I am frequently asked about pillows. Most people who ask me ‘Should I get a new pillow?’ have arrived seeking treatment for a sore neck, insomnia or morning headaches. They don’t like their current pillow and have at some point flung it across the room in frustration. They may have paid a lot of money for one or many different kinds of pillows.
What is the perfect pillow?
I’m sorry, but I’m here to disappoint you, there is no perfect pillow. On a good day or given enough time, you can adapt to nearly anything. Over the last hundred years or so humans used rocks, horse hair and straw to help us sleep comfortably through the night. Before that we slept mostly on the ground, bereft of any pillow.
If we tried that now, out of the blue, then you’d be much like my twenty-four year old osteopathic colleague, Whitney, who recently went camping in Ballarat and slept on the cold hard ground, with only a thin, inadequate mat between her and the dirt. She was complaining this morning of sore shoulders, sore hips and an aching low back. Her whole body was yelling at her to march herself right back home to sleep on her $2000 mattress and contoured feather pillow. Unbelievably, she hadn’t spent any time at all progressively sleeping on less comfortable surfaces over the preceding weeks to get her body prepared for her camping experience. And really who would do that?
Our bodies and the bones, ligaments and muscles that make them up, respond to the activities that we ask of them. If we ask them to sleep on an extremely comfortable, forgiving surface every night then they’re just going to find it a bit of a struggle adjusting to a hard, cold, dirt floor. Your discomfort is not in your imagination.
So back to the person asking me about the perfect pillow. The one who has a sore, tight neck and shoulders and is struggling to adapt to anything. What do I tell them?
Your pillow is a support device.
Your pillow is there to provide support - it’s an orthotic for your head and neck.
A pillow that is unforgiving and asks you to adapt should be pushed to the side. It is meant to provide comfort and adapt to what you need, not the other way around.
This is not a sales pitch but we do sell a pillow at the clinic and it is the one I recommend to people if they’re genuinely in the market for a new pillow. It has a contoured cotton cover stuffed with polyester fill. The reason I like it is simple. It’s adaptable. It has a zip on one end that you can pull out stuffing or put more in as the polyester filling loses it’s ‘lift’. At night, you you can move the stuffing around if you punch it, or shove it into the headboard to make it higher when you roll from your back to your side. And in a couple of years when the filling bunches up and is full of saliva, dead skin and microscopic creatures, you can pull out the stuffing, wash the cover, stuff some new stuffing in and start again.