There’s an epidemic of “sleeping wrong” going on in our society, at least that’s what I hear from my patients. Most of my patients, at some point in their care, come in to the office after a sleep-induced aggravation of their aches and pains. Maybe you can relate…

I’ve previously written about the importance of sleep in overall well-being, and it seems that many people continue to report challenges getting a good night’s rest. While stress, room temperature, light, mattress, and sound all have an impact, a relatively simple place to start is with choosing the appropriate pillow for your sleep position preference.

The first step is to look at your sleeping position. The goal is to keep the head and spine in line, while reducing stress on joints like the hips, knees, and shoulders. Your pillow should be specific to the type of position you prefer.

For back sleepers, thick pillows will elevate the head and increase stress on the muscles of the neck and upper shoulders. It’s better to choose a medium density pillow, preferably one that’s thinner with a curved shape to support the normal curve in the neck. I personally use the Tempur-pedic Cervical Pillow. In addition, placing a small pillow under the knees may ease pressure on the lower back.

For side sleepers, the goal is to keep the head positioned equally between the shoulders. Because the weight of the head can flatten the pillow and lead to abnormal spinal position, choose a firmer, thicker pillow that fills the gap between the head and the bed. Adding a pillow between the knees will ease pressure and keep the hips in the proper position.

Stomach sleepers require the least amount of support; therefore a thin, soft pillow can lightly cushion the head and reduce the forced rotation of the cervical spine. It’s important to note, I don’t recommend sleeping on your stomach as it causes increased stress on the neck. Sleeping this way with a soft mattress can also lead to forced extension of the lower back. If you must sleep on your stomach, choose a firmer mattress and a thin pillow.

Not sure where to get a pillow? Start at a big box store, like Bed Bath & Beyond. They usually separate pillows based on sleeping preference. Try one for a week and see if it supports you. Sometimes it takes a couple days to get used to a new pillow, so don’t be disheartened if you feel sore after the first night. Sweet dreams!