Are you tired of waking up tired? Do you find you wake up as sore, or sorer than when you went to bed? Do you take ages to get to sleep, or find yourself tossing and turning restlessly all night? Chances are there is a problem with your pillow height, or mattress, or both.
Here are some simple tips to follow to help you fall asleep easier, sleep deeper for longer, and wake refreshed and feeling better than when you went to sleep!
Firstly, there’s an old saying when it comes to choosing a new bed – “Bad backs like soft beds, healthy bodies like firmer beds.” So while a soft bed can help to “cuddle” your achy twists and compensations, as your body starts to unwind and your mechanics improve, that same soft bed can cause those old twists to return. The result? You go to bed feeling OK, but wake up feeling sore again.
A firm mattress means you’re less likely to sink under the shoulders and hips, which means you’re less likely to get twisted back into your old shape and compensation pattern. You’ll also need a pillow of the right height, which is firm enough to support the weight of your head (about 5kg - same as a medium watermelon) without squashing overnight. Get this right and you’ll relax more easily to fall asleep, stay asleep longer and wake up feeling better!
Which brings us to the next point - how high is high enough?
It’s fair to say that most people who sleep on their side have their pillow too low. Many people have the idea that when we lie on our side we should aim to be “parallel” to the bed (Fig 1). Therefore most pillows are about 4-5 inches thick - about the width of an average person’s shoulder.
The problem is that our hips are wider than our feet, and our shoulders wider than our hips. This means the midline of our body gets further and further from the sleep surface the closer you get to the head (Fig 2), rather than running parallel to the bed.
So in in order to keep the spine in a relaxed, neutral position, the ideal pillow height is usually is a shoulder width, and then some (Fig 3).
How much more than shoulder width? Well, that depends…
The easiest way to work out the ideal height for you is to go by feel. Firstly, grab the firmest pillow you can find, along with some folded bath towels (you can use only towels, but many people find them too hard on the ear). Lay on your side with your head on the pillow and relax.
If your pillow is too low, you’ll feel like your body wants to roll forward. If your pillow is too high it will feel like your body wants to roll backwards. Also, if your pillow is not right either way, it just won’t feel “right” - your neck, shoulders or back will feel tense, stiff or “annoying”. Add or remove layers of towel to raise or lower the height, according to what you observe.
The closer you get to the right height, the more relaxed you’ll feel, and the less aware of your body you’ll be. Believe it or not, sometimes the difference between “spot on” and “not quite right” can be a single layer of towel!
Alternatively, you could buy a height-adjustable pillow like the ones we stock in our office. These are made of layers of firm upholsterer’s foam of varying thickness that can be stacked together to a specific height, then slid into a pillow case, just like any other pillow.
Try these tips and let us know how you get on - if you can bring yourself to get up from your restful slumber, that is!