You’ve done all your research, you’ve found the perfect bed after weeks (or months) of searching. Your perfect mattress even has a reasonable price tag. You step through the doors of the store of your choice, knowing exactly what you want and when you want it. At what you think is the end of it all, after all the work and jumping through too many hurdles, the salesperson kicks the legs out from under your swagger by asking about pillows: what ones you use, if you’d like to look at some in the store to use on your new mattress, do you prefer memory foam or classic pillows, etc.
Frustrated by being blindsided by this new variable, you respond with exasperation, “Do pillows really matter?”
The goal of a proper pillow (in harmony with your bed) is spine neutrality. A body part is “neutral” when there is no flex or extension of muscles (the textbook terms would be “flexion” and “extension”).
For example, when you sleep on your side and your pillow is too hard or lofty, one side of the symmetrical muscles in your neck is lengthened or extended, while the other is flexed to compensate. This is comparable to touching your toes for 8 hours (or however long you sleep) which is why your neck is so stiff in the morning. Such trauma to your muscles can cause headaches, trigger migraines, and deprive you of sleep, among other things. This pressure on your neck also translates to less pressure on your shoulders and more on your hip.
- High loft/Firm Pillow + soft bed + side sleep = kinked neck, sore hips
- Low loft/really plushy pillow + hard bed + side sleep = kinked neck (in the opposite direction of above example), sore shoulder
These and all the other pillow/bed/sleep position combos are important to consider as you’re making a transition to a new bed. You could be finally getting the plush mattress you’ve been dreaming of, but what if you use the same high loft pillow from your old bed? You might be upset to find that your new mattress causes your neck and hip pain. You spend the time and money to return the mattress without even knowing the true culprit: your pillow.