because your pillow is already too low, forcing you into an already extended position, as you rotate, your cervical is further moved into extension but also now has rotation. This now means that you will be compressing a unilateral side of your spine (the side in which you are laying on), which is now closing and compressing facet joints on a unilateral side and is putting you in a higher risk of pain and injury if compressed for too long.
Sleeping with a pillow that is too high:
When you sleep on a pillow that is too high, your neck is forced into a flexed position (opposite of a low pillow). In this position the spine and posterior chain musculature are on stretch permanently, being forced to extend while trying to hold the weight of the human head which can weigh anywhere up to 5kg, while your anterior chain and musculature are shortened with a possible 5kg of compression coming down onto that area, causing an imbalance to the cervical. Just like the low pillow, rotation is worse. Rotation on a high pillow means that the head is encouraged into a further head drop into flexion, forcing a chin to chest sleeping posture and a unilateral facet closure to one side, which thus shortens the anterior chain more as well as forcing a lot more stress to the posterior chain and facet joints. This now can also begin to affect your shoulder and arm, as the musculature in neck begins to pull on muscles in the shoulder and arm. Have you ever fallen asleep seated or on a plane and you wake up feeling sore through the back of the neck and shoulders- this is exactly why, as you slept seated, your head was most likely flexed forward, this is the position a high pillow forces the head into also. This sleep posture also encourages bad postural positions when conscious, things such as forward head carriage, rounded shoulders and a thoracic kyphosis.
The best way to assess whether your pillow is right for you is to lie on your back with your head on the pillow and feel the angle your head sits. Your head should sit in a parallel position to the roof or in a slightly extended position (chin slightly facing roof). As you fall asleep your unconscious body will become heavier and your head will further drop into the pillow therefore a slight extension while you’re awake, will mean your head will drop to be parallel to the roof.
INTERESTING FACT: DID YOU KN OW THAT WINTER MONTHS CAUSE MORE PEOPLE TO WAKE UP WITH SORER BODIES THEN SUMMER? THIS IS BECAUSE AS COLD APPROACHES, PEOPLE OFTEN SLEEP AS THEY WOULD IN SUMMER-LESS LAYERS OF CLOTHING AND LESS BED SHEETING ASSUMING BED WILL WARM THEM UP. THIS IS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE. SLEEPING WITH FEWER LAYERS IN WINTER CAUSES THE BODY INTO A CURLED UP POSITION WHEN SLEEPING. THIS COULD MEAN PROLONGED HOURS THROUGH THE NIGHT WITH BENT KNEES, ANTERIOR AND POSTERIOR PELVIC TILTS, ROUNDED SHOULDERS, THORACIC KYPHOSIS AND FLEXED CERVICAL. IT IS A NATURAL BODY INSTINCT FOR YOU TO CURL UP WHEN COLD. TO AVOID THIS, OVERLAYER IN BED, AS YOUR BODY TEMPERATURE INCREASES, REMOVE LAYERS AND SEE IF YOU WAKE UP FEELING AS SORE AS YOU NORMAL DO!
HERE AT, MELBOURNE MUSCULAR THERAPIES WE ARE HAPPY TO HELP WITH THE REDUCTION OF PAIN CAUSED BY POOR SLEEP POSTURE BY TARGETING THE PAIN AFFECTED AREA- TREATING THE NECK SPECIFICALLY WORKING THROUGH BLOCKAGES DEEP BETWEEN THE SPINOUS PROCESSES AND THEN WORKING OUR WAY DOWN THE SPINE. FURTHER, WE CAN HELP WITH PILLOW RECOMMENDATION AND ASSESSMENT AND GIVE YOU THE BEST ADVICE NECESSARY TO IMPROVE OVERALL FUNCTIONAL POSTURE AND AS PAIN SPECIALIST-ELIMINATE YOUR PAIN!!