The right bed pillow is not only comforting, it plays an important role in supporting the intricate structures of the head, neck, shoulders, hips, and spine. When properly fitted, pillows help in alleviating or preventing many common forms of back and neck pain, as well as shoulder, hip, and other forms of joint pain. Pillows serve to keep the upper body in alignment during sleep, relieving pressure and counterbalancing different points in the body. The pillow should adjust to fit your unique shape, curves, and sleeping position and alleviate any pressure points.
For those with spinal disorders, the right type of support can be especially important in helping the spine rest comfortably. Sufficient and restorative sleep is the body’s chance to heal itself from the postural, physical, and nervous challenges of the day.
The human neck curves slightly backward (to sustain the weight of the head when upright), and it’s important to maintain this curve when in a resting position. If the pillow is too high when sleeping sideways or on the back, the neck is bent abnormally forward or to the side, causing muscle strain on the back of the neck and shoulders. This type of position may also cause narrowing of the air pipe, resulting in obstructed breathing, and sometimes snoring, which can hinder sleep. Conversely, if the height of the pillow is too low, the neck muscles can also be strained.
Body size and preference are likely to influence pillow size, but usually the pillow should maintain a height of 4 to 6 inches to support the head and neck (and shoulders when lying on the back). One small research study comparing three foam pillow heights found that a pillow height of approximately 4 inches offered the best spinal alignment and greatest comfort, leading to the least muscle activity.