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Yearning for a Good ‘Neck’ Sleep?

Have you ever woken up with a stiff and/or painful neck or shoulder, and wonder if it is because of the pillow that is causing the problem?

If the answer is most likely a yes, continue to read on.

A pillow that fails to support the neck probably will cause the neck to end up in a wrong position for a long period of time, which inevitably causes excessive stress to the neck and leads to pain. The question here is, how do we choose a good pillow?

GOOD pillow is one that could help preserve the natural curvature of the neck, and the position in which the neck has its normal curvature is called the neutral position of the neck. This is important because the muscles at the neck can be supported so that they can relax and not overwork  throughout the night.  Just like a good back support could help us maintain a good back posture and prevent overworking of the back muscles, a good pillow could help us maintain a good neck posture at night.

Before we talk about how to choose the most suitable pillow for yourself, we must look at the sleeping positions. The reason is that with different sleeping positions, different support is required to maintain a neutral neck postion.

Back sleeper

When someone lies on his/ her back without a pillow, the head usually falls downwards and the chin tilts upwards. This puts a lot of stress on the neck as it aggravates the reversed “C-shape” of the neck. The situation would be worse if he / she has a stiff / hunched upper back.

A good pillow for back sleeper is one that could fill the gap between the back of the head and the upper back, so the natural curve of the neck can be maintained. There are many contour pillows that could help achieve this.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 your pillow is too low for you, you could use towels and pile them on top of a regular pillow (the towel is the modified higher end of the contour pillow, and works to fill the gap between the back of the head and the upper back). Do not use a regular pillow that is too high or too low, which either bends the neck too much forward or allow too much backward arching of the neck.

Side sleeper

A contour pillow may best serve the purpose of maintaining a neutral neck.

The higher end of the pillow again 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:

  1. 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.

Tummy sleeper

Though this is not a sleeping position recommended as it forces the neck to be turned to one side and also arch backwards excessively, some people do sleep this way. For people who sleep on their tummies, it is the best to choose a regular pillow that is soft and low.

The pillow also needs to be pulled lower so that it supports the top part of the chest. Those could help prevent excessive neck rotation and backward arching.

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