Getting a Good Neck’s Sleep

19 June 2021

The recipe for a good night of sleep consist of a few simple ingredients: the right temperature, the minimized exposure to light and the absence of neck pain. While the first two are easy to control, many of us struggle with the last ingredient and often wake up with a nagging ache or stiffness in our necks or shoulders. When this happens, we often wonder if its because of the pillow we are sleeping on.

A pillow that fails to support the neck is likely to cause the neck to fall into a wrong position over a long period, which inevitably causes excessive stress to the neck and leads to the pain we are all too familiar with.

What Makes A Good Pillow

A good pillow is characterised by its ability to help preserve the natural curvature of the neck, and in turn help to neck to be in a neutral position throughout the night. It is important that the muscles at the neck are supported so that they can relax and not be overworked as you sleep. Just like a good back support to help us maintain optimal back posture and prevent overworking of the back muscles, a good pillow can help us to maintain ideal neck posture at night.

Before we discuss the best pillows for ourselves, we must take into consideration the sleeping positions that we most often find ourselves in. With different sleeping positions, different supports are required to maintain the neutral neck position.

Types of Sleepers

  1. The Back Sleeper

Back Sleeper is the person who lies on his/her back without a pillow, with their head usually falling downwards and their chin tilted upwards. This sleeping position puts a significant amount of stress on the neck as it aggravates the neck’s reversed “C-shape”. The situation could be more serious if they have a stiff or hunched upper back.

The pillow a Back Sleeper requires is one that fills the gap between the back of the head and the upper back, so that the natural curve of the neck can be maintained. Looking at the market, a contour pillow is best able to meet this need.

contour pillow

When using a contour pillow, the higher end should be inserted underneath the hollow of the neck, closer to your shoulder.

What to look out for:

  • Place your hands around your neck to feel for any muscle tightness/tension. If you are in the correct position, your neck muscles will be relaxed.
  • Get someone to take a look at your neck posture from the side view. He/she should be able to draw a straight line from the ear lobe to the shoulder joint and the hip joint.

If you find that the contour pillow is too low for you, you can use towels and pile them on top of a regular pillow (the towel is the modified higher end of the contour pillow, and work to fill the gap between the back of the head and the upper back). However, be sure that you do not use a regular pillow that is too high or too low, because it will either bend the neck too much forward or allow too much backward arching.

  1. The Side Sleeper

Like the Back Sleeper, a contour pillow may best serve the purpose of maintaining a neutral neck for a Side Sleeper. Again, the higher end of the pillow needs to be underneath the hollow of the neck. It is also important to pull the pillow as close as possible to the top of your shoulder. The height of the contour is usually equal to the width measured from the base of the neck to the tip of the shoulder of the same side.

What to look out for:

  • As shown in the picture above, the spine should form a straight horizontal line, parallel to the floor.

Again, an extra pile of towels on top of a regular pillow may be used as a modification of a contour pillow.

  1. The Tummy Sleeper

Although this sleeping position is not recommended, because it forces the neck to turn to one side and arch backwards excessively, some people do tend to prefer this sleeping style. For these people, a regular pillow that is soft and low is best suited. The pillow also needs to be pulled lower so that it supports the top part of the best. This helps to prevent excessive neck rotation and backward arching.

Experiencing neck pain? Click here to find out more about physiotherapy for neck pain relief and how Core Concepts can help.