Snuggle Up With the Perfect Pillow

Expert advice on how to find the pillow that suits your sleep style.

From the WebMD Archives

Nothing starts your day off better than getting a good night's sleep. And sleeping with the right pillow can help.

"Pillows can not only impact the quality of our sleep, but also how healthfully we rest and recharge," says sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep.

But the wrong pillow may worsen headaches, neck pain, shoulder and arm numbness, discomfort, sneezing, and wheezing, notes orthopaedic surgeon Andrew Hecht, MD.

"A bad pillow won't be the cause of any of these problems, but using the incorrect pillow can certainly exacerbate many of the underlying problems linked to these symptoms, and it certainly can keep you from getting a good night's rest," says Hecht, the co-chief of spine surgery at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York.

And if your pillow is past its prime, it may contain skin cells, mold, mildew, fungus, and dust mites, which make up more than half of an older pillow's weight, Breus notes.

Is it time to buy a new pillow? Experts say the general rule is to buy a pillow every 12 to 18 months. After two years, it's definitely got to go.

Pillow Shopping: Consider Your Sleeping Style

Before you buy a new pillow, think about your sleep position.

"The goal of using a pillow is to help keep your head in what is called a 'neutral alignment,' meaning your head is sitting squarely on your shoulders without bending back too far or reaching too far forward," says Kammi Bernard, PT, a physical therapist at the Baylor Health Care System in Dallas.

Some expert advice:

  • If you sleep on your back: "Back sleepers need thinner pillows, so their head is not thrown too far forward," Bernard says. Also look for a pillow with extra loft in the bottom third of the pillow to cradle your neck.
  • If you sleep on your side: Side sleepers need a firmer pillow to fill in the distance between the ear and outside shoulder.
  • If you're a stomach sleeper: Look for a very thin, almost flat pillow. You may not even need a pillow for your head, but consider tucking one under your stomach to avoid lower back pain, Breus suggests.

Pagination