Choosing the right pillow can make a lot of difference to reducing body pain and improving your sleep. Osteo, Josh Laurie, guides us through selecting the right pillow for your sleeping style.

Sleep Like In Fairytales

Goldilocks often gets a bad wrap.  I’m not here to condone letting yourself into someone else house and helping yourself to their things, no way!  But it’s ok to channel your inner Goldilocks once in a while. In our busy world we often go for the quick fix, the path of least resistance.  However, every now again the time comes for us to be a bit fussy!

A lot of the advice we give as osteopath’s requires that bit more time and attention – ensuring you’re using the correct pillow is often one of the most important (and expensive!)  pieces of advice when managing neck and back pain. Too hard, too soft, too big, too thin. Latex, pillow top, memory foam, feathers and down. It’s tricky to find your ‘just right’ but hopefully I can help navigate you through the process!

Key Indicators That It’s Time For A New Pillow:

  • Pain worse in the morning – specifically headaches, neck and shoulder pain.
  • Waking up feeling un refreshed
  • If you think there’s something wrong with your pillow there probably is!  We don’t usually give much thought to our pillow if it’s doing it’s job well.  If you feel that it’s not right, it most likely isn’t and it’s time to find a replacement.

Finding The Right Pillow:

Before we even discuss the type of pillows available, we need to first talk about pillow height.  One of the most common factors contributing to neck pain and headaches is incorrect pillow height.  The correct height will depend on which position you tend to sleep in the most.

Side Sleepers
  • Look for a firm, mid to high pillow.
  • A low pillow will let your head fall too far towards the mattress, not providing enough support for the neck.
  • A high pillow will push your neck too high off the mattress and create strain on the joints and muscles in the neck.
  • Your correct pillow height will depend on how broad your shoulders are – it can be helpful to have someone check your alignment from behind and even take photos of your posture with different pillows to compare how each one supports your head and neck.
  • Top Tip – for those with lower back pain, try using a pillow between your knees or beside you at thigh level to stop you from twisting your back through the night.
Back Sleepers
  • Look for a mid to low sized pillow so as to not put excessive strain on your neck but without letting your neck fall too far towards the mattress.
  • Top Tip – for those who have back pain, try sleeping with a pillow under your knees – this will take strain off your back while sleeping in this position.
Stomach Sleepers
  • This is the least preferred position for sleeping due to the load it puts on the neck and shoulders.  
  • For those who must sleep in this position, chose a thin pillow to avoid excessive strain on the neck.  
  • If you suffer from chronic neck, shoulder or back pain, your stomach sleeping could be the primary culprit!

Most Common Types Of Pillows:

Latex - Made from a natural compound sourced from rubber trees, latex pillows are natural and organic.  They are known for their low allergenic properties and offer excellent support. They are typically firm without causing pressure on the neck and head.  They hold their shape extremely well but don’t mould easily so be sure to pick one that feels right from the outset. They are one of the most expensive pillows on the market but are also the longest lasting.

Memory Foam – Memory foam reacts to your body heat to become more malleable, allowing it to adapt to the contour of your head and neck.  As such, these pillows offer excellent support. However, the do retain heat so can be uncomfortable in warmer seasons.

Synthetic and Polyester – Made from synthesised compounds, these pillows are cheap, light, washable and generally low allergenic.  They are some of the cheapest pillows but flatten easily and offer less support and don’t contour well.

Down and Feather – As the name suggests, these are some of the softest pillows.  They are light, fluffy and durable but not very supportive. These pillows are best suited to stomach sleepers and won’t provide adequate support for side sleepers.

Buying the correct pillow can undoubtedly be an expensive and frustrating procedure; however you are likely to balance that cost to a degree with the money you then don’t need to spend on osteo, physio and massage to relieve your pain.  I hope I’ve been able to help guide you through this potential minefield and that we can all enjoy our morning porridge not too hot, not too cold and with a comfortable 8 hours sleep behind us.


Article by Josh Laurie – Director of Osteopathy at  ATUNE