Ask most people to sleep without a pillow and they’ll likely tell you they can’t or that it just doesn’t feel right. They’ll probably focus on the comfortability it provides them, or maybe it’s the psychological factor where they can hug the pillow while they drift off into a blissful sleep. They are unlikely to mention anything about health benefits. However, if you hear someone who just woke up and say that they have a headache or neck pain, then he/she are more than likely to attribute it to the poor pillow or lack thereof.
So why do we use a pillow whenever we sleep or lie down? When we were babies, paediatric doctors would discourage our parents from putting pillows under our heads. That means that the default is that we can indeed sleep without a pillow. Or is it?
The Mattress and Pillow Connection
When you are buying a new mattress, you may think that you don’t need to get a new pillow because you have a perfectly good one at home. That may be the case, but is it the correct pillow for your new mattress?
Before focusing much on the pillow, let’s first look at your mattress. The secret to getting your perfect mattress is to find one that provides enough support for your body to allow your spine to stay in its natural position when you are sleeping. That’s fairly logical. So, if you sleep on your side, your spine should be in a straight line and that when on your back, maintains its natural curve – that is if we live in an ideal world.
Your spine goes right up to your neck, so it’s important that your head is in the correct position too. Hence, the best sleeping posture is when your head is in alignment with your body, especially true if you are lying on your side.
What Good Sleep is About
Spinal alignment is what a good sleep is all about. So, you’ve just chosen a mattress that feels good for you.What’s the reason it feels good? It’s because your spine is well supported and your muscles are more relaxed. If your pillow does not allow for this skeletal alignment you are missing an important piece of a big puzzle.
Sometimes, the new mattress you have chosen is different from the old one at home. It may be softer or firmer, which means you may settle into it more or even less, and therefore need a different pillow to maintain spinal alignment.
At this point, a warning is necessary. If you are in the 7% category of people who sleep on their tummy, you are probably aware that this is not the ideal sleeping position (but can’t change). Theoretically, you would be better off with a firmer mattress and without any pillow. But, if required for psychological reasons, then make the pillow as thin as possible.
So this explains why we did not need pillows when we were babies and now as adults we do – the alignment of the spine from head to body should be sustained when lying down. As adults, the sizes of our heads and torsos have grown to proportions that may not enable us to do so without the help of the appropriate pillow.
A knowledgeable bed sales person should be able to point this out to you. He/she is not trying to upsell you, just trying to ensure you have the potential to get a great night’s sleep.
If you have a pillow at home that suits you and your mattress, that’s great. However, too many people do not pay enough attention to their pillows’ compatibility. So here’s a tip, take your favourite pillow with you the next time you need to go bed shopping. In that way you can ensure it’s a perfect match for your new mattress and a new harmonious relationship will begin.