Finding a comfortable pillow to sleep on can be a pain in the neck.
Too lumpy, too full, too thin… choosing the right pillow can be difficult at the best of times (especially as you can’t exactly take a quick kip on one at the shop), but throw into the mix a tendency to wake up with neck ache, and that decision becomes more complicated.
Although it's tempting to focus on bedding or mattresses, spending time picking out the perfect pillow can pay dividends in the long run. Not only can it help you have a more restful night’s sleep, the right pillow can also reduce back and neck ache.
“In general, we don’t give pillows as much attention as we should do considering we’re going to spend a lot of our lives lying on them,” says Dr Guy Meadows, a sleep expert and ambassador for Bensons For Beds.
As well as providing comfort, pillows work to keep your spine in alignment. “But it depends on how the spine is aligned in the first place,” Dr Meadows explains.
“We're not all perfectly aligned beings who stand perfectly upright, so lying perfectly flat is actually quite hard for us. Many of us will adopt positions in sleep because they bring us the most comfort. It's not one size fits all.”
You should check out any chronic pains with a chiropractor or a physio - and seek advice from a specialist to manage any pain – but bedding specialists can also help find you that perfect pillow.
Take advantage of any services provided at homeware and bedding shops, such as Bensons’ Comfort Station Adaptive system to test what kind of support you need from your mattress and pillows.
How do you sleep?
Your ideal pillow depends on your perfect sleep position:
On your back
“If you're lying on your back, then generally you will want a pillow that supports your head,” says Dr Meadows.
“Ideally, you want your head and neck to be supported at about four to six inches off the mattress because that way, it continues the alignment of the spine.”
If you have a very forward head posture, then it’s a good idea to have a pillow that is higher than that to take some pressure off your head. Likewise for those who are naturally more upright, Dr Meadows recommends using fewer pillows so your head is closer to the mattress.
On your side
“If you lie on your side, you're going to have quite a big drop off from the ear to the mattress, so you're going to need even more height and more pillows,” says Dr Meadows.
On a general note – and this won’t be comfortable for everyone – the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) recommends trying to sleep on your side with a small pillow between your knees as this can help keep your spine in a neutral position and reduce pain.
When using screens in bed, the BCA recommends propping yourself up on a pillow and keeping the tablet at eye level to ensure optimal comfort for your neck.
Meanwhile, Sara Wadsworth of The Fine Bedding Company suggests medium pillows for those who sleep on their backs, firm pillows for those who sleep on their sides and medium soft pillows for people who sleep on their fronts.
Here are five pillows for neck support:
1. Betterlife Wave Pillow, £22.99 - This is a firm pillow with a deep ridge in it to keep your head upright and ensure your neck is supported. While the ridge takes some adjusting to if you're used to fluffy pillows, this is a good purse-friendly option.
2. Sensation Memory Foam Pillow, £35.99 - If you're looking for a pillow to support your neck, you're likely to come across the term ‘memory foam’. This means that the filling will mould to the contours of your head and neck to offer support throughout the night. Plump for this pillow from Bensons which offers comfort and value for money.
3. The Fine Bedding Company Latex Pillow, £44 - Sara Wadsworth recommends this pillow for those who suffer from neck aches because it, “moulds to the contours of your head and neck to aid correct alignment and posture, in addition to cradling the head and supporting the neck”.
4. Tempur Cloud Pillow, £85 - If you have a bigger budget, this orthopedic pillow is designed to reduce neck pain as well as moulding to the shape of your head. It also claims to help with snoring problems.
5. The Fine Bedding Company Spundown pillow, from £25 - Offering medium support, this pillow is a good option for those who lie on their backs.