For most people, neck pain is a temporary complaint that lasts a few weeks, but for some, it’s a chronic condition that affects not just day-to-day life but their quality of sleep too.
If you suffer from neck pain, your choice of pillow is crucial to getting a good night’s sleep.
In this post, we look at how to pick the best pillow for neck pain. We also look at how sleep and neck pain are connected, and how replacing your pillow could improve your condition.
How are sleep and neck pain connected?
Sleep plays a vital role in helping your body recover from illness and injury. But for people who have a musculoskeletal condition, like neck pain, it’s not easy to get a full forty winks.
Experts agree that there is a strong relationship between sleep quality and waking symptoms. In other words, if you have a bad neck and you aren’t sleeping well, you’re more likely to feel worse the next morning.
It’s also possible that a poor sleeping posture and a badly chosen pillow could be the cause of your neck pain – or at the very least they’re making your symptoms worse.
Can replacing your pillow improve neck pain?
Your neck bears the weight of your head, so it needs to be supported properly when you lie down or you risk straining it. Without a supportive pillow, you could be putting undue stress on your neck.
A group of researchers in Canada found a link between participants who reported having an uncomfortable pillow and those who had a bad night’s sleep. They also found that those who were ill-rested were more likely to suffer the next day with neck, back, and shoulder pain.
The study concluded that pillow choice plays an important role in getting a good night’s sleep, and yet most people don’t have the right pillow (even if they think theirs is the comfiest pillow).
So, how do you choose the best sleep pillow to alleviate neck pain and get a better night’s rest?
How do you pick the right pillow?
When it comes to picking the right pillow there’s no one size fits all. What works for one person, won’t necessarily work for another – and that’s because there are lots of other things you have to take into consideration when you’re choosing a pillow.
The right pillow should support your head and neck so they’re aligned with your back.
Your mattress, your sleeping position, and even the width of your shoulders all affect how your head and neck rest on your pillow. All of these things should be factored into your choice of pillow.
To help you pick the best pillow for neck pain, we’ve compiled this list of things to look for.
Loft is the industry’s way of describing the height of a pillow. If the loft of your pillow is too high or too low, your neck is forced to bend at an unnatural angle. This places a strain on your neck which can leave you feeling stiff and in pain.
The width of your shoulders will affect the height of the pillow you need. Your pillow should equal the distance between your ears and the edge of your shoulders when you’re sleeping on your side.
The softer your pillow the more likely it is to decompress, leaving your head and neck unsupported. However, pillows that are too firm can cause pressure points, so it’s important to spend time trying to get the balance right.
When you’re looking for a new pillow, consider its loft and how firm your mattress is. This will help you to work out where your head will come to rest.
It’s particularly important if you sleep on your back that there is no gap between your neck and your pillow, and this is where having a shaped or orthopaedic pillow can help.
The cervical pillow (a reference to the upper part of the spine) is an excellent example of a pillow that adapts to the shape of your head. It has a higher portion for the neck and dips down to provide support and comfort for the head – ideal for people who suffer from neck and back pain.
Pillows made with memory foam or latex are generally considered the best for neck pain.
Ultimately though it comes down to personal preference, and it may take some time to find the one you like. Whether it’s polyester, feather, or down, make sure your pillow is supporting your head without putting extra pressure on your neck.
Pillows for different sleeping positions
Overall the best pillow for neck pain is one that supports your head and neck properly by aligning it with your back. So when you’re choosing a pillow it makes sense to factor in your sleeping position.
- The best pillow for side sleepers
Side sleepers should choose a pillow with a loft that equals the distance between their ear and their shoulder. If you prefer something softer, you might need to use more than one pillow but the important thing is that you keep your head in line with the rest of your body.
- The best pillow for back sleepers
If you sleep on your back you should be aiming to keep that imaginary straight line between your head, neck, and back. Consider using a medium loft pillow to raise your head slightly and adding a small pillow behind the high curve of your neck where there is no firm support.
- The best pillow for stomach sleepers
Sleeping on your stomach puts additional pressure on your neck because it has to bend in an unnatural way. If this is your preferred position, try a low loft pillow. You could also try a pillow with an adjustable loft that allows you to take out and replace the filling.
Which pillow is best for neck pain?
According to the panel of testers at the Good Housekeeping Institute, the best overall pillow for neck pain is The Original Groove Pillow. At just £29.95, this ergonomic pillow is not only good value but it has been designed specifically to relieve neck and upper back pain.
The pillow has a groove – or an ‘ergonomic dip’ – that moulds to your neck to keep your head, neck, and spine aligned. If you normally wake up with neck pain, this pillow promises to correct your sleeping posture for a better night’s sleep.
Ergonomic pillows don’t suit everyone (they can take some time to get used to) so we recommend taking advantage of the brand’s 100-day trial. This is your opportunity to check that it’s comfortable before you commit to buying the pillow.
The Original Groove Pillow is ideal for back and side sleepers, but if you’re used to sleeping on your front, then we recommend an adjustable pillow like the Layla Kapok Pillow. Though it’s expensive, this pillow can be adapted to suit your sleeping position.
Stuffed with shredded memory foam, you can remove its filling to adjust the loft of the pillow to suit you. It comes with a 120-day trial, which gives you plenty of time to decide whether it can justify its price tag.
Ultimately, pillow choice comes down to personal preference, which is why we recommend that you try before you buy – whether that’s in the shop or at home.
How often should you replace your pillow?
As a general rule, you should replace your pillow every one to two years. Memory foam pillows can sometimes last longer, but anything filled with feathers, duck down, or polyester will start to show signs of wear before this.
Other signs that it’s time to replace your pillow include:
- Waking up with new neck or upper back pain
- Uneven distribution of the fill in your pillow
- Stains on your pillow (or it’s starting to smell)
Try to wash your pillow every six months – this is particularly important if you suffer from allergies or you have asthma. Not all pillows are machine washable, so check the manufacturer’s instructions first.
Your frequently asked questions on pillows
Find the answers to your frequently asked questions on picking the perfect pillow, here.
- Which pillow material is the best for neck pain?
Experts agree that memory foam and latex pillows are the best for neck pain. If you do choose a pillow with feathers or duck down then take into consideration how much it will decompress when you lie on it. To combat this, you may need a pillow with a bigger loft.
- Is a higher pillow better for neck pain?
The ideal pillow height – or ‘loft’ as they say in the industry – is determined by a number of things. If your pillow is too high, your neck will be forced to bend at an unnatural angle and instead of waking up feeling rested, you’re more likely to wake up feeling tired and in pain.
To get the right posture for a good night’s sleep, your head, neck, and back must all be aligned. Your pillow should fill the gap neatly between your ear and the edge of your shoulder (if you’re a side sleeper). Bear in mind that the firmness of your pillow and your mattress will affect how much you sink into your bed and this will change your alignment.
- How much do top-rated pillows cost?
Depending on its design and materials, you can expect to pay between £50 and £250 for a quality pillow. When you’re choosing a pillow don’t use price as an indicator of how good it is. Your comfort, and crucially, how you feel when you wake up the next morning, should be the deciding factor.
We recommend finding a company that lets you try their pillow at home before you commit to buying it.
- Can replacing your pillow improve neck pain?
If your pillow is to blame for your neck pain then there’s every chance that replacing it will improve things. The right pillow can help you correct your sleeping posture for a better night’s sleep and fewer symptoms when you wake up the next morning.
If your neck pain is the result of a chronic condition or an injury then your symptoms won’t disappear when you replace your pillow. However, sleeping on the right pillow could improve your chances of getting quality sleep which is vital to helping your body recover quicker.
- Can a poor mattress lead to neck pain?
If your mattress is too soft, then you will sink into it and your head, neck, and spine will no longer be aligned. Just like a quality pillow, your mattress (and your bed frame) should support the natural curve of your body and improve your sleeping posture.
For help choosing the right one, read our blog on how to pick the right mattress.